Patterico's Pontifications

8/17/2012

“Onion Field” Killer Gregory Powell Dies in Prison

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 12:04 am



This happened three days ago, but I just saw it. Fans of “The Onion Field,” take note:

Powell and Smith were originally sentenced to death but the sentences were reduced to life in prison when the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s death penalty. The punishment has since been reinstated, but didn’t apply retroactively.

The crimes were documented in 1973’s “The Onion Field” and the 1979 film of the same name, both written by Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles police officer.

Wambaugh said in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press that he visited Powell and Smith in prison when he was writing the book and found that they were fairly intelligent men whose lack of violent histories made their crime inexplicable.

“They were both smart guys and just petty criminals who got in over their heads one night,” Wambaugh said. “Who would have thought two such losers would do such a horrific crime?”

He said when he asked Powell if he had any complaints about the manuscript for “The Onion Field,” he had only one.

“He said, `I don’t think I’m nearly as physically unattractive as you seem to think I am” said Wambaugh. “That hurt his vanity.”

Wambaugh, told that Powell’s lawyers have always complained that his book (and the added notoriety it brought Powell) kept Powell in prison, is quoted as saying: “I’m not shedding any tears.”

Nicely understated, Mr. Wambaugh.

66 Responses to ““Onion Field” Killer Gregory Powell Dies in Prison”

  1. Why is Joseph Wambaugh not crying?!?!?!?!

    Patterico (660f41)

  2. 1.Why is Joseph Wambaugh not crying?!?!?!?!

    Comment by Patterico — 8/17/2012 @ 12:21 am

    Because Powell should have stopped processing air long ago.

    PatriotRider (b38003)

  3. Aren’t ‘smart guys’ and ‘losers’ somewhat contradictory?

    steve (369bc6)

  4. Aren’t ‘smart guys’ and ‘losers’ somewhat contradictory?

    Eh, the guy who loses a champion chess match can be both. Why not a couple of murderers?

    Pious Agnostic (7c3d5b)

  5. One might wonder what Powell thought of James Woods’
    portrayal of him. Woods did garner a Kansas City Circle award for best supporting actor and a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. Read the book and saw the movie ages ago and don’t recall what Powell looked liked.
    I gather that neither the Hollywood crybabies nor the cheese-eating surrender monkeys had sympathy for these poor killers. Pity there was no gay element involved or racist cops who used the n word.

    Calypso Louis Farrakhan (e799d8)

  6. It should be noted that Powell’s partner, Jimmy Lee Smith, was paroled from his “life” sentence in 1982.

    DN (ad6cba)

  7. There is no justice in California. The Democrat party just gives cover to theives who lack the courage to confront and rob their victims.

    PCD (1d8b6d)

  8. It should be noted that Powell’s partner, Jimmy Lee Smith, was paroled from his “life” sentence in 1982.

    Comment by DN — 8/17/2012 @ 6:37 am

    According to the book, Smith made “nicey-nice” to Powell, in jail while they waiting trial, and Powell returned the “lip-service” in court taking on the bulk of the blame. The movie showed that, too, but not as explicitly.

    nk (875f57)

  9. I saw the book “the Onion Field” (and maybe even borrowed it) a number of times, and maybe have it somewhere, but I don’t think I read it. I don’t thn=ink I could get into it.

    What was the crime, (I know it was some sort of murder) and what was unusual about it? How it was solved?

    Sammy Finkelman (b9340a)

  10. Sammy, are you really going to be this feckless?

    PCD (1d8b6d)

  11. Aren’t ‘smart guys’ and ‘losers’ somewhat contradictory?
    Comment by steve — 8/17/2012 @ 5:28 am

    — Have you MET our President?

    Icy (93e9cf)

  12. Sammy tried to look it up in his Big Book of Minutiae, but he didn’t find it.

    He DID find something about how Mitt Romney rode his bicycle on the wrong side of the road one day during his mission in France, and is off preparing a 1,500 word detailed report for us — to be unleashed the moment one of us dares to utter something with even the slimmest of connections to Romney’s time there.

