Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

LAPD Officer Thomas J. Kronschnabel

(Dec. 22, 1879 Ė Dec. 15, 1916)

Aug. 15, 2011 -- Thomas Joseph Kronschnabel was one of the Los Angeles Police Departmentís first motorcycle officers -- then called "speed officers" -- and one of its first officers to be killed in the line of duty. It took more than 20 years to finally bring his killer to justice, but the LAPD never gave up on the case.

Kronschnabel was born Dec. 22, 1879, in Benton, Minn., the youngest of 12 children born to German immigrants Caspar and Anna Marie Kronschnabel. After working with his father and brothers on the family farm in Minnesota, he moved to California, and joined the LAPD on Nov. 2, 1904. Eight years later, he passed the exam for the department's "speed squad," and became a motorcycle officer.

On Dec. 15, 1916, a week before his 37th birthday, Kronschnabel and his partner, Officer Edwin J. La Niece, 40, were sitting on their motorcycles near the intersection of 23rd and Main streets, south of downtown Los Angeles and less than a mile from Kronschnabelís home at 350 E. Jefferson Blvd. The intersection was considered particularly dangerous, with drivers on 23rd Street regularly colliding with drivers on Main Street, so officers were sent to patrol the area, looking out for speeders and dangerous drivers.

At about 6:30 p.m., shortly after the officers arrived, Kronschnabel noticed a westbound car on 23rd Street cutting the corner too closely before turning south onto Main. Kronschnabel told La Niece that it seemed like the driver was intoxicated. He told his partner to stay behind, and he chased the car.

Kronschnabel pulled up next to the car just before it reached 24th Street, and told the driver to pull over. The car turned west on 24th Street and, as it slowed to a stop, the driver leaned out the window, pointed a gun at Kronschnabel and fired one shot. The bullet hit Kronschnabelís right shoulder, passed through both lungs, and lodged on his left side, just above his hip. Kronschnabel fell from his motorcycle, and the car sped off. Kronschnabel died at the scene. He was married, and had a 4-year-old daughter.

Kronschnabel's 34-year-old widow, the former Florence E. Salter, was born in London in 1882, and came to the United States with her brothers and sisters in 1890. She married Kronschnabel in 1904, shortly before Kronschnabel joined the LAPD. Their daughter, Marion, was born in 1912.

Kronschnabel was buried at Hollywood Memorial Park (now Hollywood Forever Cemetery), with full police honors. His pallbearers were his fellow members of the LAPD motorcycle squad. Dozens of wreaths and floral displays were sent to the funeral service, including a large representation of Kronschnabel's motorcycle, made of red and white carnations.

Although there were several witnesses to the shooting, none of them could provide police with a good description of either the car or the driver, or even an accurate report on how many people were in the vehicle.

What Kronschnabel didnít know when he attempted to make the traffic stop was that the driver of the car had just kidnapped a 13-year-old girl, Naomi Marie Allred, the only child of Jesse and Josephine Allred of 1026 E. Washington St. Naomi Allred was walking home from the grocery store when a car pulled up beside her, and a man jumped out, pointed a gun at her and grabbed her. Allred was tied up, blindfolded, put on the floor in the back seat of the car and covered with a blanket. The kidnapping was later described as the first automobile abduction in the history of Los Angeles.

A few minutes later, Allred said she heard another vehicle pull up beside the car, then heard a shot. Then, she said, the car drove to the intersection of Vernon and Van Ness avenues, where the driver let her out of the car, telling her that he had mistaken her for someone else. He untied her, took off her blindfold and gave her a dime for the streetcar ride back home. But he refused to give her back her basket of groceries. Allred told the streetcar conductor what had happened to her, as well as the license number of the car, and he called police.

Despite a widespread investigation and dozens of arrests, police were unable to find Kronschnabelís killer. Police found a .32-caliber handgun buried in a vacant lot near the location where Allred was dropped off, along with leather straps that were used to tie Allred and her wicker basket of groceries. The gun, which was determined to be the one used to shoot Kronschnabel, was traced to a man named James Darwin, alias James Burwin, but police were unable to find him.

But police never dropped the case. In 1918, LAPD detectives received information that Darwin was actually James Burchiel, who had recently been arrested in Pittsburgh and charged with the murder of Edward R. Pry, who was shot to death on Oct. 5, 1918, in an argument over a woman. At the time, Burchiel was using the name James Melley. During questioning by Pittsburgh police, Burchiel admitted his true identify, and also admitted shooting Kronschnabel.

Burchiel was found guilty of second-degree murder in Pryís death, and sentenced on May 5, 1919, to 20 years in the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania. Despite requests from the LAPD, Pennsylvania refused to allow Burchiel to be sent back to California to stand trial for Kronschnabelís murder until after he had finished serving his sentence in Pennsylvania. Justice for Kronschnabel would have to wait.

