During the 1970s and 1980s, my favorite place to work gangs was in an area of East Los Angeles known as the “Mexican Alps.”
This steep hilly area South of the 10 Freeway was once an exclusive suburb for 1920s and 1930s upper middle class Angelenos who were attempting to escape the urban squalor of the downtown area. Russian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, and Jewish immigrants built beautiful homes on the sides of these “mountains,” with views of the downtown area. These homes were often built and decorated in the beautiful Art Deco style.
However over the years the squalor of the downtown area pushed these middle class settlers further east. As the neighborhoods began to run down, crime, drugs, and gangs took up residence in the Alps. Hispanic families settled in this area in the 1940s. After the war, legal and illegal immigrants continued to move in. I mention this because the Hispanic community and culture was not always a harmonious one. Mexicans born in the USA (Chicanos) did not get along with the illegal Mexican immigrants (Paisas). Street gangs formed in this area, City Terrace, Juarez and Geraghty Loma, just to name a few.
Geraghty is the name of a street in the high ground of these Mexican Alps. The gang named for this street was among the largest and most violent traditional Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles. Several of their members were among the founders and very early members of the Mexican Mafia Prison Gang. This gang took great pride in the fact that it stood alone against the surrounding gangs; they had no allies and warred continually with all the local gangs.
Enemy gangs who tried to attack Geraghty had to venture up the hills through the twisted maze of tiny streets up to “Chica Loma” or “Little Hill.” This was the steep hillside in the 900 block of Geraghty Street that the gang used for its headquarters.
The approach to Chica Loma was perilous with perfect ambush sites all along the way. Car loads of enemy gang members were often victims of these ambush locations, finding themselves trapped in Geraghty’s Varrio. They would often lose their direction in attempting to escape the Geraghty “hill people.” And if they got out on foot their chances of survival dropped almost to nothing.
The Chica Loma was a very steep hillside with the ruins of the foundations of old houses hidden in the tall grass of the slope. A fire pit dominated the center of the hillside with stone blocks and old furniture circled as an amphitheater around it. Any gang foolish enough to rush the gang members on this hillside would have the disadvantage of running up the hill while taking fire from Geraghty members firing from behind the low block and concrete walls. Chunks of concrete and bottles would also rain down on them. And like mountain goats Geraghty was expert at disappearing from the hillsides through the numerous hidden trails and paths, only to appear again from another ambush position.
Even on the flat land, Geraghty was tactically aggressive. They were among the first gangs I know to use assault rifles. In one infamous incident two Geraghty gang pickup trucks arrived at the rival Juarez gang’s hang out.
Several Geraghty Loma gang members chased the Juarez gang into a backyard that dead ended in a cliff face. The hit team acted like a firing squad with the Juarez gang members up against a wall. The Geraghty gang members each were armed with .30 caliber M-1 Carbines. Each had a paper bag taped over the ejection part to catch the spent shell casings (and this was before CSI). They shot several Juarez members and jumped back into the pickup beds and sped away.
The leader of this military-like raid was Geraghty gang member, Willie “Crow” or “Quervo” Guerrero. A short time after the shooting Crow was stopped driving a pickup truck, but all the witnesses refused to identify him or the pickup, and the carbines were nowhere to be found. However in a bit of luck, one of the carbines had torn the bag covering the chamber and dropped an expended casing at the crime scene and one in the bed of Crow’s truck. Confronted with this physical evidence, Crow boldly admitted he was one of the shooters, but he refused to identify others.
In the 1970s and 80s, the Sheriff’s Department’s elite Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) functioned as a SWAT Team. During this period SEB Teams not directly on SWAT standby would augment station patrol units in high crime areas by assigning these experienced veteran officers to work patrol. Not required to respond to routine radio calls, they concentrated their expertise in the problem area.
One night in 1975 the SEB Teams were assigned to patrol the Geraghty gang area. The SEB Units commonly wore tan and green police helmets to differentiate them from the station patrol units. The gang members nicknamed them “turtle heads”. For whatever reason this night the Geraghty Lomas gang members began to harass the “turtle head” units. From the hillsides, the gang members threw heavy stones and bottles at the SEB Units. When the deputies gave pursuit on foot up the steep hillsides, the gang members would disappear into the darkness.
On Chica Loma a huge bon fire burned and about a dozen hard core Geraghty gang members sat around the fire. When these “Vato Locos” (Crazy Dudes) would see a patrol unit driving up the hill, they would taunt and yell insults down at the deputies knowing that the deputies could not reach them before they could disappear into the night.
This was especially frustrating for the veteran SEB deputies, they were accustomed to winning. They were used to being respected and feared by the bad guys. Geraghty was laughing and mocking them and no matter how they tried, they could not catch the culprits.
That night I was on patrol with my partner Jim “Kojak” Vetrovec in Geraghty’s area, working an ELA gang suppression unit. Over the radio SEB Units requested a meeting with us at City Terrace Park. They told us about what had gone on that night. They asked if there was another way to reach the Chica Loma and the Geraghty Gang.
Vetrovec and I led the SEB Units up Herbert Avenue to the west side of the hill. We parked our units several blocks away and stumbled along the dark twisted switchback trails up the back side of Chica Loma. Like troops in the Central Highlands of Vietnam we sneaked under overgrown trees, through bushes, and around ramshackle sheds and rundown houses, until we were just above the bonfire. Strangely, although we were only a few feet from the gang members, they apparently could not see us in the darkness. They were drinking and laughing near us but their attention was directed down to the street below.
The SEB Units then signaled quietly for the bait. An SEB Unit had been assigned to remain in the area and now it drove up and stopped directly below the Chica Loma. The gang went wild throwing rocks and bottles and yelled insults at the SEB police unit. Then we sprung the ambush.
Suddenly we stepped out of the darkness into the fire light, and the fight was on. SEB took many Geraghty “Vetranos” (Gang Veterans) into custody for numerous drugs, alcohol, assault on an officer, and throwing missiles at a vehicle charges that night.
Over the following years the constant gang wars and attrition took out many of Geraghty’s best warriors. About a half dozen continued to gang bang while confined to wheel chairs. But eventually, surrounded by so many enemies, with no allies to come to their aid, Geraghty’s prominence faded.
The Geraghty gang derived much of its reputation and power from its dominance of the area’s high ground, the “Mexican Alps.” They controlled the incidence of battles occurring against their Headquarters on the High Ground of “Chica Loma.” They were defeated in their battle against the “turtle heads” because SEB surprised them tactically by taking the higher ground.
Just like it is beneficial for a military unit in combat to know the topography of the battle area, your recognition and assessment of the surrounding terrain and the tactical advantage of controlling the high ground can make all the difference. If you can, take the high ground, but if you can’t at least cover the high ground when you approach.