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The Larsen Files : Their Cases Alone--J. David Dominelli, the MGM Hotel Fire--Make Them Extraordinary. But There's Another Twist: They're a Father-Daughter Detective Team.

June 07, 1987|STEVE CHAPPLE | Steve Chapple's most recent book was "Outlaws in Babylon." His next is "Burning Desires: Love and Lust in Dangerous Times" (with David Talbot), which will be published by Dolphin / Doubleday.

NEITHER FATHER NOR DAUGHTER looks much like a detective. He, Larry Larsen, is tall and roly-poly, at 47 not quite fat--rather, large and dignified. Invariably, he wears a blue Oxford button-down shirt with a pen sticking out of the breast pocket. His manner is at first goofy, like TV detective Colombo's, yet even more disarming than that. Daughter Linda, 27, is the opposite: thin, tough, new wave, a black malachite stud in her right ear, two pearls in the left. After hours, he listens to baroque music; she lives in a world of studio musicians and actors.

The "daddy-daughter detective duo," some call them. Despite their appearances, the Larsens have become legendary in the hard-boiled world of Los Angeles private investigators. It was the Larsens who led the paper chase that recovered some $10 million from the hidden empire of fallen financier J. David Dominelli. It was the Larsens who ran down the assets of con woman Naomi Jerez after the FBI arrested her on a rented yacht. Father and daughter forced a famous television evangelist to return half of a multimillion-dollar bequest. They saved their client Essex Chemical Corp. from taking the blame for the 1980 MGM Grand Hotel fire. In the mid-1970s, Larry Larsen's investigation (for then County Supervisor Baxter Ward) helped bring down L.A. County Assessor Philip E. Watson. Later, Linda Larsen's research exposed the asbestos danger in many Southern California classrooms.

In fact, driving around Los Angeles with the Larsens is like covering a crime grid. Each part of town holds another scene. In Marina del Rey, there's the building where Linda Caroline Miller's body was discovered. Downtown, a mystery witness surfaced whose testimony saved the life of a gang member accused of stabbing another boy to death. Nearby is the Ambassador Hotel, where the Larsens (Linda, a young eager beaver) helped investigate Bobby Kennedy's assassination. In Beverly Hills, there was an almost-murder involving a dentist, his two girlfriends and a reluctant hit man. In Santa Monica, it's the Billionaire Boys Club trial; father and daughter were asked to investigate, but the fee was too low. Together, they insist on $120 an hour.

Today we are driving up the Pacific Coast Highway. The Larsens are looking into a murder in Oxnard that the small-town press is already calling an episode of surfer Satanism. Later, they will head back to Los Angeles for more meetings.

In Oxnard, Rodney Holder, whose father is prominent in the Ventura oil industry, is charged with bludgeoning a man to death with a metal bar. Holder led police to the body, saying, "I have killed my antichrist." The Larsens are not so sure. It is their job not to believe anybody, regardless of who's hired them. Like most private detectives, the Larsens usually work for the lawyers of the accused, compiling much of the evidence the attorneys will use later in court.

The discussion of whether any real Satanism is involved in the Oxnard case prompts Larry Larsen to talk about his investigation of Charles Manson. "The Family," Ed Sanders' classic of true-crime horror, is dedicated to Larsen, who was the principal researcher for the book.

Alongside the Malibu Riding and Tennis Club, Larsen takes a hand off the steering wheel of his black Thunderbird and points toward the ocean.

"Ed was convinced some sort of ritualistic ceremony was being conducted on the beach down there, around campfires at night. He wanted to check it out. . . . "

"The usual voyeuristic stuff," interrupts his daughter. Linda snuffs out one cigarette and lights a second. (Larry Larsen drinks coffee, 10 or 12 cups a day. Linda Larsen likes to smoke. She seems to smoke 10 or 12 Benson & Hedges Ultra-Lights every hour.)

"Pretty soon Ed had me creeping and crawling down that cliff," continues Larry. "But before we started out, we had an argument. Ed's a New Yorker, always a little paranoid. He'd brought his .45 to L.A. and insisted on taking it to Malibu. I got him to remove the clip and stick the pistol in the trunk. When we got to Malibu, I refused to open it. Ed was mad, but I don't believe in guns."

When we'd passed Topanga Canyon, several miles back, Larsen had talked about the only time in 21 years anyone has ever threatened him with bodily harm. "A man in Topanga told me he was going to hurt me; I started laughing. I couldn't stop. I said, 'This is too absurd!' The guy didn't know what to think." The Larsens have devoted a lot of thought to structuring their professional interactions so that nobody ever threatens them. They don't like violence.

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