During his time in prison, Burchiel regularly refused any attempts at parole, saying that he would rather serve out his complete sentence and be free of any parole supervision and restrictions. But more likely he realized that, if he were to be released, he would immediately be sent back to California, where he would be tried for Kronschabelís murder, and could face the death penalty. So Burchiel served his entire sentence and on May 5, 1939 -- exactly 20 years to the day after he began serving his sentence -- he was released from custody.

Maybe Burchiel thought that, after more than 20 years, the LAPD might have forgotten about Kronschnabel's murder, and forgotten about his confession. But he was wrong.

But Burchiel, then 58, was a free man for only about 30 seconds. Just outside the prison gates, Los Angeles police detectives were waiting with handcuffs, a murder warrant and extradition papers. Burchiel was brought back to Los Angeles and charged with kidnapping and murder.

Back in Los Angeles, police investigators were preparing their case against Burchiel. Kronschnabel's former partner, Edwin La Niece, was prepared to testify. Other witnesses would be presented to link Burchiel to the car used in the kidnapping, and the murder weapon. Even after 20 years, the LAPD had kept all the evidence in the case, including the gun, the leather straps used to restrain the kidnapping victim, and even the wicker basket that contained her groceries.

Although police investigators had kept track of all the evidence, they had lost track of Naomi Allred, the kidnap victim and key witness. With help from the Los Angeles Times, police investigators found her, almost right under their noses. In the years following the incident, the young kidnap victim married William L. Bispo, had two children, and was working as an employee for the city of Los Angeles -- in a City Hall office on the same floor as the LAPD Homicide Bureau.

"I had put the terrible experience out of my mind and never knew until I read the story Sunday that they had ever identified the man who had kidnapped me and shot the officer," Naomi Allred Bispo said a few months before the trial. "My husband knew that I had been kidnapped once, but we agreed never to discuss it. My children also learned of it for the first time."

"I was coming home from the store when a man called to me from a car parked at the curb," she said. "When I walked up to the car, he stuck a gun at me, pulled a sack over my head and shoved me onto the floor in the back seat. He drove away, but soon afterward I heard a pop, but I thought it was a tire blowing out. He drove around a long time and finally stopped at a vegetable garden on West Vernon Avenue. He questioned me closely and apparently discovered I did not know he had shot the officer. Finally, he told me he would let me go if I would promise to keep still and tell no one I had been kidnapped. I promised so earnestly I guess he finally said he believed me, and gave me a dime for car fare."

Bispo testified at Burchiel's trial and, although she could not positively identify him, prosecutors said her testimony was crucial because it established a motive for Burchiel to shoot Kronschnabel, since it was likely that he would have discovered the girl, tied up in the back of Burchiel's car. Although Kronschnabel didn't know that the girl was in Burchiel's car, Burchiel couldn't take the chance that she would be discovered during a traffic stop. When Burchiel released the girl, he likely told her the story about the kidnapping being a case of mistaken identity so that she wouldn't go to the police. It's impossible to know what would have happened to her if Kronschnabel didn't try to stop the car.

On July 19, 1939, Burchiel was found guilty of kidnapping and murder. Although the district attorney asked for the death penalty, Burchiel was sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Folsom State Prison near Sacramento, Calif., where he died on June 21, 1946, at the age of 65.

Edwin La Niece remained with the LAPD until his retirement. He died in Los Angeles on Sept. 25, 1949, at the age of 73. La Niece, who served in the Spanish-American War, is buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery. Naomi Allred Bispo died in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 1987, at the age of 84.

A few years after Kronschnabel's death, his widow, Florence, married Frederick E. Anderson, a machinery salesman. The Andersons, along with Florence's daughter, Marion, then moved to Glendale, Calif. Frederick Anderson died in 1964, at the age of 71. Florence Anderson died in 1979, at the age of 96. They're buried together at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale.

Buried next to Florence is her daughter, Marion, who was 4 years old when her father was killed. Marion, who was married at least three times during her life, died in 2007, at the age of 95. Buried next to Marion is her oldest son, Richard Thomas Hill, who died in 1983, at the age of 52, and was likely given his middle name in honor of his grandfather. And on the other side of Richard Hill is Albert Johnson, Marion's final husband, who died in 1993, at the age of 80.

Kronschnabel is also remembered with a memorial brick (with his name misspelled) in a wall at the Los Angeles Police Museum that is dedicated to LAPD officers who have given their lives in the line of duty.

In May 2014, the LAPD unveiled a series of memorial street signs, one for each of the more than 200 officers who have died in the line of duty. The signs are posted at or near the locations where each of the officers were killed. (For officers killed outside the city, including veterans killed during combat operations, the signs were posted near the police station of the fallen officer, the downtown Police Administration Building, or at the Elysian Park Academy.)

Kronschnabelís sign is located on the southwest corner of West 24th and South Hill streets, near the location where he was fatally shot.

Previous Grave Spotlights

Back to main page