Remembering Patrolman Emil Speth

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.)

This entry was posted in Local History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Remembering Patrolman Emil Speth

  1. Lynn says:

    Very interesting! I had no idea such detailed (and valuable) records were kept and are still accessible.

  2. Kay says:

    I thought this was a well written article, very informative.

  3. Spencer says:

    What happened to the Speth’s children? With 8 kids surely some grandkids remain here in the QC. He sounds like a proper hero.

  4. ADriskill says:

    Thank you for your question Spencer. We do know that of the eight Speth children, five were residing in Davenport when they passed away. The other three children had moved away from the area. When Emil’s widow Dora passed away in 1964 her obituary lists 19 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild. We also have learned that there is at least one grandchild in the area as that person was kind enough to contact our Richardson-Sloane Special Collection Center and donate a family history of Emil & Dora Speth and their family that includes Emil’s war record and records from the murder trial of J. Allen Cox. It is, of course, available to the public in Special Collections. We greatly appreciate all the comments we receive. We hope we have answered your question.

  5. Shelly Hansen says:

    I am a descendent of Emil Speth. I have always known about him and his service. I have not been to the new police station, but in the old one there was a plaque about him right inside the doors. Whenever I had to be at the police station, I made sure to stop and remember.

  6. ADriskill says:

    Please know that the Memorial plaque was moved to the new police station. It is located in the new front lobby in a glass display case. I believe that Davenport Police Officers still remember these men and their sacrifices to this day.


    I am the grandaugther of Major Emil Speth United States Army, who died in Baguio Philippines on Nov. 1, 1946. I am hoping to find more of my roots and maybe you can direct me as to where I can find his parents or decendants who I can contact and share information. Maybe, my grandfather could be one of Emil & Dora Speth’s children.

  8. Amy D. says:

    Thank you for your question Ms. Simmons! I will be sending a reply to your private email as I have some suggestions in your search.

  9. shelly speth says:

    Hello my name is Shelly k Speth Emil was my dads,Dads brother. I remember him. I have never been to the new police station but the old one I would look at his plaque and wonder what it would have been like with him in my father talked about him when i was growing up. he will always be remembered.

  10. Amy D. says:

    Thank you for the comment, Shelly. They do now have memorials to Emil Speth and the three other fallen Davenport police officers up in the main lobby of the new police department. How sad for your father and your family. Hopefully your father was able to remember happy times with his uncle. Mr. Speth and the other officers are not forgotten.

  11. Margie Speth Hansen says:

    Emil is my great uncle. He is much honored here in Davenport. I know of one grandchild still here in Davenport. On May 13, 2010 our family will attend a ceremony with the Davenport Police Dept to honor all fallen officers. I feel honored he was a part of our family. I remember my father talking of Emil and taught of respect for all those who put their lives on the line to make us safe.

  12. Amy D. says:

    As we understand, the Memorial Service for Fallen Officers will be at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 13, 2010 at the Davenport Police Station.

    The Davenport Library at Main Street (a few blocks away) opens at 12:00 p.m. that day. Please feel free to visit Special Collections in the basement to view the Emil Speth biography donated by a family member or view our other resources (newspapers on microfilm, police call books, etc.). Our staff would be delighted to offer any assistance possible.

  13. Alex Fangonil says:

    Hi Maryjane Speth Simmons,

    Emil Speth was the vice-mayor of Baguio City, Philippines with Mayor Halsema in the 1920’s and he died at the conclusion of WW2. He was honored as “Builders of Baguio” in 2009 Centennial. His son,Tommy in SF, Calif. is my classsmate in high school. Lots of information available in print and oral traditions in Baguio whom locals remember him well and in high regards.

  14. Maryjane says:

    Thank you for responding and leaving a note for me. I am very close to Uncle Tommy and Auntie Miling (Carmen) here in the Bay Area. I hope you can email me and maybe we can get connected somehow. I have many experiences of my father’s time through my Aunt & Uncle which I am passing on to my children. And yes my grandfather loved Baguio and it loved him back. Hope to hear from you.

  15. Eric M says:

    He is my great-great-great uncle.

  16. Alex Ford says:

    It is great to see friends and relatives remember this Peace Officer who gave his life in the line of duty. It is also interesting to see the connection with Major Speth of Baguio along with family members who keep the legacy of both men alive.

  17. Matt Ketelaar says:

    Emil Speth was my great-grandfather. His daughter Vera was my grandmother. She married Aloysius Ketelaar, and they had six kids of their own. My dad was their fourth, Robert. He practiced medicine in Davenport for 32 years. I grew up in the area and have been in medicine for 23 years, and I reside in Davenport.

  18. MaryAnn says:

    for Maryjane who left a message on 4 May 2011. Is Auntie Miling Carmen Speth? My 87-year-old mother just mentioned her tonight in an email about being a class mate of hers in the Philippines + believes that Carmen’s father was killed by the Japanese at the end of WW2. Is that not what happened? It’s has bothered Mommy all these years…

  19. Alice says:

    Interesting. Mary Ann.
    My mother Carmen Speth Gil is doing very well (86) Alameda Ca.
    Her father, my grandfather Emil Speth died peacefully after the war in our house #11 Gibraltar Road.
    Mary Jane is my first cousin.

  20. Steve Speth says:

    I am the grandson of Emil Speth. The articles all note that he left 8 children — the youngest was only three months old at the time of his fathers murder. That baby was Walter Edwin Speth, my father. Two family members have extensive “family history” collections — myself (I live in Oregon) and William Ketelaar (some of whose family remains in the Davenport area). Vera Ketelaar was my fathers sister (my Aunt).
    Emil’s widow was Dora (Schwenk) Speth and she outlived her husband by many years (died 1964). Their children are as follows: Walter (died in 1962 of MS), Gilda Speth Burke (died in California), Esther Speth Amidon (died in Florida), Norma Speth Behm (died in Davenport in the 1930’s), Lawrence (died in Davenport at a found age), Vera Speth Ketelaar (died in Davenport), Alvin Leroy Speth (died as a race car driver at the Iowa State Fair in 1953), Arthur Emil Speth (died in Davenport, 1974). Emil is buried at Fairview cemetery in Davenport — his widow and also Lawrence are buried in that site. Norma is also at the cemetery as is Dora’s parents. Arthur and Vera are also buried in the QC’s. My dad Walter is buried at Rest Haven cemetery in West Des Moines.

    Emil’s parents were Claus Speth and Margaret Ruser Speth and they were from Germany (near Kiel). Emil was born in 1874 and came to America aboard the “Polaria” as a 14 year old, along with one of his brothers — Julius. He had two other brothers — Henry and John — both of whom were Davenport area residents. Numerous descendants of those brothers remain in the QC’s (Matt Ketelaar, Margie Hanson etc.) A fascinating photo of the memorial service for Emil held at his house (2750 Telegraph Rd) can be found in the Davenport Democrat archives for Tuesday evening, January 30th 1917. The house still stands (note: the address designation has changed at least once over the years).

  21. Steve Speth says:

    One other note; as far as I know there is NO connection whatsoever between the Emil Speth of Davenport who died in the line of duty as a police officer and the Emil Speth noted above and connected to the Philippines — just the coincidence of their names. If someone knows differently please let me know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *