W I L L I A M   “E A S T E R”   B O N N E R

                                                                                                 by Duane Preimsberger


It was a typical Southern California Spring morning, with low clouds that would soon break away to sunny skies. It was also Easter Sunday, April, 22, 1973 and I was traveling eastbound on Firestone Blvd at 7:30 AM toward my destination, The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Firestone Station located at 7901 S. Compton Ave. in South Los Angeles. I would take over as the Day Watch Lieutenant, overseeing the delivery of law enforcement services in the 44 square mile area policed by the Station. It had been a pleasant low traffic drive from my home in Long Beach. Only a few folks were returning from Easter Sunrise Services and even fewer were on the streets showing off their Easter Egg colored finery. As were most religious holidays, this one would probably be a quiet and peaceful observance of the most important Christian occasion; or so I thought.


After getting into uniform and obtaining a quick briefing from the Morning Watch Lieutenant, I settled into my desk chair with a stack of performance evaluations for some of the Sergeants assigned to my watch and other paper work needing completion. The radio that monitored the working frequency of Firestone & Lennox Stations was blessedly quiet on this blessed morning and it seemed that my hope for a quiet day might well come true. After a few cups of coffee and a guaranteed heartburning breakfast burrito from one of the few fast food places open, I began prowling the station to see how the rest of the Firestone crew was spending Easter Sunday.


The four Deputies that made up the desk crew were involved in a deep discussion relating to the possible competitors in the upcoming basketball playoffs. The secretaries were processing crime reports; the detectives were interviewing the few persons in-custody for felonies this morning and the Watch Sergeant was red lining some incident reports that needed grammar or other corrections before being accepted from the Deputies who had submitted them. Our jail was almost empty and the few left over drunks from Saturday night were about to be cited out on their promise to appear. Things were well in hand.


By 2:00 PM I thought I had it made, I was going to get through a very peaceful day shift at the Departments most violence ridden area without any significant incident and soon I’d be home in time for the traditional Easter Dinner. Life was pretty darn good, considering the alternatives.

I was shuffling paper together and getting ready to turn over a quiet station to the oncoming Evening Shift Lieutenant when the first inkling of a problem filtered through the radio speaker over my desk.


It was a 2:35 PM radio call to an address in the Lennox Station area not too far west from our area boundary and I perked up as I heard the dispatcher order several Lennox units to a Shots Fired, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, three gunshot victims down incident, at 1609 W. 127 St. Within a very few minutes Lennox units were on scene and confirming the need for ambulances to transport the injured victims. Soon, there was a suspect wanted broadcast from the location describing the shooter and the car he was driving; William Bonner, a 26 year-old, male Negro, armed with a shotgun and a handgun, was last seen driving a beige 1967 Plymouth, Valiant, 4 door sedan with California plate number UCY 574.


As the day progressed and Firestone Station personnel became deeply and inextricably involved with Mr. William Bonner, I learned that the victim, Otha Leavitt, a middle aged woman, had stopped at the location, the home of a friend, Bonner’s mother, to use the telephone. While she made her call and while Mrs. Bonner colored Easter eggs in the kitchen, William shot the woman in the head and then ran out to her car where two friends awaited her return and there, he shot the two passengers and then fled in the Plymouth.


Less than 10 minutes later, my hope for a quiet Easter Sunday crashed and burned as Bonner approached a parked 1966 Chevy Impala near the southeast corner of the Arco Gas Station at 105 E. El Segundo Blvd. in Firestone Station’s area. He shot the two occupants, killing Allene Wells, a 12 year old girl, with a shotgun blast that destroyed her left lung and put seven holes in her heart. Her driver, a young woman, was also seriously wounded and witnesses described the shooter as William Bonner, who’d, once again, fled in the Plymouth. Firestone Deputies put out the second broadcast identifying William Bonner as the wanted, armed and deadly suspect.


Almost immediately, Bonner drove eastbound to the Texaco Station at 12800 S. Avalon Blvd. He got out of his car carrying the shotgun and entered the service bay area of the service station and shot Raleigh Henderson in the stomach. The victim was still alive and conscious when Deputies arrived and he was able to tell them that his assailant was a friend, William Bonner. A female witness to the shooting was terrified by what she saw and even more terrified when Bonner approached her and fired a round into the air. She ran to the restroom and locked herself inside praying that she would survive.


In a time span of slightly more than 10 minutes William Bonner had committed 3 murders and seriously wounded three innocent people. He was on the loose and there was no telling how many more individuals would meet their demise as a result of whatever was driving him to kill.

