Colonel Lynn Ernest Black
-By Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Historian
Greater Cincinnati Police Museum
Lynn was born October 8, 1898 in Glenville, Gilmer County, West Virginia to life-long Gilmer County residents, Alphus Henson “Alfred” and Mary Catherine (Fling) Black. By 1900 the family was living in the Troy District and included his older siblings: John E. Black, Daisy J. Black, May F. Black, Charles H. Black, Hannah D. Black, Dora B. Black, Warren S. Black, Ralph Black, and his little brother Lane Black.
On June 5, 1918, still living with the family, Lynn was working for the State of West Virginia in Weston.
Lynn was drafted into the United States Navy and served as a Fireman during World War I. Fireman 1st Class Black was honorably discharged after two years.
He then went to work as a payroll clerk for a local mining company, then as a fireman for a railroad. Concurrently, he played semiprofessional baseball with Fairmount and Morgantown teams. By January 1920, he was living in Morgantown, Monongalia County with his siblings, Dora and Lane, and working as a shearer in a tin mill.
His brother Lane joined the West Virginia State Police as a Trooper. On January 15, 1922, Troopers Black and Zachariah Taylor arrested Henry Alford, alias Skinny Jeffries, for treason and murder. Alford’s friends and relatives formed a murder squad to free Alford. They ambushed the troopers with .45-75 caliber rifles, shooting Trooper Black. When Black fell, they took sport in shooting him until Mrs. Bertha Trent put herself between him and the shooters. By then, he had been shot in both feet and the base of his spine.
Trooper Black was rushed to a hospital, probably 175 miles from Morgantown, and not expected to survive.
Responding troopers chased the shooters for twenty hours, finally capturing Leo Allison and Pat Jeffries, and charging them with shooting to kill Trooper Lane Black. They also charged Elmer Smith, Alford Thompson, and Henry Alford as accessories.
Trooper Lane Black did survive, albeit after many surgeries. In June he left the hospital with one leg substantially shorter than the other. He returned to St. Francis Hospital in Morgantown twice for surgeries, each time being given up for dead, but he rallied again and in October was discharged.
WEST VIRGINIA POLICE DEPARTMENT
Bent on justice, on February 24, 1922, Lynn Black and an older brother enlisted in the West Virginia State Police. His brother was rejected, but Lynn was accepted and, for months, he was posted to Dry Branch, where his brother was shot.
Trooper Lynn Black had developed into a productive and trusted law enforcement officer and after a couple of years was dispatched to Mingo County to combat moonshiners and industrial warfare at coal fields.
MARION COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Being stationed 234 miles away from home probably contributed to his being “discharged at his own request” from the West Virginia State Police on October 24, 1924, and joining the Marion County Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sheriff. By 1925, he was living at 369 Brockway in Morgantown.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, OHIO
Sometime after 1925, Deputy Black took a similar position, probably with the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office, at St. Clairsville, Ohio, 90 miles northwest of Morgantown. We assume that he built a solid reputation as an organizer in his last two or three posts, because he was being recruited from 212 miles to the west.
On June 16, 1926, Deputy Black married Dorothy (Pinnell) Rhea in Morgantown. He also took in her son from a previous marriage, Robert Stephen Rhea. We believe he was already working in St. Clairsville at the time.
INDIAN HILL RANGERS
In 1927, a committee of wealthy families of the unincorporated community on Indian Hill recruited Deputy Black to come and work as a sergeant and their first paid law enforcement officer to organize the Indian Hill Rangers, a private law enforcement organization. His only superior was the president of an Indian Hill Resident Committee.
It seems apparent that he had become fairly well-known to have been traveling so many miles to take on greater and greater responsibility, but it was at this time in his life that the newspapers of the day discovered him, and his name would appear in them hundreds of times for the next sixteen years.
His wife, Dorothy probably stayed behind and on January 20, 1928 gave birth to Elizabeth Irene “Betty” Black in St. Clairsville. Afterward, the rest of the family joined Sergeant Black in Indian Hill.