    Icy (93e9cf)

  13. Oh crap!

    Icy (93e9cf)

  14. Well said, Icy. But sarcasm flies on past him.

    I will have to get “Onion Fields” now. I am a mystery fan/court watcher and can’t believe I never read this. Oh, right. Busy raising kids back then. Kind of keeps one busy.

    PatAZ (5ef80e)

  15. Greetings:

    As to California’s “death penalty”, that seems to be a bit of a euphemism. Not long ago, I came across an article that indicated that 17 convicts had been executed, while, during the same period, 57 convicts sentenced to death had died of natural causes.

    11B40 (10ee96)

  16. Yes it does. I suggested very nicely that since he always had so much to say, that he start his own blog. He replied back that he just couldn’t find and/or make up his mind about blogger engines, blah, blah,blah. Guy definitely hasn’t got a clue. Maybe he can buy one from Vanna?

    peedoffamerican (606d27)

  17. Icy beat me to the punch; Obama as “smart guy who’s a loser” image leapt to mind.

    I frequently go to Taft California–towards the end of the trip up from Los Angeles, I pass by the fields where the murder took place. It’s gosh awful lonesome up on that road.

    I’m not certain whether “The Onion Field” was published before “The New Centurions”, but the publication dates weren’t very far apart in time. Both helped launch Wambaugh’s career as a very successful writer.

    Comanche Voter (29e1a6)

  18. “I’m not shedding any tears.”

    hah that’s clever

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  19. Wambaugh is an amazing writer. We have Onion Field and all or most of his fiction books in the home library too. All good reads.

    On the subject of true crime books that people should definitely read (or reread)– Capote’s In Cold Blood. That book captures so well why most people in the heartland or living anywhere in a country setting or in small towns far away from the “protection” of 911 and a paid police force will never give up their firearms or allow themselves to fall victim to gun control zealots.

    elissa (eddb5f)

  20. 10. 11. 13

    Comment by Sammy Finkelman — 8/17/2012 @ 8:19 am

    What was the crime, (I know it was some sort of murder) and what was unusual about it? How it was solved?

    Comment by PCD — 8/17/2012 @ 8:29 am

    Sammy, are you really going to be this feckless?

    I thought it might be easier this way, and besides somebody could summarize it, shorter than I would, and also maybe point out what they see as important about it – maybe not what I would spot as most significant. I know it made the bookwriting career of Joseph Wambaugh.

    Comment by Icy — 8/17/2012 @ 8:53 am

    Sammy tried to look it up in his Big Book of Minutiae, but he didn’t find it.

    I didn’t look it up. That’s the whole point. Sometimes, I’m at a slower Internet connection. I know what to do: Use Google (and maybe Wikipedia, but I repeat myself, since Google often points you to Wikipedia) check the reviews at Amazon.com- and if I really want maybe barnesandnoble.com, do more searches using keywords I found in my reading, but this would take many minutes. Of course I could get a glimmer from just looking up half a dozen pages.

    Sammy Finkelman (b9340a)

  21. wow it is a marvel to see National Soros Radio propaganda slut Scott Tobias wield the weirdly inhumanly beautiful R-Patz like a lethal propragandy shiv between Mr. Governor Romney’s ribs

    As an unfeeling cipher who operates at a stark disconnect from the world around him, Pattinson embodies that infamous Mitt Romney line from the campaign trail: “Corporations are people, my friend.”

    Images like Pattinson’s one-percenter obliviously discussing financials while “the 99 percent” are outside trashing his limo give the film a very specific time stamp that should resonate as much in the future as it does now. Its value comes more from being a vivid emblem of the era than a dramatic powerhouse.

