|Plot details follow, read at your own risk.|
- "Ralph, friends who want to stay friends don't discuss religion or politics, and in my case you can add the war to that."
- ―Cole Phelps to Ralph Dunn
Cole Phelps is the protagonist of L.A. Noire. A former marine officer in the United States Marine Corps, he later returned from the war as a hero, joining the Los Angeles Police Department. Phelps swiftly rose through the ranks and became a Detective.
Phelps was born in San Francisco, where both his father and grandfather ran a shipping company. He attended Stanford University. He married a woman named Marie and had two daughters with her.
Service in the USMC
In the days following his recruitment, he was given top honors for his bravery. However, during his time in the USMC, he has been known as the “Dark Shadow” or considered to be “bad luck” whenever someone is under his command during combat. Some of his men greatly respected Phelps, claiming tales of his almost supernatural stealth, killing Japanese soldiers without ever being seen.
In his time in the Corps, he was considered bad luck, many of his troops didn’t approve his actions during combat. He was part of a scout team in the Okinawa campaign before being moved to the infantry division when the high ranking officer at that time needed to push through the enemy line into enemy territory. During the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill, when it was time to push through enemy lines, his battalion and C.O. were killed. As a result, Cole wanted to fall back despite the protest of his close friend, Hank Merrill. Shortly afterwards, he witnessed Hank get blown to pieces by an explosion after they took cover in a foxhole. Cole went into shock. The next morning he was found by other USMC servicemen, covered in soot, lying next to Merrill's remains. As the sole survivor, he was promoted to First Lieutenant and received the Silver Star, the third highest commendation he could achieve. Cole would be forever haunted by his experience and guilt-ridden for being honored for his "lack of courage."
Near the end of his service, he was dispatched (along with many other troops) to clear out settlements and caves for any signs of enemy forces during the battle of Sugar Loaf. Cole, being under strict orders, wanted to clear out every sign of the enemy in the caves and villages - though he fell behind other squads.
Cole's meticulous attention to detail and insistence on clearing out each and every cave eventually caught up with him, his squad fell far behind other units, and Cole rushed his men, leading them into an ambush. This is contrasted with Kelso's approach, where he ordered Cole's squad to carefully approach a cave complex and simply seal the entrance, trapping any and all Japanese, whether civilian or soldiers, within. Ira Hogeboom, armed with a flamethrower and following Cole's orders, surged forward past the ambush and set the cave ablaze, only afterwards does Cole and his unit realize the cave was filled with civilians, specifically women and children, who while badly burned, remained alive and in agonizing pain.
Cole's unit, scared and distraught about what had happened, looked to Phelps for an answer as the badly injured women and children writhed in agony around them. Panicking, Cole ordered his men to end the victims' suffering and execute the burned women and children. Protesting loudly, and finally pushed to the breaking point by Cole's orders, Courtney Sheldon shot Cole in the back, taking out his frustration and anger at Cole's hypocrisy. Kelso arrived, taking command of the situation and ordering the Marines out of the cave, ordering them to never speak of the incident again.
After receiving treatment for his wound at an army hospital, Phelps was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. He returned home to Los Angeles before the end of the war and joined the LAPD shortly thereafter.
Events of L.A. Noire
Joining the LAPD
Starting out as a patrol officer, Phelps demonstrated high potential as an officer, from solving the murder of Scooter Peyton to foiling an armed bank robbery and arresting Wendell Bowers. After solving the murder of Everett Gage, Phelps’ displays of intuition and ability were recognized by Captain James Donnelly.
Promotion to Detective
Phelps was soon after promoted to Detective in the Traffic department and partnered with Stefan Bekowsky. Together the two solved a string of intriguing cases, such as uncovering acts of conspiracies, fraud and even murder, while generating good press for the department.
Promotion to Homicide
Six months later, Phelps was promoted to Homicide and partnered with Rusty Galloway. Phelps and Galloway were assigned to a series of gruesome and brutal murders. However, despite closing the cases and arresting suspects with strong evidence, Phelps began to see that all the murders were connected to each other and to the unresolved Black Dahlia murder. After receiving anonymous letters taunting the Homicide Department, Phelps realized that the true killer - the Black Dahlia murderer - was still at large.
Using the letters, Phelps and Galloway followed clues leading them to several landmarks across the city. At each location, Phelps was able to solve puzzles and elude traps, as he was being set up and tested by the killer. The final clue led to the Christ Crown of Thorns, where they found the killer, revealing himself to be Garrett Mason. Phelps chased after Mason through the church catacombs, finally killing Mason in a shootout in the graveyard.