During January 1929, he assisted the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office with suspects in a robbery/kidnapping based on his having seen the suspect earlier standing outside a bank. During June, he was investigating a crash, a result of which occupants were trapped inside the auto. Then he investigated a car/train crash. Then in August, there was a bus accident. In October he investigated a fatal automobile crash. He and his five Rangers were operating as a fully operational police agency.
In December, he assisted in the search for a missing bank cashier. Then in January 1930, he found and arrested the cashier and charged him with Embezzlement.
In May 1930, he tracked a domestic violence suspect to Silverton and when a thirteen-year-old showed up with a gun, he disarmed the youth.
Also in May, he had the Rangers turn out for inspection by Hamilton County Sheriff William Anderson. They included Corporal Winston Arey and Patrolmen James Blankenship, Paul Atzel, Julian Nelson, and Carl Miller.
In June, after a bank robbery in Loveland, Sergeant Black added his force to the army of law enforcement officers searching for the bandits.
On January 21, 1931, he and Patrolman Blankenship apprehended two burglars and recovered a truckload of loot from fifty burglaries involving Little Miami River campsites. They took the goods to newly elected Sheriff Asa Butterfield for identification by the victims. Sheriff Butterfield decided on who he would hire to run his new Patrol System.
HAMILTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Less than three weeks later, on February 9, 1931, Sheriff Butterfield appointed Sergeant Black to organize the new Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Patrol System. His appointment to Captain was effective February 15, 1931. The 24-member unit would be given regular police drills and periodic inspection and they would patrol five hundred miles of road.
Captain Black purchased uniforms and automobiles, equipped them with radio receivers (new technology at the time), and armed the men with modern weapons. Their focus was to be traffic enforcement, but he began by attacking their number one criminal nemesis, the tough river camps of the County. Thereafter he was involved in every high-profile County investigation and earned considerable local fame for his cunning and bravery.
On February 22, one week after his appointment, he and Deputy Melville Hayward captured a man who was attempting to cut his wife’s throat.
The next day, on the 23rd, he and Sheriff Butterfield examined one hundred applicants for the position of County Night Patrolman and created an eligibility list. Three days later, the twelve existing, politically appointed night patrolmen were laid off and the top 24 finishers on the new list were appointed, including two motorcycle patrolmen.
On March 14, 1931, Captain Black opened a new school of instruction at the Courthouse, and it would last ten weeks. While the men were in training, on April 7, 1931, Captain Black introduced to the public a new German Shepherd Police Dog, the first one in the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and, we believe, the first official police dog in the region. Unfortunately, the dog did not work out, but the Patrol System did.
On April 9, 1931, Captain Black interrogated and charged five participants in an auto theft ring. On the 13th, he and his men conducted raids on gambling houses in Elmwood Place. On the 20th, there were more raids, these with state and federal officials in Loveland.
On May 8, 1931, the Patrol System was issued four Thompson submachine guns and they practiced with them, shotguns, and revolvers at the Union Gas and Electric Company recreation grounds in Hartwell.
On May 13th, they conducted raids on chicken thieves in Cincinnati’s West End. One County Patrolman was stabbed and one of the suspects was shot. On the same day, Captain Black and Sergeant William Anderson recovered $200 in goods stolen from a department store. On the 23rd, they investigated a $5000 extortion attempt. On June 2nd, they investigated a kidnapping/robbery of an auto parts manager in Lockland. On the 4th, another extortion attempt, this one involving an Indian Hills Deputy.
Then on June 5th, Captain Black and his motor-patrolmen and auto-patrolmen escorted New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt from the Cincinnati city limits to Dayton, Ohio. On the 13th, he deputized Boy Scouts with Red Cross Certificates at Camp Friedlander to act in life-saving efforts along the river should the occasion arise.
Then it was back to crime. On the 15th, he investigated and charged a woman and two men with an oil station robbery in North Bend.
