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Memory of Crawford accident
Alternative Title
Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection
Date Created and/or Issued
Contributing Institution
Los Angeles Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Rights Information
Images available for reproduction and use. Please see the Ordering & Use page at for additional information.
Photograph was edited for publication purposes.
It was barely dawn on December 12, 1939 when Aggie Underwood and photographer Paul Pangburn rolled up to the scene of a tragic auto accident on the road from Mt. Wilson. Five people had perished when the light sedan in which they were riding careened down the mountainside. The dead were: Elva Ruth Crawford and her three children ranging in age from eight to fifteen, and a boarder in the Crawford home, Ralph Barnett. The only survivor was the driver of the car, Laurel Crawford. Laurel rested on a cot surrounded by Sheriff's deputies who refused to allow Underwood to interview him. Understandably, the deputies felt that the man had been through an ordeal which could only be exacerbated by questions from the press. Still, Underwood managed to make a deal with a deputy who talked with Laurel as Underwood listened in from an adjoining room. She had used this ploy before. There were a few things about Laurel and his story that felt wrong to Underwood. Laurel claimed that he had lost control of the car and even though he exhorted his passengers to jump he was the only one who had managed to escape. He said he had climbed down the 1000 foot embankment a couple of times. He held his daughter, Helen, in his arms as she died. But Underwood doubted his veracity. Helen's body had been crushed and bloody, yet Laurel's clothing was clean. When Lieutenants Garner Brown and Paul Mahoney of the Sheriff's Bureau of Investigation arrived, Brown asked Underwood for her take on the situation. She answered bluntly: "I think it smells. He's guilty as hell." A few of the deputies appeared shocked, but Brown listened to her reasoning. She told him that Laurel's leather jacket, khaki pants and shirt were far too clean if he had been up and down the mountain as he had said. His grief rang false to Underwood too. He made the tragedy revolve around him, repeating: "Why did this have to happen to me?" rather than questioning why it had happened to his family. Lieutenant Brown agreed with Underwood's assessment and pursued an investigation. It was discovered that Laurel had purchased insurance policies on his wife and children, a few with double indemnity clauses. He stood to receive a large pay out which he then intended to use to purchase a car dealership. Laurel Crawford was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, but he wasn't indicted for Barnett's death. Thirty-one years later, in May 1971 at age 73, Laurel died of injuries he sustained during a beating meted out by other prisoners at Folsom.
Photographs taken in 1939 and edited to create a montage for an article dated March 4, 1940; the caption reads, "The tragic memory of his family lunging to their deaths in an automobile hurtling wildly down a mountainside from the Mount Wilson highway, as he goes to trial today charged with the murders of his wife and three children. A friend of the family also died in the crash. Crawford claims the auto's plunge was an accident. The state charges he drove the party off the cliff to collect insurance."
1 photographic print :b&w ;38 x 22 cm. on board 38 x 22 cm.
Photographic prints
Herald Examiner Collection
HE box 8765
Trials (Murder)--California--Los Angeles
Detectives--California--Los Angeles County
Traffic accidents--California--Los Angeles County
Murder victims--California--Los Angeles County
Men--California--Los Angeles County
Automobiles--California--Los Angeles County
Mountains--California, Southern
Angeles Crest Highway (Calif.)
San Gabriel Mountains (Calif.)
Night photographs
Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express photographs
Herald-Examiner Collection photographs
Time Period

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