Served: 26 years
May 1, 1929 to September 19, 1955
Walter was born December 20, 1905 to English immigrant, John B. Hart, and Pennsylvanian, Mary (Sweeny) Hart. Before he was born, the family had settled on Wade Street in Cincinnati. Walter’s father died soon after Walter was born. Sometime later, he and his mother were taken in by Cincinnati Patrolman Frank H. Menkhaus, at 1724 Denham.
Patrolman Menkhaus apparently had an influence on Walter because he joined the Cincinnati Police Department on May 1, 1929. He was appointed as a Patrolman in District 3 (on Warsaw Avenue). He moved next door with his new wife, Lillian Hart, to 1720 Denham and she gave birth in 1930 to Patricia Hart and in 1932 to Thomas Hart.
Also by 1932, Patrolman Hart was assigned to one of the treasured radio cars partnered up with Patrolman Elmer Swissler. And, with less than five years tenure, they were serving as a plain-clothes investigators in District 3.
Following a scandal, indictments, and demotions of detectives at Detective Headquarters, twenty patrolmen, including Patrolmen Hart and Swissler, were promoted to Detective on August 16, 1934. Detective Hart was assigned badge D-1 and assigned to the Gambling Squad at Detective Headquarters. He was replaced at District 3 by newly hired Patrolman, Patrolman (and later, famed Police Chief) Stanley R. Schrotel.
By October 1934, Detective Hart was paired up with Detective Thomas Faragher. Within another month, they and Sergeant George W. Schattle were established as the first Cincinnati Homicide Squad. For Hart and Faragher, the partnership would last for the next 20 years. They boasted in 1955 that they had handled “about 1000 murders” and recorded a 90% clearance rate. In fact, they may have handled a thousand cases including homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and high-profile cases, including the Anna Marie Hahn case.
Detective Hart’s and Faragher’s names appeared in each Cincinnati newspaper every other week on average. If not for a murder or sensational death, it was for his work with the Holy Name Society – which Detective Hart founded in 1936 – or organizing testimonial dinners for high-ranking or high-profile Cincinnati Police Division or Safety Department personnel. And if Detective Hart’s name wasn’t in the paper, his wife’s was with the Kappa Delta Mother’s Club and University of Cincinnati Mother’s Club. Even their daughter’s wedding was posted on the Society page.
On Tuesday, October 7, 1952, while on his way home from work in a City car, Detective Hart was forced off the road by a truck as he traveled westbound on the Eighth Street Viaduct. His car crashed through the concrete rail, off the viaduct, and down 29 feet where it was snagged by an iron railing, forty feet above Evans Street. He was pinned in the nearly vertical vehicle with gasoline streaming through and over the car. After two hours with heavy equipment, he was freed and transported to General Hospital from which he was released three days later on October 10th.
The auto accident and daily drudgery of high-profile case investigations took their toll on Detective Hart. During January 1955, on orders of the police surgeon, Dr. M. C. Menard, he requested a transfer out of the Homicide Squad to general investigations. He did not let his health detract from his other activities, though. He organized a 300-person testimonial dinner for retiring Detective Chief Pearcey on March 2, 1955. He chaired the committee to put on the 17th annual Police Holy Name Society Mass and Breakfast during May 1955. And then he organized the 500-person retirement testimonial dinner for Assistant Chief William Adams on September 8, 1955.
Eleven days later, on September 19, 1955, on his way home from work, Detective Hart was organizing again – this time a local reception for his daughter who had been married in Okinawa. He stopped in the Grey Eagle Café, at 201 W. Sixth Street, to speak with owners and was speaking to one of them, Mrs. Gertrude Becraft, at 11:50 p.m.
Lemuel Trotter (28) of Shubuta, Mississippi, and Robert Lee Jackson (40) and Willie Barnett (24), both of Cincinnati, met in Alabama’s Kilby Prison where they were incarcerated for various offenses.
On September 19, 1955, all three were in Cincinnati and planned to rob the Grey Eagle Café. At 11:50 p.m., Trotter, carrying a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, and Barnett, carrying a .32 caliber semiautomatic pistol – both firearms supplied by Jackson – went inside the café. Jackson waited outside as a lookout.
After announcing the robbery, Trotter and Barnett herded the customers into a restroom. Detective Hart determined it was safest for all concerned if he went into the restroom as if he were just a customer. He then went to leave the restroom and Mrs. Becraft warned, “Don’t go out Walter! You’ll get shot.” Detective Hart explained, “I’ve got to. I’m a cop.”
He flung open the restroom door and walked out with his Colt Police Positive .38 caliber revolver. He saw Barnett first, rifling through the cash register, and shot him. He did not see Trotter who had moved and was now behind Detective Hart. Trotter shot him in the back and through the heart. Detective Hart spun and returned fire, but without taking effect. The robbers fled the café. Detective Hart got up, staggered to the telephone, tried calling for help, collapsed, and died.