Four months into his captaincy, even other sheriffs were calling for his assistance. On the 17th, he was invited into Brown County, where he interrogated three men in the Georgetown (Brown County) jail who were suspected of bank robbery in Higginsport and killing a bystander. They were charged and convicted.
With 20,000 people and 10,000 cars expected at Watson Airport in Blue Ash for the appearance of Wally Post and Harold Gatty on August 2nd, Captain Black was in charge of traffic to and from the area.
He began the new year with perhaps his biggest criminal justice feat. On January 16, 1932, Cincinnati’s highest profile case of the decade involved the brutal assault and murder of a six-year-old girl. After days of her being missing, her body was located in the basement of an Over-the-Rhine building owned by the man who “found” her. He soon became the suspect, but detectives could not elicit from him a confession. Days passed with him in jail held on a charge of suspicion when Captain Black donned civilian clothes and had himself incarcerated with the suspect. Within a day, he had the confession.
His regional reputation and success nearly cost him his life near the end of the year. On November 20, 1932, private and public law enforcement determined that James W. Webster had been hanging around the home of Vernie Armontrout, a Mt. Orab resident. Webster, on October 3rd, had shot and killed Rush County Sheriff Ray Compton during the service of a search warrant for bootleg whiskey. Sheriff Compton did not know that Webster was an escaped prisoner from Fort Madison, Iowa where he was serving time for the killing of two other law enforcement officers.
Brown County Sheriff John Neu contacted Captain Black and asked for his Thompson submachine gun. Captain Black delivered the weapon along with a couple of shotguns, a gas grenade launcher, Hamilton County Sergeant William Hopper and Deputies Robert Frech and Albert Kipp, and Clermont County Sheriff Robert Roberts and three deputies. At 6 a.m., they motored toward the home.
Because Armontrout had a wife and four children, officials knocked on the door and asked Webster to surrender peacefully. Webster refused to come out but allowed the Armontrout family to leave the home. Captain Black, with the machine gun, and the other officers with shotguns and revolvers, opened up on the south side of the home. There was no response from inside, so Captain Black ran up to the front door with the gas gun, aimed it through the open doorway, and shot a grenade inside. As he retreated, Webster fired out a window and struck Black in the groin.
No sooner had the grenade exploded, Captain Black staggered, dropped the gun, and yelled, “Bill! He got me!” He fell into Sergeant Hopper’s arms, who risking his own life, ran to catch him and carry him out the line of fire. Black then commanded, “My God, Bill. Get me to a hospital quick.” He put Black in the car and drove the 39-mile, one-hour trip back to General Hospital where he was initially listed as in serious condition.
Hopper returned with Hamilton County Special Investigators Joseph Schaefer and Emil Gau and Sheriff Butterfield, Cincinnati Chief of Detectives Emmit Kirgan, and several Cincinnati detectives, more Thompsons, and gas bombs. They heard a single gunshot from inside and, an hour later, Deputy Fech went to the door and found Webster dead inside with a single gunshot wound to the temple.
By November 22nd, Captain Black contracted pneumonia and his condition was downgraded. After a harrowing few days, his condition was upgraded on November 26th, and he was sent home on December 23rd to continue his recovery, just in time for Christmas. The state of Iowa sent Captain Black a $50 reward for the capture of Webster.
Probably against doctor’s orders, Captain Black was back on duty by January 9, 1933. The notorious Robert Zwick had been captured in Toledo and would be traveling to Cincinnati to answer an indictment for the murder of North College Hill Marshal Peter Dumele almost five years earlier. There were concerns that the murderous gang he belonged to would try to free him. Security for his extradition and escort back to Cincinnati was intense. Captain Black planned it and rode in the second car with other heavily armed deputies on January 13th.
All of Captain Black’s escapades attracted the attention of Ohio Governor White. By September, rumors began circulating that the governor had taken notice and was interested in appointing Captain Black to the Ohio Highway Department to create an Ohio State Highway Patrol, similar to Captain Black’s Patrol System in Hamilton County.
