The only child of Anne Malloy and Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Jr., was born on January 22, 1937, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The German surname accounts for one-quarter of his ethnic heritage; the other three-quarters is Roman Catholic Irish. His was a family of hard workers, many of whom labored in the Pittsburgh steel mills.
Wambaugh’s California settings originate in his personal experience. His father had been police chief in East Pittsburgh before the family moved to California in 1951. Three years later, Wambaugh left high school to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. During his service time, in 1956, he and Dee Allsup, his high school sweetheart, were married. They had three children; their son Mark would later die at the age of twenty-one. On Wambaugh’s discharge from the Marines in 1957, the couple returned to California, where Wambaugh worked at different jobs while earning an associate degree in English from Chaffey College in 1958.
In 1960, Wambaugh graduated from California State College, Los Angeles, with a bachelor’s degree and joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as a burglary detective. However casually he came to police work (he once told an interviewer that he joined the police department because he had “nothing better to do” and because the money was more than he had ever earned), he soon found himself deeply involved. He was a solid, commonsense investigator who cracked more than his share of tough cases. He has said that police work relaxed him and soothed his soul.
Wambaugh began writing after he became involved in helping to control the Watts riot. On August 11, 1965, six days of rioting began in...
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