Kesterson, Walter Henry died 4 Feb 1946, Los Angeles, California
Left photo: Academy Photo ** Middle photo: Officer Walter Kesterson, Los Angeles, California **Right photo: Grave Marker at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Los Angeles, California
Walter H. Kesterson: Metropolitan Division’s First Officer Killed in the Line of Duty
By Sgt. Phil Smith
Every year, Metropolitan Division awards the “Kesterson – Pagliotti Award.” This award acknowledges a Metro Officer’s displayed courage, bravery, and valor under extreme duress. Most Department employees are aware of Officer Jim Pagliotti’s death on June 22, 1987; however, the majority of the Department, including Metropolitan Division Officers, are unaware of the circumstances regarding the death of Officer Walter Kesterson. Kesterson’s actions on the night of his death certainly exemplify the type of courage and valor any officer could expect of a Los Angeles Police Officer.
In the summer of 2005, a new commanding officer was assigned to Metropolitan Division. Captain Scott Kroeber, a former Metro Officer himself, wanted to prominently display both Kesterson and Pagliotti’s Medal of Valor Awards at Metro and affix each year’s recipient on a plaque below them. To Kroeber’s surprise, Kesterson never received a Medal of Valor for his actions. It was at this time that I began to research Kesterson’s death and subsequently submitted the below commendation for consideration for a posthumous Medal of Valor.
On February 4, 1946, at approximately 2045 hours, Mr. Gus Boyd and Mr. Nathaniel Cooper committed an armed robbery of a movie theater at 126 E. Santa Barbara Avenue, Los Angeles
At 2100 hours, Metropolitan Division Officers W.H. Kesterson and E. W. Patrick were conducting crime suppression duties in the area of 43rd Place and Avalon Boulevard. The officers observed the suspects (Cooper and Boyd) and noted they matched the description of the suspects involved in the robbery. The officers opted to conduct an investigatory stop. Kesterson, who was the passenger officer, jumped out of the police vehicle and attempted to detain the two individuals. Cooper, who was wearing a brown coat, reached into the jacket pocket and a scuffle ensued between he and Kesterson. Cooper removed a .38 Caliber Revolver and fired at Kesterson, striking him in the upper torso. Kesterson, although sustaining a mortal wound, drew on his training and experience as an 18-year veteran of the Department and continued the gunbattle. He returned fire, resulting in the demise of Cooper. Concurrently, Boyd was also in the process of removing a handgun from his pocket. Kesterson was also able to direct fire at Boyd, thus neutralizing his deadly threat. Emergency Medical Technicians responded to the scene, however, both suspects were pronounced dead.
Kesterson was transported to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, however, he succumbed to his injuries and died upon arrival. Kesterson was survived by his wife, Mrs. Louise E. Kesterson.
A subsequent investigation revealed the suspects committed at least 25-armed robberies in the Los Angeles area. Additionally, it was found that Suspects Cooper and Boyd had been stopped for a driving under the influence violation two weeks prior to killing Kesterson (on January 24, 1946). Boyd had been driving and was directed by City of Vernon Police Department Motorcycle Officer Richard Pennington to drive one-block to Police Headquarters for processing. Upon arrival, Boyd exited his vehicle and immediately produced a handgun. Boyd shot Pennington in the upper torso and the head, instantly killing him. Boyd and Cooper fled the scene on foot and were not located.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the two suspects staged a reign of terror upon the citizens of Los Angeles County. Not only did they commit numerous armed robberies; they kidnapped and robbed Mr. James Austin. Austin, as well as additional victims of Boyd and Cooper, positively identified the duo as the suspects that had robbed them.
Ballistics later matched the gun Boyd had in his pocket to that of the gun that killed Vernon Police Officer Pennington.
It was also noted that Kesterson's partner, Officer E. W. Patrick, was not involved in the officer-involved shooting. Patrick was in the process of parking the police vehicle and by the time he exited, the gunbattle was over.
Officer Kesterson is commended for not only paying the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the citizens of Los Angeles, but for displaying the type of valor few can match. It has been said that recipients of the Medal of Valor must have distinguished themselves by some action above and beyond the routine duties of police service. Kesterson not only died by protecting the citizens of Los Angeles but did so after sustaining a fatal wound. His actions were not only in the highest tradition of Metropolitan Division but also of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Note: I would like to thank L.A. Times Staffer Andrew Blankstein, who researched the archives and located several newspaper articles regarding Kesterson’s death. Additionally, Detective Richard Bengtson of RHD’s Cold Case Unit was an invaluable resource.
Written in 2006 for the LAPD magazine publication titled "The Thin Blue Line." Permission to post given by the author, Lt. Phil Smith, 22 Jan 2007.
Medal of Valor Being Awarded
My name is Phil Smith and I am a Lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department. Last year, my Captain asked me to research the death of a Los Angeles Police Officer that had been killed in the line of duty in 1946. The officer, Walter H. Kesterson, was involved in a shootout with two robbery suspects and Kesterson received a mortal wound. After sustaining the wound, he continued the gunfight and subsequently killed the two robbery suspects. At the time, for unknown reasons, there was a moratorium on the "Medal of Valor" award and Kesterson received nothing for his valor. After a long, arduous investigation, I submitted a write-up on his valor and Kesterson received the Los Angeles Police Department's highest honor, the Medal of Valor (obviously, posthumously).
Newspaper articles at the time noted Kesterson was married to Louise E. Kesterson and they had no children. I, as yet, have been unable to locate any relatives of Kesterson's. Our department would like to have a Kesterson family member present at the Medal of Valor awards to accept the award on behalf of the family. According to some of the information I have been able to locate, Kesterson was born in 1895 and had a sister, Ruth E. Kesterson. They were the children of William and Rosa Kesterson. Kesterson was born in Belvidere, Iowa.
**In January 2007, a great nephew of Walter H. Kesterson has been found. Lt. Phil Smith has been put in touch with these family members. If you are a member of this family, you have every right to be very proud of the heroic efforts of your ancester, Walter H. Kesterson, LAPD.
**In April 2007, the great nephew and his son were both present at the award ceremony in Los Angeles; their trip courtesy of the LAPD. What an exciting moment for these nephews to receive the Walter H. Kesterson Medal of Valor!
**Linda Ziemann, the Monona County Coordinator, is very happy and proud to have been an initial part in finding living family members of this fallen officer hero!