"The Onion Field is the frighteningly true story of a fatal collision of destinies that would lead two young cops and two young robbers to a deserted field on the outskirts of Los Angeles, towards a bizarre execution and its terrible aftermath."
|from Ali Express|
and then things get worse. As a "young red-faced vice cop at Wilshire Station" who had been on the job for less than three years (whom I'm guessing is Wambaugh himself, as he started his police career in 1960) had learned during his time there,"You can always do something. I just don't see giving up your gun to some crook under any circumstances. And even after that you can do something. Karl should've..."
"Policemen thoroughly believed that no man-caused calamity happens by chance, that there is always a step that should have been taken, would have been taken, if the sufferer had been alert, cautious, brave, aggressive -- in short, if he'd been like a prototype policeman."
In reading "prototype policeman," think tough guy. An order in memo form was then circulated throughout the LAPD that basically labeled Hettinger and Campbell as "cowards no matter how you slice it." Written by an Inspector Powers ("a cop's cop") on "Officer Survival," it instructed officers that "Surrender is never a guarantee for anyone." Prior to reading it at a roll call, the station captain added his two cents' worth, saying that
"Anybody that gives up his gun to some punk is nothing but a coward."
"Both the dead man and the survivor were implicitly tried by police edict and found wanting. There had to be blame placed."
Hettinger himself believed that "almost all policemen were critical of his behavior that night." Now I get that what we know now as PTSD wasn't a term yet invented or even defined in 1963, but when he is forced to resign after being caught for shoplifting, one might have thought that someone would have connected the dots and viewed Hettinger's acts as a cry for help, but that didn't happen. Hettinger himself wasn't fully aware of why he did this or why he was plagued with nightmares and other symptoms.
Things slid further downhill for Hettinger during the trial, since he had expected to tell his story once and then get back to his life, without having to live through it again. That wouldn't be the case -- Wambaugh, who read through thousands of transcript pages, carefully goes through what happened in the courtroom to reveal how this trial was prolonged for nearly seven years after a retrial, a number of appeals, and a defense attorney who seemed to delight in causing trouble and shakeups.
If you're expecting your standard true crime book, look elsewhere. Not only does the author do an excellent job of portraying Hettinger's ongoing suffering in the wake of Campbell's murder, but he is in no hurry to get right to the killing, periodically cutting away from the night of March 9, 1963 to examine the lives of all four of the main people involved as he takes his readers right up to the point of intersection when everything went so wrong. The Onion Field is well written with a depth so rarely seen in true crime reporting; it is intelligent, suspenseful, and above all compassionate, all making for an excellent read. It's a book I put down only to sleep.
Oh - and don't miss the film! It doesn't quite capture the immense depth of the book, but it comes very close.
very highly recommended
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