Mounted Officer Charles Godfrey Petersen | Cincinnati Police Department

 

Mounted Officer Charles Godfrey Petersen
Mounted Officer Charles Godfrey Petersen

Age: 37
Served: 9 years
January 30, 1899 to May 23, 1908

 

Charles was born in Denmark. As a young adolescent, he served as an apprentice to a horticulturalist in the royal gardens of the King of Denmark and was thereafter very interested in botany. He went to sea at the age of 13, passed through countless adventures, and traveled all over the world. He survived many shipwrecks and explored South America all the way in to the headwaters of the Amazon River.

Charles immigrated to the United States as a 20-year-old in 1891 and enlisted in the United States Navy. He served two enlistments and during July 1898 he fought in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba against Spain – the largest naval engagement of the Spanish-American War – which resulted in the destruction of the Spanish Navy’s Caribbean Squadron. With his second enlistment up in 1899, the 26-year-old moved to Cincinnati.

Charles was appointed as a Substitute Patrolman on the Cincinnati Police Department. He was first assigned to the Bicycle Squad and then transferred to Mounted Patrol. He soon married Helen Knecht and built a home across the street from her family’s home at 3135 McHenry Road. By 1908, he and his wife had three boys.

Rosso Levato (42) had a less productive life. He was described by the Cincinnati Enquirer as a half-crazy recluse who emigrated from Italy and made his residence with nine dogs in a ramshackle, framed, multifamily building at 2161 Queen City Avenue; in a settlement just beyond Metz’s Wine Garden. He said he had a wife in Italy. There were often complaints from the neighborhood with regard to his dogs, but he rebuffed them with threats of violence.

On May 8, 1908, Levato imagined that someone in his room was trying to shoot him, so he jumped out of his second floor apartment window, spraining his ankle. He was taken to City Hospital, then to St. Francis Hospital, and was admitted for a few nights. On Thursday, May 21 he returned and, for days, told people that others were out to get him and that someone was going to shoot him. The 5th District Police responded a couple of times, but he spoke rationally to them and there was never cause to detain him.

On, May 23, 1908, Levato became extremely agitated, armed himself with a sawed-off shotgun and went through the building blowing doors off their hinges and ransacking each of the apartments. Women and children ran out in fear for their lives. Levato then spread coal oil throughout the second floor hallway and set it ablaze, apparently in an effort to incinerate himself. He then set himself at the top of stairs and waited.

Valentine Bauer (50), a resident of the building next door, went to a saloon at 2173 Queen City Avenue and told several men there about the fire. He opined that it was probably set by “that crazy Italian.” They ran with buckets of water and with Bauer in the lead. They ran up the stairs and Levato let loose with a round of buckshot that tore into Bauer’s abdomen and groin, sending him falling back down the stairs.

While this was happening, Patrolman Petersen had reported to the 5th District Stationhouse with his steed. Upon arrival, he was informed that they had received numerous calls from the area about Levato and the fire. He took off toward the area and arrived about 1:38 p.m. He saw what had happened to Bauer and was told that Levato was crouched in the corner awaiting his next victim, and several tried to hold him back, but he replied to the crowd of almost 200 men, women, and children, “I can’t help it. This is what we are paid for and I have to do it.” As soon as he reached the top of the steps, the shotgun exploded again with both barrels. Buckshot tore through his heart, killing him instantly.

Witnesses assert that at the sound of the shot, the patrolman’s horse was seen to “shiver and stagger.” When his body was carried out, the horse was frantic and went to her master and nosed him.

Within an hour, reinforcements arrived including half a dozen patrolmen and the crew from Patrol 5. They were posted around the building with revolvers pointed at windows and Patrolmen Gandenberger and Henry Fricke ran up the stairs. As they arrived on the second floor, they heard the clicks of the hammers striking the firing pins – two misfires. Levato then attacked the officers, wielding has shotgun as a club; and they him with their revolvers as clubs. Two more officers arrived and Levato was finally overwhelmed. Then, the police had to fight the mob who was intent on doing Levato further harm.

All three wounded men were lifted aboard the patrol wagon. Levato was taken, kicking and screaming to the City Hospital. Bauer, hovering between life and death was also taken to the hospital with what was deemed to be fatal injuries.
Patrolman Peterson was then taken to the morgue. When District Fire Marshal Streif held his mare, but the horse broke free and galloped to follow the wagon. The whole next day, the horse refused to eat or drink.

Patrolman Petersen was survived by his wife, Helen (Ella), and three children; Waldemar O. Petersen (6), Norman P. Petersen (4), and Harold C. Petersen (4 months). Funeral services were held at his residence on McHenry, May 26, 1908, at 2 p.m.; followed by burial in Spring Grove Cemetery, at 4 p.m. Pallbearers included Patrolmen Valentine H. Arata, John H. Springmeyer, and John P. Steinweiss. They were escorted by a Mounted Sergeant, eight Mounted Patrolmen, and his mount. Police personnel wore the badge of mourning ten days from May 25 through June 3, 1908.

Two days after the murder(s), Levato was taken from the hospital in Patrol 1 to the stationhouse where he contended, “Me no shoot anybody.” He was booked for a charge of Murder. At the time, Bauer was still seemingly at death’s door.
On June 28, 1908 the Hamilton County Grand Jury announced its indictments, including a single count of Murder of the 1st Degree against Rosso Savoto, apparently “Levato’s” real name.

We have found no record of the proceedings since; however, he was an inmate in the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane as late as 1930 and we assume he was therefore found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed indefinitely to the institution.

Mrs. Petersen joined her husband 20 years and 1 day after his death, during May 1928, as a result of a fatal auto accident.

Note: Since his immigration (1891) his and his children’s documents bear his name as Charles, Carl, Peterson, and Petersen.

If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.

 

© This narrative was further researched and revised on May 19, 2016 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President. All rights are reserved to him and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society. References available upon request.