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Written in Blood Volume 2

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In 2010 Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth's Fallen Lawmen, Volume 1, told the stories of thirteen Fort Worth law officers who died in the line of duty between 1861 and 1909. Now Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster are back with Volume 2 covering another baker's dozen line-of-duty deaths that occurred between 1910 and 1928. Not counting the two officers who died of natural causes, these are more tales of murder, mayhem, and dirty work from all branches of local law enforcement: police, sheriff's deputies, constables, and special officers, just like in Volume 1. This era was, if anything, bloodier than the preceding era of the first volume. Fort Worth experienced a race riot, two lynchings, and martial law imposed by the U.S. Army while Camp Bowie was operating. Bushwhacking (such as happened to Peter Howard in 1915) and assassinations (such as happened to Jeff Couch in 1920) replaced blood feuds and old-fashioned shootouts as leading causes of death among lawmen. Violence was not confined to the streets either; a Police Commissioner was gunned down in his city hall office in 1917. Even the new category of "vehicular homicide" claimed a lawman’s life.

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Part I: When Blood Ran in the Streets (1910–1919)

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Introduction

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Introduction

THE SO-CALLED PROGRESSIVE YEARS of the early twentieth century witnessed a mass movement to make the country a better all-around place to live. By the second decade, the movement was in full swing with reformers lambasting political corruption and social evils with equal zeal. Progressives approached crime with the same idealism and scientific thinking that they brought to other social problems.

They believed that man is basically good; it is only his environment and social institutions that make him otherwise. Prostitution is not a woman’s personal choice; it is “white slavery.” This same line of thinking gave a pass to the gambler, the drunk, and the radical, blaming the saloon, the liquor industry, and the political machine for making them what they were. Progressives created the fields of criminology and penology, invented forensics, and persuaded most state legislatures to replace the gallows with the electric chair.

Progressive thinking often clashed with old-fashioned Western values, but Fort Worth had its share of reformers who battled the same demons as countless other municipalities; the Big Three according to the Reverend O. P. Kiker of the Missouri Avenue Baptist Church were “anarchism, intemperance, and gambling.” He singled these out as the greatest threats to the nation, and though

 

Chapter 1: Police Officer James R. Dodd (January 27, 1912)

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1

Police Officer James R. Dodd

(JANUARY 27, 1912)

“Fidelity, Bravery, and

Unfailing Courtesy”

OFFICER JAMES DODD is the odd man out among Fort Worth’s fallen officers because he was the only one to die peacefully in his own bed. He was a victim not of bullets or natural disaster but of the killer microorganism that causes meningitis.

Meningitis is an infection of the brain usually caused by a virus or James R. Dodd, wearing the bacteria. The germs are commonly old-fashioned bobby-style helmet the 1910 FWPD montage. spread by sneezing, coughing, shak- from

Dodd was one of only two officers ing hands, or any close contact with in this book who did not die

(Courtesy Fort Worth Public an already-infected person. The virus violently.

Library, Central Library, Genealogy, or bacteria attacks the brain through History and Archives Unit) the membranes (meninges) surrounding it, eventually causing the brain to shut down. Death is quick but hardly painless. Meningitis is one of the great infectious killers of history—like polio, tuberculosis, and rheumatic fever—which come mysteriously, do their dirty work, then depart just as mysteriously. Bacterial meningitis is the most lethal form of the disease.

 

Chapter 2: Police Officer John A. Ogletree (May 15, 1913)

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Police Officer John A. Ogletree

(MAY 15, 1913)

“A brave officer who died in pursuit of his duty”

TOMMIE LEE WAS A BAD MAN; there could be no doubt about that to the Fort Worth police. But they saw him as something even worse: a “bad nigger,” which in the Jim Crow era was perhaps the worst epithet in police vernacular.1 The authorities knew him as an unregenerate gambler, thief, brawler, and killer.

He was a tyro at the first two, but a master at murder and mayhem. He had already killed two or three men even before the events of May 15, 1913.

His full name was Tom Lee Young, but for his own reasons he shortened it to “Tom Lee” after moving to Fort

Worth. The local newspapers that gave him his fifteen minutes of fame, however, insisted on calling him “Tommie

Lee.” (One of the reasons for using the diminutive was because “Tom Lee”

Officer John A. Ogletree, a big, burly man, posed for this formal studio shot in front of a canvas backdrop. Barely visible: the bobby-style helmet that would go out in 1915. Ogletree’s brother is cropped out of this family photo.

