The greatest unsolved murders in Los Angeles' history — bloodier than the Black Dahlia, more coldly vicious than the hit on Bugsy Siegel — occurred on a cool fall night in 1871. Seventeen Chinese men and boys, including a popular doctor, were hanged by an angry mob near what is now Union Station, an act so savage that it bumped the Great Chicago Fire off the front page of The New York Times.
Eight men eventually were convicted, but the verdicts were thrown out almost immediately for a bizarre technical oversight by the prosecution. Unbelievably for a crime that occurred in full view of hundreds of people, no one was ever again prosecuted.
The truth about the Chinese Massacre remained buried for 140 years, until writer John Johnson Jr. took up the hunt. Johnson spent more than a year examining every piece of evidence, including documents long thought to have been lost to history. Aided by newly discovered records at the Huntington Library, Johnson found that the men convicted of the killings were in fact guilty. Little surprise there. But Johnson found something astonishing — and sinister. The bloodlust unleashed that October night was allowed to unfold (if not also set in motion) by some of the city's leading citizens, men so powerful they could arrange to have the convictions fall apart and the reasons for the massacre covered up. What emerged from Johnson's research is a portrait of a town engaged in a death struggle against its own worst nature. Come with us on a journey into the liar's den of our Los Angeles ancestors.