More than 20 years ago, Erika Scarano went on a crusade to clean up her Hollywood neighborhood of prostitution.
The effort led her to start a community action group, and soon she was spearheading a movement to establish a courthouse in Hollywood. The Hollywood branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court opened in 1986, followed by a drop in prostitution and petty theft.
As for Scarano, she faded into the background as a public figure -- until two weeks ago, when homicide detectives began investigating her death.
Scarano, 69, was stabbed several times March 29 during an argument with her 19-year-old adoptive son, Christopher, said Det. Wendi Berndt of the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Division.
A week later, investigators found Scarano's son at My Friend's Place, a youth shelter in Hollywood. The teenager, who suffers from mental health problems, was arrested on suspicion of murder, Berndt said.
Chris Shabel, an activist and former member of Scarano's Neighborhood Action Group, was surprised there wasn't more reaction to her friend's death, considering her effect.
"She was a very big activist at that time," Shabel said.
Before the Hollywood courthouse opened, local cases often got lost among the dozens of judges in downtown L.A., and petty criminals could escape prosecution. Three judges were transferred to the new courthouse, where they began handing out stiffer sentences to repeat offenders, leading to the drop in crime.
Then-county Supervisor Edmund Edelman, whose district included Hollywood, worked closely with Scarano on the courthouse project.
"Erika Scarano was one of the major Hollywood activists to help her community," he said. "She organized Neighborhood Action Group when I was a supervisor. She came to me and told me there was too much petty crime and prostitution."
The Hollywood courthouse faced considerable opposition from two county supervisors, who argued that it would delay development of courts in their districts.
Despite the protests, the board voted in 1983 to build the modest Hollywood facility.
"It helped clean up Hollywood Boulevard and areas all around it," Edelman said. "This is all due to [Scarano's] efforts."
Scarano pulled away from community activism and in recent years became embroiled in several neighborhood disputes in the Spaulding Square area of Hollywood where she lived.
She filed lawsuits and restraining orders against neighbors for various reasons.
Joseph Hakimpour, who owns a home next to Scarano's that he rents out, eventually sued her in 2007 for harassing his tenants.
In 2004, Scarano accused the tenants -- a couple with a young child -- of "damaging sprinklers" and "removing rocks" from her home, according to Hakimpour's complaint, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Scarano also once demanded to see the couple's 14-month-old child because the toddler had been "crying for [Scarano] in pain," the complaint states.
Scarano filed a restraining order in 2007 against another neighbor, Valerie Keegan, alleging that she had assaulted her in a dispute over trimming the hedges that divided their yards.
All of the court cases were dismissed, records show.
But well before the run-ins with neighbors, Scarano was honored in 1985 by the Lions Club of Hollywood for her efforts to rid Hollywood of street prostitution. That same year, she also was feted by Hollywood Business and Professional Women for her public service.
Today, tucked between a Salvation Army youth shelter and a row of shops along Hollywood Boulevard, the courthouse bears a plaque mounted at the front entrance that reads: "To honor her outstanding contributions to improving the quality of life in the Hollywood community. . . . Erika is a symbol of the community volunteer spirit . . ."