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People & Events: Sleepy Lagoon Defendants

courthouseYsmael "Smiles" Parra (1922-2001)

If the jury or the judge had been at the scene of the crime to witness what really happened, we would have never been convicted. I say this because I know.
Ysmael Parra from San Quentin Prison

Ysmael "Smiles" Parra was the fifth of ten children born to Jose "Joe" and Margarita "Rita" Parra, who were originally from Durango, Mexico. The Parras lived in Superior, Arizona, where Ysmael was born, before moving to Los Angeles when he was three years old. They lived first in Belvedere and then settled in the 38th Street neighborhood. His mother died when he was 17 after a three-year illness.

Ysmael, called "Smiles" by his friends because of his natural grimace, left Jefferson High School after the 12th grade to work at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. At the time of his arrest he lived several blocks away from the 38th Street neighborhood, on 71st Street, with his wife Delia, 21, and their two-year-old baby Rita. At the time of his arrest he was earning 72 cents an hour working at Gillespie Furniture Company, where Joe Carpio and Joseph Valenzuela also worked.

When he was 13 he stole a bicycle and was held overnight in jail. At the age of 16 he was picked up several times on suspicion of robbery and burglary, and was held for two or three days each time before being released. When he was 18, Parra was picked up three times for assault with a deadly weapon. He was held for two or three days and then released on two occasions. Once he was held in jail for 12 days before appearing in court, but the charge was dismissed for lack of evidence. In 1941 he was again charged with assault with a deadly weapon, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, disturbing the peace, and served 30 days in Lincoln Heights Jail.

In the Sleepy Lagoon murder case, officially called People v. Zammora, Parra was convicted of murder in the second degree of José Díaz with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to serve five years to life at San Quentin. In 1944 he was sent to Chino Honor Prison for good behavior.

Parra's imprisonment would mark him for life. His daughter recalls that when he returned home he kept to himself, that he never trusted the police again and had lost respect for the law. She described him as devastated by the experience. Five years later he remarried and joined his father in Arizona, where together they ran a rock and gem store, and Parra learned to make Southwestern jewelry.

In 1995 he moved to Virginia to be near his daughter. As he got older he suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He died on February 23, 2001 in Richmond, Virginia at age eighty-two.

José "Chepe" Ruíz (1925-1996?)

Seriously, I am serving a long, long, time for wearing a [zoot] suit like that.
José "Chepe" Ruíz from San Quentin Prison

José "Chepe" Ruíz was eighteen years old at the time of his conviction for the murder of José Díaz. Before his arrest he was a two-year letter winner in sports at Andrew Jackson High School, and his chief ambition was to be a Big League ball player. He also wanted to get a defense job, but he was refused because he was not an American citizen.

José Ruíz had a troubled history with the Los Angeles Police Department. At the age of 15, he was arrested for grand theft auto and served two weeks in a work camp. At various times he was picked up by the police, and charged with robbery and/or assault with a deadly weapon.

Once, after he was beaten by the police and held for one month before trial, the witness who filed the complaint testified that the police had the wrong man. Another time he was viciously beaten by a police officer with a pistol and then slapped again for bleeding on the seat of the police car. The arresting officer was later sent to San Quentin. In May of 1943, just prior to the Sleepy Lagoon murder, Ruíz was arrested and charged with assault. While in custody, the officers who arrested him cracked his head open with the butt of a pistol. He was acquitted and released after a trial by jury.

In August 1943 he was picked up in the citywide dragnet of Mexican American youth several days after the death of José Díaz. The officers at the Firestone sub-station beat Ruíz for a confession, and opened the scar over his left eye that was left over from the beating he had received at the hands of the police a few months earlier.

Ruíz was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent his entire incarceration at San Quentin prison, not to be released until October of 1944, when the case was overturned. He would be in and out of prison for the rest of his life. He is presumed to have died in Lake San Marcos, California, at the age of seventy-one.

Manuel "Manny" Delgado (1924-1999)

At the time of the People v. Zammora murder trial, Manny Delgado was eighteen years old. He had been married for two years, and he and his wife, Beatrice, were expecting their first child. Like many of his friends, he was born in Los Angeles to parents who had escaped the revolution in Mexico.

