On October 22, 1791, Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom of Hudson, New York, was shot as he attempted to serve a writ of ejectment becoming the first known law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty. Since then, over 21,000 Law Enforcement Officers have given their lives protecting freedom, justice, and the American way of life. This tragic loss of life is not foreign to the Gulfport Police Department. Since the founding of the City of Gulfport in 1898, ten of Gulfport’s Finest have given their lives in order to preserve the peace and security of our community. It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived. These courageous officers will forever live in our hearts and minds as we keep watch in their absence.
On December 19, 1900, Town Marshal Walter E. Richardson was shot and killed while responding to a disturbance of the peace call. While dealing with a disorderly male, two younger males walked up behind him and shot him three times in the back. Albert Lewis, his son Joseph Lewis and a nephew were identified as the suspects. Joseph Lewis was charged with the murder after his capture the next day. Richardson was 33 years old at the time of his death. He was survived by his widow.
R. L. Varnado
On October 24, 1908, in the evening hours, Patrolman R. L. Varnado was shot and killed while on duty. According to newspapers of that time, “… Lon Seely, champion steer thrower of the world, and a feature attraction in the ‘101’ Ranch Wild West Show, and P. L. Varnado, a member of the Gulfport police force, were killed in a riot which developed at Gulfport late last night as a result of an attempt by Varnado to arrest the steer thrower for implication in an alleged attempt by persons connected with the Wild West Show to rob a number of Gulfport people. The shooting took place while the show was in progress.”
In December 1908, the City of Gulfport Council memorialized in their minutes, “It is ordered that the claims of W. D. Alexander for 105.00 for the Funeral expenses of R. L. Varnado be allowed and ordered paid out of General Fund.”
Other than the nature of his death, no other information is currently known about Patrolman Varnado.
On January 21, 1913, Chief of Police Charles Dickey was shot and killed while responding to a burglary in progress at the Seeberg Company Store on 26th Avenue and 13th Street. After arriving at the business, Chief Dickey entered through the same broken front store entrance as the suspect and was shot. The suspect was later identified as Percy Newkirk, who had been on a crime spree through Gulfport and Biloxi. Percy Newkirk was tried and executed for the crime. Dickey was 37 years old at the time of his death. He was survived by his widow.
On September 7, 1937, Officer Jacob O. Wolff was shot and killed while responding to a stolen vehicle complaint at the 775 Tire Service on 13th Street. After Officer Wolff and his partner, Edward Van Zandt arrived on the scene and began questioning the suspects; a gun fight ensued. Officer Van Zandt was wounded; however Officer Wolff received several fatal wounds. The suspect William Lamar “Goldie” Harriston was also wounded and later died of his injuries. Wolff was 58 years old at the time of his death and a twelve year veteran of the police department. He was survived by his widow
On July 3, 1943, Officer Clifton Tillman was shot and killed while responding to a call of a man threatening to kill another person at a lunchroom at the intersection of 25th Avenue and 28th Street. Arriving at the scene Officer Tillman approached the suspect in his patrol car while his partner approached on foot. The suspect opened fire and shot Officer Tillman through the window of his car at point blank. Officer Tillman and his partner returned fire and killed the suspect identified as Robert L. Stephenson. The incident occurred about ten minutes before Officer Tillman was due to end his shift. Officer Tillman was 43 years old at the time of his death and a 6 year veteran of the police department. He was survived by his widow, Bessie Tillman; a daughter Shirley Ann and three sons, Lloyd, Percy James and Carl.
Malchi K. Lee
On July 14, 1950, Officer Malchi K. Lee died of a sudden heart attack while on duty. According to the City of Gulfport Council Minutes, “…Malchi K. Lee died from a heart attack while in performance of his official duties as a duly appointed and paid policeman of the City of Gulfport, Mississippi.”
Officer Lee was a native of Mount Olive, Mississippi. He was one of the first two African American police officers hired by the City of Gulfport when Mayor Mitt Evans hired him and Officer Zachariah Durr on March 1, 1949.
Officer Lee was survived by his wife, Olivia Hall Lee; a brother Curtis, Gulfport; and four sisters, July L. Radford, Hattiesburg; Adella Clark and Bertha McMillan. Laurel, and Sille Callum, Mt. Olive.
On May 5, 1970, Officer Woodrow Wayne Scarborough was killed while responding to a car accident with injuries. Officer Scarborough’s police motorcycle was struck by another vehicle while he was en-route to the call. Scarborough was 22 years old at the time of his death. He was survived by his mother Lillian Scarborough, his sister Honey Bruton and his cousin Terry Scarborough Sr. Officer Scarborough was a decorated Marine during the Vietnam War receiving four purple hearts during his time of service.
Officer Joe Douglas Spiers, 23, was killed Sunday, November 21, 1971. Officer Spiers and Officer David West were transporting Marjorie P. Brai from the station to the jail when Officer Spiers was killed. Brai had been arrested earlier in the morning by Officer West for driving under the influence. Officer Spiers rode with Officer West to transport the female prisoner. Approximately one block from the police station, Officer West looked back and noticed Brai holding a pistol. She shot Officer Spiers one time in the head with the pistol she apparently had hidden on her person. Brai was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison. Officer Spiers was 23 years old and his wife was three months pregnant at the time of his death. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War receiving two Purple Hearts while operating patrol boats. He had been employed as a police officer for only fifteen months. He was survived by his widow Sherry Powell Spiers, his mother Hilda Bennett, two sisters Rita and Marilyn and four brothers Bennie, E.J., Mike and Greg.
On June 8, 1979, K-9 Officer Buford Dedeaux was shot and killed by a subject that he stopped to interview between Yeager’s Grocery Store and Bud’s Mobile Homes on Highway 49. Officer Dedeaux was 34 years old at the time of his death and a 5 year veteran of the police department. He was described by Chief Larkin Smith as “a fine and responsible officer.” The suspect Arthur Ray Lanier was later captured and confessed to the crime. Lanier was sentenced to the death penalty in his first trial. After two subsequent trials he was resentenced to life without parole. During his career, Officer Dedeaux was recognized as “Officer of the Year” by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was survived by his widow Evelyn Dedeaux; three daughters Lynn Dedeaux, Denise Cooley, Sharon Kay Pearcey and two sons Bobby Joe Dedeaux and Buford Calvin Dedeaux.
On August 14, 2008, Lieutenant Rob Curry was killed in a traffic accident on Highway 49 near the Larkin Smith Post Office. Lieutenant Curry was on his way to assist in escorting a funeral procession when a vehicle entering the highway from the post office collided with his police motorcycle. Rob was a fourteen year veteran of the police department and the Officer in Charge of the Traffic Unit at the time of his death. He was described by Chief Alan Weatherford as, “an officer who embodied that which makes law enforcement an admirable job”. Rob was 39 years old and is survived by his widow Leslee Curry (who is also a member of the Gulfport Police Department), a daughter Krysten Curry and a son Trevor Curry.