Stephen A. Nash


Stephen A. Nash

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: "Thrill murders" - Homosexual
Number of victims: 11
Date of murders: 1955 - 1956
Date of birth: 1924
Victims profile: Men and boys
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Status: Executed by asphyxiation-gas in California on August 21, 1959

“Killings are cheap. They cost about $1.35 or $1.40…It’s like being on a quiz show … When you get 10, you go for 20 … You always want more … “When I was in Quentin, I borrowed books from the prison library. I was studying the operation of railroads. I. panned to run a whole train off a bridge and watch them monkeys go swimming. I’d lie on the river bank and enjoy myself laughing at them.”
_Steven Nash
How can you read any man’s mind? Especially that of a grunt, toothless, six-foot-three drifter who dreams such monstrous thought as these? How can you believe that in less than a year a man would perpetrate five senseless murders with knife and lead pipe (and perhaps half a dozen more)?
Sergeant Larry Scarborough was just a slow talking rookie in Homicide Division at the time. His background was the Narcotics detail where he had worked the previous five years. You couldn’t reasonably expect that he yet would have developed that intuition, smell of blood, call-it-what-you-will, which sets the Homicide detective apart.
Yet the very first day he heard of Stephen Nash he knew instinctively that he was touching something evil. Something especially that would have to be stopped fast. At the time, Nash wasn’t even wanted for murder, but Scarborough suspected a little of the monstrous truth.
All that dull November day, from morning until late afternoon, two men, one boyish twenty-four-year-old the other an older sullen man, stood together on the skid-Row corner in the slave belt, hoping for a job.
It was Friday, a bad day for the kind of jobs that are doled out on Skid Row, and they had no luck.
The younger man, Denis Butler, had a few dollars. He offered to buy his new friend a beer or two, and they went to a nearby saloon. For an hour, the sullen, older, bitter man did the talking, and Butler did the buying.
The older man, it seemed, had a grievance against society that had begun in infancy and never had been assuaged. As a baby, he had been abandoned, and from that first, unfair stigma, life had continued to abuse him.
He was still talking when they left the bar and walked up Third Street toward a cafeteria where the food was cheap but good. He was talking louder and more bitterly, and waving his arms in a rage, as they entered the Third Street tunnel. Butler began to feel uneasy about his new friend who hated anything, everything, with such black, consuming hate.
Midway through the tunnel, the tall, gaunt man stopped and glared at Butler. Not a word was said, but the younger, smaller man tried desperately to back away.
It was too late. A hunting knife with a four-inch blade drove into his stomach.
Butler screamed, and his terror gave him the strength to run despite the burning wound. He fled out of the tunnel and into the lobby of a nearby hotel.
Knife upraised for the kill, his assailant followed him, trapping him in the lobby.
For some reason, perhaps because it would have been more merciful, he withheld the fatal thrust, Instead, deliberately, viciously, he stomped on his prostrate victim until he had broken Butler’s collarbone. Then he fled.
Somehow, Butler survived the attack, and in the hospital he whispered to a radio car patrolman the name of his assailant had given. It was Stephen Nash, all right, and the records down in R. and I. flashed out the story.
At the age of thirty-three, Nash had already done half a dozen years in San Quentin for strong-arm robberies. He had brawled at a cannery where he was working, and done six months on a sheriffs honor farm at Santa Rita.
In the stupid, senseless way of some Skid Row characters, he was bad, but there was nothing to suggest that he was monstrous. Yet something clicked right then for Sergeant Scarborough. Wasn’t it four or five weeks earlier in Sacramento that it had happened?
Scarborough checked the file of All Points Bulletins. Yes here it was: Floyd Leroy Barnett, 27, cannery worker, body found in Sacramento River, Bludgeon and knife wounds.
Scarborough wired the Sacramento police for full details. Standup mugs of Nash were printed up and distributed. All commands were briefed on his physical description, habits, and known haunts. To police in other cities, LAPD put out a “want” on Nash for assault with a deadly weapon.
Privately, Scarborough knew the charge was an understatement. Ten days later, the gaunt, toothless man is in Long Beach, twenty miles south of Skid Row hangouts. He meets John William Berg, twenty-seven, and the young hairdresser invites him up to his apartment.
There is an argument, or is it one of Nash’s tirades against society that can be satisfied only by blood and death? He fatally stabs the hairdresser. The next day, he has Berg’s new clothes altered to fit him, sells his own shabby garments and disappears.
Back in LAPD Homicide, Sergeant Scarborough notes the modus operand i and adds a second murder to the case he is already building against Nash.
Now it is three days after the Berg killing, and ten-year-old Larry Rice is listlessly playing near the pier in the beach area at Venice. Now and then, he glumly kicks a stone, but mostly he just stares out at the water, blinking occasionally.
Larry doesn’t want to play with the other kids or go home to his empty house. He is just killing time in a lonely, inarticulate, small boy way until his father comes home from his job as an aircraft assembler. Larry is an only child; and, eight days ago, his mother died of cancer.
A gaunt man with a funny, toothless smile gets Larry to talking a little. They drift over to a food stand, and he treats the boy to a hamburger and pop. Then they go under the pier and talk some more.