Delgado spent a total of two years in high school and was a first-string baseball player at Jefferson High. He left school to work at a lumberyard, earning $10 a day. His interest in aviation prompted him to try to join the U.S. Army Air Corps.

He had once been arrested on suspicion of fighting and was held in custody for approximately three hours. When his older brother Paul came to find him, they placed him in custody too.

Delgado was picked up in the police dragnet and was among the twenty-two defendants put on trial for the murder of José Díaz. He was charged with second-degree murder, with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. His sentence was five years to life. He was, however, the first of the Sleepy Lagoon boys to be released on parole, on August 18th, 1944, five months before a successful appeal would set all of them free.

After his release in 1944, he returned to prison once. He spent the last years of his life with his family and died in Clark, Nevada, in 1999.

Manuel "Manny" Reyes Salazar (also known as Manny Schneider) (1925-1995?)

We were arrested just because we are Mexicans, but being born a Mexican is something we had no control over, but we are proud no matter what people think. We are proud to be Mexican American boys.
Manny Reyes from San Quentin prison

Manny Reyes Salazar attended Metropolitan High School part-time, and earned $16 a week as a clerk in a garment factory before he quit both school and work to join the Navy. He was scheduled for his physical examination a week after his arrest for the murder of José Díaz.

Reyes had no police record prior to the Sleepy Lagoon case. "He is a jolly boy and he likes to sing and dance," his mother said. "He always wanted to be on the radio until the war came. After the war came, all he wanted to do was to be in the Navy. But now it is out of his heart. In the jail he told me, 'Mama, I lost that hope. I don't think I got a chance.'"

During the Sleepy Lagoon investigation the Los Angeles police showed Reyes what they had done to Henry Leyvas during his questioning, and promised that he would receive the same if he didn't talk. He told the police what they wanted to hear, but later admitted: "I lied because I was afraid."

Nonetheless, Reyes was convicted of murder in the second degree, with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He received five years to life at San Quentin.

After his release in 1944, Manny Reyes remained in Los Angeles and became a small business owner. He is presumed to have died in Buena Park, California, at the age of seventy.

Victor "Bobby Levine" Rodman Thompson (1921-1998)

I thought maybe you could get me a picture of some chick! I don't care if it is a picture of Frankenstein's mama, just so I can have one to put in my awfully bare album.
"Bobby" Thompson to Alice McGrath from San Quentin prison

Victor Rodman Thompson was better known to his friends as "Bobby Levine" (Levine was a surname from one of his stepfathers). He was the youngest of three children born to Beulah Rogers. Bobby Thompson lived in the 38th Street neighborhood for about ten years with his mother and third stepfather, Clarence Rogers.

Although Thompson was white, he grew up identifying with the other boys on trial in every appreciable way. Because his family did not have much money, they chose to live in the segregated section of Los Angeles, where they could afford housing.

Thompson left Jefferson High School after the 11th grade and worked at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp for a year. He also worked at the Beacon Truck Wrecking Company and the enormous Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, near San Francisco.

He had been picked up once on suspicion of burglary and was held by the police for seventy-two hours before he was released. In early 1941 he was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and given a one-year suspended sentence, with three years probation. He quit his shipyard job two weeks before being arrested in the Sleepy Lagoon case, in order to return to report to his probation officer.

Thompson told the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee that the police threatened him at the time that he was picked up. He was charged with second-degree murder with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder, and was sentenced to five years to life in San Quentin. After his release in 1944, Thompson left Los Angeles and his friends never heard from him again. He died at age seventy-seven in Bishop, California.

Henry "Hank" Joseph Ynostroza (1924-2006)

It makes me feel good to know that the people are trying to help us.
Henry Ynostroza to Alice McGrath from San Quentin prison

Henry Ynostroza was married to Hortensia Ynostroza and they had an eighteen-month-old daughter when the Los Angeles Police Department arrested him for the murder of José Díaz. Since the age of 15, when his father had been deported to Mexico, Hank had provided for his family. He completed two years at Jacob Riis High School and worked at a variety of jobs.