 

Chapter 3: Police Captain George Frank Coffey (June 26, 1915)

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Police Captain George

Frank Coffey

(JUNE 26, 1915)

“One of the best men in the service . . . a clean,

Christian man”

SOMETIMES WHAT INITIALLY SEEMS to be a line-of-duty death does not stand up to close scrutiny, usually because the officer himself provoked the fatal chain of events either in pursuit of a personal vendetta or out of simple belligerence. very youthful-looking Officer

Afterwards, the true cause was buried A

Frank Coffey, about 1913, with the officer, but in a few cases the in old-fashioned bobby-style with new-style (1912) embarrassing details came out in pub- helmet badge bearing badge no. 15. lic proceedings. This is what happened (Kevin S. Foster’s collections) in the case of Frank Coffey.

Coffey was a captain with the Fort Worth Police Department working out of the North Fort Worth substation when he met his end. Fort Worth officers shared a two-story brick building on North

Main with the North Fort Worth waterworks and cooperated with the tiny Niles City force in policing the area of the packing plants and stockyards.

 

Chapter 4: Police Officer Peter Howard (August 16, 1915)

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Police Officer Peter Howard

(AUGUST 16, 1915)

“A brave officer, a bighearted noble man, and a loyal friend”

THE STORY OF PETER HOWARD is one of murder, mayhem, and manhunts. More Jug-eared Officer Peter Howard, his twenty-year importantly, it is also the story of Fort approaching anniversary with the FWPD, as

Worth’s changing ethnic makeup and he appeared in this 1915 Departmontage. The black Stetson the failure of the Fort Worth Police ment came from Washer Bros.; the

Department to keep up with the chang- wreath adornment was standard

FWPD issue. (Courtesy of Fort ing times. By 1915, Fort Worth was Worth

Public Library, Central Library, three different communities: black, Genealogy, History and Archives Unit) white, and brown.

On the last day of 1915, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram characterized the past year as “a busy one from a police standpoint.”

It was far worse than that; it was the sort of year no department wants to experience. Three officers died in that twelve-month period: Robert Hollowell as a result of a motorcycle accident;

 

Chapter 5: Constable Robert Emmett Morison (November 8, 1916)

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5

Constable Robert Emmett

Morison

1

(NOVEMBER 8, 1916)

“Died a martyr to his duty”

ROBERT EMMETT MORISON was the first

Tarrant County constable to die in the line of duty, a victim of old-fashioned

“lead poisoning,” as they used to call it. But demon rum was just as much to blame. The Constable’s death was an example of what happens when strong personalities mix with strong drink and guns.

Morison, who went by his middle name, was a career lawman who wore This rough sketch, handed several badges during a long career but down through the family, is the known representation of never strayed far from home. He was only

Emmett Morison. Date and artist first elected town marshal of Mansfield unknown. (Courtesy of Terry Baker) in 1881, nine years before the town was incorporated. Under state law, unincorporated towns could not have a marshal, so his title was unofficial; he really functioned more as a

“regulator” than a regular marshal.2 On November 5, 1912, he was elected constable of Tarrant County Precinct No. 8 (Mansfield) and was re-elected in 1914.3

 

Chapter 6: Police Commissioner C. E. “Ed” Parsley (September 29, 1917)

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Police Commissioner C. E.

“Ed” Parsley

(SEPTEMBER 29, 1917)

“He was an ideal peace officer . . .”

IN THE SPRING OF 1917, the nation’s attention was focused on the war in Europe, now in its third year. On April 6, the

United States had entered the war,

Worth Police and Fire and mobilization shifted into high Fort

Commissioner C. E. Parsley gear. Locally, the U.S. Army was get- dressed to the nines. Oil portrait

James Spurlock from 1917 ting ready to open Camp Bowie out by newspaper photograph. (Courtesy beyond the western edge of town. And Fort Worth Police Officers Association) on April 3, municipal elections had brought C. E. “Ed” Parsley into office as the new Police and Fire

Commissioner. Parsley, a former assistant chief of police, had broad support in the places that mattered: he was politically acceptable to city fathers and quite popular with the men on the beat, who considered him one of their own. His rival on the April ballot was

Canadian-born Hugh Jamieson, although, as a matter of fact, the outcome had been decided five months earlier in the Democratic

 

Part II: When Life Was Cheap (1920–1928)

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Introduction

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Introduction

BY THE 1920S, LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT had become highly compartmentalized: the lines between police and sheriff’s departments were firmly drawn, and constables were nearly irrelevant when it came to fighting crime. Relentless urbanization put the policeman on the front line of local law enforcement. The police department was now the largest and most important agency in the mix. The sheriff still had jurisdiction over the far reaches of the county, including small, rural communities without city status, but he was no longer the first lawman most citizens thought of when they were victims of crime. As for the constables, they had ceased to have any meaningful law enforcement duties because their jurisdiction, the precinct, had ceased to have any significance except at election time.