I knew we had to do everything we could to try and stop his murderous rampage as quickly as possible. I immediately arranged to hold over the Firestone Station Day Watch Personnel and obtained Code 3 assistance from the immediate response units at East Los Angeles, Norwalk and Lakewood Stations as well as obtaining helicopter coverage from Aero Bureau and assistance from the on-call special Enforcement Bureau Team. Our desk personnel and our Radio Room staffers notified all of the local law enforcement agencies including LAPD and the California Highway Patrol about the danger being created by William Bonner and the need to take him into custody. We were in contact with our Headquarters to see about using radio and television as a way of alerting the community to the on-going death wielding danger.


After I grabbed Deputy John Null from the station desk, the two of us loaded what passed for special weapons, .30- .30 Winchester lever action carbines, as well as maps and legal tablets into a radio car and headed for the intersection of Avalon Blvd. & 135 St. where I intended to set up a field command post using the hood of our patrol car and adjoining telephone booths as spots from which to conduct business. As we rolled, John used a Reporting District Map to set up sectors for saturation by responding units from other stations. We located the recent incidents and tried to identify a common denominator that might assist us in determining where Bonner might strike next. We failed in that regard.


Seconds after leaving the Station there was yet a fourth incident involving Bonner in the Firestone Station area. He had driven to 13227 S. Avalon Blvd, armed himself with the shotgun, kicked open the front door of the home and began shot gunning 3 more victims, Jevia Thompson later died and 2 more were seriously wounded. Both John and I were wondering how many more would die on this sacred day.


As we got close to our destination we learned that Firestone units in the area around 135 St. and Avalon Blvd. were reporting hearing shots fired in the vicinity and moments later they were requesting an ambulance at Smitty’s Liquor Store at 13409 S. Avalon Blvd. There, Bonner had entered the store carrying the shotgun and confronted Smitty Sneed, the owner. He accused him of once having shortchanged him during a purchase and shot him in the stomach. Unfortunately the Deputies were too late to intercept Bonner there and he escaped again after killing Sneed.


At 3:15 PM, 40 minutes from the first Bonner related incident in the Lennox Station area, Firestone Deputies were dispatched to a silent robbery alarm at Liquorama Liquors, 12800 S. San Pedro St.

 There, William Bonner wounded an employee with yet another shotgun blast to the stomach and shot a second employee before fleeing in his Plymouth getaway car.


Sometime between 3:10 and 3:20 PM Bonner visited Diane Banks at 13118 S. McKinley Ave. He shot gunned her in the neck severing her jugular vein and spinal cord, killing her almost instantly. Responding Firestone Deputies searched unsuccessfully for Bonner and for a few very brief moments he disappeared. For nearly forty minutes he’d avoided a substantial police manhunt and seemingly could strike again. Then, two Los Angeles Police Officers came across Bonner near the intersection of Manchester Blvd. and Vermont Ave. He was out of his car and pointing a shotgun at them. They immediately fired upon him; he dropped the shotgun and instantly commandeered a car containing a woman and her two daughters. Using a handgun pointed at the woman’s head to accomplish this crime; he ordered her to drive away. After complying with Bonner’s instructions for a few blocks she suddenly panic stopped and she and her children jumped from the car and escaped unharmed. The pursuing Officers immediately engaged Bonner in a gunfight, wounding him in the legs and ultimately taking him in to custody. Unfortunately, a Good Samaritan, Versall Bennett, was accidently killed in the gun battle.


It was chaos when I got back to the Station; we were besieged by the Press. Sheriff Peter Pitchess had taken a personal interest in the events and was making the Department’s weekend Duty Inspector crazy by asking a series of questions that he couldn’t answer. The Inspector knowing full well that stuff can and should flow down hill made certain that I answered each and every one of those questions fully and completely.


I didn’t make it home on time for Easter dinner; instead I had the pleasure of seeing some of the best street law enforcement officers in the United States finish up the paper work that had to be produced to record those forty minutes of Hell on Earth. I was more than just a little proud of those Deputies. The chips had been down and they had responded with exceptional courage, commitment and competency not often seen or appreciated by those not in law enforcement. I was proud of the Badge we wore, the Department for which we worked and those, from other stations and the Homicide & Crime Lab staff, who had come to help. Mostly, I was happy and proud to be working with the folks who policed the streets in the Firestone Station area.


I came back to the Station the next day and found that my Deputies had been hard at work, making the tragedies they’d confronted somehow more tolerable.

Cops, Firemen, Coroners staff and Emergency Room personnel often try gallows humor as a way to soften the mayhem to which they are exposed.

Firestone Deputies had invented a new name for William Bonner, in keeping with the day of his activities they’d come up with “Easter Bonner.”


 Many, that day, had been visited by the Easter Bunny bearing gifts of candy and brightly colored eggs; others, unfortunately, had been visited by Easter Bonner who brought pain, suffering and death.