OHIO STATE HIGHWAY PATROL
On September 20, 1933 Captain Black was in Columbus, and Director O. W. Merrill named him Superintendent of the new Ohio State Highway Patrol. He officially resigned from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office via a telephone call from Columbus to Sheriff Butterworth.
The Highway Department had already been taking applications for 60 positions and 5,167 had applied. The preference was for big, stalwart, single men. There was no requirement for ‘single’, but they would be living in barracks six days a week, and none were to be assigned to their home districts. Specifications of patrolmen were announced, including height and weight minimums and maximums.
About one hundred men were to be selected initially, taken to Camp Perry on or near October 1st for a thirty-day schooling, and sixty would be selected to continue for the final thirty days of training. The expectation was to have the Patrol in service in less than two months.
By the process of elimination, the applicants were reduced to five hundred viable candidates. From that, on October 1st, Captain Black and Director Merrill poured over the remainder with intent to get the number to between 100 and 140 to be ordered to Camp Perry on October 3rd. They got the number down to 104. Those accepted had to equip themselves with Army breeches, boots, and personal equipment. Two weeks after his announced appointment, Captain Black was in Camp Perry to train the recruits.
The recruits received $50 a month and, if they graduated, troopers received $100 a month, plus room and board. Sergeants and Lieutenants were paid more, and Captain Black was paid $4000 a year.
Originally, twelve barracks were planned throughout the state to house the troopers, but initially only six were to be built. Until then, the troopers were to be housed in homes volunteered by private citizens. Troopers were centrally quartered, worked six days a week, and were on call 24 hours a day. Each barracks was headed by a Lieutenant. Captain Black assigned them to the heaviest traffic areas to look for overloaded trucks, inappropriately licensed vehicles, and reckless drivers along 12,000 miles of highway. Half the troopers were assigned to motorcycles and half in small cars. Captain Black estimated a revenue of $3 million after an investment of $163,000 the first year, and $120,000 thereafter.
His troopers would not have a general right of search and seizure, except in the case of a dangerous weapon. He instructed them to be helpful to motorists in every way possible. In their cars, they carried scales for overweight trucks, emergency first aid kits, and spare gasoline.
Three things were consistently professed by Superintendent Black about the Patrol:
- It would be absolutely non-partisan, with no political influence whatsoever. Hiring, promotion, and termination would be based solely on merit.
- The Patrolmen would be always looking to relieve traffic and assisting drivers and conduct their business with courtesy.
- There would be no speed traps set up and his Patrol would not be used in breaking strikes or any other paramilitary use in any jurisdiction.
His slogan, very early on, was, “Remember, you can be a patrolman and a gentleman at the same time.”
On October 31, 1933, the sixty officers were named: R. W. Alvis, East Liverpool; V. M. Andrews, Wooster; L. B. Atkinson, Marietta; Paul Atzel, Madisonville; B. D. Augenstein, Marietta; L. B. Bedell, Norwalk; J. F. Best, Upper Sandusky; A. L. Bouton, Cleveland; F. E. Bollis, Louisville; W. L. Brost, Dayton; K. Bushong, Cleveland; E. A. Capell, Findlay; E. F. Cherryholmes, Port Williams; W. P. Crevston, Columbus; F. J. Crume, Wooster; Charles Cover, Poland; J. E. Durby, Sandusky; R. E. Davis, Xenia; I. B. Defenbaugh, Circleville; Ross Enright, Toledo; V. C. Felty, Forest; L. H. Ferbach, Sandusky; F. E. Foraker, Gnadenhutten; R. S. Harrod, New Hampshire; J. E. Ivory, Bellefontaine; E. L. Jackson, Cincinnati; C. E. Jonas, Glouster; G. A. Kasson, Centerburg; J. M. Kratzer, Van Wert; J. W. Krickbaum, Crestline; Leo Lochary, Stockport; D. L. Lorah, Defiance; D. W. Lewis, Medina; C. M. Long, Loudonville; G. D. McConnell, Belmont; H. T. Miles, Cambridge; George Mingle, Mt. Vernon; M. A. Mock, Girard; T. R. Myers, Gibsonburg; L. G. Palker, Cleveland; B. M. Palmer, Sandusky; O. R. Patterson, Zanesville; S. B. Radcliffe, Columbus; D. H. Russ, Toledo; J. C. Schoffield, Columbus; A. O. Smith, Belmont; Neil Smith, Rockford; C. W. Sole, Sardis; D. D. Stark, Clyde; S. Steinhoff, Lancaster; R. T. Sommers, Dayton; T. W. Thomas, Youngstown; A. Tucker, East Cleveland; J. C. Ulmer, Columbus; D. W. Unkle, Baltimore; W. B. Vance, Byesville; C. F. Velliquette, Toledo; E. P. Webb, Seaman; C. B. Wilson, Athens, and H. K. Wood, Mariemont.