The most significant local changes during the decade occurred in the Fort Worth Police Department. By 1921, the FWPD was organized into four “bureaus” that reported directly to the Police

Chief: detective, traffic, motorcycle, and patrol. Gone were the old bicycle and horse-mounted sections (although bicycle patrols were reinstated in 1925 and the horse still filled a limited role).

 

Chapter 7: Police Officer George Gresham (April 8, 1920)

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Police Officer George Gresham

(APRIL 8, 1920)

“No braver or more loyal man ever wore a

1 police uniform.”

ANY YEAR AN OFFICER IS KILLED is a bad year for law enforcement; two in the same year constitutes a disaster. In

1920, two officers were gunned down Police Officer George Gresham, on the job, one of them a special police- ca. 1913, in the bobby-style helmet the 1912 “panther” badge man, the other a nine-year veteran of with

(no. 16) on his coat. Gresham the regular force.2 The veteran was would have been about thirty-five old at this point and a twoforty-three-year-old George Gresham, years year veteran of the force. (Kevin S. who had worn a badge for eleven years Foster’s collections) through six administrations, including the annus horribilis of 1917. His death was one of those shocking random acts that occur periodically in law enforcement to remind us that a man should always keep his affairs in order because he never knows when his number might come up.

George Gregory Gresham was born on January 28, 1878, in

 

Chapter 8: Special Officer Joseph Burch Loper (October 20, 1920)

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8

Special Officer Joseph

Burch Loper

(OCTOBER 20, 1920)

“A Sad Tale of Murder and Redemption”

FIVE MONTHS AFTER GEORGE GRESHAM WENT

DOWN, violence claimed its second victim that same year. The second officer Watercolor portrait of Officer

Burch Loper by Robin killed was Joseph Burch Loper, known Joseph

Richey taken from poor-quality to friends and colleagues as “Burch” or 1920 newspaper photo (only known to exist today).

“J. B.” At the time of his death Loper image

(Courtesy of Fort Worth Police Officers was a special officer, commissioned by Association) the city of Fort Worth but on the payroll of the St. Louis–San Francisco Railway (“the Frisco”). Even as a security cop, Loper was still part of the close-knit fraternity of lawmen so his demise was treated as a “death in the family.”

The railroads were the biggest employer of special officers. The

Frisco, as one of the last lines to come to Fort Worth, had been a local presence ever since acquiring the old Fort Worth and Rio

Grande Railway in 1919. Loper went to work for them soon after that. The job entailed a lot of long, lonely nights patrolling the rail yards. The Frisco’s freight office was located in the Texas and

 

Chapter 9: Police Officer Jeff Couch (December 20, 1920)

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Police Officer Jeff Couch

(DECEMBER 20, 1920)

“He sacrificed his life to the cause of law and order.”

“WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN?” is a classic gospel hymn whose sentiment also happens to describe the powerful bond existing among members of the law Jeff Couch in a family photo, enforcement fraternity.1 The fraternal dressed in his best for a studio date unknown. A very ties binding officers together make portrait, distinguished young man, one them like an extended family. Some- of the new breed of officers the FWPD after World times, those ties are ethereal; at other joining

War I. (Courtesy of Charles Mullins, times there is actual blood kinship, as Covington, Texas) in the case of the Couch family. The fact that the hymn was already popular at the time our next officer was killed makes it even more appropriate to his story.

Jeff Couch was born Abner Jefferson Couch on February 20,

1894, the first child of Charles and Susan Couch of Fort Worth.

Almost from birth, it would seem, he was destined for a career in law enforcement. His father, C. D. “Charlie” Couch was a member of the Fort Worth Police Department (1892–93) before retiring to go into the saloon business. One of Charlie’s fellow officers and a good friend away from work was Sid Waller who chose to make a career with the FWPD. Waller would become Jeff’s stepfather, the

 

Chapter 10: Special Officer Webster C. “Jack” Gentry (April 25, 1922)

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Special Officer Webster C.