Ynostroza had been picked up by the Los Angeles police off and on for running away from home, for talking back to a policeman, for hitching a ride on a freight car, and for standing on a street corner. During questioning for the Sleepy Lagoon murder, the police kicked and punched him until he was sorely bruised.

Ynostroza was found guilty of second-degree murder with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to five years to life in prison. After his release, he lived in Los Angeles.

Andrew Acosta (1925-)

On February 6, 1925, Andrew became the third of nine children born to the Acosta family. His father Miguel ("Mike") and mother were native to Mexico, but they fled to the United States in 1915 during the the Mexican Revolution and Mike Acosta provided for his family, earning wages as a gardener. Although there is no information on Andrew's mother, it is very likely that she, like so many other women, worked full time both in and outside the home.

Andrew grew up in East Los Angeles and finished junior high school. At the time of his arrest in the Sleepy Lagoon case, he was working full time, earning $5 a day as a defense contract laborer along with his two older brothers. His ambition was to become a mechanic.

His only contact with the law prior to his arrest was a conviction at the age of thirteen as an accomplice in the theft of an automobile. He was sent to a work camp for an unknown period of time, most likely for one year.

In People v. Zammora, Andrew was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to one year in the county jail.

Eugene Carpio (1925-1970)

Eugene, the younger brother of Joe Carpio, had started his junior year of high school when he was arrested for the death of José Díaz. His interests were in art and his ambition was to join the Marines after graduating.

He was found guilty of assault and sentenced to one year in a work camp. He died in California when he was just forty-five years old.

Benny Alvarez (1923-2000)

Benny was the second of eight children born to parents who were both California natives. At the time of his arrest, he was eighteen years old and had dropped out of high school to work in a defense industry job, as a furniture maker for Union Steel Corporation. He was earning 65 cents an hour.

Prior to his arrest for the death of José Díaz, Alvarez had spent a few weeks in juvenile hall for having stayed out all night with a girlfriend. He was also arrested twice for suspicion of driving a stolen car. The police held him for five hours during the first arrest and eighteen weeks during the second arrest, despite the fact that he owned the car in question. During one of these arrests, police officers slapped Alvarez and beat him with the butt of a pistol.

Benny Alvarez was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to spend one year in a work camp in People v. Zammora. He died in Bakersfield, California, at the age of seventy-seven.

Gustavo "Gus" Zamora (1922-1983)

Gustavo Zamora was born in Mexico, the fifth child of seven born to Francisco and Julia Zamora. When he was only ten months old his family fled to the U.S. He completed two years at Jefferson High School before quitting to work in the furniture factories in Los Angeles. Because he was not a U.S. citizen, he was not allowed to work on defense industry contracts.

Prior to his arrest in the Sleepy Lagoon case, Zamora was arrested for suspicion of theft along with Sleepy Lagoon co-defendants Bobby Thompson and Joe Carpio, and was later released. He was picked up again on the same charge and was held for three months before he pleaded guilty and was given probation. During both arrests Zamora was beaten by police officers.

The case of People v. Zammora carried Gus's name, misspelled with two Ms, simply because the court recorder chose his name at random.

Gus was found guilty of second-degree murder with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to five years to life imprisonment. In 1944, he was transferred to Chino Honor Prison from San Quentin. He died at the age of sixty-one in Bell, California.

Victor Segobia (1927-?)

Victor Segobia was 16 years old at the time of his arrest for the death of José Díaz. He was trained as an auto mechanic but was earning $3.50 a day as a cleaner when the Los Angeles police picked him up. Victor Segobia's older brother was in the Army, and Victor tried to join the Navy -- but he was turned down for being too young.

Prior to this arrest, Victor had no police record. He was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to spend one year in the county jail.

Joseph Valenzuela (1923-1982?)

Joseph Valenzuela was nineteen years old when he was arrested for the death of José Díaz. He had been working at Gillespie Furniture with Joe Carpio, earning 67 cents an hour. His ambition was to join the Navy or the Marines.

