From “Dragnet” to “Southland”, Hollywood has turned many fictional crime fighters into household names. And for every Sgt. Joe Friday, there are hundreds of real police officers who work behind-the-scenes to make sure Hollywood is as safe as it can be.
One of those officers, Det. Vicki Bynum, bid farewell to the area on May 31 after serving 15 years as a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood Division, and 30 years with the LAPD. During her time in Hollywood, Bynum helped solve approximately 60 murders, from gang shootings to robberies gone wrong, to domestic disputes that ended in violence. At a party last Thursday at the station to honor her achievements, dozens of colleagues past and present gathered to say good-bye.
“She will be sorely missed here,” said Det. Jim Hays, who worked with Bynum “on-and-off” over the past 30 years, including the last 10 years in the Hollywood Division.
“She’s the only one I know who can get a suspect to talk, regardless,” added Det. Sue Brandstetter, another one of Bynum’s long-time colleagues. “I think it is her nurturing, caring side. The suspects just related to her and it helped solve numerous crimes.”
Bynum said she learned early on that being the “bad cop” in interrogations wasn’t her strong suit, so she relied on an ability to speak calmly, directly and honestly with suspects to extract information, and many times confessions.
“Women tend to be better interrogators, they see you as their sister or mother,” Bynum said. “Good cop, bad cop doesn’t work for me, it’s more like, kill them with kindness, or you get more flies with honey. You know when someone’s lying. I got a lot of confessions playing the sympathetic listener.”
Bynum added, however, that sometimes it is just luck, such as in cases where DNA evidence matched a suspect who wasn’t even on the radar to a crime.
“I feel very proud that Hollywood solved a large percentage of our cases. Even today, there are a lot of cold cases getting solved with the advances in forensic sciences,” Bynum added. “I really saw a big change with forensic sciences. It’s amazing how we are beginning to solve these [cold] cases now.”
One case where luck played a role was the 2000 murder of a young woman from Canada who came to Hollywood to pursue her dreams, but was killed by someone who broke into her apartment on Carlton Way. Some investigators focused on the young woman’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, but Bynum said she always had a gut feeling it wasn’t him. A few years later, a serial burglar who was arrested for separate break-ins shortly after the murder took place was identified as the culprit through a DNA match. He was required to give a DNA sample because he was a convicted felon. The suspect later was tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bynum said other times, it was a dogged approach to the investigation that pointed to a specific murder suspect. Such was the case in 2007 when a suspect entered the Limelight Liquor store on La Brea Avenue, south of Hollywood Boulevard, and shot and killed a clerk during a robbery. The suspect was captured on a surveillance camera where investigators saw him go to a cooler, grab a carton of milk and bring it to the counter before shooting the victim. The suspect left DNA evidence on the carton, but investigators had a difficult time identifying him. Bynum said one suspect they questioned even confessed to stealing the milk. She said the man was a habitual thief who had stolen so many things he just assumed he must have committed the crime he was being questioned about. The suspect backed off that story when he found out he was a suspect in a murder. Detectives later determined he wasn’t the right suspect.
Just over a month after the killing, one of the actual suspect’s relatives put police on the right track. An 18-year-old alleged gang member from South Los Angeles was later linked to the murder, and in 2009, was sentenced to 57 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bynum said one of the most saddening cases, but also one of the most satisfying to solve, occurred in 2003 when a young man was shot and killed on Cherokee Avenue by three suspects who were stealing his “spinner” rims. Bynum said two of the suspects fled to New York, but were eventually arrested. A third was tracked down in California and arrested. They all received lengthy prison sentences.
“We were a day behind them when they got captured in New York,“ Bynum added. “There was a lot of personal satisfaction in solving that case.”
Bynum added that there are some cases where police can’t identify the murderer, or they believe they know who committed a murder but can’t prove it. A lot of times, obtaining a conviction depends on witness testimony or other factors beyond the investigator’s control. She estimates, however, that more than 70 percent of the cases she investigated were solved, and she assisted other detectives in solving dozens of additional homicides. Bynum added that she has no regrets, and that her time with the LAPD, and in Hollywood, is a period she will never forget.
“Law enforcement in general is a tough job. It can take a toll on you,” Bynum added. “I plan to relax and enjoy life. I love to read, I plan to travel, and I love to cook. I plan to enjoy the simple things in life.”
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