I've noticed that there has been a definite trend in the articles written for this column. Most of the characters have been from the old west and a great majority of them have been Texas Rangers. I know that the Rangers history is filled with tales of individual valor and remarkable feats of heroism, but I wanted to get a little closer to home: both geographically and chronologically. So here, I give you one of the LAPD's finest.
In 1986 a slightly round 67 year old LAPD Detective was working a serial homicide case as the string of dead call girls had grown to 15. John P. St. John was one of 19 detectives assigned to the murders. He was the oldest, most renowned officer the PD had to offer. A real no-kidding detective, he was both meticulous and tenacious. Sounds like the stuff legend doesn't it? "Jigsaw John" was old school even before they called it old school.
St. John was born in 1918 and began serving the City of Los Angeles in 1942. He earned the rank of detective in 1949 and held the post for 43 years. Yes, St. John would work 51 years with the department. In tenure alone you would assume that he would have closed an enormous number of cases, but his remarkable ability to remember ever so slight details from a previous interview or crime scene is what made him a legend and an authority on serial killings. The Jigsaw moniker originated when St. John solved a murder in Griffith Park where the victim had been dismembered, jigsaw-style. His ability to piece together seemingly insignificant details made the name stick.
During his career as detective St. John worked on no less than 12 serial murders. He would be only the second to receive the LAPD's Distinguished Service Medal following the eight-year investigation and subsequent conviction of Downey, California truck driver, William Bonin, the "Freeway Killer." Nearly every high-profile murder case saw St. John's involvement including the famous "Onion Fields" murder. He reportedly closed greater than two thirds of more than 1,000 homicides during his duty. So prolific were St. John's exploits that Los Angeles Times writer Al Martinez would write a book entitled Jigsaw John. This would lead to an NBC television series staring Jack Warden in 1976. St. John even had the distinction of carrying LAPD Detective badge Number 1, although some claim this was of his own doing.
In May of 1993 John P. St. John retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. His intention was to become a technical advisor and work in the movie industry. Unfortunately Jigsaw John would succumb to complications due to pneumonia and pancreatic cancer on May 3, 1995. Chief Willie L. Williams reinstated Detective St. Johns to active duty as of May 2, 1995 "That he make his final journey as a detective of the Los Angeles Police Department." He was survived by his wife, Helen St. John.
For more on the extraordinary career of this LAPD Detective you can check the LA Times archives or find the 15 episodes of Jigsaw John. Rarely do we have such an astonishing individual with such a noteworthy (and lengthy) career.