This page is dedicated to the Star Post 309 members who died in the line of duty as law enforcement officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol. Let us remember and never forget the ultimate sacrifice they made as Peace Officers.

JAMES LEO McDERMOTT – Star Post 309 Charter Member

EOW August 26, 1931

Deputy James Leo McDermott served as a deputy sheriff during the deadliest period in the history of American law enforcement. This makes his bizarre accidental death while servicing his car at a gas station just north of downtown Los Angeles a greater tragedy. More peace officers were murdered during the fifteen years Prohibition was the law of the land, 1918 to 1933, than during any comparable period in our nation’s history. This was the era of the gangster where gun battles with bootleggers, robbers, and extortionists were common. During Prohibition in Los Angeles County, eight members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, County Constabulary, and County Marshals were murdered. This is contrasted with the previous fifteen years when only one deputy constable was slain and the fifteen years immediately after when just two deputy marshals and one Sheriff’s sergeant were murdered.

 

James McDermott was a World War I Army veteran serving as a Private First Class in the US Army, 110th Military Police in the 35th Infantry Division which was made up of National Guard units from his home state of Kansas.  As a veteran of WWI, he went on to be a founding Charter Member of Star Post 309 after joining the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in April 1925. The 1920s were a period of tremendous department growth. In 1921, the Sheriff’s Homicide Detail was established. This was followed in 1922 by the Auto, Liquor, Narcotics, and Robbery Details. Additional specialized details were formed in subsequent years.

 

In 1924, the Department’s first substations opened in the unincorporated areas of Florence and East Los Angeles. A half a dozen others were added by 1927. Between July 1, 1926, and July 1, 1927 alone the number of sworn personnel in the Criminal Division of the Department (these were the deputies staffing the eight patrol stations and thirteen specialized details), increased from 201 to 303. Deputy James McDermott was a member of the Department’s Robbery Detail from at least 1927. The photograph of the team was taken in 1928 and includes fellow Star Post 309 Founding Members Captain of the Robbery Detail Clem Peoples, O.H. Cloud, A.D. Guasti, and W.C. Hutchenson.  The Robbery Detail was one of the Department’s most coveted assignments. Truly this was a team with experience in the field.

 

By all accounts Detective McDermott was more than a capable investigator. Some of the operations that he participated in were described in the Los Angeles Times. On December 30, 1927, McDermott was part of a crew of detectives who raided a ranch house at 8250 Lankershim Boulevard. This resulted in the arrest of a pair of safecrackers and the recovery of a quantity of bomb making material including nitroglycerine and dynamite. Less than two weeks later, McDermott was present in an interrogation room when a 26 year-old robbery suspect named Manuel Gallego attempted to escape by grabbing the weapon of Deputy Leland Thorne. Thorne was wounded by the suspect, but Gallego was shot in the stomach by another deputy and was then overpowered by McDermott and others.

In August 1928, McDermott assisted in the interrogation of a man who was an accomplice in the shooting and failed robbery of a gas station owner in Victorville. Then, in November, he and another deputy thwarted an effort to smuggle morphine into the County Jail. The following May, he was part of a team of deputies who busted down the door and arrested murder suspect Lee Cochran. Cochran was the alleged leader of a robbery crew who machine gunned two armed guards as part of an $85,000 heist in San Diego County. In May 1930, McDermott and a number of other members of the Robbery Detail adopted an array of disguises while staking out the spot of a money drop where an extortion suspect hoped to collect money from a wealthy San Marino widow he was threatening. When the suspect finally showed himself to collect the money, McDermott and the other detectives arrested him.

 

On August 25, 1931, the night before he was killed, McDermott was part of a crew of deputies who located one of the largest active, illicit distilleries ever discovered in Los Angeles County during Prohibition. The still was on the Hauser Ranch, three miles north of the Mint Canyon Road near Agua Dulce. It was capable of producing 250 gallons of alcohol a day. In addition to the still, two operators of the apparatus were arrested and 5,000 gallons of finished product in wooden vats were seized.

 

Given the danger that McDermott routinely faced as a member of the Robbery Detail, his bizarre death doing a simple task was cruelly ironic. On the evening of August 26, 1931, McDermott drove one of the Department’s Ford Sedans into a service station at 1705 North Broadway, Los Angeles. There was apparently some problem with the vehicle, because one of station’s attendants witnessed him standing over its open hood looking down at the engine. While engaged in this mundane task, the vehicle’s brakes suddenly failed and the car started rolling. McDermott hastily jumped on the sedan’s running board in an effort to stop it.

