- "Friends who want to stay friends, don't discuss religion or politics. In my case you can add the war to that."
- ―Cole Phelps
Cole Phelps is a central character and the main protagonist of L.A. Noire. Phelps is a former member of the Marine Corps, who later returned from the war as a hero, joining the Los Angeles Police Department. Soon after, he quickly rose through the ranks and became a Detective.
Phelps was born to a San Francisco family; both his father and grandfather had run a shipping company. He attended Stanford University. Cole went to Officer Candidate School for the United States Marine Corps, and shipped out in early 1945. He fought in the Okinawa Campaign, during which he won the Silver Star. At Okinawa he unknowingly ordered the massacre of Japanese civilians when he sent his men in to burn a Japanese cave that had been converted into a hospital for the wounded, an act that continued to haunt him through his life. Following the war, he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, and joined the LAPD shortly thereafter.
Working for the LAPD, Phelps discovered that Los Angeles was not what it seemed to be. It was a city full of crime and corruption and cautious about many of the sleazy nightclubs, apart from The Blue Room where his German love interest played. Phelps began as a regular beat officer, but the department quickly noticed that he had talent as an investigator and promoted him to Detective where he investigated traffic desk before then continuing on to be promoted to homicide desk and vice desk. He then had an affair with a German singer, Elsa Lichtmann. On discovery, he was demoted to the arson desk, receiving a different partner each time. During this time Cole worked on the most notorious L.A. crimes of the year by finding evidence at the crime scene and interrogating suspects, witnesses and or persons related to the case. As he solved more crimes, Cole started to learn more about the criminal underworld of Los Angeles and how close many of his colleagues and superiors were to it. Although the whole enterprise was mired in corruption, Phelps kept his dignity and continued to clean up the city's drug trafficking, violence and corruption that plagued the City of Angels, a moral choice that arguably leads to his unrighteous downfall.
At some point prior to him joining the LAPD, he got married, although Phelps' wife is seen only three times in the game. According to Cole, when having a conversation with Rusty Galloway during one of the homicide cases, he states that his wife is the mother of his girls as mentioned in Manifest Destiny. Rusty's reaction to this is that he did not expect Cole to be a family man. Although for one reason or another he tries to derail any conversation about his family and marriage.