    Corporations may be people, my friend, but Cosmopolis goes deep in trying to understand what that person might be like and how far he’d be removed from the rest of the species. Cronenberg isn’t a flame-throwing agitator by nature, but he taps into an undercurrent of paranoia, unrest and class resentment that’s sharply political and of the moment. He hasn’t made a movie. He has made a vibe.

    go get em Tiger

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  22. You don’t need to know everything, Sammy. The book is Wambaugh’s magnum opus, about two cops he knew, and he likely wouldn’t it want abridged to a blog comment.

    nk (875f57)

  23. Certainly, not knowing anything about it, is no reason not to talk about it.

    nk (875f57)

  24. Read the Wambaugh book, Sammy. It’s a good one and well worth your time. Libraries have copies available to borrow for free.

    elissa (eddb5f)

  25. Sammy,

    Read the book if you can. Like all really good literature, it’s more than a plot summary. But here is a link to a book review if you want a shorter version.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  26. I’m not sure if I remember correctly … they had the same lawyer who defended Manson? He gave the judge a heart attack, I remember that, because he basically had his own idea of court procedure.

    nk (875f57)

  27. The lawyer constantly violated court procedure, not the judge.

    nk (875f57)

  28. LA Times, of course, is blaming the film for Powell’s parole being revoked and thus as the reason that Powell died behind bars. The logic is really…something.

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-the-onion-field-murder-movie-ted-danson-james-woods-in-1979-20120813,0,1434.story

    ratbeach (f5aad4)

  29. What a memory you have, nk. Powell’s lead trial attorney was Irving Kanarek, the same attorney who represented Manson at trial. In Helter Skelter, prosecutor Bugliosi not only chronicled Kanarek’s trial tactics in the Manson case but also his history of similar behavior.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  30. From Bugliosi’s book (according to Wiki, but I’ve read the book and this is in there):

    In his book Helter Skelter, Bugliosi claimed that Kanarek in a different case once objected to a witness identifying himself; the lawyer claimed it was hearsay because the witness had first heard it from his mother.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  31. ratbeach, the Dog Trainer NEVER fails to disappoint.

    Icy (93e9cf)

  32. The book review cited by DRJ at 26 is not a bad one; I read it at the link, and of course read The Onion Field circa 1974 or so when it came out. I also read Powell’s obituary in the Daily Dog Trainer (except I wouldn’t let my dog put her feet on a copy of the LA Slimes). Can’t say that I shed a tear that this institutional man died in an institution You do the crime–you do the time.

    Comanche Voter (29e1a6)

  33. Yup. Understatement is the way to go on such occasions. Bearing in mind the admonition that if you don’t have something nice to say of the dead, you should say nothing, I’ll say of Powell exactly this:

    [bell!]Comment ends.

    Beldar (8e9db8)

  34. Bearing in mind the admonition that if you don’t have something nice to say of the dead, you should say nothing,

    Completely off-topic, but I remember years ago seeing the old sitcom ALF. It wasn’t exactly my favorite, but there was one line that was delivered so perfectly that I still laugh when I remember it today, 20 years later.

    Alf is talking about his grandmother. “She told me, ‘If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all.’ Those were her last words to me.”

    I M A Psuedonym (df4742)

  35. Comment by DRJ — 8/17/2012 @ 10:05 am
    Thanks, DRJ. Totally unfamiliar with it, would not have researched it myself as there is already a long list of things to do that I never will.

    Kanarek in a different case once objected to a witness identifying himself; the lawyer claimed it was hearsay because the witness had first heard it from his mother.
    Comment by DRJ — 8/17/2012 @ 10:28 am

    Hence the line in the review that one prosecutor would have let the murderers go free if he could execute the defense lawyers.

    MD in Philly (464fb2)

  36. Excellent book, great movie, superb performances by both James Woods and John Savage. And in the case of Powell, good riddance to putrid rubbish.

    Colonel Haiku (e7df25)

  37. Elissa… Wambaugh is a fantastic writer… his books are always better than the movies “based” on them. That’s the case in this instance and “The Onion Field” was an excellent movie.

