Served: 13 years
February 1, 1929 to July 15, 1942
Carl Hille was born February 11, 1907 in Cincinnati to William (of Connecticut) and Anna (Schlueter) Hille. He attended public schools in the West End. As a teenager he was a legendary fast-pitch softball pitcher for the Cincinnati Police Athletic League. In 1922, he started 69 games and lost only one. At the age of 16, he started working for the Liggett Brothers Coal Company, driving a truck. He then worked for a couple of years driving a truck for Adam Ungerbeuhler Company and 2½ years driving for the Kroger Grocery and Baking Company.
Then, on February 1, 1929, he joined the Cincinnati Police Department. He served in District 4 and on the Safety Patrol for 13 years before being promoted to Sergeant on June 1, 1942. He, his wife, and four children had just moved from downtown up to 1857 Ashbrook Drive in Western Hills.
On Saturday, July 15, 1942, with only one off day every week, Sergeant Hille was looking forward to his two-week vacation starting on the 17th. He and Sergeant Willard Ortman were assigned to split the desk duty and a flip of a coin decided that Sergeant Hille would supervise the district from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Just after 11 p.m., John Rehe (51) of Norwood, the night attendant at the Hodge Drive-it-Yourself Company at 511 Sycamore, directed a helper, Perry Sell (30) of the West End, to move a large truck inside the garage. Mr. Sell backed into a gasoline pump that was inside the garage, cracking a pipe. Either Mr. Sell or Mr. Rehe ran downstairs to shut off the electricity and the other one called the police.
When a trouble run was broadcast regarding a report of a strong odor of gas at the Hodge Drive-it-Yourself Company, Sergeant Hille had Patrolman Charles Kasselmann drive him to the scene. Upon their arrival, Sergeant Hille got out of the car to go inside while Patrolman Kasselmann parked the car.
Albert J. Bass (33) of Clifton had driven to the garage to return a rented car. He pulled into the garage and got out of the car. His passenger, Kenneth Bottorf (24) of Tusculum, saw the gasoline flowing from the pump. It was too late.
At about 11:25 p.m., just as Sergeant Hille entered the pedestrian door and Mr. Bass got out of the rented car at the garage, the gasoline fumes ignited. It was one of the largest explosions in the history of Cincinnati. All the glass blew out of the garage, as well as some of the concrete walls. The concrete sidewalks in front blew up leaving a crater. Glass was broken out of windows up to four blocks away.
Patrolman Kasselmann ducked back into the patrol car as rocks and chunks of debris rained down on the car. Messrs. Rehe and Sell were killed where they stood. Mr. Bottorf was severely burned but was the only survivor from inside the garage. Sergeant Hille and Mr. Bass were gone – just disappeared.
Fourteen people outside the garage were cut and otherwise injured by flying glass and falling building debris. Patrolman Kasselmann escaped injury, but afterward could be seen, apparently in a state of shock, wandering around, looking for Sergeant Hille and carrying Sergeant Hille’s uniform cap.
Without evidence of Sergeant Hille’s or Mr. Bass’s remains in or near the building, Detective Captain Patrick Hayes and Detective Charles Auckerman went onto the roof of St. Xavier Commercial School across the street. There they found Sergeant Hille’s left shoe, laces still tied, and a bloody print from where his body had apparently bounced off the back corner of the roof. Patrolman John Wilson found Sergeant Hille’s body lying in a narrow alley just outside the wall enclosing the rear schoolyard and Mr. Bass’s body at the end of the alley where it intersected with Convent Alley. Sergeant Hille’s body had been hurled more than 50 feet in the air, over the school, and more than 200 feet from Sycamore Street. It was later determined that he died from a comminuted skull fracture.
Sergeant Hille was survived by his wife, Alice (Efland) Hille; four children, Betty Jane Hille (17), Audrey May Hille (15), Carl F. Hille, Jr. (9), and Carole Sue Hille (3), and siblings, Luella Hille, Arthur Hille, and Louis Hille. Sergeant Hille’s funeral took place on July 18, 1942, from the Busse-Borgmann Funeral Home at Central Parkway and Clifton Hills Lane. He was buried in Vine Street Hill Cemetery. His pallbearers were Patrolmen Stanley Heber, George Karman, William McDermott, Howard McMiller, Louis Noll, and Edward Stine. Detective Henry Zimpleman and Patrolman Harry Batter were honorary pallbearers.
Fire Marshal Louis Schraffenberger’s investigation determined that there were three possible points of ignition; an electric switch, lighting a cigarette, or a gas water heater in the basement.
Sergeant Hille’s brother, Louis Hille, a U.S. Army Captain, died two years later in another explosion; this one of a mine six weeks after D-Day while saving the life of a war correspondent.
In 1954, the Cincinnati Recreation Commission converted what was once known as Lucky Circus grounds into a baseball field and in 1960 dedicated the field in Sergeant Hille’s memory. Over the years the field fell into disrepair. During the mid-1990s, Elder High School repaired the field and used it as its home field. On April 18, 1998, the field was rededicated as the Carl F. Hille Memorial Field. Since then, Elder moved their home field to a location in Price Hill and the City sold the property, but will dedicate a field on Beekman Street to Sergeant Hille.
Twenty-five years and one week after Sergeant Hille’s death, his grandson, John Ott, joined the Cincinnati Police Division as a Police Cadet on July 23, 1967. He retired, also a Sergeant in 1997. Seven years later, Sergeant Hille’s great grandson, Luke Putnick, became a Cincinnati Police Officer during 2004 and still serves.
Many of Sergeant Hille’s artifacts are at the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum. 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 revised June 17, 2014 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.