at the Fox Venice Theater
Call Someplace Paradise
Ghost Town: a Venice California Life
on Ghost Town
Spirit of Truth (fiction)
A Venice Wedding
30 Years Ago
The File Cabinet:
After the Burglary:
an outtake from
Visions of Venice
To See Venice
Is To Live
Venice's True Sister City
The Bus Boys, a black rock/punk band
from LA dedicated their second album, American Worker (1982), to
Sarai Ribicoff. She was one of their earliest supporters and in the words
of musician Brian ONeal, "the most intellectual rock &
roll person I knew."
One of those deaths that stay with you
Ghost Town: a Venice California Life by Pat Hartman
Senator Ribicoff's niece, who lived in Venice, was shot
and killed in a robbery outside a Washington Boulevard restaurant not
far from her home. Things are going to be hot around here for a while.
As if the political connection weren't enough, she worked for a newspaper.
Now we'll see a crackdown on Crime in Venice.
A guy named Frederick Thomas, who is black, was arrested
for the killing. Sarai Ribicoff was 23 and looked like Anne Frank would
have if she'd grown up. The police were told that one of the assailants
seemed to be wounded, so they checked out the emergency room at Marina
Mercy, and there he was, with a bullet wound on the left wrist. They got
blood samples to compare with blood on sidewalk at the crime scene.
Thomas was identified by John Shoven, a Stanford economics
professor who was Sarai Ribicoff's date. Shoven had already given up his
wallet containing about $200 when Ribicoff was pushed to the ground. Witnesses
said she didn't resist, but the man shot her anyway. "Senseless"
seems to be the consensus. No flowers, send money to a memorial fund at
Thomas has a previous record: possession of PCP, robbery
and assault. In a strange twist of fate, the first public defender assigned
to the case refused it because of a conflict of interest: he had dated
the victim. There's no bail because it's "murder under a special
circumstance" - that's during a robbery, and lying in wait. The second
suspect is still at large.
The papers have been full of Crime in Venice. Frederick
Thomas's last address was in southwest LA with his mom, but the deed was
done in Venice, and he fled first to a place in Venice, and he used to
live here and the victim did too, so it's ours.
The Herald Examiner has something about it every
day. They believe a meticulous follow-up of a single murder will "help
shed light on the growing problem of crime in Los Angeles." Actually,
the same paper shed some light on that very problem about a month before
the murder with a big scary article on urban crime. The lead paragraph
quoted the owner of a restaurant called Chez Helene, who said that a diner
there would have a wallet or purse stolen on their way out, on an average
of once a week. This is the same Venice restaurant in front of which Ribicoff
was shot in a robbery. If any of the newspaper's reporters has noticed
this ironic twist, they haven't mentioned it. Now we are told that the
management of Chez Helene has hired a security guard "to reassure
patrons." (Hey, what I want from security personnel is more than
reassurance.) Why didn't they hire a guard before, knowing that somebody
was getting ripped off at least once a week, that they knew of? In fact
for every incident the restaurant management was told about, there were
probably several unreported. Anyway, Chez Helene also reports that business
has not been affected by the murder. Yeah, right.
Ribicoff was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale and former
campus correspondent for Time magazine and had worked for Mademoiselle
magazine. Everybody says how multitalented she was, in addition to being
"sincerely committed to social justice." At the time of her
death, she was an editorial writer for the Herald Examiner and
supposedly could have become one of the great newspaper or magazine editors
of all time. If the social justice part is true, she could have done untold
good for such assholes as Thomas.
Witnesses say that Ribicoff didn't fight back, but Thomas
shot her anyway. He shot at Shoven and missed. He also seems to have managed
to shoot himself, like his more famous counterpart Gary Gilmore. Then
he ran to a building at 919 Fifth Avenue at Broadway, where Shoven's wallet
was later found. A woman who lives there drove him to the hospital. At
the time of his arrest he said he'd been injured in a drive-by shooting.
One of the papers ran a big article about this building.
It's only ten years old and totally wrecked. Graffiti all over it, most
of the windows boarded up, mailboxes ripped out, litter all over the place,
bloodstains on the floors. The manager says she's scared to go out of
her apartment and it takes over a year to evict bad tenants. Out of 26
units at 919 Fifth, only three tenants are there legally. The cops say
it's a cancer in the community and may be the worst building in Venice.
Since it was built there have been hundreds of arrests at that corner,
fights, heroin sales, lots of guns confiscated. It's so bad a cop once
had his gun stolen there.
The big news is that the accomplice is no longer at
large. Anthony LaQuin McAdoo surrendered and is being held without bail.
