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Man's search for his father leaves him wondering what he could have done

The private investigator told the man on the phone that he could find anybody.

Jason Dawson, 37, hadn't seen his father in more than 30 years. His last memory is of his dad showing up to a Halloween party and giving him a Mickey Mouse watch with a broken band.

He told the investigator his father's name: Clarence W. Dawson. Within minutes, the investigator had his father's last known address. It was in downtown Los Angeles.

Clarence Dawson

Dawson, who lives in Stevensville, Mont., had always wondered where his father was. He knew a little about the man who had walked away from him when he was a boy. His father had joined the military to become a helicopter mechanic, but it wasn't a good fit.

His cousin told him that his dad liked to drink. After Clarence Dawson's parents died, he came into some money, which he blew. He held several odd jobs after, but eventually ended up "off the grid."

Later that night, Jason Dawson Googled his father's name and found him on The Times' Homicide Report. One sentence, just the bare facts. Dawson reached out, like many others have done during the seven years of the report, and asked for more information about the case.

The request led him to the Los Angeles police detective investigating his father's death.

His father lived in an upstairs apartment in the 200 block of East 5th Street in the Fashion District. On July 5, he got into a fight with his roommate. The apartment was dirty and the roommate wanted it clean, according to police and a coroner's report.

Clarence Dawson, known to friends as "Corky," became enraged and attacked his roommate, according to police. The roommate was accused of stabbing him twice in the chest. He was taken to a hospital where he remained until his death July 22. The district attorney declined to file charges against the roommate.

Jason Dawson was shocked to learn how his father died. But he said he doesn't hold anger toward the roommate, who shared a home with his father on and off for eight years.

"I'd like to talk to him," he said. He'd like to ask the man if Clarence Dawson ever talked about his son. "I think it would be a really interesting conversation."

The toughest part for Jason Dawson was another call he made the day he learned the details of his father's slaying. When he reached the L.A. County coroner's office, Dawson asked where his father's body was. "He's still here," they said, two months after his death.

It made him think about how alone his father must have been to go unclaimed like that. He wondered: Should I have gone down there to help him? Volunteered?

At the apartment building where Clarence Dawson lived and at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker soup kitchen he frequented, people on Thursday morning had no idea he'd been killed.

"We assumed that he was at the vets hospital," said Catherine Morris, who has worked for decades at what is known on the street as the "Hippie Kitchen."

The older Dawson would arrive each morning before the kitchen opened for the day. He'd wait for a delivery of bread and help direct volunteers to where to park.

"He was always very eager," Morris said. "He would do anything we asked outside the kitchen."

She pointed to a table on the garden patio near a tree. Dawson, who walked with a cane, used to hang out at the table with other veterans. It was where workers saw him most at ease. Otherwise, he liked to keep to himself.

"He was animated when he was sitting at that table," said Jeff Dietrich, Morris' husband, who also works at the kitchen.

Jason Dawson has made arrangements to have his father cremated. He plans to release some of his father's ashes in the Southern California ocean. Then, some of the ashes will be brought to Montana.

Dawson said he will spread them at a grassy mountain near his home.

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Clarence "Corky" Dawson, 59, died July 22. His estranged son found him listed on the Times' Homicide Report and now plans to retrieve his ashes from L.A. County. Credit: James A. Streeter

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