    One of the reasons the sound of bagpipes always brings a tear to my eyes.

    Colonel Haiku (e7df25)

  38. didn’t read but saw the movie. The scene where the cop gets shot really tore me up and I cried as I left the theater. There was something about the way they staged the scene, understated or something, that made it very powerful, besides the act itself.

    carol (e9f509)

  39. Oh my gosh i so wanna suck some pole right now.

    jd (78826c)

  40. Oh my gosh i so wanna suck some pole right now.

    Comment by jd — 8/17/2012 @ 6:12 pm |Edit This

    Leave it to the tolerant Leftists like Tye to devolve to actual gay slurs.

    JD (318f81)

  41. teh weak suck tyena projectin’ again…

    Colonel Haiku (e7df25)

  42. I am practicing what to say to stay out of the internment camps if the Romney regime takes over

    jd (78826c)

  43. I can only hope that Powell was in pain every day he spent in prison – the better to remind him of the crime he and Smith committed on that night so long ago.
    May his soul roast in Hell!

    AD-Restore The Republic/Obama Sucks! (2bb434)

  44. I think it is great that tye/Alex is again revealing it’s true nature.

    JD (318f81)

  45. From the NYT on April 10, 2007:

    “LOS ANGELES, April 9 (AP) — Jimmy Lee Smith, a lifelong criminal whose role in the kidnapping and killing in 1963 of a police officer inspired Joseph Wambaugh’s true-life crime novel “The Onion Field,” died Friday in jail. He was 76.

    Mr. Smith died at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, north of Los Angeles, where he was being held for failing to report to a parole officer…”“Mr. Smith”, how precious is the NTY?

    AD-Restore The Republic/Obama Sucks! (2bb434)

  46. first he rotted in prison, and now, i hope, he’s rotting in hell.

    good riddance to bad rubbish.

    redc1c4 (403dff)

  47. I first read about this as a kid living in the San Fernando Valley, folding my Green Sheet newspapers to deliver on my paper route and freezing my ass off (early March, early AM, SFV). The cop that got away was hysterical, and I wasn’t even sure where Bakersfield was (100? 200? 300?). Why were two rookies patrolling together?

    I always thought that LAPD dropped the ball on this big time, and that these lowlifes benefitted tremendously from a number of factors. Jimmy Smith (a possible shooter) screwed himself more than once and went right back to where he belonged. And Greg was f’ing ugly. No RIP here.

    Dirty Old Man (68fb2b)

  48. Definitely will have to read the book.. I had heard about the story a few years back but only because of the movie..

    Alissa Dirks (a95d6f)

  49. “The gardener was a thief.”

    The first Wambaugh book I ever read a long, long time ago. A great book, a great first line.

    I don’t care much about Smith, but I wonder what happened to Karl Hettinger. He was the gardener.

    Ag80 (b2c81f)

  50. Sorry, Powell, not Smith.

    Ag80 (b2c81f)

  51. Never mind, I looked it up. Great book, though.

    Ag80 (b2c81f)

  52. Powell complained that 49 years was long enough. Well, his real “sentence” just began, and it’s a lot warmer and uncomfortable than was his cell. Rot in Hell, Powell.

    rpmdbs (c09d17)

  53. Wambaugh is definitely worth reading. There are some useful insights lurking in there with the fiction, like his narrative remark in The Choirboys: “The most brilliant judges in existence had never been able to come up with an evidentiary rule that a determined cop with a high school education couldn’t get around.” (probably not word for word correct, but that was the gist of it).

