Ninety-one years ago Davenport Police Patrolman Emil Speth walked the streets of Davenport, Iowa, wearing badge number 13. He was appointed to the department on July 13, 1911, according to an entry in the Davenport Police Roll Call Register January 1910 – March 1918. The married father was held in high regard by his co-workers and the public alike from all descriptions found in newspaper accounts of the time. Reading various pages of the Davenport Police Blotter January 1, 1915 – December 31, 1916, Speth’s name frequently appears as he made arrests while patrolling the streets of our city.
Looking through the police roll call register, one is able to trace Officer Speth as he moves up in police grades, takes vacations, and even time off when his wife is sick. It is not until a remark is placed next to Emil Speth’s name in the Davenport Police Roll Call Register January 1910 – March 1918 for the month of January 1917 that things have changed. The remark is short and simple, stating “Died 5:55 p.m. 1/26/17.”
Patrolman Speth was the first police officer killed in the line of duty in Davenport, Iowa.
Looking through our diverse collection, we were able to find something of what happened during Officer Speth’s final shift, which began on January 24, 1917 and was expected to carry over into the next day. The Davenport Police Blotter January 1, 1917 – October 31, 1918 provides an entry on page 5 (January 25, 1917)that notes a man named J. Allen Cox was arrested by Officer Kinney and Officer Speth for the crime of murder. Mr. Cox was described as 6 foot 2 inches in height with a dark complexion, no occupation, and of American nationality. Under remarks it is noted that he was in jail being held for grand jury.
The Ambulance Record – January 1, 1917 – January 20, 1920 records Emil Speth was shot below the heart by J. Allen Cox at the Hess Hotel 12:35 a.m. (the date is listed as January 24th, but would actually have been January 25th as it had just passed midnight). Officer Speth was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital (now Genesis East Hospital) from the Hess Hotel at 128-130 E. 2nd Street (currently the site of the Mid American Building & Plaza). J. Allen Cox’s name appears on the line below Officer Speth. He was taken from St. Luke’s to the county jail by ambulance on January 25, 1917 after being treated for gunshot wounds.
The Davenport Daily Times and The Davenport Democrat and Leader help flesh out the incident. Around January 24, 1917, the Davenport Police Department received a complaint from Mrs. Violet Black, who accused J. Allen Cox of taking money under false pretenses when he said he would be able to help her obtain a divorce from her husband. He demanded payment, according to Mrs. Black, but did not produce evidence that the divorce was finalized. Detective John Kinney went to the Hess Hotel late in the evening of January 24th, when it was discovered Mr. Cox was registered there. As Detective Kinney arrived at the hotel, Officer Speth happened to be patrolling nearby and accompanied him inside to assist Kinney. They found Mr. Cox and a gentleman named J. C. Wood inside Mr. Cox’s room and after talking to Mr. Cox, the officers asked him to go down to the station with them. Detective Kinney then stepped outside of the room to check the identity of Mr. Wood, leaving Officer Speth to secure Cox. Suddenly, a commotion was heard from the room. J. Allen Cox had a gun hidden in the pocket of the overcoat he was wearing and shot Officer Speth through his coat without ever pulling the weapon out. Both officers fired at Cox and he was wounded slightly.
Officer Speth died on January 26, 1917 leaving a widow and eight children ranging from sixteen years to three months. J. Allen Cox was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree on November 10, 1917 and was sentenced to twelve year at the Fort Madison, Iowa Penitentiary. He would be paroled on August 29, 1921 and received a Certificate of Order of Discharge on September 22, 1922.
On October 1, 1962 President John F. Kennedy signed Public Law 87-726 authorizing the President to proclaim May 15th of each year as Peace Officers Memorial Day and making the calendar week of May 15th National Police Week. In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed Public Law 103-322 directing that the United States flag be flown at half-staff on May 15th of each year. The month of May is also recognized as Police Memorial Month.
Davenport Police Officers Killed in the Line of Duty:
Police Officer Emil Arthur Speth – Died January 26, 1917
Police Officer Bernard Herman Geerts – Died July 16, 1928
Detective Sergeant William Hans Jurgens – Died July 16, 1958
Police Officer Michael Lee Farnsworth – Died December 5, 1971
(posted by Amy D.)