 

To appreciate why McDermott would be frantic to stop the car it is necessary to understand the terrain of the area. The service station was located on the corner of Broadway and Pasadena Avenue on the eastern end of the Broadway Bridge where it crosses the Los Angeles River. Included with this article are two photographs showing the Broadway Bridge in 1924 and 1937. Each photo is taken looking east. What is not visible in either photo is the Broadway and Pasadena intersection. If you look to the right of the extremely crowded bridge in the photo taken in 1937, you will understand why. Here the eastern end of the Spring Street Bridge can be seen. Notice the significant decline at the eastern end of this bridge. This drop off was also present at the eastern end of the Broadway Bridge. This extreme slope is present there even today and extends well beyond the intersection of Broadway and Pasadena Avenue all the way to where Broadway intersects with Spring Street. When the brakes failed in McDermott’s sedan, it quickly accelerated as it began to roll down the steep decline in the service station parking lot.

 

Both photographs of the Broadway Bridge also show another reason why McDermott was probably so anxious to stop the car. In the 1930s, Broadway was a much busier thoroughfare than it is today. Not only was it congested with automobiles and trucks, but there were also two tracks for Pacific Electric trolleys. McDermott’s out of control sedan would be a serious hazard to traffic. Fearing what damage his driverless vehicle might cause, McDermott jumped on the running board in an effort to stop it. The tragic results that followed testify to how steep the service station parking lot was and the speed the car quickly attained. McDermott was impaled on a metal hook used to suspend air and water hoses. The sharp end of the hook pierced his chest just below the heart. An ambulance was quickly called, but he died on his way to the Georgia Street Hospital. James McDermott was 40 years old at the time of his death. He was born in Kansas. His wife’s name was Mabel and they lived on Ellenwood Drive in Eagle Rock and had no children. A Coroner’s inquest determined his death to be accidental and confirmed that he was on duty at the time he died.

Services were held for McDermott on August 29th at the Delmer A. Smith Chapel. He was a Mason and a member of the Star Post 309 of the American Legion. Members from each organization participated in the services. He is buried at the Veterans’ Cemetery at Sawtelle.

In May 2014, his death was duly classified as a line of duty death, and James L. McDermott was inducted into the California and Los Angeles County Peace Officers Memorials.  He is interned at the Los Angeles Nation Cemetery.

FRANK DEWAR – Star Post 309 Commander 1932

EOW January 29, 1932

Chief Deputy DeWar was a prominent member of the American Legion Star Post 309, and was instrumental in its growth and outreach on the Sheriff's Department shortly after its founding in 1927.  DeWar was killed in an airplane accident while returning from Bakersfield after investigating a lead in a kidnapping case.

The pilot of the Century-Pacific Airlines plane attempted to fly low under the clouds of a storm but was forced to turn back. The plane struck a ridge in Johnson Canyon on the Tejon Ranch, near Lebec, Kern County. The pilot and all seven passengers were killed. Despite a massive air search involving over 100 planes, the wreckage was not located until one week later when a rancher driving along the Ridge Route Highway spotted it.

Chief Deputy DeWar was a WWI veteran and was in charge of the Special Anti-Gangster Duty.  For a time, DeWar served as the Undersheriff during Eugene Biscailuz tenure as the first commission of the newly created California Highway Patrol. 

DeWar joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1914. The following year he took a leave of absence and enlisted in the Seventh Canadian Overseas Battalion to fight in World War I, and rose to the rank of sergeant. He was injured by poison gas in 1916 and then wounded by shrapnel at Vimy Ridge in 1917. After his last wounds he was honorably discharged by the Canadian Army. When he returned to North America he helped the Canadian recruiting drive. His numerous requests to return to combat were denied by the Canadian Army, but in October 1918 he passed his physical to join the American Army. The war ended a month later and he did not return to Europe.

After the war, DeWar rejoined the Sheriff’s Department and served with distinction. In 1926, following numerous escapes at the recently opened Hall of Justice Jail, DeWar became Chief Jailer and immediately restored order to the new custody facility. In April 1930, when Eugene Biscailuz left the Sheriff’s Department to become the first commissioner of the newly created California Highway Patrol, DeWar was named to replace Biscailuz as Undersheriff. Upon Biscialuz’s return to the Sheriff’s Department at the end of 1931, DeWar stepped aside as Biscailuz again took the Undersheriff position. DeWar was named Chief Deputy and placed in command of an anti-gang unit.

The Patriotic Hall was filled to capacity at DeWar’s funeral and hundreds stood outside. Dignitaries from all over the state, including California Governor Rolph, attended. The funeral was conducted by the American Legion and afterwards the procession to the gravesite extended for over a mile and included the World War Veterans’ Pipe Band, Police and American Legion Corps as well as member of Post Number 13 of the Canadian Legion.