Captain Black named six lieutenants to command the various barracks: W. P. Creviston of Columbus to command the Perrysburg district; S. K. Wood of Mariemont for the Ravenna district; Paul Atze (former Indian Hill Ranger) of Madisonville for the Sidney district; Karl Bushong of East Cleveland to the Delaware district; R. S. Harrod of New Hampshire to the Cambridge district; and Cincinnatian Earl Jackson for the Chillicothe district.
The Highway Patrol began patrol duties on November 15, 1933. Contacting various headquarters could be done through the local telephone companies. Patrolmen stopped in at various service stations to collect messages and dispatches. Within a month, Captain Black was working on installing a radio system to connect patrolmen.
From that point forward, Captain Black did as he had done for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. He continuously drove from barracks to barracks, inspecting and working with his personnel. He continually went from speaking engagement to speaking engagement discussing the success and professionalism of his Patrol.
For the first time, Captain Black issued a statewide BOLO (be on the lookout) for a fugitive, in this case Attorney Harry I. Kidd under sentence to the Ohio Penitentiary for Manslaughter. On this date also was the first crash involving a patrolman, when C. C. Thomas rear-ended an automobile with his motorcycle. He was merely bruised.
Almost as soon as the Ohio State Highway Patrol was established, Prohibition was repealed, and the governor immediately ordered strict enforcement of driving under the influence laws. Captain Black also, on December 29, 1933, issued orders prohibiting the use of alcohol by his personnel off duty.
On January 9, 1934, reminiscent of his day in Mt. Orab in 1932, Captain Black took to the field with a Thompson submachine gun that he checked out of the Ohio Penitentiary arsenal, and rode with other heavily armed men in a manhunt of notorious desperado Neal Bowman, an escapee from Lima State Hospital and wanted for robberies and the kidnapping of a sheriff. He gave his men “shoot to kill” orders and employed the assistance of Cincinnati’s WLW new 500,000-watt radio station to broadcast sightings of the quarry. Simultaneously, they were looking for John Dillinger, another prison escapee who had murdered a sheriff. By the following day, radio receivers were installed in many local, county, and state police cars to hear updates from WLW. By January 12th, the prevailing thought was that Bowman was surrounded in Athens by 28 State Patrolmen augmented by Hamilton County Patrolmen. While the fugitive slipped through the dragnet, when he was captured on March 31, 1934 in Somerset, Kentucky, his first words were, “Yeah, I guess Captain Black will be happy to get me back in Ohio.”
Captain Black had proven his mettle and Director Merrill, in anticipation of the expansion of the Highway Patrol, promoted him to the rank of Colonel. On February 1st his captain’s position was filled by Karl Bushong.
On January 20th, as he had done in Hamilton County in conjunction with the Cincinnati Police Communications, Colonel Black arranged to have stolen car information broadcast daily over Ohio State University’s radio station, WOSU, for Ohio State Highway Patrolmen from 9 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. and at other times for emergencies. On April 12th, OSU sponsored a fulltime broadcasting station, WPCB. On April 26th, he announced that WPGG, owned by the Ohio Buckeye Sheriff’s Association and serving 26 northwestern Ohio counties, was to be transferred over to the Highway Patrol. And those in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Sidney were going to be soon joined by Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown, and Cleveland law enforcement radio stations.
