Sunday, February 14, 2016

Log 175: Con Artists (Season 3, Episode 13)

Episode 65

Reed is feeling overshadowed by his father-in-law, the man keeps buying little Jimmy gifts. He finds his latest gift completely ridiculous for an infant, a set of encyclopedias with hand-tooled white leather covers. Malloy doesn't understand why his partner is making such a fuss, it's not like the encyclopedias will spoil and, besides, it's his first grandson of course he wants to buy him things.

That argument doesn't hold any water with Reed, little Jimmy is his first son. He should be able to buy him some things, but his grandfather has already "bought him everything there is". The bachelor Malloy tries to help his friend, but his suggestion that Reed buy his son a catcher's mitt isn't met with overwhelming gratitude

The radio interrupts and distracts Reed from his problem. Malloy steers the patrol car in the direction of Griffith Park Drive and Crystal Spring Road where they are to see the man about a vehicle off the road.

Miss Sorenson, an attractive brunette in a stylish, belted tweed jacket, has had a blowout while driving her camper. Luckily for her a helpful driver has stopped to lend his assistance. He's called the police and now he's setting out some flares near her overturned camper. Miss Sorenson thinks he's going a bit too far, but he continues with lighting the flares despite her protest.

The man recounts Miss Sorenson's accident to Reed and Malloy when they arrive. He explains that she and the camper escaped the accident virtually unscathed, in fact the only item that suffered damage in the crash was the butane tank.

At the mention of the tank, Reed looks down the road to see a lit flare rolling towards the butane. He and Malloy take off running to extinguish the flame. Before they can reach the gas and the flare, the two items meet with explosive results.

This isn't the greatest screen cap, but I'm so glad I captured Reed's "Oh, s%&t" face.
The two officers dive for cover behind the rear of the camper as the butane tank and the front end burst into flames. After they recover, Reed goes off to call the fire department while Malloy hustles Sorenson and the Samaritan out of harm's way. The good Samaritan offers to give the supposed damsel in distress a ride home after she's done talking with the officers. But, she's had enough of his help and refuses the offer.
"Thank you, but I prefer to take a cab," she states emphatically.
Malloy seems impressed with her independence.
Sorenson turns to Malloy, throws back her shoulders and asks, "Can you call one for me, officer?".
Malloy responds that he'd be glad, too.
Too bad Malloy can't ask Sorenson out on a date since he met her on the job. I think the freckled-face officer and the feisty female would make a perfect match. 

After Miss Sorenson is safely on her way home in a cab, Reed and Malloy are back in the squad car discussing her would-be rescuer. Reed feels sorry for the old guy, he was only trying to help. Malloy thinks they're all better off without his help. Their conversation is cut short when the RTO calls them to 3 Bellagio Terrace to see the woman regarding a 484 report.
On their way to the location Malloy hangs his arm out the window.

When they arrive at the upper-crust neighborhood a middle-aged woman holding a newspaper calls them over to the driveway of her large home. As Malloy and Reed approach the house she begins telling why she called the police by saying, "There were two of them". 

She continues talking, describing the suspects' vehicle and its license plate, as Reed hurries to open the report book and take down her account. Malloy tries to take control of the situation by asking if she wants to tell them about it. She condescendingly answers that she didn't call them there to keep them in the dark. Reed, who so far hasn't seen proof of her desire to enlighten them, asks what actually happened. She responds by pointing to a large pile of lumber haphazardly stacked in the driveway.

The woman now decides that she will tell them what happened in chronological order. Reed thinks she should begin by giving them her name. She answers his query and they finally know they are talking to Sybil Merchant.

Earlier in the morning, Sybil was barely out of bed when her housekeeper told her that two men were downstairs demanding payment for a lumber delivery. Sybil went out to talk to the men and was disgusted at the sight of their truck which resembled a "traveling dump" with bags of fertilizer tied to the hood, bales of roofing, and barrels of tar.

When Reed and Malloy hear the description of the men's truck, they know that Mrs. Merchant has met up with the infamous Johnson family. A clan of grifters who make an annual appearance in the Los Angeles area passing themselves off as home contractors. They take citizens' money and deliver substandard work that falls apart as soon as they leave the driveway. 

