Monday, May 16, 2016

L.A. County Sheriff Eugene W. Biscailuz 1969 Woodlawn Cemetery

Eugene W. Biscailuz (March 12, 1883 – May 16, 1969)[1] organized the California Highway Patrol, and later became the 27th Sheriff of Los Angeles County, California, serving in that capacity for 26 years.

Family and early life

Biscailuz was born in Boyle Heights on March 12, 1883. Sheriff Biscailuz's father, Martin V. Biscailuz, was an attorney of French-Basque descent. His mother, Ida Rose Warren, was a descendant of Spanish pioneer Jose Maria Claudio Lopez, a soldier at the San Gabriel Mission. Her father William Warren was an early Los Angeles city marshal killed in a gun battle in 1870.[2]

Biscailuz attended St. Vincent's College (now called Loyola Marymount University), later earning a law degree from the University of Southern California.[3]

In 1902, Biscailuz met and married Willette Harrison, whose father was a captain at San Quentin State Prison and later the sheriff of Marin County.[2]


After working briefly as a shipping clerk in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Biscailuz was appointed as a foreclosure clerk by Sheriff William A. Hammel in 1907. His law background helped him rise in the ranks until he was appointed undersheriff in 1921.[3]

Biscailuz first came to public attention in 1923, when he was asked to accompany the District Attorney to Honduras to bring back convicted murderer Clara Phillips, who had escaped from the County Jail after her conviction. His wife accompanied him on the trip, and contracted a tropical infection from which she never fully recovered. 

Later, Biscailuz was involved in the 1927 manhunt for child kidnapper and murderer William Edward Hickman, and led raids that eventually helped bring an end to the gambling empire of Tony Cornero.[2]

In 1929, Governor C.C. Young asked Biscailuz to reorganize the old State Motor Patrol. He was appointed the first Superintendent of the new California Highway Patrol (CHP), where Biscailuz organized the Highway Patrol system, then a new but separate law enforcement agency. Having finished his work for the CHP, in 1931 he resumed his post as undersheriff of Los Angeles County.[3]

In 1932, after Sheriff William Traeger stepped down to run for Congress, the Board of Supervisors appointed Biscailuz Sheriff in 1932 with Traeger's endorsement and supported by thousands of signed petitions. He later ran unopposed for six terms. As sheriff, he pioneered a practice of putting well-behaved prisoners to work on "honor farms" in hopes of rehabilitating them.[2]

After the Long Beach earthquake of 1933, Biscailuz was called upon to send fire fighting personnel and equipment, but needed more information about where to send them and what was needed. There were also rumors that the city had been struck by a tidal wave, and that Catalina Island had sunk 369 feet. Phone lines in the region had been knocked out by the quake, and the roads were nearly impassable because of debris and fallen power lines. Biscailuz asked a friend, C. N. (Jimmy) James, a pilot of Western Air Express, to fly an open cockpit plane over Long Beach to gather more information. James was able to determine that the rumors about Catalina and the tidal wave were not true, and that there were only two small fires burning in Long Beach. The entire flight took approximately 30 minutes. Biscailuz revamped the Sheriff Department's aero squadron to include private pilots flying their own planes to assist in aerial searches and rescues. This unit later evolved into the Sky Knight project of 1966, and is now the LASD Aero Bureau.[4]

Upon his retirement in 1958, the Board of Supervisors named him "sheriff emeritus for the rest of his life." [2]

Planning commission

He was a member of the city's first planning commission in 1920, which at that time was composed of 51 members appointed by the City Council "to work out an organized, comprehensive plan of city development." Other notable members were Charles A. Holland, C.J. Colden, Evan Lewis and W.H. Workman Jr.[5]


Sheriff Eugene W. Biscailuz is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, California. 


1. Finding Aid of the Eugene Biscailuz scrapbooks 0216 
2. Rasmussen, C. (October 21, 2007). "L.A. Then and Now: Long arm of this lawman bridged a city's history; Eugene Biscailuz was descended from settlers; his long, colorful career as sheriff was marked by modernization". Los Angeles Times. 
3. Sutherland, Henry (May 17, 1969). "Former Sheriff Biscailuz Dies; Held County Posts 50 Years". Los Angeles Times. 
4. Spicer, R. (October 18, 1987). "Aerial Reconnaissance Long Beach Earthquake Left a Legacy". Los Angeles Times. 
5. "City Planners' Progress Told," Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1920, page II-8

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