by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As the descendant of early Los Angeles families, Walter P. Temple had many friends and acquaintances from that group and today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is an example: a Christmas card received by the Temples on this date in 1924 from Under-Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz.
The simple single-sheet card has a striking “Season’s Greetings” in an unusual font within a circle, around which is a triangle with holly and berries at each point. Below is the formal “Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Warren Biscailuz” in a classic font and the card is bordered in black. The accompanying envelope is addressed to “Mr. Walter Temple & family” at “Temple Cal.,” an interesting address given that Temple was then residing at the Homestead.
The two men were fourteen years apart in age and grew up in different areas (Temple in the Old Mission community in Whittier Narrows and Biscailuz in Boyle Heights), so it is not known how they knew each other. Presumably, it was a common connection as residents of long-standing families in the region.
Biscailuz had a particularly interesting background. He was born in 1883 and was the son of attorney Martin V. Biscailuz, a Basque native of Los Angeles, and Ida Warren, whose mother was from the Lopez family who settled the Paredon Blanco area that became Boyle Heights after that community was established by William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman, banker Isaias W. Hellman, and merchant John Lazzarovich.
Ida Warren’s father was William Warren, a Los Angeles city marshal killed in 1870 in the line of duty by one of his own police officers, Job Dye, after the pair quarreled over reward money each claimed. Her mother, Juana Lopez, then married Lazzarovich, and it was through her inheritance that Lazzarovich became a partner in the Boyle Heights subdivision in the mid-70s.
Martin Biscailuz and Ida Rose Warren were married in 1882 and Eugene was their eldest child. Biscailuz built a law practice based on his relationships with members of the Basque and French communities and his most successful endeavor was being executor of an estate of a wealthy French resident of Los Angeles out of which his fees supposedly amounted to some $30,000.
Sadly, the lawyer was an alcoholic and blew through his windfall through lavish living and dramatic drinking binges. To feed his addiction, he turned to forgery and embezzlement, by either collecting money he promised to forward for clients to others or by promising jobs using forged signatures of local officials and misrepresenting himself as a member of a city commission (parks and streets, for example.) A series of run-ins with the law, including several jail stints, ended with his death in 1899 at age 38 from tuberculosis.
When Ida left him in 1893, Martin showed up at his mother-in-law Lazzarovich’s home and threatened violence while in a drunken rage. It took some time, but, finally, Ida was able to secure a divorce early the next year. This was more than difficult, not just from a legal perspective, but from the vantage point of the Roman Catholic religion in which both parties were raised. Eugene was a boy of ten when this event happened.
Ida remarried and left the area for a period so Eugene lived with his mother’s sister Ella and his grandmother Lazzarovich in Boyle Heights and worked as a stationery salesman until he went to St. Vincent’s College for the equivalent of high school and then U.S.C., where he earned a degree in the law, following in his father footsteps. In 1902, he married Willette Harrison, whose father worked at San Quentin and was a Marin County Sheriff, and he may have met her because his mother lived in Marin County at the time.
Biscailuz worked as a shipping clerk in San Francisco and Los Angeles and was hired as a clerk in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in 1907. He rose through the ranks of the department over the years and was appointed Under-Sheriff a few years before this holiday card was sent to the Temples. He was also on the first planning commission in Los Angeles with one of his colleagues being William H. Workman, Jr. Biscailuz was involved in some high-profile cases in which he led manhunts for Clara Phillips, the “Tiger Lady”, wanted for an infamous 1922 murder of her husband’s lover and for Edward Hickman, murderer of Marion Parker in 1927.
At the end of the 1920s, Biscailuz was appointed to be the head of the newly created California Highway Patrol, a position he held for a couple of years before returning to the Sheriff’s Department as Under-Sheriff. When Sheriff William Traeger resigned to run for Congress, the county Board of Supervisors appointed Biscailuz to replace him. He then ran for office in the next election and, amazingly, ran unopposed for six campaigns.
In all, the remarkably-popular Biscailuz served for 26 years as sheriff, by far the longest tenure in department history and a record that may remain unbroken. For his years of service to the department, spanning a half-century, the Board of Supervisors named him sheriff emeritus for life. Biscailuz also had a friendship with Walter Temple’s eldest child, Thomas, and the two shared an interest in history. A longtime resident of Santa Monica, Biscailuz died in 1969 at age 86.