“Jack” Gentry

(APRIL 25, 1922)

“A Texan in heart as well as name”

WEBSTER GENTRY WAS AN OFFICER who just happened to be working in the private sector at the time of his death. He lost his life performing one of the countless

C. Gentry in happier duties that are all in a day’s work for Webster days in his doughboy’s uniform, the average lawman. The fact that he ca. 1917–1919, probably taken he was in training at Camp was only a provisional, or “special,” while

Bowie before going off to France. officer pressed into service during a He came home physically and much the worse for natural disaster does not make him mentally his service. (Courtesy of Richard any less a policeman-hero. In death he Opseth, Gentry family descendant) earned the right to be placed on the honor roll of the Fort Worth Police Department’s fallen officers.

Nature killed Officer Gentry. It all started on Monday, April 24,

1922, when the skies over Fort Worth opened and a torrent of biblical proportions poured down. Nine inches of rain fell in the next twenty-four hours, causing the Trinity River to rise 36.7 feet, topping the record of the previous biggest flood—the 1908 deluge—by a foot. The Clear Fork, which looped around the downtown area

 

Chapter 11: Deputy Constable Bob Poe (December 23, 1925)

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11

Deputy Constable Bob Poe

(DECEMBER 23, 1925)

1

“Square and unafraid”

THE AUTOMOBILE PUT POLICEMEN on wheels, but it also created new fields of criminal enterprise: the fast getaway, drive-by The only known image of Bob Poe shootings, selling stolen vehicles and is the poor-quality photograph appeared in the Fort Worth their parts. There was, for instance, that

Record-Telegram at the time of a highly profitable black market for his death—a studio shot contribby the family. This artistic automotive parts. Criminals follow the uted representation is taken from that money and lawmen follow the crimi- picture. (Courtesy Robert A. Smith) nals. And when confronted, the new breed of criminals were just as disinclined to being arrested as their horse-stealing ancestors, a fact Constable Bob Poe discovered to his misfortune in 1925.

Robert Franklin Poe was the Tarrant County Constable for

Precinct No. 1, the same office held by some distinguished men before him. He was born in Alabama on January 9, 1883, and after marrying Lela Rigney, they moved to Fort Worth in 1906. She had been married before and brought two children into the marriage.

 

Chapter 12: Deputy Constable Mordecai Hurdleston (October 9, 1927)

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Deputy Constable Mordecai

Hurdleston

1

(OCTOBER 9, 1927)

“I’m done for.”

OCCASIONALLY A MAN COMES ALONG who is head and shoulders above his peers figuratively speaking. Mordecai Hurdleston was such a man. During a career that lasted only sixteen years, he dragged the Fort Worth Police Depart- Mordecai Hurdleston as Police ment kicking and screaming into the and Fire Commissioner (1915–17) in the “throne chair.” twentieth century. He was an innova- sitting

The commissioner’s office was tor and reformer who accomplished a civilian office so its occupant not typically wear a uniform most of his reforms during a brief ten- did except on formal occasions like ure as Police and Fire Commissioner sitting for this 1915 FWPD monThe badge is custom-made,

(1915–1917). He was the fifth man to tage. not standard FWPD issue. occupy that office after the changeover (Montage courtesy Fort Worth Public

Central Library, Genealogy, to the commission form of government Library,

History and Archives Unit; photo work in 1907. Unlike most men who occu- by Kevin S. Foster) pied the office before and after, Hurdleston was proactive in addressing new forms of criminal activity and adopting the latest in technology and methodology. He was the most progressive official to head up the Police Department in the first quarter of the twentieth century, perhaps ever, even though he

 

Conclusion: Better Days to Come?

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Conclusion

Better Days to Come?

“You, the community, may not always understand the job, or who the people who choose it are, but you care when we get hurt doing it.”1

— Sgt. Steven Benjamin, FWPD

December 2005

BY THE 1920S, MODERN MACHINES were becoming as much a threat to life and limb as old-fashioned bad guys. Between the time the first motorcycle cop (Henry Lewis) took to the roads in 1909 and the mid-1920s, four Fort Worth Police Department officers died in auto or motorcycle accidents. Motorcycles and cars simply added another element of danger to an already dangerous job.

Regardless of the manner of death, men died, and every death left a hole in the community.2

Then there was the fate of those they left behind. The initial tragedy was compounded by that fact that there was no financial safety net for the family. Officers had no health coverage, no pensions, and no death benefits. There was no one looking out for their interests until 1898 when the Police Benevolent Society

(later, Police Benevolent Association, or PBA) was formed.3 It was something less than a labor union but more than a fraternal order.

 

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