Eugene Warren Biscailuz (1883-1969)
Sheriff Biscailuz was born in Boyle Heights on March 12, 1883. He was
educated in the Los Angeles public schools, attended the old St. Vincent's
College and the University of Southern California School of Law.
He was the son of Martin Biscailuz, for
many years a Los Angeles attorney of
high standing. Martin Biscailuz was
of French-Basque lineage and a native
son, being born on a ranch in
Los Angeles County. Martin's wife,
Sheriff Biscailuz's mother, was
Ida Rose Warren, a descendant of one
of the oldest Spanish families on the
entire West Coast. Her father,
William Warren, was a native of
New York State who sailed around
the Horn to California and before
the Civil War had wed the beautiful
daughter of a Spanish Don.
William Warren was the first
Los Angeles City Marshal in 1870,
and was killed in a gun battle where
the present Los Angeles City Hall is
There were 27 deputies in Sheriff William A. Hammel's Department when young
Biscailuz joined up in 1907. As a deputy in the Civil Division, his duties included
serving writs on the fly-by-night bootleg movie companies operating in the orange
groves and hills outlying Hollywood. Studying law at night, he rose through the ranks
to Assistant Chief Deputy, and 1920, was appointed Undersheriff.
In 1929, at the call of Governor C.C. Young, he went to Sacrament and organized the
California Highway Patrol, to cope with the State's growing traffic headaches.
Being appointed Superintendent of the California Highway Patrol, Biscailuz proceeded
to organize the vast highway patrol system for the entire State of California that still
exists today. Within two years he had a program proceeding satisfactorily and returned
to Los Angeles on March 12, 1931, to re-assume his post as Undersheriff of Los Angeles
Biscailuz served in this capacity until December 1, 1932, at which time he was appointed
Sheriff by the County Board of Supervisors to complete the term of Sheriff Traeger who
had been elected to the United States Congress. Two years later, the people of Los
Angeles County elected him Sheriff. Biscailuz held this office until June 3rd, 1958,
when Undersheriff Peter Pitchess was elected Sheriff.
During his lengthy career in law enforcement, Sheriff Biscailuz has participated in many
cases of international and national interest. His most memorable case, among the many
headline crime dramas in which he played a leading role, was that of Clara Phillips, the
beautiful Tiger Girl who, in 1922, battered her young love rival, Alberta Meadows, to
death with a hammer. Apprehended by Biscailuz in Arizona, Clara was convicted of
second degree murder and sentenced to 10 years to life. While waiting action on her
appeal, she escaped from the old County Jail with the help of an adventurous admirer.
Soon she popped up in Honduras, where she was held for American authorities. Sheriff
Traeger dispatched the Spanish-speaking Biscailuz with his wife, Willete, who was sworn
in as a special matron, to bring the fugitive back. Arriving in Honduras, Gene found
that Clara had become a national heroine and was courted by half the gallants of the
capital, including a high government official. Further, the extradition papers hadn't
arrived from Washington and while he waited, a local revolution was brewing.
With his every move reported in international headlines, Biscailuz, through his
persuasive gift of diplomacy, finally talked Clara into waiving extradition, and he and
Willete rushed her secretly aboard a banana boat bound for home. Her new trial was
denied and she served her prison term.
While Undersheriff, in 1922, Biscailuz participated in a gun battle that raged when four
armed bandits attempted the robbery of the Union Ice Company. Three of the bandits
were slain by gunfire and the other was captured, convicted and sentenced to San
Gene's famed diplomacy again won him national recognition in 1937 when he walked
alone and unarmed into a dynamite-laden situation at the strikebound Douglas Aircraft
Plant in Santa Monica and talked 350 angry sit-down strikers into coming out peacably.
Biscailuz first tangled with major emergency in 1928 when the St. Francis Dam burst in
the mountains North of the metropolis, sweeping away 1,000 homes and taking 400
lives. His experience in the rescue and relief operations led to perfecting of
transportation and communication plans for coping with sudden disaster, which saved
countless lives in subsequent floods and in the Long Beach earthquake of 1933.
Biscailuz organized the country's first uniformed Sheriff's patrol and set up the first
teletype network and modern communications system for law enforcement work. His
other innovations include an aero squadron, mounted posse and sea patrol, manned by
volunteer reservists, and a Foreign Relations Bureau to aid non-English-speaking
In behalf of the Sheriff's Relief Association, which started with the passing of a
sombrero to help families of officers killed or injured, Gene, in 1924, inaugurated an
annual public barbecue, which grew into the Sheriff's Rodeo, that annually drew more
than 100,000 eager spectators to Los Angeles Coliseum.
The achievement of Eugene Biscailuz rests not on such spectacular incidents, but rather
in his broad administrative vision which had constantly driven him to plan and build
for the years ahead.
As Undersheriff in the 1920's when Southern California first began to feel the impetus
of its fantastic oil and real estate boom, Biscailuz re-organized and streamlined
Criminal Division functions for more efficient policing of the crazy-quilt county area,
and set up additional Sheriff's Stations raising the number to 12.
Biscailuz, in 1958, headed the largest Sheriff's Department in the world consisting of
over 3,100 highly trained man and women, ranging from uniformed radio car deputies
to plainclothes detectives. He administered a County Jail with a daily population of
over 3,000 and, in addition, was also responsible for the operation of two large
rehabilitative detention centers and six road camps. In 1933, Sheriff Biscailuz formed
the first Sheriff's Aero Squadron in this country. It consisted of 50 deputized reserve
officers who flew their privately-owned aircraft on Patrol, Search and Rescue missions.