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The Iron Man Defeated Boxing's Best, but Not Robber's Shotgun Blast

August 09, 1990|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They called Carlos Chavez the Iron Man, the little boxer of the 1940s and '50s who beat the likes of ring champions Manuel Ortiz, Lauro Salas and "Golden Boy" Art Aragon.

He was quiet and modest outside the ring. But inside, he let his hands do the talking. If Chavez made it past three rounds, his opponent didn't stand a chance. He was a slow starter, but he didn't go down easily, said those who knew and boxed him.

The man who last week shot and killed the Iron Man may have found that out.

Chavez, 68, died about 9 p.m. last Wednesday near his Eagle Rock home, the victim of what police believe was a robbery gone sour.

Chavez was walking home from his nightly rounds at a pizza parlor and neighborhood bar, in the 4100 block of Verdugo Road, where he typically drank water and talked to friends. On his way home he was accosted by a 28- to 30-year-old man, said Detective John Munguia of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Two witnesses told police that they saw Chavez struggling with the man. One of the witnesses called out, and the startled gunman shot Chavez once in the chest with a shotgun, Munguia said. Chavez died at the scene.

"The man was a fighter and he put up a fight," Munguia said. "He just didn't throw his hands up and give up . . . He was in very good shape. But anything physical's not going to help stop a shotgun blast."

Chavez was well-liked and well-known by neighbors and community merchants. He visited Verdugo Pizza and Tony's Place practically every night. He did not carry large sums of cash. His wallet, containing $14, was found in his pocket, Munguia said.

Police had received reports that others were involved. Now, Munguia said, police believe that the assailant acted alone. But little else is known. Witnesses offered few details about the gunman or where he fled, the detective said.

Police said they are investigating whether the same person may have been responsible for a fatal shooting in Glendale hours later. Chul Woo Nam, 50, was shot once in the chest with a shotgun. His body was found about 3 a.m. near his home on Jackson Street. Glendale police said he was not robbed.

The mystery of who killed Chavez, and why, bothers his three sons, his friends and his former opponents. The Iron Man, they said, was a gentle, quiet, retired brewery worker. He was healthy, still at his boxing weight of about 138 pounds, but walked with a limp as a result of a stroke years earlier.

"He wouldn't have allowed anyone to take his money from him," said Michael Chavez, 42, a Santa Barbara resident. "But my dad was so small. Even if he did get feisty with someone, he couldn't have done much harm. It was a brutal way to go."

Carlos Chavez, a second-generation American whose parents came from Mexico, began boxing when he was about 13. He turned professional at age 17 and soon gained notoriety for his steely determination inside and his quiet, gentle demeanor outside the ropes, according to relatives, former opponents and boxing records.

During the 1940s and early 1950s he fought frequently in Los Angeles against prominent boxers who went on to be state and world champions. Seven of his opponents--including Willie Pep and Jimmy Carter--became world champions.

He fought Manuel Ortiz, a professional bantamweight world champion, five times--with one win, two draws and two losses.

His most famous fight was against Ortiz--a 15-round bout in 1946 before more than 10,000 fans at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium, according to relatives and friends familiar with his career. That one ended in a draw.

Chavez also fought Art Aragon, a former pro lightweight state champion who now is a bail bondsman in Van Nuys. In June, 1950, Chavez won a 10-round decision in a non-title fight against Aragon. But in a rematch that November, the Golden Boy knocked him out in the first round.

"He was a slow starter, but later on he would kill you," recalled Aragon this week. "Carlos was not a bully, and I liked him for that. He was a classy guy. He was one of the few guys in boxing history I looked up to."

After retiring in 1956, Chavez got a job at the Schlitz brewery in Van Nuys, and in 1985 was inducted into the Southern California Boxing Hall of Fame. But he maintained little interest in fighting after his retirement, his sons and friends said.

"When Sunday fights were on TV, Carlos would sit in the corner and people would ask him questions," said Annette Williams, a bartender at Tony's Place. "Otherwise, he would never talk about his career."

Chavez's wife, Pauline, died in 1983. He continued to live in his Eagle Rock home on Avenue 40 with his eldest son, Steve. Later, he developed diabetes and then suffered a stroke that left him with a limp, his sons said. But he continued his nightly treks to Verdugo Pizza and Tony's Place--despite warnings from his sons and neighbors that it was unsafe for him to venture out alone at night.

"He was a professional fighter, and I guess you could say he was violent when he was in the ring," said Ron Chavez, 46. "But that was 30 years ago. He was a very quiet person. He wouldn't hurt a flea."

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