Mrs. Merchant ended up paying for the lumber because the "disreputable" men confused her with their "shouting and gyrating".  She thought that maybe her husband or son had ordered the lumber, but she couldn't check with either of them. Her husband was at the hunting lodge and her son was at the fishing shack, and neither place has a phone. After the transaction was over Sybil read all about the Johnsons in the morning paper. She feels like a fool for paying them.

After she signs the report, Sybil asks Malloy and Reed to keep an eye on her house. The whole ordeal has been too much for her and she must get away. Her sudden need to leave the city concerns Malloy, they may need to reach her during the investigation, but that would be impossible if she stays at the hunting lodge or the fishing shack. 

Although he's a trained observer, Malloy failed to notice that Sybil Merchant is hardly the outdoor type. She informs the officers that they will be able to reach her by telephone at the Royal Crest hotel in San Francisco. She then turns and floats back inside with her diaphanous caftan billowing around her.

Back in the patrol unit Reed compares the Johnson family to the clowns at the circus. They roll into town in their funny cars, just like the clowns, then spread out and cause chaos. Malloy points out there is one important difference between the clowns and the Johnsons.
"They never hurt anyone, the Johnson family does."
After Pete makes his observation a dispatch of a 459 silent comes over the radio. The silent burglar alarm has gone off at 1147 Crosley Place. If you have a really good memory or take notes on every episode, you'd know that that is the address of the now-familiar Summers department store. 

When 1-A-12 rolls up to the location, they're met by this odd-looking backup unit. I've come to find out this is a 1970 Dodge Coronet, one of Mark VII's stock vehicles painted up to look like an LAPD patrol unit.

While backup officers cover the outside Pete and Jim head inside to see what's going on.
Inside the dark and noisy basement Pete and Jim split up after they hear a loud clatter. Pete spots a door opening and a man with a gun coming through it.

"Police officers, drop the gun!"
Luckily, the armed man turns out to be a store security officer. He tells Pete that someone jimmied the door while he was upstairs. He thinks there are two suspects somewhere in the basement.

Meanwhile, Jim has caught a very willing and unarmed suspect. When he orders the man to "hold it and put his hands up", the suspect readily agrees.

Soon after Jim makes his capture, Pete spies the other suspect dousing packing materials in gasoline. Just as the man brings out a match and gets ready to light it, Pete stops him dead in his tracks. "Hold it right there, mister!" he shouts.

Now that all the players in this drama have been identified, it's time to bring everyone together and get the full story. As soon as the two suspects are reunited they start bickering. Then the security guard joins the party and identifies the would-be arsonist as a man named Thomas. Thomas used to work security at the store until he was fired for drinking on the job. Before Jim leads his prisoner out of the basement, he blurts out that it was Thomas' idea to torch the place.

After Jim and the other suspect leave Thomas tries to appeal to Pete. He believes Pete will understand why he tried to get back at the store for firing him. It's obvious this guy has never met Peter J. Malloy before.
"No, mister, I don't understand anybody who tries to commit arson for any reason."
Back in the black and white Reed wonders out loud what the Johnson family is up to. The radio responds to his curiosity with a 484 call at 10734 Laurel Vista.
"There's your answer."

At Laurel Vista and old man calls to Pete and Jim from the roof of his house. As George Sawyer climbs down from the roof, he wipes tar from his hands onto the side of the ladder.
Here they are across the street from the Pontiac dealership. Check out that spray painted hot rod parked behind them.
He explains through his tears, "They said they'd fix my roof like new". When the distraught victim apologizes for letting his emotions get the better of him Pete handles the potentially awkward situation with professionalism and tact.
"You have nothing to apologize for, sir."
Pete then climbs the ladder to get a better look at the state of the roof.
It's a goopy, oozing mess.
George explains that the worst part of the roof is over his wife's, Amy's, room. She's sick and she's spent the last nine years of her life in that room. With the roof in such disrepair, she's had to leave her room and will probably never be able to return to it since they can't afford to get the roof properly repaired now.

George had know for a long time that the whole roof wasn't in good shape, but he thought it would at least last until he and Amy were gone. But then it started it leaking and all of the estimates they received were out of their price range. He thought his prayers were answered yesterday when two men drove up in old pickup truck as he was raking leaves.
Pete suspects that the pickup had bags of fertilizer tied to the hood.
Pete and Jim know the rest of the story and finish telling it as if they were there themselves. They know that the men in the truck first gave George a high price to fix his roof. But when he said he didn't have that much, they agreed to fix it for the money George had. Their familiarity with the story gives George hope that the police have caught the men. 

