On June 19, 1988, two men on a motorcycle rode past Marvin (Flash) McFee, an Altadena gang member and drug dealer, fired a bullet into his chest, and disappeared.
It was, as murders go, a humdrum affair that a local newspaper described in a few sentences: "A 22-year-old man died in an apparent gang-related drive-by shooting outside an Altadena residence Sunday night. The victim was unidentified. Circumstances of the shooting were not detailed."
But McFee's murder was far more significant than anyone suspected.
Altadena sheriff's deputies now believe it sparked a war of revenge between black gangs which has brought a wave of violence to Pasadena and Altadena.
Since the death of McFee, who was a member of the Altadena Block Crips, at least 10 people have been killed in shootings that have bounced back and forth between Pasadena, the stronghold of the Bloods, and Altadena, turf of the Crips.
225 Died Last Year
Although the number of deaths pales in comparison to the 255 who died last year in gang-related homicides in Los Angeles, it marks a turning point for these two suburban communities.
What was once a sporadically violent standoff on the fringes of the gang war in Los Angeles, has become a war of its own.
"There's no such thing as a fistfight anymore," said Pasadena Police Officer James Deal Jr., a member of the department's four-man gang unit. "The way I see it, they're playing for keeps."
By most accounts, the fight has become more violent in the past two months than ever before.
Two weeks ago, a group of gang members tossed a Molotov cocktail through the window of a house on West Palm Drive in Altadena. Nine people escaped the fire.
Died a Week Later
Cennie Brown Earby, 34, was trapped in her bedroom. She was burned on more than 90% of her body and died in a hospital a week later.
Investigators believe the intended victims were Kelvin Turrentine, who they suspect is a Crip member and who was shot in the buttocks a few days after McFee's death last year, and Wallace Brown Jr., another suspected Crip member.
Since the firebombing, at least seven others have been wounded in drive-by shootings in Pasadena and Altadena. Another Altadena house was firebombed a week ago.
"That's what you call retaliation," said one man as he huddled with some friends at the King's Village housing complex in the heart of the Pasadena's Bloods territory.
"Before, it was like this," he said, shadow boxing with the air.
"Now it's like this." He formed his fingers into the shape of a pistol.
County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Underdown strapped on a flak jacket and, armed with a couple packs of cigars and a .357-caliber pistol, headed off for a patrol in Altadena.
For the last year and a half, Underdown has been a member a four-man team that as part of its duties monitors gang activities in the Altadena area.
During his tour of duty, the streets have taken a definite turn for the worse.
"This is where McFee was shot," he said as he guided his unmarked patrol car past a house on Calaveras Street.
His partner, Joseph Key, turned a spotlight on the house across the street. "The record for most shot up," Key said. "Fifteen reported."
The house is for sale, as are two others within a few dozen yards.
A year ago, Key and Underdown's tour of the streets would have been a short affair, a few stops here and there, mostly at the homes of drug dealers.
This night, it takes hours. On some streets, the names of victims blur together as the unmarked patrol car cruises past.
The increase in the number and severity of gang-related attacks has come with startling speed, Underdown said.
He chuckled when he reminisced about more peaceful days, when four years ago, Bloods and Crips faced off in a tackle football game at Charles White Park. Parents served hot dogs, deputies walked the sidelines.
As he drives past the park, Underdown points to a spot nearby: "This is where Kelvin Turrentine got it."
The teams in this new game between Bloods and Crips have been developing for the past two decades.
Pasadena Police Sgt. Monte Yancey said there are two dominant factions of Bloods in the city: the Pasadena Denver Lane Bloods, who claim the northwestern quarter of Pasadena, and the Squiggly Lane Bloods, who largely operate in the border areas between northwest Pasadena and southwest Altadena.
Police believe the Denver Lane Bloods are related to a "set" in South-Central Los Angeles that goes by the same name. The Pasadena group also goes by the name Devil's Lane Bloods. Why this set, one of 36 in Los Angeles, migrated north is unknown to police.
Altadena is claimed by the Altadena Block Crips, who mainly operate on the west side of the community. There is also a small group of Crips based near the northern border of Pasadena, named the Raymond Avenue Crips.
Law enforcement officials estimate there are about 300 Bloods and 200 Crips in both cities, although the violent core of "old gangsters" may number just a few dozen.
Bloods Are Dominant