Detective Hart was survived by his wife, Lillian Hart, and children, Patricia Hart (25) and Thomas Hart (23). His old partner, Detective Faragher, notified them of his death. Detective Hart is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in St. Bernard.
Patrolmen George Rees, Highway Safety Bureau, and Wilson Day, District 2, heard the shots, responded to the café, and found Detective Hart already probably deceased. They him rushed to Cincinnati General Hospital and he was pronounced dead on arrival by Dr. Goettle at 12:36 a.m.
After tending to Detective Hart’s remains, Patrolmen Rees and Day returned to and canvassed the area and found and apprehended the wounded Barnett, of 507 Carlisle Avenue, in a hallway at 229 West Sixth Street, 1½ blocks from the bar. Lieutenant Carl Wittmeyer, with Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Frank Weikel in the passenger seat, drove Barnett to Police Headquarters. On the way, Barnett confessed his part in the killing. Detectives Marvin Friedman and John Ritter responded to the West Sixth street address and recovered personal papers and money belonging to victims robbed in the café. Barnett gave police the name of at least one of his accomplices, Jackson.
Jackson fled the scene to his home, four blocks west, at 623 West Sixth Street. By the time officers arrived there, he had changed clothes and caught a cab.
One of the first projects taken on by the newly established Hamilton County Police Association was the General Alarm system that, in part, after Detective Hart’s murder, sent police officers on both sides of the Ohio River to the bridge entrances. Patrolmen William Breckel and William Hayes, District One, were assigned to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (Clay Wade Bailey) Bridge. They stopped the cab Jackson had caught, identified him as a suspect, and arrested him. Patrolman Harry Batters, Vice Squad; Patrolman Lehman Foster, District Four; and Detectives John Greene, Eugene Moore and Donald F. Roney, Crime Bureau recovered the murder weapon and Detective Hart’s wallet in Jackson’s apartment. Jackson bragged at Detective Headquarters that no one saw him give the guns to the other two and no one saw him standing watch outside the bar. He was confident of his defense.
Trotter fled the café through a side door and through an alley. He caught a cab and went to 1543 Baymiller Street and changed clothes. Within a day and after more than 100 people were questioned, it became clear to detectives and patrolmen, many of whom were working off duty and around the clock, that he was the trigger man. They also determined where he had been during the last two weeks and where he went immediately after the robbery. Detective Chief Henry Sandman ordered a manhunt for Trotter. By then, Trotter had gone to Newport, Kentucky, jumped onto a freight train, and was headed to Mobile, Alabama.
Trotter, using the name Reco Glover, was apprehended in Selma, Alabama almost seventeen months after the murder on February 8, 1957. Lieutenant Charles Martin, Crime Bureau, interviewed Trotter and extradited him to Cincinnati and charged him with 1st Degree Murder.
Barnett was also charged with 1st Degree Murder. He claimed insanity and was declared incompetent to stand trial and was removed to the Lima State Hospital for the criminally insane. Suddenly, after Ohio’s death penalty was abolished in 1972, doctors at Lima State Hospital determined Barnett to be capable of standing trial. On January 2, 1973, he was found innocent due to insanity and returned to the Lima Hospital, where he died.
Jackson was found guilty of 1st Degree Murder with a recommendation of no mercy. He ordered no last meal, looked upon the preacher praying for him with disdain, and was executed on July 7, 1958, at 8:15 p.m. He is buried in Potter’s field on the grounds of the old State Hospital in Columbus.
Trotter tried to defend himself saying, “When you’re guilty, you don’t need a lawyer,” but the judge appointed him an attorney. He was found guilty of 1st Degree Murder with a recommendation for no mercy. Appeals were filed on his behalf and the last was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. He found religion in prison, ordered roast duck and deserts as a last meal, and was executed just before Jackson on July 7, 1958, at 7:59 p.m., almost three years after the murder. He is also buried in Potter’s field on the grounds of the old State Hospital in Columbus.
Frank H. Menkhaus, who took in Walter Hart and his mother, had a son, Edward B. Menkhaus; who had a son, Herbert B. Menkhaus; who had a son, Michael Menkhaus. Walter Hart’s son, Thomas Hart, took up pharmacy and owned Hart Pharmacy. Not knowing that Frank Menkhaus took in Walter’s mother or even that Frank had been a patrolman, Michael Menkhaus took up pharmacy and interned for Thomas Hart at the Hart Pharmacy.
If you have any information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Memorial@Police-Museum.org.
© This narrative was revised on December 4, 2016 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Executive Director. All rights are reserved to him and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.