One of the most famous Los Angeles Police Department detectives of all time was John St. John, known as “Jigsaw John” to colleagues and the public. He wore Badge Number 1 and was a legend in his own lifetime. A book and a television series told of his exploits while he was still on the force.
St. John began his career with the LAPD in 1942, making detective in 1949, two years after the murder of Elizabeth Short. Decades later, he was one of several senior officers assigned to the case long after it had gone cold.
St. John was given the nickname “Jigsaw John” after he solved the murder of a woman whose dismembered body was found in Griffith Park in the wee hours of the morning. The nickname derived from his unique ability to “put the pieces” together and solve the crime.
John St. John was born in 1918, joined the force in 1942, worked as detective from 1949 until 1993, solving more than two thirds of the more than 1,000 cases that came his way.
In 1942, he was still a rookie police officer, assigned to the Georgia Street Juvenile Jail on the second floor of the three-story, brick-faced building. Long since razed, the structure housed the city’s central emergency hospital and Police Department units. The building opened in 1915 as a juvenile detention facility. Over time, it was home to the Juvenile Division, Administrative Vice and Metro and a jail.
St. John was in the seventh month of his assignment when he let his guard down and a teenage prisoner beat him savagely with a metal bar, resulting in multiple injuries, including the loss of sight in one eye.
St. John worked the unknown cases and the infamous ones. He was assigned to the Night Stalker (Richard Ramirez), the Hillside Strangler, the Southside Slayer, and the Onion Field murder. He worked 12 serial killer investigations, was lead investigator of the William bonin “Freeway Killer” investigation for eight years, after which he was awarded the LAPD Distinguished Service Medal in 1982.
St. John was renowned for solving a number of serial murders during his career. He once said of serial killers, “These guys all kill the same way you or me pick a banana off a tree. Whenever they get the urge, they go out and do it to get their sexual gratification or whatever. They’ll keep doing it, too, until you stop them.”
Another time, he said, “I’ve done just about everything in this Police Department. I guess I’ve got more experience in blood and guts than anybody else around.”
In 1974, he explained, “You’ve got to see the face of a real victim. You’ve got to go to a murder scene, and you’ve got to see the face of death. The agony. They could never fake that on TV.”
Over the years, his nickname stuck, and friends, strangers and colleagues called him “Jigsaw.” He was known for his slow, methodical approach which amazed other detectives. He outlasted his contemporaries and carried Badge Number 1, signifying that he held the highest seniority on the force.
Los Angeles Times writer Al Martinez wrote a book called Jigsaw John about the famous detective. A year after the book was published, Jack Warden portrayed St. John in fifteen episodes of the television series, Jigsaw John.
But not all his cases were solved. He said, “Sometimes I wake up at 3 in the morning thinking about them.”