As he had in Indian Hill and Hamilton County, during January 1943, Colonel Black expanded his agency’s cooperation across the arbitrary land borders. First, he took some of his men into and around Maysville, Kentucky, at the request of officials there, to hunt for Neal Bowman, who was still wanted for escape, robberies, and kidnapping. A week later, he was in Michigan forging a partnership with the Michigan State Police.
By the end of January 1934, Colonel Black’s program of easing into strict enforcement of motor vehicle laws resulted in over 4100 verbal warnings and only 41 arrests, most of which were for driving under the influence. During January, 57 arrests were made, 26% of which were driving under the influence. During February, they effected 99 arrests. During March, they stopped more than 12,400 vehicles and made 268 arrests, mostly for driver’s license, commercial vehicle, and fictitious tag violations. They stopped 13,450 during April.
By February 1st, with the great success of the Patrol thus far, Governor White recommended its expansion, opining that a 200-man force was not out of the question.
On February 11, 1934, Colonel Black opened a State Highway Patrol School in Delaware, Ohio and 21 cadets were present for a six-week radio communications course with an expectation to be assigned to six patrol broadcasting stations being established around the state. On March 27th, Colonel Black pledged to have the first radio broadcast station in place in Columbus by April 10th.
With the retirement of Cincinnati Police Chief Eugene T. Weatherly, rumors abounded in early November 1934 that Colonel Black would compete for the position. He asserted, “I have never considered competing for the post and will not.”
On November 24, 1934, just a year after the OSHP began operations, Colonel Black set up a retirement system for his troopers.
By 1937, the Patrol had grown to 200 troopers and was recognized as one of the most professional organizations in American law enforcement. He was at the apex of his career when tragedy struck.
Colonel Black’s stepson, Robert Rhea, joined the United States Army Air Force to fight in World War II. He received his wings at Luke Field, Arizona in September 1942. On January 1, 1943, at the age of 21, Lt. Rhea died in an airplane crash near San Francisco.
Dorothy Black had moved out to Los Angeles, and on August 2, 1943, Colonel Black sued his wife for divorce and custody of their child, Betty. In September 1943, he was granted a divorce. Six months later, on March 2, 1944, he married Dorothy (Kloker) Johnson, the Chief Bookkeeper at Fort Hayes Army Base, and took in her child from a previous marriage, Theodore Johnson.
Then, on April 17, 1944, Colonel Black entered Mt. Carmel hospital with a kidney ailment attributed to his twelve-year-old gunshot wound.
His condition steadily declined, and with his little brother, Lane Black, at his side, on April 26th, he died at the age of 45.
Colonel Lynn Black is buried in Section 14, Lot 386, Grave 1 of Sunset Cemetery in Galloway, near Columbus.
Dorothy (Pennell) Black died in Los Angeles on November 2, 1948. She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Dorothy (Johnson) Black remarried, and she and her new husband raised Theodore to adulthood.
On November 17, 1973, the Hamilton Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol was dedicated to Superintendent Colonel Lynn Black.
The assertion that Colonel Black’s death is attributable to his wound as a Hamilton County Sheriff’s Captain is largely anecdotal at this point. If we can find information tying the cause of death to that wound, we would enter him into the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum’s Memorial Wall and apply to have him included in the Ohio Police Officer Memorial and National Law Enforcement Memorial. However, after intense research and contacts with the Franklin County Coroner, Mt. Carmel Hospital, Ohio State University, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Indian Hill Police Department, Belmont County Sheriff’s Office, St. Clairsville Police Department and Public Library, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, and West Virginia State Police, we have not uncovered documented evidence. We also contacted Colonel Black’s granddaughter and only living descendant. We cannot find Theodore E. Johnson, who would now be 88 years old, to see if he has any documents. We have even used a private investigator’s services to no avail.
If you know of any information, artifacts, archives, or images for Colonel Black, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Historian@Police-Museum.org.