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The Hardened Detective Who Inspired Dragnet

Sgt. Joe Friday, played by the one and only Jack Webb, was a fictional sleuth with a no-nonsense attitude who both on the short-lived radio show and on the critically acclaimed television series tackled mysteries, took down baddies and cracked tough cases in the streets of LA. Along the way, he had a set of rules that he never wavered from, and they never him down. One character that that Friday repeatedly sought the services of was a citizen by the name of Raymund Pinker He was the Chief Forensics specialist for the LAPD, and unlike Joe, Pinker was actually based upon a real-world figure.

In fact, the inspiration for that character came from an individual that shared his same name.

The real Raymond Pinker worked with the LAPD for 40 years. He helped solve crimes with his trusty magnifying glass and other tools of the trade in a fashion that Sherlock Holmes likely would have been proud of.

In this video, we’re going to take a look at the real Raymond Pinker and how he unwittingly became a TV star. He actually worked on some pretty incredible cases – a couple of which you might have even heard about but we’ll get to that in a second.

It’s pretty crazy how Pinker has never really received the recognition that he deserves. You would think that Dragnet would have at least give him a credit considering the fact that they outright stole his full name.

They Never Paid Him A Penny

Dragnet used Pinker’s name without ever consulting him or paying him for his contribution. He dies many years ago, hut his wife, Ruby Pinker, interview several years ago and quote as saying that he never even received so much as a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes – the shows primary corporate sponsor.

The real Pinker joined the LAPD back in 1929. He became a team member of the newly formed Scientific Investigation Division. Basically, he was a forensics analyst before that terminology was in use.

The division had the first lab of its kind in the nation even though at the time they only had a microscope, a Bunsen burner, and a couple of test tubes at their disposal. It was a far cry from the modern labs and equipment that law enforcement uses today, but back then it was somewhat revolutionary.

With Pinker’s help, the ill-equipped lab transforms into a nationally renowned facility. 60 experts work and all of the lab gear is modern. His department became the model that other police departments from other major cities would look to for inspiration and pointers.

Raymond Pinker was a pioneer. He was the first to use things like paraffin tests coupled with gamma rays to identify whether an assailant discharged a firearm. He was one of the very first to use color photography and 3-D models to map out crime scenes. Also, he made use of breathalyzer and polygraph tests and instructed officers and attorneys on how to use them to assess and evaluate criminals.

Dragnet’s Stories Were Based Upon Pinker’s Cases

It’s always curious when films or TV shows make the claim that they are ‘based upon a true story’. It makes the viewer wonder just what elements of a fictional program root in reality and what is fluff. In the case of Dragnet, many of the series episodes were based on Pinker’s actual case files.

Ruby Pinker told the LA Times that she and her husband would watch Dragnet and could determine exactly what cases the writers were drawing upon for inspiration. Many of the cases featured in the show cherry-picked various elements from multiple cases to make them more interesting.

So while each individual case features in Dragnet isn’t exactly a true story in the broadest sense, it is very clear that they root in reality to at least some extent. It still stands to question why Pinker or his wife never credits or compensates for their contributions. In today’s litigious world, you could almost assuredly expect a long drawn-out legal battle and subsequent settling out of court to go down, but perhaps that was a battle that the real Raymond Pinker didn’t want to fight.

The Real Raymond Pinker

Pinker was born in Nebraska in 1905. He and his family moved to LA when he was still just an adolescent. And he put himself through college at USC by working at a local drug store. He received a degree in chemistry and always knew that he wanted to work in law enforcement.

He landed his first job out of college in 1929 working with the LAPD as a chemist. Just months after being hired, the stock market crashed. The police department was quite the spectacle to see at the time. There were rats the size of dogs that roamed the building. The walls stain yellow with cigarette smoke and there are bullet holes are on the ceiling and walls from accidentally discharged weapons.

But despite its run-down nature, it felt like home to Pinker. For decades it would be the place that he would put his curious and inquisitive mind to good use.

Pinker remembers as a quiet yet brilliant man that keeps to himself – except for when he engages in his work, which takes a major priority in his life. During his tenure, he helped put some of the most hardened and notorious criminals behind bars.

One of the most infamous cases that he cracked involved LAPD police Captain Earle Kynette. He is the head of what is famous as the Special Intelligence Squad. In 1938, Kynette was convict of orchestrating a car-bombing directed at another LAPD detective that was assigned to investigate alleged police corruption that was plaguing the department.

It Was All Part of the Job

Pinker would often receive phone calls in the middle of the night summoning him to go collect evidence at the scene of a crime. His services were in high demand.

He was asked to sit in on many autopsies to help get a better understanding of how the victims died but that was one part of the job that he wasn’t particularly fond of. According to his widow Ruby, when he would come home from the morgue he would have to strip his clothes off before coming indoors and would immediately jump in the shower to scrub the scent of death out of his skin and hair.

He calls to the stand hundreds of times a year. Court became a regular part of his life and he wouldn’t let anything come between him doing his job – even his family life. In 1938, when he was testifying in the Kynette corruption car-bombing case, Judge Thomas Ambrose adjourned court early for the day and informed Pinker that his wife had just given birth to a baby girl.

Talking about commiti to your job right?

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And make sure you keep watching to see some of the high-profile cases that Raymond Pinker worked on and what he did with his life after he retired.

The Louise Peete Case

In 1944, Pinker cracked one of the biggest cases of his career. Louise Peete was a convicted murderer who was out on parole and had been suspected in the murder and robbery of another woman that she had befriended years ago. Betty, the victim, even helped care for Peete’s daughter while she spent 18 years in prison on her previous murder conviction.

When Betty suddenly vanished and no body was recovered, Pinker was called in to try to get to the bottom of the matter. He found it very strange that Peete had fresh flowers all throughout her house but her garden, which had a brand new raised bed, was empty. If she liked flowers so much, why wasn’t she growing any? Following Pinker’s recommendation, the police dug up the bed and found Betty’s body.

Peete was executed via the gas chamber in 1947.

The Black Dahlia Case

Another famous case that Pinker got a chance to work on was the notorious Black Dahlia Case. In 1947, Pinker was able to determine that Elizabeth Short, the 22-year-old waitress that was the victim in the gruesome murder, had received several of her wounds while she was still alive.

He found other clues about her personality by looking at her remains. He noted that she must of had a poor support system by looking at her teeth. Her cavities were plugged with wax instead of having appropriate fillings. It was these little details that he called ‘little signatures of disclosure’ that only the keen eye could find.

It was this kind of intuitive detective work that made Pinker so good at his job. He saw what others might overlook. In many ways, he paved the way for future forensic analysts and pathologists and laid the groundwork for countless TV shows that would feature characters that followed his modus operandi.

Ray Pinkers Later Years

In 1955, the LAPD moved into a brand new $7 million headquarters building in what is presently called the Parker Center on Los Angeles Street.

The new facility was equipped with 200 grand worth of specialized equipment. He had everything that he could dream about at his fingertips – from spectrometers to centrifuges and all sorts of other top-notch chemistry equipment – he finally had a lab that matched his expertise. His inner child must have felt like he was in Disney World.

He continued to work for the department until 1965 when after nearly 4 decades he left the department and started teaching forensic science at Cal State.

He passed away in 1979 at the age of 74.

It’s actually rather fascinating that a fictional character in a TV show was actually a real person. While Joe Friday might not be a real individual, Raymond Pinker seems like one amazing individual.

Do you think that the producers of Dragnet should have compensated him and his family for making use of his likeness and cases for the show or do you think that it was ak fair game for NBC to use?

Let us know what you think in the comments section.

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