There’s one nice thing ahead, Larry suddenly confides to his new friend. His face brightens in anticipation.
After it, well, happened—he blinks quickly and goes on—his daddy talked to him. Look, kid these things happen, and it’s better for her this way. Now, you be brave, and we’re going on all the rides in the amusement park. How’s that! All the rides.
Larry likes that, he tells his friend under the pier. He likes his daddy. His daddy says there are going to be lots of more nice things, too.
He looks up smilingly at the gaunt man and wonders, in sudden panic, what did he say wrong? Larry tries to yell, but it comes out a small boys squeak. He tries to run, but the gaunt man grabs him and slashes viciously with a knife.
When they find Larry a little later, there are twenty-eight knife wounds all over his body. He dies the same day.
He added a third murder to his private “want” on the killer.
Next day, when Nash was bagged by the Santa Monica cops in a roundup of vagrant, Scarborough was on his way there.
In a show up of the suspects, several small boys recognized the gaunt, toothless man with his funny smile as the one they had seen with Larry Rice. An hour later, as Scarborough listened to his confession—a boastful, triumphant story the way Nash told it—the sergeant knew beyond all doubt that he had been right about this monster.
“He was a kid,” Nash said without a flicker of remorse.
“It was all there in front of him. His whole life . . . sex, fun, all of it! Why should he have it when I never did? I took it all away from him.”
Then toothlessly he smiled at the cops. “Besides, I never killed a kid before. I wanted to see how it felt.”
Quietly Larry Scarborough snapped the handcuffs on Nash’s thick, muscled wrists, noticing the cuffs clicked in the first notch ad n ore. He took him back to LAPD Headquarters for one of the most detailed, brilliant interrogations in LAPD history, one that was to win for him a special honor plaque from the California Association of Private Investigations.
Because he knew so much about his man even before laying eyes on him, Sergeant Scarborough had little trouble getting Bash to talk.
For two weeks, a tape recorder at his side, Scarborough listened and prompted as the killer bragged, whined, screamed, joked, wept, and ranted. Endlessly Nash reviled society and occasionally he laughed—when he described a murder or his hope to invent a new kind of murder by spiking whiskey with iodine. Like the train wreck, he just hadn’t had the opportunity to test it out, he added resentfully.
The story was even worse than Scarborough had suspected. He already knew about the killings of the cannery worker, the hairdresser, and the little boy, all in a six-week period stretching from mid-October to late November. Now Nash filled him in on two more.
Almost a year ago, the previous December, he had beaten William Clarence Burns to death with a lead pipe. Burns an Oakland merchant seaman, had a good job, Nash thought, and that was reason enough to murder. The pipe and body had been thrown into San Francisco Bay near Richmond just north of Oakland.
Then in August, two months before killing fellow cannery worker, Barnett, he had murdered Robert Eche, a twenty-three-year-old draftsman for the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. This was the first time he had used a knife, but the motive was the same as in all wanton killings—an envious hate.
Afterwards, he told Sergeant Scarborough, he piled Eche’s corps into his car and rolled it down a cement ramp into the bay, off Pier 52, in San Francisco. The tide carried the car out to some oil docks where it got caught in the pilings.
Scarborough listened to a playback of the tape recording and made some notes. The murders had occurred in December, August, October, and then two in November. Had this monster abstained during the long eight-month’ period between December and August? Scarborough put it up to him and Nash laughed teasingly.
Why, there were another half dozen killings he could talk about if he wanted to. He was going to sell that information at $200 per body. Scarborough could believe it. The killer was misery as well as bloody.
He didn’t even drink wine like most of his Skid Row associates because it cost too much, and he had saved up the prodigious sum of $450 from his cannery wages. But, as it turned out, though he repeated his $200 offer in court, he made no blood money. Neither the newspaper nor the authorities would give him the satisfaction.
When Scarborough took Nash into Los Angles County Superior Court, the case was tight and tidy. Incredible as the quintuple-murder confession sounded, Scarborough had painstakingly corroborated it. On a week-long tour through the state with Nash, he had revisited the scenes of the five slayings, and everything had checked out as the killer told it.
After listening to the tapes, there wasn’t much for the jury to do except rule that Nash had been sane when he committed the killings. Since the death sentence was mandatory, there was even less for Judge Burton Noble to do. Sadly he called the New York founding “the most evil person who ever appeared in my court” and consigned him to death row at San Quentin.”
As Nash stepped into a station wagon for his last ride to San Quentin, he bragged to newspapermen: “I’m the king of killers! I’ll go to my death like a king should. I have nothing to die for because I had nothing to live for.” A reporter asked if he wanted a Christian burial, and Nash laughed harshly
“Who, me!” he exclaimed in derision.
Sergeant Scarborough had no statement. He was drained and sick at heart from his long, close association with evil.
• Nash was convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. At this writing, an appeal is pending due to a question of “Due process” in connection with his sanity trial.
• Neither did Larry Rice’s father, who in ten days had lost his wife and only child to two equally monstrous forms of cancer.
• Backbone of the force, my boy

