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INSIDE STORY

Big Evil's Ride to Death Row

Police Attribute More Than 20 Murders to Cleamon Johnson, a Guy You've Probably Never Heard of. His Victims Were Innocents Trying to Survive or Gang Kids in Over Their Heads.

November 29, 1998|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | Michael Krikorian is a staff writer for the Fresno Bee. His last article for the magazine was on roses

In these days of support groups, Violet Loggins could start a large one for people whose husbands, sons, brothers, daughters or friends were murdered by one man. Loggins' own mourning began seven years ago. Her husband, Donald Ray Loggins, worked at a local cable company, and since the birth of their son five months earlier, he had been as punctual as a Marine Corps reveille. He would pull into the driveway of their pleasant two-bedroom, South-Central Los Angeles home at 2:45 p.m. to watch the baby while Violet got ready for her swing-shift job. But on Aug. 5, 1991, Violet was sitting on the couch, cradling their child and staring at the telephone, wondering why her husband was so late.

Had Violet been outside at about 2:30 p.m., she would have heard distant gunshots, the sound of an Uzi being fired into the skulls of her 30-year-old husband and his friend, Payton Beroit, as they waited at a carwash on 88th Street and Central Avenue. It was the sound that symbolized the reign of terror of street gang leader Cleamon Johnson, who authorities say ordered the murders as he sat 100 feet from the carwash on the porch of his parents' home, his throne.

Loggins and his friend were killed because they lived east of Central Avenue, a dividing line between Crips and Bloods. Evil says neither was a gang member, but Johnson, seeking to provide a newly recruited Blood with a mission to earn his stripes, spotted them and issued their death sentences.

"He tore my family apart," says Loggins. "My husband was one of the good guys. He was always doing favors for people. Now I'm bringing up a child without a father . . . . All I have for my son are pictures. What do I tell him?"

Few of the loved ones of Johnson's victims, Violet Loggins among them, know the real name of the man who ruined their lives. But their eyes dart about nervously and anger distorts their faces at the mention of his street name.

This is the story of how a sweet young boy named Cleamon Johnson grew up to be "Big Evil."

*

By the early 1990s, the neighborhood controlled by the 89 family Bloods, Big Evil's neighborhood, was among the deadliest in California. In 1993 alone, there were 12 murders in the gang's half-square-mile turf. If all of Los Angeles had such a rate, there would have been 22,512 murders in the city, 4,635 more than in the entire United States last year. Big Evil was not responsible for all the mayhem, of course. But in a city with 100,000 gang members, he stood out.

"Every gang has a bad ass, a shot-caller," says LAPD Homicide Det.

Rosemary Sanchez. "Evil was the most violent one I ever knew about."

FBI Agent Jon Lipsky says only famed Mafia killer Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro was as violent. "Johnson has admitted to 13 murders by his own hands. That makes him a serial killer."

In total, police attribute more than 20 murders to Johnson. But even using the lower figure to which Johnson has confessed, that means he murdered as many people as "Freeway Killer" William Bonin or "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez. In all likelihood, Evil's relative obscurity has to do with where the slaughter occurred. No celebrities among these victims. No Palos Verdes bankers or Newport Beach realtors. These were innocents just trying to survive, or young gang members in way over their heads. Johnson's defense tried to portray him as a victim of geography. "Evil is a product of 89th and Central," said Joe Orr, counsel for Johnson's co-defendant, Michael "Fat Rat" Allen. "With his charm, there's no telling how far he could have gone. He was talented, but his abilities were diverted to the streets. If he had been raised in a different area, this would not have happened."

His own mother, however, can't believe it's that simple. After a jury sentenced Johnson to death for Loggins' and Beroit's murders, she pondered her personal version of the question that has kept sociologists and criminologists and theologians bickering for decades. What makes a boy go bad? "I feel I gave him my all. I just don't know what happened. Sometimes I feel I am to blame, but I did all a mother could do. I don't know why it turned out like this."

*

Cleamon Demone Johnson was born on Oct. 15, 1967, in Los Angeles. He had what many hard-core cases dream of--two loving parents. Aileen and Cleamon Johnson raised their son in a three-bedroom home on 88th Street. The white house had a large porch and a big backyard, complete with a pigeon coop that served as a playground for Cleamon, his two older half brothers, two younger brothers and a boisterous bunch of neighborhood boys. Norman Rockwell could have painted that scene, or the summer afternoons when Aileen gave her sons and their friends Kool-Aid and sometimes invited the neighbor boys to dinner, at which the family of seven said grace before eating.

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