Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down

July 29, 1947
Los Angeles

Home on leave from Alaska for his grandmother’s funeral, 22-year-old technician 5th grade Richard DeSpain quaffed a lot of bay rum and got into an altercation with some Negro youths, whom he said robbed him. Determined to settle the score, he returned to his mother’s home at 323 E. 109th Street and retrieved his Japanese pistol.

The boy’s mother is Reverend Emma DeSpain, one-time follower of Aimee Semple McPherson and until recently minister at the now-closed Victory Chapel, 10700 Avalon Blvd. Reverend Emma was hosting a luncheon for several nice Christian ladies, but left her guests to plead with the boy to be more peaceable. In the course of their struggle, the gun, clutched in Richard’s pocket, fired, shattering mama’s thighbone.

Richard ran off, but soon returned to face the consequences. Cops are turning him over to military authorities, since his emergency leave expired two weeks ago, and the good Reverend says her injury is a small thing if it means her hard-drinking boy will start to live right. Here’s hoping!

Suggested reading: Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson

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Kim Cooper

Kim Cooper is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric’s popular crime bus tours, including The Real Black Dahlia. She is the author of The Kept Girl, the acclaimed historical mystery starring the young Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, and of The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons and forensic science seminars of LAVA- The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn’t combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer’s homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves and an oral history of Neutral Milk Hotel.

One thought on “Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down”

  1. Let’s suppose you and your sister came home from a hard day and found your husband of 10 days at the bottom of your sister’s swimming pool—either dead or not doing very well. You’d call the police or an ambulance, unless you were Mrs. Ella DeSpain, 59.

    Instead, Ella and her widowed sister, Mrs. Louise Strickland, 54, decided to have a little drinky. Or two. And maybe a few tranquilizers, because after all, poor old husband Richard, 39, is at the bottom of the pool.

    It’s only the next day that Mrs. Ella DeSpain called the Fire Department to say that Richard H. DeSpain—the same Richard DeSpain who shot his mother with a war trophy Japanese Nambu pistol in 1947—was at the bottom of the pool at 17540 Parthenia. Oh and by the way her sister had a few too many drinks and tranquilizers and was dead on the couch.

    It’s a story that confused the police, The Times reporter and remains confusing 41 years later. All that’s clear is that Ella DeSpain of 100 S. Rossmore Ave. was found not guilty of any wrongdoing. The only thing in the entire story that makes any sense is a detective’s observation that: “All three had been drinking heavily.â€Â

    Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1964

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