The police went to his home, one street over from ours. Next time he showed
up, his folks had a talk with him and brought him down to the station
on New Years Eve. Other family members were not happy about that, but
his mother felt it was better than having the police gun him down on the
street. The stepfather has been around for 13 years and says McAdoo is
a great kid. He has a bunch of trophies from high school football and
baseball. He's had "no major arrests" and apparently isn't a
gang member. The Herald Examiner ran a photo from two years ago
when he was 17, dressed up for the senior prom and looking like a son
any parents would be proud of. That was the "before" picture.
In a current photo where a deputy leads him to Municipal Court, he wears
a shiny jacket and a stupid backwards baseball cap and looks like he's
in the middle of cussing somebody out.
Frederick Thomas has been charged with shooting and robbing
a salesman three hours before killing Sarai Ribicoff. He denies it. The
accomplice, McAdoo, pleads innocent to murder, attempted murder and armed
robbery. Chez Helene says it was hard to find someone who would take the
security guard job, but he's still there and there have been no more incidents.
The prosecutors decided not to try to execute McAdoo.
No jury would have gone for it anyway, since he was only along for the
ride. He needed money to fix the transmission on his 1965 Impala, and
had no intention of killing anybody. That in itself might not impress
a jury, but the fact that he didn't pull the trigger would certainly make
a difference. He agreed to plead guilty to first degree murder and testify
against Thomas. Then he backed out of the deal, "fearful of his safety
behind bars" the paper says. Also his family was threatened.
It's often difficult for the Herald Examiner to
find something fresh to say in their daily case log, but a recent chapter
revealed something new. The police did not actually follow a trail of
blood from Chez Helene, like Hansel and Gretel with their trail of crumbs
in the forest. Thomas and McAdoo were chased by two knife-wielding cooks
(employed by another restaurant), who saw them go into 919 Fifth, and
came back and told the cops about it. This has been kept quiet for more
than eight months, supposedly for fear of retaliation against the men,
but now the police have given them certificates of thanks in a public
ceremony, so it kind of makes you wonder.
The Frederick Thomas trial has finally started. In a
news photo he seems to be wearing wire-rim glasses, definitely not your
typical Oakwood gang accessory, which I bet his lawyer bought to make
him look sensitive and intelligent. The paper says he "flipped a
blue handkerchief in his hand as he walked past photographers." Showing
his Crips colors, the arrogant bastard.
They requote the testimony of Ribicoff's companion John
Shoven at an earlier hearing. "Sarai was pleading that she did not
have a purse, which he seemed to want. He put a gun to her head and pulled
the trigger.....it did not go off......He then lowered the gun to her
torso and shot her. He waved the gun at me and shot but missed."
Things seem kind of confused. Ribicoff was on the sidewalk
when Thomas shot her at point-blank range, but the same bullet is supposed
to have gone through his wrist. In the earliest reports she was said to
have been shot in the chest, but actually it was in the back.
Testimony has been heard from Maureen Young, the woman
to whose apartment at 919 5th the suspects fled. She was home with her
own four children and five others at the time. Young is kind of related
to McAdoo, who is described as her sister's cousin. He didn't want to
go along to the hospital but Thomas badmouthed him for being a coward.
She drove them to Marina Mercy, where McAdoo had second thoughts and took
Before that day, McAdoo didn't have much of a record
at all: his only prior arrest was for possession of three joints. Already
he had a file, was labeled a criminal, so why not take part in a robbery?
Whereas a guy with a clean slate might have thought twice before getting
involved. Wouldn't it make sense to stop sending people to the penitentiary
"graduate school of crime" for drug violations? Just asking.
A week or so ago it was discovered that important evidence
has never been analyzed. Tissue scrapings were taken from Thomas's hands,
at the time of the arrest, to determine whether he had fired a gun. The
samples were labeled and stuck in a drawer someplace and totally overlooked
until the sixth week of the trial. Since the Herald Examiner has
been interested enough in this story to print something on it every single
day for more than a year, how come none of the reporters caught on to
the missing evidence?
Then there was an article by Randall Sullivan about
a character in the drama who particularly caught his interest: a young
black guy who appeared dressed in a suit, every day of the trial, and
seemed to know everybody. An interview revealed that this Robert Anderson
used to hang out with Thomas and was his rival for leadership of the Crips.
He later joined a radical group called The Family, which planned to destroy
the power and water facilities of Los Angeles. (What a swell way to convert
people to your ideology.)
But then he joined the Army and got stationed in Europe.