Pete regretfully informs George that they haven't caught the Johnsons, they just know their work very well. Jim asks Mr. Sawyer if he saw the newspaper article warning people about the Johnsons and their dirty tricks. His answer is as sad as the rest of the situation.
"I stopped the paper to save the money for the roof."
[I also stopped getting haircuts to save money for the roof.]
Pete and Jim both want to get their hands on the Johnsons for burning a nice old man like Mr. Sawyer. But before they catch the Johnson family, they have some other business to attend to. Like finding out why the driver of this yellow car stopped in the middle of the intersection instead of at the stop sign on the corner.

These two are in town to celebrate their granddaughter's wedding. They're so preoccupied with the wedding that they, and the rest of the family, have forgotten about their other granddaughter's sixteenth birthday.
(Yes, that is the plot from Sixteen Candles and that's Billie Bird from Sixteen Candles.)
The driver sees the police car after his wife points it out to him. But he's not phased, he confidently tries to head on his way by making a right turn. Despite his best efforts to safely operate the vehicle, he ends up on the wrong side of the street.
Pete and Jim have seen enough, it's time to get this guy.
After they pull the yellow car over to the curb, Pete approaches the driver's side window. He leans in the window to talk to the driver and immediately knows that this guy will not be passing any field sobriety test.
He's overcome with fumes and I'm not talking about ones from gasoline.
Pete comes up for air.
Ira Goodrich blames the noxious odor on his shaving lotion. But it's obvious that there's more going on then foul-smelling aftershave when Ira mistakes his Zoo Association membership card for his driver's license. 

Pete suggests that Ira's wife, Winnie, drive home since she can actually produce her license on the first try. This seems like a good idea.

Until Winnie tries to walk around to the drivers side and stumbles.
"I think you'd better leave the driving to us, Mrs. Goodrich."
I don't think she's really drunk, I think she just wanted Jim to catch her.
While getting into the car Ira shares a funny observation about women with Pete. 
"...they just can't hold their liquor."
After they drop off the Goodriches, it's Reed's turn to try comedy. "You know, if we hadn't stopped her from driving we would have had a 10-04," he tells Pete.
"A 10-04?" asks a confused Malloy.
"Two 502's, Winnie and Ira," explains Reed.
Malloy mentally calculates the amount of time left on their shift.
Oh well, Reed didn't get lucky with his joke. Hopefully they both get lucky at their next 484 call and catch some members of the Johnson family. 

At 4257 Fordyce Pete parks right behind an old truck that bears a strange resemblance to a traveling dump or clown car, either way it's got bags of fertilizer tied to the hood. When they get out of the car Pete tells Jim to check out the back. He stays out front and looks inside the Johnson family truck. Unfortunately there are no keys on the front seat, Pete won't be able to stop these guys like he did with the thieves in "Log 54: Impersonation" (S2 E16).

We don't get to see what Pete does next because the scene cuts to a shot of Jim standing in the backyard.
Maybe Reed can see what Pete is doing, but we can't.
When we next see Pete he is walking up to the front door at the 4257. Before he can knock or ring the bell an old woman emerges from the front door with her finger held up to her lips. 

Inside the house, another woman waits by the basement door. A scruffy looking man comes up from the basement holding a bag, a rattling noise can be heard coming from the sack. He tells her there's a huge, deadly snake in the bag and offers to show her the serpent, but the worried woman dramatically refuses.

Meanwhile, Emma explains to Pete that her sister, Florence, hired the Johnsons to rid their basement of snakes while she was at the market. When Emma returned home she immediately recognized the men as the crooks the newspaper described.

Back inside the house Arver Johnson tries to get more money out of Florence by telling her that he's doing "awful dangerous work" for only one hundred dollars. He gives up any further negotiation after Florence protests his demand. She doesn't have any more to give him.

After Arver descends the basement stairs, Pete silently enters the house with Emma. Florence is startled to see a good-looking policeman standing in her parlor. In the hallway that leads to the basement door, Pete instructs Florence to call the men upstairs. But, the high-strung sister is feeling all "topsy-turvy" and just can't do it. The more levelheaded Emma performs the task. She shouts down to the Johnson men that they should come upstairs, she has something for them.

