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Legendary Detective ‘Jigsaw John’ St. John Dies at 77

May 4, 1995 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ John P. St. John, the legendary detective who solved more than 1,000 murders and pursued the infamous ``Black Dahlia″ case for more than four decades, has died at 77.

St. John died Wednesday of complications from pneumonia and pancreatic cancer, police Officer Don Cox said.

The portly, slow-moving sleuth with one good eye and a gray fedora never fired his gun while investigating about 1,500 murder cases. He solved at least two-thirds of them.

Known as ``Jigsaw John″ for cracking a case in which the victim had been dismembered, he carried badge No. 1 as the detective with the most seniority before retiring in 1993.

``You never give up on unsolved murders,″ he told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. ``Sometimes I wake up at three in the morning thinking about them.″

St. John served 51 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, all but six as a homicide detective.

His exploits inspired a book and a television series. ``Jigsaw John,″ starring Jack Warden, ran for 15 episodes on NBC.

In 1982, St. John became the second recipient of the Police Department’s Distinguished Service Medal for his eight-year investigation resulting in the conviction of ``Freeway Killer″ William Bonin, who murdered 14 young men and boys.

He also doggedly pursued the still-unsolved ``Black Dahlia″ case, in which movie hopeful Elizabeth Short was killed in January 1947. Short was tortured and cut in half at the waist. Her body was drained of blood and the internal organs removed; an ear-to-ear grin was carved on her face.

St. John refused to give up on the case, taking it over when he joined the police department’s homicide crew in 1948 and relinquishing it only when he retired.

Some of the detective’s compassion for crime victims stemmed from personal experience. His first year on the force, he was attacked from behind by a juvenile jail prisoner swinging an iron bar ripped from a bunk. The assault cost him the use of an eye.

``It was a lesson,″ he told an interviewer. ``I learned what it was like to be a victim. I learned what it was like to be left for dead.″

St. John was known for his remarkable memory; he once recalled the skid marks that a killer’s car left in a 29-year-old murder. Younger detectives also remarked on his extensive patience.

``It was his tenacity and his perseverance that was his most remarkable quality,″ said homicide detective Tom Lange when St. John retired in 1993.

``He’d sit with a witness or a suspect for 10 minutes or 10 hours,″ said Lange, one of the detectives on the O.J. Simpson case. ``He’d never raise his voice; he’d never lose his patience. He wouldn’t leave until he got what he needed.″