He was mellowed by the experience of being around people who didn't have
racial questions uppermost in their minds. He started to read and educate
himself and decided to be a lawyer. When Anderson came home in 1978 to
Oakwood, the unemployment rate among youths was a lot higher than the
50% admitted by county statistics. During the next three years, ten young
men from the neighborhood were sent to state prison for first-degree murder.
Anderson enrolled at Santa Monica College, worked some shit jobs, then
had a position in CETA until the program was discontinued. Now he lives
on the GI Bill payments and still wants to go to law school at UCLA. Sullivan
makes a great story about the divergent paths of the two homeboys, one
an accused murderer and the other a struggling student who has come to
believe "that a world run by white people he has never met will make
a place for him."
As Thomass trial continued, Anthony McAdoo overcame
his fear of retaliation and testified against him. Thomas showed him the
gun beforehand and said, "I've got this in case any of the victims
get out of hand." McAdoo did the prosecution's case some harm by
saying that the victim did get out of hand, in other words Ribicoff struggled
against her assailant. (Shoven, her date, of course has said that she
didn't resist.) The defense lawyer Richard Hirsch says there is legal
precedent to the effect that a struggling victim is responsible for whatever
This guy had one of his associates write to Sarai Ribicoff's
father and ask him for his personal opinion of the death penalty. Mr.
Ribicoff, who is also a lawyer, alerted the prosecutor of this pathetic
ploy. The judge said it was not unethical but certainly imprudent. Hirsch
used to be president of the LA County Bar Association. He also used to
be a prosecutor himself, and specialized in obscenity cases. I wonder
if Lenny Bruce ever ran up against him. (Later note: apparantly
not, but he did go on to defend Tommy Chong.)
Speaking of obscenity, Hirsch sure has himself a potty-mouth
of a client. Immediately after the crime, when the two men knocked at
Maureen Young's door, they were arguing loudly because McAdoo didn't want
to go along to the hospital. Thomas called him chickenshit and said "We're
in this shit together." In the car, McAdoo told her "The nigger
must think I'm crazy. He shot the person and he wants me to take the gun
and shoot the damn thing in the air." Thomas glared at him and said
"Shut your fucking mouth." Later, an informant who was on the
county jail bus with Thomas reported him as saying "I killed the
bitch because she wouldn't give up the gold." Obscene language aside,
Thomas is said to have boasted about the deed to at least four fellow
prisoners since being in custody.
Ballistics tests show that the gun used in the robbery
of the salesman three hours before was the same one that killed Ribicoff.
Apparently it's never been found. The meat salesman could not positively
identify Thomas. The guy seems very confused. When Shoven and Ribicoff
were accosted, the first thing Thomas said to them was, "This is
for real." At first the salesman testified that the gunman greeted
him with the same phrase. Then he reconsidered and said maybe it was just
something he overheard at the police lineup. It seems very unlikely that
someone could be confused about a thing like that. We tend to remember
the dialog in moments of stress.
At any rate, Thomas was convicted of first degree murder,
and then the trial swung into the penalty phase and character witnesses
were summoned. Thomas has been described on the stand as a peacemaker
and a loving and understanding father to his illegitimate daughter whom
he used to visit several times a week. His aunt said he baked a cake for
his mom on Mother's Day in 1979. The parade of character witnesses pissed
off Deputy DA Barshop, who threatened to introduce Thomas's juvenile record
for assaultive behavior, which dates back to age thirteen. The judge said
this would be okay, but Barshop didn't do it because he didn't want to
leave any basis for an appeal. The jury voted 7-5 on the death penalty,
so it's a mistrial. It they don't retry the penalty phase, he gets life
without possibility of parole. Of course the DA wants to retry it, and
the defense wants to leave well enough alone.
While waiting to learn whether the Ribicoff case will
be retried, the Herald Examiner runs personality profiles of the
two attorneys. Thomas's lawyer is a liberal democrat who is opposed to
capital punishment. He described Thomas in court as a "frustrated,
unemployed man with a four-year-old illegitimate daughter." The thing
is, I've run up against a lot of these frustrated, unemployed guys, of
many ethnic groups. As teenagers, they cut school every chance they get
and ridicule anybody who tries to learn for being wimps. Then they complain
about not having had opportunities. These guys, when you hire them, resent
anything that resembles instruction, and they cop an attitude like, "Don't
tell me how to do my job, man." When they bitch about not receiving
adequate job training, it's hard to feel sympathy. We're supposed to empathize
with Thomas being a father. He irresponsibly knocks up some girl in the
neighborhood and probably never contributes a cent to the kid's upkeep,
and the jury is supposed to be lenient because he's a daddy. This is the
kind of stuff that makes me fed up with liberals.