    M. Scott Eiland (449af8)

  54. While the “Onion Field” was a good read, I didn’t like it as much as some of his other novels. It was too depressing to me. I guess my favorite was “The Choirboys”, as it was humorous and gave me some good ole, down-home belly-laughs.

    peedoffamerican (5dbd41)

  55. I guess that defines us, peedoffamerican. I think Choirboys was his worst book, while Onion Field and Blue Knight were his best. Are you Whale or Roscoe?

    nk (875f57)

  56. I guess of all the characters in the book, I would most closely favor Spermwhale Whalen. Definitely not Roscoe Rules as he was an insufferable prick that could get you killed. My other favorite book of his is “Lines and Shadows”.

    peedoffamerican (5dbd41)

  57. I haven’t read any of his novels since the last in 1996 as he was suggesting that he was thinking of retiring, and in fact didn’t release a new novel for six years in 2002, which I didn’t know until about a year ago.

    peedoffamerican (5dbd41)

  58. As to California’s “death penalty”, that seems to be a bit of a euphemism. Not long ago, I came across an article that indicated that 17 convicts had been executed, while, during the same period, 57 convicts sentenced to death had died of natural causes.

    Why can’t California be more efficient than Texas- let alone first century A.D. Rome?

    Michael Ejercito (2e0217)

  59. Well, the Leftists are running the show, after all.

    AD-Restore The Republic/Obama Sucks! (2bb434)

  60. Wambaugh’s strength are the characters in his fiction. Ask any cop, they know and work with all of those guys, only they know their real names. They are in every police department.

    For the record “The New Centurions” was the first. For my money “Lines and Shadows” and “Fugitive Nights” amongst the best. “The Onion Field” was in another realm altogether. Most cops, me too, could not finish it on the first read; it took several runs at it. Too close to personal experiences on many levels.

    mm (819746)

  61. 25. Comment by elissa — 8/17/2012 @ 9:44 am

    Read the Wambaugh book, Sammy. It’s a good one and well worth your time. Libraries have copies available to borrow for free.

    The Brooklyn Public Library had 2 copies of the original edition (maybe) in the main branch – one could be the shelves (but might be missing) and one in storage. It also had 13 copies of a 2007 edition with an introduction by James Ellroy. None of them were checked out. This probably means that practically anyone who wanted t read it has already read it, and not too many new people hear of the book. I reserved a copy and will have it sent to a branch.

    The boo can also be bought online, like many common books, for about $4.00 with shipping. Prices just don’t drop any lower because of the minimum price to make this work.

    Books can be looked up at
    http://www.bookfinder.com

    When making search it;s good to use as few words as possible. That will sometimes return 4 or 5 separate listings of the same book – some much more expensive than others.

    I think actually the lowest price (for a paperback) is $3.46

    http://www.bookfinder.com/

    When you see a price on amazon for something like $1.60 – that’s without the shipping.

    With books like this, hardcovers cost the same or less than the paperback, except for the difference in shipping.

    Sammy Finkelman (b9340a)

  62. Comment by AD-Restore The Republic/Obama Sucks! — 8/17/2012 @ 6:45 pm

    ”“Mr. Smith”, how precious is the NTY?

    Everyone is “Mr.” in the NYT style book, with a few exceptions, like Hitler.

    Sammy Finkelman (b9340a)

  63. The first time a person is mentioned in an article the full name is used. After that, it’s “Mr.” “Mrs” “Ms” “Dr.” “Governor” or some other honorific, plus the last name.

    Some very famous or very disreputable people may just have their last name used alone.

    Sammy Finkelman (b9340a)

  64. 26. omment by DRJ — 8/17/2012 @ 10:05 am

    Read the book if you can. Like all really good literature, it’s more than a plot summary. But here is a link to a book review if you want a shorter version.

    That’s a PDF file of a Georgia Law Review article..

    It looks like the interesting thing is that the victims were two cops, who were taken prisoner – the LAPD was going after the cop who survived on the grounds they should never have surrendered their guns – this created a controversy and sympathy among other police officers and is how Wambaugh first got to know aboutthe case.

    Sammy Finkelman (b9340a)

  65. Wow, amazing weblog structure! How lengthy have you ever been blogging for? you make running a blog look easy. The total glance of your website is magnificent, let alone the content!

    view it now (cf97ea)


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