RUDOLPH G. VEJAR – Star Post 309 Charter Member

 EOW November 12, 1932

In the early morning hours of November 11, 1932, LASD Homicide Investigator Deputy Rudolph "Cookie" Vejar entered a speakeasy at 2610 1/2 W. Seventh Street in the city of Los Angeles to conduct a follow-up investigation. A short time later two men entered the establishment to rob it. One of the two made this intention very clear when he fired a gunshot into the ceiling and announced they were all being robbed.

Everyone was ordered to sit on the floor. Covered by the gun of Suspect James Rogan, his partner, Rollie Dee McAlister, held burning matches to the feet of the proprietor, Harvey Crosby, attempting to extract information about the location of more money. Crosby in his pain and desperation told McAlister to stop hurting him because Vejar was a deputy sheriff.

This put Vejar in a horrible position. McAlister immediately turned his attention to the deputy and began pistol-whipping him as he removed his gun from his shoulder holster. Unknown to the suspects and rare for law enforcement officers in this day, Vejar carried a second gun. Still lying on the ground, he turned to one side, withdrew the second weapon from his pocket and shot McAlister twice. The first round went through his arm, entered his chest and collapsed his left lung. The second round also entered his chest knocking him to the ground where he died almost immediately. After Vejar shot his partner, Rogan panicked and tried to run out of the speakeasy, but Vejar fired twice at him. One round struck Rogan in the leg and the second in the shoulder. Rogan fired one wild round toward Vejar in his attempt to escape. Tragically, this desperate shot struck Vejar in the jaw and entered his neck.

Cookie Vejar, 36, a World War I Army veteran, and deputy since 1924, worked the Homicide Detail at the time of his death. He was a crack shot and a member of the Sheriff’s pistol team, which explains why he could fire four rounds under such dire circumstances with all finding their mark.  In 1927, Vejar was one of seventy military veterans who were members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to found Star Post 309.

Upon his death, Vejar left behind his wife, Helen, and his infant son, Allen.  Allen Vejar resides in San Francisco and is a legacy member of Star Post 309.

FREDERICK P. GUIOL – Star Post 309 Member

EOW March 10, 1946

On March 10, 1946, LASD Sergeant Fred Guiol, 56, was parked in front of 1117 Elden Avenue, in the city of Los Angeles with Miss Pearl Rattenbury, 39, who lived at that address. They just returned from a dinner date and Sergeant Guiol was in the process of telling her how on March 11 of the previous year he, his wife Phyllis, their three-year-old son, Phillip, and nine-year-old daughter, Anita were in a car struck by a freight train at a crossing in Pasadena. Both his wife and young son died. In the middle of this story, a young man approached armed with a handgun and demanded their money.  During the robbery, the suspect shot and killed Guiol.

Prior to his murder, Sergeant Guiol worked as a desk Sergeant at the Hall of Justice Jail. He joined the Sheriff’s Department in July 1928.  Prior to his appointment with the Sheriff’s Department, Guiol served in the US Army’s 364th Infantry Regiment during World War I.

STEPHEN W. SODEL – Star Post 309 Commander 1946 

EOW September 17, 1946

On September 17, 1946, Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs R.K. Etienne and W.J. Gratar found the patrol car of CHP Officer Steve Sodel abandoned and locked on Jefferson Boulevard one-half mile east of Lincoln Boulevard near Marina Del Rey. Some 40 feet from the abandoned car they saw skid marks suggesting Sodel may have stopped a car for some violation and then been assaulted and kidnapped by the occupant(s). A statewide search immediately began to find Officer Sodel.

As lawmen frantically searched for Sodel, George Osborne, an aeronautical engineer who lived nearby came forward and said he saw Sodel talking with an occupant of a dark-colored 1941 or 1942 sedan. This car and Sodel’s patrol car were parked almost “bumper to bumper.” This was the best lead those searching for Sodel developed who worked a detail checking the brakes and lights of vehicles. Possibly he pulled over this car because of a mechanical problem and was in the process of discussing this with the driver when the stop turned violent.

By September 19 over 100 California Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s deputies and police officers poured over the Venice-Playa del Rey area in search of the missing officer. Rewards were offered. One of the more generous came from Star Post 309 of the American Legion, where Sodel served as commander. 

On September 20, a bullet riddled stolen car matching the description of the one Officer Sodel stopped was located in Las Vegas. A member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Aero Squadron flew a CHP investigator to Nevada to examine the vehicle. Evidence inside revealed notes handed out at CHP briefings and other documents pointing toward a potential suspect, Albert A. (Tony) Adams, 26, an ex-convict from New York and an Army deserter. The statewide search for Officer Sodel and the suspect now went nationwide.

