Detective Lee Bunch

Lest We Forget – Detective Lee Bunch – March 7, 1942





Killed on Duty, March 7th, 1942
Written by Retired Inspector John “Two Gun” Powers

On the morning of March 8th, 1942, I was still sleeping when Grace came into the bedroom. She shook me awake and asked, “Do you know Detective Lee Bunch?”

“Sure,” I replied. She said, “He was killed by a holdup man last night.” I jumped out of bed and called the office and talked to our desk sergeant, Sgt. Spencer. He said, “I’ll have you talk to the Captain, he has all the details.” The Captain got on the line and said, “Well, Lee is dead but he solved the case, and he shot the guy in the belly who killed him, and we rounded up the other three.” “Do you need any help?” I asked. He said, “No, we’re just doing the paperwork, but thanks, anyhow.” I hung up the phone and told Grace what a great detective Bunch was. He worked nights in the Auto Theft Division and was a “master of surveillance.” He could spot a potential car thief or car prowler and would tail them until they committed a crime. They never spotted him, and sometimes he would be within four feet of them as they pried open a windwing window or car door. Every night before he went out in the field he would stop by Robbery Division and ask, “What’s doing?”

Anything of importance we would tell him and then he would go through our robbery teletypes. He picked up a lot of suspects carrying guns. It was uncanny the way he could tell when a person had a gun on him who should not have had one. I liked him and talked to him every chance I got. He had given me some good tips.

The next night I went to work, and got the details of Bunch’s death. Tires were rationed because of World War II and as a consequence became valuable on the black market. Therefore, auto thefts were increasing; stolen cars were stripped of their tires and abandoned. The Detective Inspector thought that these thieves would have a lot of money and might go to Gardena to gamble; draw poker was legal there. Bunch was a good poker player and probably knew more car thieves and car prowlers than anyone in the department, so he was the logical choice to check out the Inspector’s theory.

Bunch was in one of the clubs playing poker, along with a dozen other people. Shortly after midnight on the morning of March 8th, three holdup men entered the club. They were Orville Horgan, age 28, who was armed with a semiautomatic 12 gauge shotgun; Lyle Gilbert; 39, and John Lovelace; 24, who were both armed with revolvers. They lined up the fourteen customers and employees with their faces against the wall and as Horgan covered them with the shotgun the other two suspects started to search the victims.

Bunch was the fifth person in line from where the search was started. He carried his .38 in a shoulder holster. Probably knowing that he would be identified as a police officer, Detective Bunch, drew his gun, whirled and fired at Horgan, hitting him in the belly and knocking him back on his haunches. As Horgan hit the floor, he fired two shots from the shotgun. The first went high, but the second struck Bunch in the head, killing him instantly. The bandits fled to their getaway car, parked in the front, dragging Horgan with them. Lyle Gilbert’s brother, Max, age 28, was the driver. He was unarmed. They drove around for awhile and knew Horgan had to have medical attention. They finally dumped him out in a hospital’s driveway. Horgan died the next day, but before he did, he implicated the others.

Lyle Gilbert and John Lovelace pled guilty and were sentenced to die. Max Gilbert was given a life sentence. Later, the death sentences were changed to life sentences, on the grounds that their attorney caused them to plead guilty with the belief that they would receive life sentences.

by Retired Inspector John “Two Gun” Powers
Please contact us if you have pictures, stories, information or old newspaper articles pertaining to the history of the Los Angels Police Department. We would be glad to include them in future issues of The Link magazine.

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