Arver and his partner, Clyde, come upstairs holding a bag of, what they claim to be, "instant death". They're surprised when Pete asks to have a look at the contents of the bag. Arver refuses, he can't take responsibility for the death and destruction that would follow if he opened the bag.  
"I can."
Arver throws the bag at Pete and the sisters, then he and Clyde make their escape through the basement.

Arver and Clyde try to escape through a backyard, but change direction when they see Jim. He chases them onto the front walk and catches Clyde before he can make it to the truck. While Jim struggles with Clyde, Pete casually walks out of the front door towards the truck.

He doesn't try to stop Arver from reaching the truck, instead he stands back and smugly watches as Arver tries in vain to start the truck.

When Arver realizes that it's hopeless he looks over at the curb. There he sees Pete taunting him with the truck's rotor.
So this is a rotor, it is attached under a car's distributor cap and it delivers a high voltage current to each spark plug. Thank you to the members of the "Adam-12" Facebook group for explaining this to me.
Since Pete would have had to get under the hood of the truck to get the rotor, we now know what he was doing while we were busy staring at Jim in the backyard. 

Arver realizes that this branch of the Johnson family has been beaten at their own game.
"We been conned!"
Pete silently beckons Arver out of the truck. 
Pete's freckled fingers are quite pristine for having been under the hood of the truck not that long ago.
After both suspects are cuffed, Pete hands them off to Jim while he goes inside to finish the report with the sisters. Florence, however, doesn't want to go back inside, she's afraid of the snakes. Pete bravely volunteers to enter the house first.

The ladies are aghast when Pete reaches his hand in the bag holding the snakes.

Pete's not worried, though, he knows what's in the bag. 
"Here's your snake, ladies. As phony as the Johnson family."

 The End

On it's face this looks like a simple tale about police chasing a family of con-artists through the city, but there's so much more to be learned here. For starters, this episodes teaches all of us not to have any home repairs done by unlicensed, un-bonded contractors who drive around in trucks with fertilizer tied to the hood. (This episode also makes me wonder what that truck must smell like once the hood gets warm.)

This story also shows us that people from all walks of life can be the victims of grifters. The Johnson family did not discriminate against the rich or the poor, they cheated both the well-to-do Mrs. Merchant and from the not-so-well-to-do Mr. Sawyer. Finally, this episode shows how the community can work together to bring criminals to justice. It wasn't just Pete and Jim who caught the Johnson family, they had some help. The police, the media, and an astute citizen all worked together to stop this clan of thieves. This installment works as both entertains and educates and I like it a lot.

But, there is one part I have an issue with. I don't like that we didn't see Pete removing the rotor. Adam-12, as Kent McCord said, takes place from the tip of the officer's nose out. We don't see anything that the officer doesn't see so I feel like Pete getting the rotor without us seeing it kind of went against a principle of the show. Maybe I only feel that way because I had no idea what he was showing to Arver Johnson. Seeing him under the hood of the truck earlier may have helped me understand what was going on when the truck didn't start. Or maybe if he would have mentioned the taking of the rotor to Jim I wouldn't feel so "conned". But, as it stands, I just feel like the rotor thing was "out of character" for the show. 

Oh well, I can't change a TV show from 1971. All I can do now is give it a rating of:

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments. See you next time with "Log 115: Gang War."


  1. Some observations:

    - Con artists like the Johnsons are still around. I was in San Francisco a few years back and noticed an item in the paper that was virtually identical to the main plot of this episode. (Not the first or last time I've seen an ADAM-12 story turn up in real life.)

    - They really play fast and loose with the boys' patrol area here. Bellagio Terrace is in Bel Air, well outside the Central or Rampart divisions. (And apparently that was the intended neighborhood, given the overstuffed matron Mrs Merchant.)

    - Speaking of which, I do like the slightly subtle bit of Reed finding the Johnsons funny initially, with them rooking a rich dimbulb - but then getting to see the other side of the coin with poor Mr Sawyer. (And thankfully Webb and the writer didn't hammer it home.)

  2. Hey Keely,

    I know William Boyett played a lot of cops in his career, so I was wondering if you've ever seen the short film "Last Clear Chance", which prominently features him as a highway patrolman? It was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000:

  3. Still bemoaning the fact that THIS-TV recently
    stopped showing William Boyette and the other
    cast members of HIGHWAY PATROL.

  4. I liked this one a lot too and it was cool to see that. "Lisa Bonelli," is a good actress after all. lol

    Thanks, Keely!