Homicide in Los Angeles County, 1830-1874

John Mack Faragher

This list builds on a portion of the enumeration of homicides in the Los Angeles vicinity (Los Angeles County after 1851) from 1830-2000, compiled by the late historian Eric Monkkonen, also posted on the Historical Violence Database website. Professor Monkkonen identified 389 homicides for the period 1830-1874. After extensive research into legal records, newspapers, archival collections, and other historical records, I was able to confirm 331 of those homicides. (Most of the others turned out to be duplicates.) In addition, I was able to add another 137 homicides to the list. This enumeration for the period 1830-1874 totals 468 homicides, all fully sourced and cited. (The data I added to Monkkonen's original enumeration is in red font.) This enumeration constitutes a major piece of evidence for my forthcoming book, "Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles."

How complete is this list? Demographers employ what is called dual-enumeration or capture-recapture methodology to provide an estimate of the number of instances of a phenomenon (in this case homicides) missed by the enumeration of a specific population in a common geographic area at a particular moment in time. The method requires that the enumeration be drawn from at least two independent sources. This enumeration meets that criteria. Legal records exist for 203 victims of homicide during the period. Non-legal sources (newspapers, personal papers, memoirs, and other sources) provide evidence for 403 homicides, including 138 of those found in legal records. The method (discussed in Eckberg 2001) assumes that the proportion of items on the first source list that are missing from the second source list approximates the total number of items missed by that second source, and vice versa.

Using the statistical procedure detailed by Roth (Roth 2009) produces the tabulated results [pdf]. For the entire enumeration, the estimate is that it includes 79% of all the homicides in Los Angeles for the period. A closer examination provides more detail on the nature of those missing homicides. First the list was divided into three time series: 1830-1849, the Mexican period, including the interregnum of American military occupation, during which the Mexican legal system continued to operate; a first American period, 1850-1865, when county institutions of order and justice were put into operation; and a second American period, 1866-1874, when those institutions, as the system of record-keeping, became considerably more effective. For the first period, 1830-1849, the estimate is that the enumeration captured 58% of the homicides; the absence of robust non-legal sources during this period, in particular the absence of newspapers, produces a result with a relatively low level of certainty. For the successive American periods, however, the estimates are much stronger, an estimated 83% capture rate for the period 1850-1865, and 95% for the period 1866-1874.

Dividing the list by the ethnicity of the victims provides further useful detail. The capture rates for the three groups (Native American 53%, Latino/a 79%, and Other 95%) suggest that ethnicity was a major factor in the undercount. Again, breaking these findings into the three period demonstrates that the enumeration for the Mexican period is most problematic, with relatively low confidence levels, but that the enumeration for the American period is quite solid. The sources appear to work the same way for all groups—relatively few homicides found in legal records only, and many found in non-legal records or in both legal and non-legal records.

Bibliography

Eckberg, D. L. 2001. "Stalking the Elusive Homicide: A Capture-Recapture Approach to the Estimation of Post-Reconstruction South Carolina Killings." Social Science History 25: 67-91.

Roth, Randolph. 2009. American Homicide. Cambridge MA:  Harvard University Press.

Homicides in Los Angeles, 1830-74 [xlsx]


[pdf] - Some links on this page are to Adobe .pdf files requiring the use of Adobe Reader. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

[xlsx] - Some links on this page are to Microsoft .xlsx files requiring the use of Microsoft Excel. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

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