Prior to his arrest his mother had him sent to a work camp, because he didn't want to attend school. After that he was arrested once for driving without a license, and again for fighting. He was released on both counts after being held in jail for seventy-two hours.

Valenzuela was found guilty of assault and was sentenced to spend one year at the county farm. He died in Bell, California, at the age of fifty-nine.

Jack Melendez (1921-?)

Jack Melendez was the third of six children born to Jesus and Aurora Melendez. His father had migrated to the U.S. in 1908, and his mother was born in the U.S. Melendez grew up in Los Angeles and completed the 12th grade at Jefferson High School before working full-time at a variety of jobs. He was sworn in to the Navy and was scheduled to report for duty a few days before his arrest in August 1942.

Prior to Melendez' arrest for the death of José Díaz, the Los Angeles Police Department held him for a few hours for being a spectator at a fight, and for seventy-two hours on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.

Melendez was found guilty of second-degree murder with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to five years to life imprisonment. Shortly after his conviction, the Navy gave Jack a dishonorable discharge. After his release, he remained in Los Angeles and became a small business entrepreneur.

Robert "Bobby" Telles (1924-1967)

Bobby Telles was the second of four children, born near the 38th Street neighborhood to American parents. Telles had an interest in drawing all of his life, but had to drop out of Jordan High School after his second year, because his parents could not afford school supplies. He began working full-time on a defense industry project with North American Aviation.

Telles had no arrest record prior to the Sleepy Lagoon case. He was found guilty of first-degree murder with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in California at the age of forty-three.

John Matuz (1922-?)

John Matuz lived in the 38th Street neighborhood in 1940 for about a year with his Mexican-born father, Joe, and stepmother, Bertha. John attended Jefferson and Van Nuys high schools, but quit to work for the U.S. Engineering Department in Alaska as a waiter. Although he was far from home, he always maintained his ties to his friends from the 38th Street neighborhood.

Prior to his arrest for the murder of José Díaz, John had no police record. Once, in 1940, John went to the police station to look for his friend Seferino Leyvas (Henry Leyvas's older brother), the police held Matuz for questioning. After an hour they released him. "You don't belong with this gang," the police told him. "Go home."

At the time of Matuz' arrest during the Sleepy Lagoon investigation, the police found $98 in his pockets. The arresting officers did not believe that he had earned the money and tried to beat a confession out of him until he passed out.

He was convicted of murder in the second degree, with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to San Quentin for five years to life. After his sentence was overturned he remained in Los Angeles and became a small business owner with some of his friends from 38th Street.

Angel Padilla (1924-)

Angel Padilla was born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents who came to the United States in 1922. He was the second of four children. He attended Jefferson, Fort Hill, and Jacob Riis high schools before dropping out to work at a variety of jobs.

Padilla had a checkered record with the Los Angeles Police Department for crimes both committed and suspected. When he was 15, Padilla was arrested for car theft, along with Henry Ynostroza, Seferino Leyvas, and Joe Carpio. They were held in juvenile hall for two weeks and given one year of probation. When Padilla was 16, he was again held in jail for a week on suspicion of car theft, although the car was his own. Padilla's 17th year was filled with difficulties with the law. His mother reported him for failing to go to school and he was placed in custody at the county jail for two weeks. That same year he was arrested on suspicion of fighting and held for two weeks before the case was dismissed, but he was later convicted for fighting Henry Leyvas's cousin and sent to a work camp. He was also picked up along with Henry and Seferino Leyvas for loitering around schools when they had gone there to pick up some girls after school. They were held in the county jail for two weeks and placed on probation. That same year, he robbed and assaulted a drunk and was sent to work camp for five months.

When the police picked Padilla up for questioning in connection with the death of José Díaz, they beat and kicked him so severely that he was confined to bed for a week.

Padilla was convicted of murder in the second degree, with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to commit murder. He was sentenced to San Quentin for five years to life. After his sentence was overturned he returned to prison on other charges.


The following young men appealed for a separate trial. All were found not guilty.

Edward Grandpré (1924-1982)
Ruben Peña (1926-1998)
Daniel Verdugo (1923-1995)
Joe Carpio (1924-1984)
Richard Gastelum (1925-?)





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