Remembering One of LAPD’s Finest- Sgt. Audrey Fletcher: A Woman Who Would Be Chief
April 18, 2020
Los Angeles, California
“Had LAPD Sgt. Audrey Fletcher been born an Aubrey with a single X chromosome and one Y chromosome instead of the two XX chromosomes then one letter in her name would have been changed from a D to a B (from Audrey to Aubrey) being born a man, she likely would have become one of LAPD’s greatest Police Chiefs.
Detective III Steve Hodel 11304
LAPD Hollywood Homicide (ret.)
In 1969, as a new rookie detective, my first assignment at LAPD’s Hollywood Division Detectives was to the Juvenile Unit. My first partner was Sgt. Audrey Fletcher, a veteran with twenty plus years on the job.
Right out of the gate, Audrey taught me the two most important keys to becoming a successful and productive police detective. They were: 1) How to show respect and compassion for all the victims of crimes and 2) How to have a three-martini on-the-job lunch, and not show it.
I’ll never forget my first “three-martini” lunch with Audrey. IT WAS A DOOZY.
Audrey always reminded me of the actress, Eve Arden, not just physically, but she also had that same of humor, INTELLIGENT, and DRY as her vodka martinis.
We were at “The Jolly Roger” restaurant a half block from the police station just finishing a salad. Audrey reached into her purse and handed me a Sen-Sen. (A candy, used in the old days to cover up the smell of alcohol. The only problem is if you had Sen-Sen on your breath, everyone knew you had taken it to cover-up the smell of booze? Never did figure that one out.)
Eve Arden, 1950 “Our Miss Brooks” “Sen-Sen” breath candy
Audrey smiled at me, handed me the breath candy, and said, “Want something to take your breath away?”
I reached for the package, thanked her, and she kept staring at me. “No, I mean, want to HEAR something that will?”
She then began her story.
“Steven, I’ve been to your home when you were quite small. Maybe six or seven?”
I was stunned. “My home? How? Where?
Audrey then proceeded to tell me that in 1949 she was a brand new uniformed patrol officer and had received a radio call to go to 5121 Franklin Ave in Hollywood. She responded to the call and entered a Mayan Temple structure and was ordered to “stand by” while detectives conducted a search of the premise. She saw my mother and a maid at the house but we three boys were not present.
“They were searching for evidence connected to the arrest of your father, Dr. Hodel, who also was not present, but had been arrested sometime previous. Maybe a few days or a week?
“I was there maybe an hour.
A larger smile filled her face, “I recall one of the brass, I think it might have been the Captain of Hollywood, was standing in the large living room He looked at a bronze sculpture on the table, picked it up and said, “Oh now this is a nice Centaur piece.”
I laughed, but the other officers in the room didn’t get it.
It was a Centaur frolicking, or maybe fucking a Forrest nymph.
The detectives seized it as evidence along with some other items. I think some photographs and I don’t recall what else?
That was my only connection. Just to “stand by” while the detectives did there thing.
I wouldn’t become a detective for another eight years or so?
I was stunned and amazed by what she said. My current partner and drinking companion was present some twenty-years earlier, after the arrest of my father, for incest and child molestation of my teenage sister when I was eight-years-old.
I looked at her in disbelief. “What happened? What do you know about all that? What did the detectives tell you?
Audrey’s still smiling said, “Nothing, other than your father was a bigtime doctor and had been arrested with some others adults for having sex with his teenage daughter.”
That was the first and last time Audrey ever made any reference to my father. She knew nothing other than the fact that she was just a rookie cop standing by at the scene inside a very cool house.
Hodel Franklin/Sowden House 5121 Franklin Ave, Hollywood
Working Juvenile, we handled and did all the follow-up on the “runaways,” teenagers from Small Town, USA that flooded the streets of Hollywood during the Peace and Love area of the late Sixties. We also handled juvenile victims of major crimes like sexual assaults, and attempted murders, which were rare, but came along every few months.
My first major case once partnered with Audrey was the Rodney Alcala investigation. For those interested in a video summary and my role in the investigation.
The crime a kidnap-rape/attempt murder of the victim, Tali Shapiro, an eight-year-old child, had occurred some ten months before my assignment to detectives, while I was working uniform patrol, morning watch.
It had been a daytime crime and I was not at the original crime scene and did not know the facts until partnering with Audrey in May 1969. (By then the crime was almost one year old, and Alcala was “in-the-wind,” and a felony warrant for his arrest was outstanding and despite Audrey’s Herculean efforts, his whereabouts, remained unknown.)
As Sgt. Fletcher’s “new partner,” she had me do some investigative follow-up on the Alcala case, and I recall an interview I did with one of Alcala’s professors at UCLA, and his response was, “You must have the wrong man. Rod Alcala wouldn’t hurt anyone. He was a brilliant student and a very nice young man.”
Audrey took me along, and we went to the LA FBI’s downtown office, where she pushed hard to get Alcala on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” List. A next to impossible task because they had so many crimes and so few openings for the “Most Wanted.”. If Audrey could be able to convince the supervising agent, it would mean every police and sheriff’s office across the nation would have the FBI Bulletin, and the chances of his being apprehended would increase a thousandfold.