Jeffrey Stanton Santa Monica Pier A History from 1875 to 1990, Donahue Publishing: Los Angeles, CA, 1990, 1956
Chapter 5: Santa Monica Pier on the Skids (1941-1974)
"Santa Monica's beach front, like many beach fronts elsewhere, attracted numerous drifers, hustlers and petty criminals. But it was the runaways and perverts that were attracted to its famed Muscle Beach that worried city officials and the police department the most. Their worst nightmare occurred on November 21, 1956 when ten year old Larry George Rice's body was found lying in a pool of blood beneath the Santa Monica Pier. He died three hours later from thirty stab wounds." p. 121
"Two teenagers identified a tall, bushy haired, toothless man with arms of a blacksmith as the man seen with the local lad shortly before the murder. When police found Stephen Nash, a thirty-three year old drifter and pervert, shortly afterwards, they discoverd the blood soaked hunting knife on the man. He confessed to the sadistic knife slaying. and ten other murders in Long Beach and Sacramento.
"When he was taken back to the scene of the crime the next day, nearly one hundred menacing people gathered and would have lynched him on the spot. Nash said that he talked to the boy for five minutes, then pulled a knife. When the boy screamed he stabbed him in the stomach, then again and again. Nash was convicted and was executed in the gas chamber in 1959. The city, in an effort to prevent similar incidents, fenced off the area under the pier."

MO: Stabbed random victims, children and adults
DISPOSITION: Condemned on two counts, 1957.