The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum
“Preserving the History of Law Enforcement in the Greater Cincinnati Area”
UNSOLVED LINE OF DUTY DEATHS
by Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired)
Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society
As our 20-year-old vision as the central repository for local law enforcement information comes to fruition, we are often asked for data and information. One of the often-repeated questions is, “When was the last unsolved line of duty death?” So, we researched it.
While we knew it was a long time ago, we are surprised to find that it was 70 years. We are also surprised at how few there are. We have currently recorded little more than 200 line of duty deaths and about 140 who died by the purposeful actions of others. Only 14 are unsolved – a 90% clearance rate over 150 years!!
To answer the primary question, the last unsolved murder was more than 70 years ago in 1948. World War II hero and Cincinnati Motorcycle Patrolman Lewis William Hall was run off of Queen City Avenue and killed. The suspect car was never identified.
In fact, the last four unsolved homicides were motorcycle patrolmen who were or probably were run off the road. Cincinnati Motorcycle Patrolman John William Hughes probably died in similar fashion five months earlier on Kellogg Avenue. Reading Motorcycle Patrolman Willard H. Santel was also chasing an unidentified speeder in 1945 on old Wrights Highway. Cincinnati Motorcycle Patrolman Jesse Roy Hicks was run off the road by a speeder in 1935. There was another more than a decade before that, during Prohibition, when Fairfield Motorcycle Constable Emery Conald Farmer was likely run off Dixie Highway in 1922 and his body and bike ransacked.
The last homicide of a patrolman not involving a motorcycle crash was 88 years ago when Wyoming Patrolman Walter Lester Commins was shot in 1930 in another Prohibition Era incident. Possible suspects – maybe even a probably suspect – were found, but no prosecution was ever possible. Covington Patrolman Benjamin Franklin Law, while off duty and some say in stocking feet, responded from his home to a woman’s scream and was gunned down by unidentified burglars in 1924.
The last unsolved murder, other than by car, of a Cincinnati officer was the tragic incident when Cincinnati Acting Detective Albert W. Wegener was shot and killed 102 years ago at a downtown pawn shop; and then Motorcycle Patrolman George Le Poris was shot and killed in a friendly fire incident while looking for Wegener’s murderer.
Before that, we had six murders in a row associated with railroad yards from June 1914 to August 1915, and another in 1930; four of which were unsolved. L&N Railroad Inspector Clarence Eugene Karrick, in another Prohibition Era murder, died in 1915 the Latonia Yards. A Wallace Street Association Private Policeman Martin J. O’Herron was killed in 1915, possibly due to something going on in a nearby Covington rail yard. B&O Railroad Detective Lieutenant Elijah Newton Boileau was killed 2 months before that in a Camp Washington rail yard. During 1914, C&O Railroad Special Agent Cleveland Kemp was killed in the Silver Grove Yards.
Five law enforcement officers were killed during two riots in 1884 and two of the cases remain unsolved. Cincinnati Patrolman Henry Samuel Scherloh is one of two Cincinnati officers, other than motorcycle officers, whose murders are unsolved. He was shot in the back by an unknown rioter during the Election Riots of 1884. Similarly, Ohio Militia Captain John J. Desmond was shot by a rioter during the Courthouse Riot earlier in March 1884.
The last (actually, the first) unsolved death of an area law enforcement officer was the shooting death in 1869, 150 years ago, of Covington Marshal John T. Thompson by an unidentified highway robbery suspect at the south end of the Suspension Bridge.
In all our research, so far, the longest time between a line of duty death and its solution was the murder of Cincinnati Patrolman Donald Martin in 1961 and solved 44 years later in 2005 by two detectives born after his death.