However, Donnelly arrived and revealed that Mason was the half brother of a powerful and undisclosed politician. As such, Mason’s name and acts were to be kept out of public knowledge and official records. To ensure Phelps’ silence, Donnelly promised that the previous, falsely arrested suspects would be quietly released.
Promotion to Vice
Phelps was later promoted to the Vice squad and partnered with Roy Earle. Their first case together involved solving the stolen morphine distribution from the SS Coolridge robbery, during which they arrested several dealers and killed Lenny Finkelstein in a shootout. During later cases and investigations, Phelps’ time with Earle and the Vice Squad gave him insight into the politics and corruption of the LAPD and the city’s administration.
Phelps and Earle later discovered a violent gang war for the stolen morphine between the Cohen Crime Syndicate and Phelps’ former battalion of Marines. While investigating leads for the morphine, Phelps visited the The Blue Room jazz club and questioned German singer Elsa Lichtmann. He later tailed her to her apartment. In actuality, Phelps had developed a love interest in Elsa over the months and despite his being married, had begun an affair with her.
Phelps and Earle attempted to stop the several assassination attempts on the surviving Marines, sent by Mickey Cohen. Although most of the Marines died, Phelps obtained enough evidence to prove that Courtney Sheldon was responsible for the robbery and morphine distribution. However, before Phelps could close the case and extract a confession from Sheldon, he was summoned by Chief William Worrell, DA Donald Sandler, and Donnelly. They revealed the adultery charges against Cole by his partner, and proceeded in suspending him from the force.
Phelps returned home to Marie, however she refused to listen. Feeling angry, betrayed, and humiliated, she kicked him out. With his affair publicized, turning him into a disgraced cop, Phelps turned to and stayed with Elsa.
Demotion to Arson
Following Phelps' suspension, he was demoted to the lowly Arson Squad and partnered with Herschel Biggs, as he hadn't been tried and convicted of adultery yet in court. Phelps was tasked to investigate a series of house fires. After thorough investigation, Phelps began to suspect that property developer Leland Monroe was somehow benefiting from the fires and possibly causing them. However, Phelps was sternly warned not to investigate Monroe’s affairs due to his prominence and high-level connections in the city's administration.
The investigation came to a grinding halt as Cole's efforts were frozen by the corrupted. Phelps learned of Elsa’s substantial insurance settlement from being names Lou Buchwalter’s beneficiary, who was involved in an industrial accident at one of Monroe’s housing development sites. This aroused Cole's suspicion, and he requested that she personally see Jack Kelso to help his investigation.
Thanks to Kelso’s own private investigation, they discovered a conspiracy committed by the Suburban Redevelopment Fund, headed by Monroe with support of most important city officials - including the Mayor, Police Chief and District Attorney. The plan of the group was to build fraudulent houses with the intent to burn them down, and to cash in on grand insurance money.
Phelps confronted Kelso at his office at California Fire and Life, apologizing for not being honest and inadvertently involving him in danger. Kelso sensed Phelps' guilt and confronted him about Sugar Loaf Hill, saying that he should stop blaming himself for lacking courage. With their past enmity finally put to rest, the two agreed to help each other solve their respective cases and end the conspiracy.
Phelps and Biggs later discovered the murdered body of Courtney Sheldon, however Earle appeared on scene and slandered Sheldon as “a victim of his own product”. Phelps pulled out his gun at Earle, enraged, and defending the deceased Sheldon as an honorable and brave Marine. Composed, Phelps took the opportunity to tell Earle that SRF's plans were failing, and warned Earle that his corruption would be exposed.
Phelps, Biggs and Galloway investigated the scene of Dr. Harlan Fontaine’s murder, another member of the SRF. They also learned of Elsa’s kidnapping at the hands of the arsonist. Within the office, Phelps deduced that the scheme of the SRF was to extort money not by insurance, but from the government through eminent domain. In order to prove this and bring down the city’s corruption, Phelps was determined to arrest the arsonist to close the case and to rescue Elsa.
They later arrived to Kelso’s aid in a rescue attempt to save Elsa. However, while driving to the river tunnels, they were intercepted by police patrols under the orders of corrupt Police Commissioner Worrell. Making their separate ways through the river tunnels, Kelso and Phelps found Elsa under the protection of Ira. As Kelso lamented the insanity of their former comrade, Ira reminded Phelps of both their parts in the atrocity at Okinawa. Phelps carried Elsa to safety as Kelso performed a mercy kill on Ira.
- "Good bye..."
