During the summer of 1952, a rapist stalked the L.A. nights. Over 25 women were sexually assaulted and robbed in the same area during a three-month period, so the LAPD organized a complicated sting. On July 30, 1952 Florence Coberly, a 26-year-old officer, served as a decoy to tempt the offender, and it worked. Soon after the above photo was shot, another was taken of the alleged serial rapist dead on the ground.

For the operation over thirty cops were positioned on the ground and in unmarked cars throughout the neighborhood while a smartly dressed Officer Coberly walked along South San Pedro Street. A woman appearing to walk alone at night lured a man from the shadows to attack. He grabbed her handbag and Florence immediately blew her distress whistle, which agitated her assailant. He asked Florence what she thought she was doing, and punched her in the jaw. Florence grabbed her gun and shot him in the chest, puncturing a lung, but he still had energy enough to flee.

He didn’t get very far, though. Officer Frank Marz emerged from the dark in hot pursuit. He ordered the man to stop, but the wounded criminal kept going. Gunfire popped five times; every shot a miss. Marz finally felled the criminal with his final chance: his sixth bullet made contact.

The dead mugger and suspected rapist turned out to be Joe Parra, a recent San Quentin parolee with a 40-count rap sheet who’d been living nearby. Around the corner police found Joe’s 17-year-old nephew Henry P. Parra waiting in a car. He’d been his uncle’s getaway driver these past few months. At the inquest concerning Joe Parra’s fate, Joe’s brother Ysreal caused a scene slinging threats and lunging at photographers, but despite Ysreal’s protestations there was no doubt that the summer of attacks had cooled down. It looked like they’d gotten their man.


Florence testifying at Joe Parra’s inquest.

Florence Coberly, a young wife and mother, had joined the force three years before after some modeling work. It was her experience as a gym instructor, however, that made her feel confident she could hold her own on the tough streets of L.A., and her role in the Parra sting proved just that.

The buzz and accolades around Coberly’s photogenic undercover work lasted for a while. She gave television interviews, was awarded the 1953 Exchange Club title “Policewoman of the Year,” and was invited to exclusive parties about town.

Several years, later, however, the shine faded and her life began to unravel. Florence’s marriage disintegrated In 1955. She married fellow cop David V. Stanton June 18, 1957, and he adopted her son from her previous marriage, Scott Neal. While her personal live appeared to stabilize, there was further trouble ahead for Officer Florence.

In 1958 Florence Stanton was on a grocery run with her mom Gertrude Klearman at a San Fernando Market when Gertrude got busted stealing $2.22 worth of groceries including a knockwurst, a can of coffee, a package of wieners and an avocado. Coberly was arrested and searched as well, but ultimately got off on because her search and seizure was deemed unreasonable.

Florence’s mom received a $200 fine, which she paid, but Florence lost her career. The LAPD dismissed her after the Board of Rights found her guilty of the same charge that was dismissed during her misdemeanor theft trial. In 1959, Florence made an appeal to be reinstated to the force, and when that failed, she faded from the public eye. The former formidable Policewoman of the Year was brought down by her own mother’s sticky fingers.

PHOTOS: USC digital archive/Los Angeles Examiner Collection, 1920-1961

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