When I knew him, Adrian Leroy Thornberry, 69, was a soft spoken guy with pretty hazel eyes who wore a fancy sapphire and diamond ring on the pinky finger of his well-manicured left hand. He had five grandchildren and was a three-time Senior Olympics racquetball champion.

     When he was a kid growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, he learned to fight because of the bullies who made fun of his “sissy” name Adrian. By the time he reached ten, he had been shuffled to a number of foster homes and was already a member of the Graveyard Gang, a collection of young hoodlums whose lifestyle was violent and criminal.

     At 12 he was sent to the McKinley School, an institution for wayward boys in Van Nuys, California. From there, he wound up at Cal-Poly High School in Long Beach where he ran across another barrel-chested kid with hooded eyes named Bob Mitchum who grew up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.

     Early on, Mitchum learned the art of fisticuffs from a prizefighter who fought Dempsey. In 1934, Adrian was the Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champ for the State of Kentucky.

     “Didn’t you once tell me that Bob Mitchum was kind of a wimp in high school?” I asked Adrian.

     “In those days,” recalled Adrian, “actors and tennis players weren’t highly regarded. I was closer to his brother, Jim.”

     “Did you ever get in a fight with Bob Mitchum?”

     Adrian laughed reflectively, then added. “I did.”


     “I took care of him at a dance. He probably won’t even remember it!” Adrian shrugged.

     Adrian Thornsberry joined the Navy and in 1942 won the heavyewight championship of the 11th Naval District, which took in all of Southern California. In 1946, following his discharge, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department.

     Teamed with Lad Hassler, a 6-foot-4-inch 240-pound bull, who was later killed in the line of duty, they patrolled what Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not!” described as the “toughest two blocks in the world — Beacon Street between 4th and 6th streets in San Pedro.

     “We had shootings, knifings, drunk rolls every night,” he recalled. “We made as many as 198 arrests a month. Every time we made a bust in saloons like the 409 Club, Tommy Goodfellows Cafe, Tony’s or Manny’s Gayway, it was like war. Hell couldn’t have been tougher.

     “I always thought that the general public, especially the people who are constantly degrading law enforcement tactics, would change their tune if they spent a night on patrol with cops in places like San Pedro, Wilmington, Hollywood and South Central Los Angeles,” he said, adding, “They’d find life on the streets is not the least bit fair.”

     Robert Mitchum died in 1997 suffering from emphysema caused by too many cigarettes and an overdose of swashbuckling. Adrian died of lead poisoning, a self-inflicted gun shot to the head. I liked them both.

                        — Boots LeBaron —

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