Well, Audrey talked hard and fast, and SHE GOT IT.
FBI Most Wanted Poster
In 1971, the office phone rang in and BINGO, Alcala was in custody in New Hampshire where he had been an instructor at a teenage girl’s camp.
It turned out that a couple of the young girl’s on a cold and rainy New Hampshire morning went to the Post Office and looked at the wall and said, “Hey, there’s our instructor.”
They saw his picture and within hours the local FBI made the arrest.
Alcala waved extradition and I I flew to New Hampshire and brought him back to California.
He pled guilty to some of the charges and was sent to prison for 1-99 years based on the “indeterminate sentencing” guidelines that were then in place. We were confident that he would be away for several decades based on the nature and violence of his crime. Incredibly the prison psychiatrist pronounced him “all well” and he was released in just over two years.
Rodney James Alcala, also known as “The Dating Game Killer” would go on to become one of the nation’s worst serial killers. Below are some of Alcala’s post-prison release murdered victims. (Tali Shapiro survived.)
CLICK HERE FOR CBS NEWS VIDEO INTERVIEW
Audrey Fights for Woman’s Rights 1972
Here is a February 1972 article in the Los Angeles Times showing my partner fighting for “Equal Rights for Women.”
Audrey was one of the most respected and senior detectives at Hollywood, and simply because she was a woman, was not allowed to even file for Detective III rank testing because women were barred from promotion beyond Sergeant. (Detective III was equivalent to lieutenant’s pay, so it was, “Sorry, Ladies, that door is closed.”)
It would be more than a decade later before LAPD would lift the ban and allow policewoman to promote to the higher ranks. Today’s LAPD has a good number of Lieutenants, Captains, and several female Deputy Chiefs.
In my short story, The Snake and Bake Murder, I mention Audrey working with me on one of my Hollywood murder investigations. Not wanting to spoil the story, I’ll quote from one section.
A Short Story (40 pages)
Brandy was now in her full detective mode, “I think it was like ten minutes from the store to where they drove off the road. I could feel it changed from cement to driving on sand, and I could feel the wheels spin a little.”
I checked my watch and drove for another eight minutes.
Brandy pointed to a small dirt road leading off the highway, “Maybe down there?”
We tried it, but after twenty minutes, we returned and renewed our search from Highway 8. The next hour was frustrating. We had tried three more dirt roads and nothing. All the sand dunes looked alike. It was getting hot, and the uniform Yuma PD officers gave up and headed back to town.
Brandy started yelling, “There over there that’s it.”
I looked at the side road, which was identical to all the others we had tried.
“How do you know? It’s the same as all the others?”
“No, no it isn’t. Look, I remember cause when I saw that cactus it reminded me of David.”
Audrey was the first to get it. She started laughing hysterically; it literally brought her to tears.
Standing tall and fully erect at the entrance to the turnoff was a giant saguaro cactus. At its base, one on each side were two large round barrel cacti. The image was unmistakable. It was David, the “Johnny Wadd” look-a-like calling out from the grave, his giant penis pointing the way, saying, “Over here. Over here.”
We located the gravesite in ten minutes. Once it was confirmed, I had Sgt. Fletcher take our city car and drive Brandy back to the motel. I didn’t want her there for the recovery. I would catch a ride back to the motel in the Coroner’s truck.
Audrey retired from Hollywood Detectives and the LAPD sometime in the mid to late Seventies having “protected and served” the citizens of Los Angeles with a long and distinguished career.
Because of her skill and high intelligence, she went on to become a Juvenile Court Commissioner hearing cases and I lost track of her after I retired in 1986 and moved north to Washington State.
A VERY SAD ENDING
Some years into my own retirement I got a phone call from an old friend who knew how much I respected and honored Audrey, “my first detective partner”.
He opened the call with, “Steve, I’ve got some bad news for you. “
He then went on to tell me that he didn’t have all the details, but that Audrey had become quite depressed through the years and that one dark evening she drove to the beach, walked out on the sand, put her police service revolver to her head, and pulled the trigger.
So sad. Many long-serving officers do suffer extensive PTSD. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Most power through it and go on with their lives. Audrey, despite her many talents and exceptional people skills, was a heavy drinker, and I expect that may have contributed to her depression.
Thank you, Audrey, for those hundreds of young lives you saved and impacted both as a great cop and Juvenile Court Commissioner. YOU ARE MISSED.
Audrey recovering stolen property with fellow detectives in 1957
Audrey and fellow LAPD detectives recovering stolen property in June 1957
Steve: Man Ray would know the “centaur-piece” sculpture from his visits to the Sowden House, so it’s noteworthy that the title for the gory “Les Invendables” lithograph is “Le Centaure.” -LW
LW: Agreed, but their art was filled with mythological creatures, so not enough to qualify as a thoughtprint. And, of course dad named my twin brother, John Dion Hodel.