The lawyer says that Thomas has "a reputation of
arbitrating disputes between Latin and Black street gangs in the Venice
area," and suggests that perhaps he could become a peacemaker in
prison. "He can become a leader in that world within a world."
Like I care. In his closing argument before the jury, Hirsch defended
Ribicoff's killer by saying, "It was a situation that got out of
hand...A matter of seconds was the difference between life and death.
Somebody panicked, somebody died." My ass. This guy talks about robbery
and murder like it was some kind of act of God or nature, like a hurricane,
that nobody really had any causative responsibility for.
Randall Sullivan's column on Sunday summed up the implications
of the Ribicoff trial. He talked on the phone with Sarai's mother in Connecticut
about the family's decision not to press for a retrial of the penalty
phase. They knew all along it was unlikely that a California jury would
sentence Thomas to death. The necklace that Sarai either struggled or
did not struggle to maintain possession of (depending on which witness
told the story) was identical to one that Mrs. Ribicoff had bought in
Europe and worn for many years, a gold chain supporting a gold and crystal
flower with a diamond chip. She got one just like it for Sarai when her
daughter graduated from Yale and left to make a career on the West Coast.
He also interviewed the founder of the Beverly Hills
Gun Club, which is actually located in Culver City, but all the celebs
go there anyway. The shooting instructor said the murder was "the
single most consciousness-raising event in this city in the past five
years." He told Sullivan it caused all the media liberals (like Sullivan)
to think, "Hey, that could have been me."
Sullivan describes Venice as "...the real front
lines, the only community in Los Angeles where wealthy white people and
poor black people live in the kind of close proximity large eastern cities
have been dealing with for years," and Chez Helene as a "French
restaurant among a gentrified block of boutiques and creperies surrounded
by a black ghetto on three sides."
Defense Attorney Hirsch told a reporter that he often
used to eat at Chez Helene but hasn't been back there since the murder.
Back in April, the twenty-part series "How to Understand
Inflation" that Ribicoff wrote for the Herald Examiner won
a first prize in the 1981 Gerald Loeb Awards competition, administered
by the UCLA Graduate School of Management.
At work, a woman told me she was standing in front of
Chez Helene on the very spot where Sarai Ribicoff was killed, only 24
hours before that event. When we got onto the subject of gangs, a nurse
who was listening in said, "I thought the Crips were dead. They were
finished a long time ago." Since she was black, I didn't want to
presume to be too much of an authority, but said as far as I know the
Crips are still a viable organization. About the V13 gang, I said that
according to my daughter they are a relatively laid-back outfit in general,
and prefer not to exert themselves. The black nurse recalled an incident
where some V13s invaded the hospital in search of a Culver City enemy
they hadn't quite managed to kill. It was necessary to give the patient
a fictitious name and change all the labels on the census boards, chart
backs, etc. I said yeah, that's why I qualify with words like "general"
The newspaper reviews Thomas's history of violence. September
1975: arrested for striking a man and taking his wallet. Released in his
mother's custody. 1976: three arrests, one for threatening somebody with
a large knife. 1977: arrested for purse-snatching, convicted, spent 11
months at Camp Gonzales in Malibu Canyon, during which period he was reprimanded
a dozen times for fighting with other inmates. (This is the guy his lawyer
claims is such a great peacemaker who will be a good influence on the
violent dudes in the Big House.) 1980: two arrests for possession of PCP,
serving six months for one, let off the other time. September 1980: arrested
for assault with a deadly weapon, later reduced to possession of a firearm.
He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, and if the time had been served
he would have been behind bars the day he jumped the salesman and killed
Ribicoff. According to a fellow inmate, Thomas said about Ribicoff's escort
that he's sorry he didn't kill that dude too. Anyway, instead of serving
the 180 days, Thomas was put in an outpatient drug counseling program.
Various reporters have interviewed the jurors (all women)
who voted against the death penalty. One criticized the victim for trying
to hold onto something as trivial as a gold necklace. Another said she
shouldn't even have been at that restaurant to begin with. Another put
all the blame on her date for not being able to handle the situation.
One of the holdouts voted against death because Thomas had no previous
criminal record, which is bullshit, only they weren't allowed to know
that. Several jurors said they were actually influenced by the argument
that Ribicoff contributed to her own death by resisting. She asked for
it, she deserved to die, and that's that.
The younger guy, McAdoo, got 25 years to life. The penalty
phase for Thomas was not retried and he was sentenced to a life term.
The judge really gave him hell and made it quite clear that if the penalty
had been his to decree, it would have been death. Not content with saving
his client from a death sentence, the defense attorney filed a motion
to appeal the verdict. That fucker will probably be out in a couple of