But with the discovery of the car and its evidence in Nevada, a growing cloud of impending sorrow began to spread over the search for Officer Sodel. Sadly, this burst when on September 22, three young boys, Robert Frling, 9, Robert Irvine, 8, and his younger brother, Blair, 5, found the bullet riddled body of Officer Sodel in a shallow grave off La Brea Avenue in the Baldwin Hills near a new housing project. An autopsy later determined he died on September 17.

The manhunt for Adams intensified with the discovery of Officer Sodel’s body. Eventually, the FBI found him hiding in a tenement house on the East Side of New York City. Together with members of the NYPD they closed in on him. Adams attempted to allude capture by jumping out of a window and running for a back exit. Officers quickly caught up to him, but not before he slashed one of his own wrists in an abortive suicide attempt.

AMES RANDOLPH JONES – Star Post 309 Charter Member 

 EOW March 31, 1948

Ames Randolph "Casey" Jones was among 70 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department members who founded Star Post 309 on December 6, 1927.  Casey Jones served as a First Lieutenant in the US Army during World War I.

Jones was the first Post Commander of Star Post 309 between the time the Post received its temporary charter to October 29, 1928, when the permanent charter was issued.

Deputy Sheriff Jones succumbed to complications of a gunshot wound sustained on January 21, 1929, inside the Hall of Justice building in Los Angeles. He and another deputy were escorting two state convicts back to jail on the upper floors of the building following a court appearance. As the elevator passed the ninth floor one of the prisoners produced a handgun and a shootout ensued inside of the elevator. The elevator operator was able to grab the prisoner's arm as he shot, but one of the shots struck Deputy Jones in the throat.

Despite his wounds, Deputy Jones and the other deputy shot and killed the subject. The second prisoner was also wounded. Deputy Jones' condition continued to worsen and he had to medically retire on December 5, 1937. He passed away from complications of the gunshot wound on March 31, 1948.

For 72 years, his death was not considered a line of duty death until May 2020. Now his name will be forever enshrined on the Los Angeles County Peace Officers Memorial and the National Memorial in Washington DC. In 1956, Star Post 309 honored Casey Jones at the annual Tree Planting Ceremony. His name was forever enshrined on the Star Post Memorial Wall located at the Pitchess Detention Center.

DONALD J. GILLIS – Star Post 309 Member 

 EOW September 20 1958

On September 20, 1958, while vacationing in a campground in the Laguna Mountains of San Diego County with his family, Firestone Station Lieutenant Donald J. Gillis felt compelled to take a rifle away from a drunk, 65-year-old, fellow camper. Unknown to Gillis the man had a second rifle in his truck. The suspect retrieved the weapon and shot and killed Gillis with it. Later the man claimed he shot Gillis in self-defense, but this assertion did not persuade the jury who in December 1958 convicted the man of first-degree murder. He received a sentence of life in prison.

Donald Gillis was born in Alhambra on January 28, 1913. He joined the Sheriff's Department on May 2, 1937 and was assigned to Patrol Division. His assignments included tours of duty at San Dimas, Altadena, Montrose, Temple, Lancaster and Firestone Stations.

Active in the National Guard before World War II, Gillis requested military leave after Pearl Harbor and served in the Army's 387th Military Police Battalion. He reached the rank of Master Sergeant. Following the war, he returned to the LASD and on February 1, 1946, attaining the rank of sergeant. On May 9, 1955, he promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to Firestone Station.

At Lieutenant Gillis’ funeral on September 25, 1958, a guard of honor consisting of the Sheriff’s Honor Guard, American Legion Star Post 309 Color Guard, as well as officers from the LAPD, the California Highway Patrol and other local law enforcement agencies attended in support of his family and friends. Don was survived by his wife, Leatha, and son, George.

ARTHUR E. PELINO – Star Post 309 Member

 EOW March 19, 1978

Deputy Arthur Pelino was shot and killed by a mentally deranged suspect. Deputy Pelino was a Resident Deputy in Gorman, which is located in a rural section of Los Angeles County. He had arrested a mentally deranged suspect that was known to have been violent. Deputy Pelino cancelled Deputies that were responding to back him up stating he had the situation under control. Deputy Pelino took the suspect back to his office to start the booking process.

During the booking process, the suspect started to struggle and was able to get Deputy Pelino's service weapon. The suspect shot and killed Deputy Pelino and sat down in the office. Two of Deputy Pelino's children found him and the suspect and ran to get help. Deputy Pelino's wife was able to get the suspect into a cell and call for assistance.

Deputy Pelino enlisted in the US Army on March 30, 1944, and was honorably discharged on May 22, 1946.  Deputy Pelino had been with the LASD for 21 years and was survived by his wife, three sons, and three daughters.

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