- ―Cole's last words
Helping Elsa and Kelso out the tunnel with the aid of Biggs, Phelps was last to get out. Upon seeing a rushing wave of water coming towards him, Phelps realized that he was out of reach and time to get out. Phelps simply uttered a final goodbye to his friends before being killed by the violent torrent of water.
Bekowsky, Dunn, Earle, Galloway, Biggs, Kelso, Elsa, Bowron, Worrell, Carruthers, Pinker, Leary, Petersen, Marie and his two daughters were in attendance at his funeral. Earle delivered the eulogy, praising Cole's actions in the war and his actions while with the LAPD. Earle also denounced the "false" accusations made against him, angering Elsa in the process. When Kelso tried to calm her, Elsa slapped his hand away, saying "And you call yourself his friend..." before leaving. When Biggs pointed out that Kelso and Phelps were never friends, Kelso agreed, but added that he was never Phelps' enemy. Biggs said he believed Phelps knew that.
As a U.S. Marine Lieutenant in the Pacific during World War II, Cole did not feel much pride in himself in retrospect. He was reckless and overconfident, which caused and ensured his long time rivalry with Jack Kelso. During the war, he was very strict about following and obeying military rules and regulations, unlike some his fellow soldiers.
Cole’s actions were also ruinous. As a result, he saw a lot death and destruction during the war, from his act of cowardice on Sugar Loaf Hill to the atrocity in the cave, all of which impacted him emotionally and mentally. These events continued to haunt him through his life, and seemed to act as a catalyst for Cole to seek personal redemption in his career as a police officer. This also explained why Cole did not want to talk about his war experience with his partners.
As a police officer and later as detective, Phelps demonstrated himself as highly intelligent, methodical and adaptable to a range of situations. Cole is driven to keeping the streets of LA clean and safe from murder, drugs and corruption. He has strong sense of justice and dedication to protecting the people of LA, and lacks any political agenda. Whilst interviewing both suspects and witnesses, Phelps doesn't hesitate to use coercing if he isn't provided with an adequate amount of information. For example, when Howard Parnell remained tight-lipped regarding marijuana appearing in factory sealed soup cans, Phelps threatened to have half of the LAPD tear his factory apart to get the information he required.
Cole shows himself to be well educated and intelligent during the game, particularly through his knowledge of literature. He recognizes a poem left by a killer as Prometheus Unbound, stating his fondness for Percy Shelley. In addition to his knowledge of Percy Shelley, Phelps seems to admire Shakespeare, as he quotes lines from Shakespeare's play, Hamlet when holding a fake shrunken head in The Fallen Idol. Furthermore, Phelps was able to learn and speak some Japanese during the Okinawa campaign.
One of Cole’s most defining personal traits are that he is very open-minded and accepting, this is evident by his lack of sexist or racist views. During WWII, Cole saw both sides as equals and viewed the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor as justified, openly stating that he "respects the Japanese." He earned the disapproval of some, however, by expressing his respectful, almost sympathetic, view towards the enemy.
Cole’s humility mostly derives from experience on Sugar Loaf. Having been praised and awarded for an act of cowardice, Cole held a personal disdain for his glorified image. As a result, he is modest and strongly respects his peers and colleagues, despite their flaws, though Roy Earle is probably the only exception.
It is possible that Cole, like many returning soldiers, found it difficult to relate to his wife after he got back from the war. The stress and trauma of his experiences had changed Cole, causing a strain on his marriage with Marie while making him emotionally distant, causing him to seek comfort in the romance with Elsa. Despite his adultery, he still cared for Marie and their daughters and regrets the pain he has caused his family.
Weapons and Skills
Cole carried a Colt M1911 pistol, which he took home as a memento of his time in the Marines, as his on-duty sidearm. He uses it with great proficiency. While on the patrol desk, Cole carried the department's standard-issue Colt Police Positive revolver, using it in a bank shootout. Cole can use a variety of other weapons, including shotguns, rifles and machine guns.
Cole is a very talented marksman, being able to hit target from long range with a pistol, as evidenced by him being able to shoot Willy, who was well over 50 yards away.
Cole is in peak physical condition, being able to chase and keep up with most criminals with ease. Cole trained in Boxing while he was in the Marines, and also has other various hand to hand skills, and he can hold his own against many foes in a fist-fight.
- Leroy Sabo - Killed after attempting to escape and killing Lorna Pattison. (Player's choice)
- Garrett Mason - Killed after discovering he is the Black Dahlia killer.
- Jose Ramez - Killed after attempting to escape and kill Phelps.
- Lenny Finkelstein - Killed in self-defense and for resisting arrest.
- Juan Garcia Cruz - Killed for attempting to kill Phelps.
