The L.A. Times Explosion

On Oct. 1, 1910, an explosion destroyed the printing plant of the L.A. Times with 20 killed and many injured. General Harrison Otis, who completely controlled both the newspaper and the City of Los Angeles was a life long labor-baiter. He had been at war with labor since 1891 over “Open Shop”. Otis immediately blamed the Unions for the explosion even though a Western Union telegraph operator stated that he smelled gas fumes prior to the explosion.

The L.A. District Attorney hired the Burns Detective Agency to conduct the investigation. The same agency that was already working for the National Erectors Association (NEA) to investigate the job-site bombing. They immediately attempted to connect the two cases.

Burns provided “evidence” to convince a Grand Jury to indict John McNamara, Sec/Treasurer of the Bridge and Structural Ironworkers, his brother James McNamara, a Printer and Ortie MCManigal an Ironworker.

On April 23, 1911 with the help of local police, John McNamara, James McNamara and Ortie McManigal were arrested, kidnapped and transported to Los Angeles. After being held and interrogated for a week McManigal caved in under prosecution pressure and became willing to swear to anything the prosecution wanted.

While labor was rallying to support the McNamaras, the entire business community, newspapers and government of Los Angeles behind the leadership of General Otis was uniting to convict them.

A two month trial followed in which Ortie McManigal testified against the McNamara’s with testimony that many thought was fabricated and put together by the Wm. Burns Detective Agency for the rewards and recognition that would come from the conviction of the brothers.

On December 2, 1911, convinced that they were never going to get a fair trial in Los Angeles and would be sentenced to death by hanging. James McNamara pleaded guilty to blowing up the L. A. Times building in an effort to save his brother. At the same time John McNamara pleaded guilty to conspiracy in an effort that the sentence of “Jim” might be lightened.

A plea agreement was reached that said the brothers would plead guilty. James would receive life imprisonment, John would receive no more that ten years, the pursuit of other Ironworkers would be abandoned and Capitol and Labor would meet to discuss the labor problems. The only part of the plea agreement that was met was that James went to prison for life where he died.