- Jorge Garcia Cruz - Killed for his involvement in the Reefer distribution ring.
- Ernesto Juarez - Killed for his involvement in the Reefer distribution ring.
- Carlo Arquero - Killed for killing Candy Edwards.
- Willy Reade - Killed for killing Julia Randall, Jimmy LeBlanc and attempting to kill Henry Arnett.
- Herbert Chapman - Killed after attempting to kill Phelps and Biggs.
- Vernon Mapes - Killed for killing the Lockheed Employee and attempt silence the conspiracy.
- Errol Schroeder - for the murder of Scooter Peyton.
- Wendell Bowers - for jumping parole.
- Edgar Kalou - for the murder of Everett Gage.
- Frank Morgan - for conspiracy and fraud. (Player's choice)
- Adrian Black - for conspiracy and fraud.
- Gabriel Del Gado - for grand theft auto.
- Jean Archer - for her work in the car smuggling ring.
- Steven Bigelow - for his work in the car smuggling ring.
- Gordon Leitvol - for his work in the car smuggling ring.
- Mark Bishop - for the rape and attempted murder of Jessica Hamilton, and the attempted murder of June Ballard.
- Fleetwood Morgan - for his work in the morphine distribution ring.
- Jermaine Jones - for his work in the morphine distribution ring.
- Merlon Ottie - for his work in the morphine distribution ring.
- Airto Sanchez - for his work in the marijuana distribution ring.
- Henry Arnett - for burglary.
- Reginald Varley - for his outstanding murder in Detroit.
At each desk, Phelps is assigned a new partner.
- Ralph Dunn - Patrol
- Stefan Bekowsky - Traffic
- Rusty Galloway - Homicide
- Roy Earle - Vice
- Herschel Biggs - Arson
- The Red Lipstick Murder
- The Golden Butterfly
- The Silk Stocking Murder
- The White Shoe Slaying
- The Studio Secretary Murder
- The Quarter Moon Murders
- The Gas Man
- A Walk in Elysian Fields
- House of Sticks (Unplayable)
- A Polite Invitation (Unplayable)
- Nicholson Electroplating
- A Different Kind of War (Death)
- While serving in the USMC, Cole did boxing, as mentioned to Roy Earle in The Set-Up. He also hinted to Roy that he didn't always fight a clean fight. When Roy tells Cole he couldn't imagine him fighting dirty, Cole responds "The only reward for taking the fall was a thousand push-ups."
- He was known as the "Shadow of Death" by his fellow soldiers because of his uncanny ability to sneak up behind both enemies and allies completely undetected. He was also notorious for leading his unit into dangerous situations, which ultimately resulted in his whole company being wiped out.
- Cole never tries to contact his wife again after demotion to Arson desk, but strangely, Cole still wears his wedding ring (possibly out of guilt, though this could have just been an oversight).
- Phelps owns a reddish-brown Chrysler Town and Country, as seen in the intro cutscene. However, he is also seen driving the police-issue Buick Super, the standard issue vehicle for detectives.
- Cole's badge number is 1247. Sometimes he will announce his badge number as "Twelve-forty-seven," but other times he announces his badge number as "One-two-four-seven."
- Cole's casket at his funeral is closed. This could indicate that his body was badly mangled by the violently rushing water, or that his body was never found. However, it is more likely that the LAPD kept the casket closed in order to drape the American Flag over it, as he died in the line of duty.
- Cole is likely a Presbyterian, as his funeral is held at Chichester Chapel.
- Cole can speak Japanese well, possibly fluently.
- Aaron Staton, who played Cole, and Connie Fletcher, who played Cole's wife Marie, are both actually married to each other in real life, and they have a child together, a son named Beckett.
- His home seen in the opening credits is located on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. It is the second house to the left from the Alaco gas station. However, it isn't enterable and it doesn't have any interior. Random cars will sometimes be parked on the driveway in front of the garage; this most likely a developer oversight, as Phelps is seen driving a reddish-brown Chrysler Town and Country in the intro cinematic.
- The scene when Phelps confronts his wife following the disclosure of his affair takes place at a different house, located on the 1400 block of North Ridgewood Place, at the lower-left corner of the "D" in "HOLLYWOOD" on the game map. This house has an interior of a small foyer and living room but the entrance is locked.
- Cole is the third Rockstar game protagonist to die at the conclusion of their respective games. The first being Daniel Lamb from Manhunt 2 (in the second ending mission only), and the second being John Marston from Red Dead Redemption.
- If the player leaves their current partner behind and drives around the city, Cole has his own dialogue for crashing into things, with most of his comments being of a humorous nature.