Famous LE deaths in US History E-mail
Written by Craig W. Floyd   

Harry Aurandt’s life was tough in the beginning. His father died before his second birthday. But his mother did a fine job raising him, and eventually Harry led a very successful life as a devoted family man and police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Unfortunately, however, Officer Aurandt’s life would end as tragically as it began. On Sunday evening, December 19, 1921, Harry and Tulsa’s chief detective, Ike Wilkinson, were driving on a road five miles from the city when they spotted a suspicious vehicle and stopped to investigate.

Tulsa was in the midst of a crime spree at the time,  and all officers had been on the lookout for any sign of trouble. As Harry and Ike stopped, they were ambushed by four desperadoes, all with criminal records and all out on bond.

Harry raised his arms as he was directed to do by the bandits, but they shot him anyway. One bullet pierced his liver, another his lung.  Detective Wilkinson fired back, but he was also seriously wounded. Despite his critical injuries, Harry held courageously to the wheel of the car and managed to drive himself and Ike to a farm house about a mile away. Angered by the cold-blooded attack on two of its own, the police department formed a posse of 200 officers and reserves to hunt down the assailants.

The men responsible for the heinous crime were soon captured. Ike Wilkinson survived the shooting, but permanently lost the use of his legs.  Harry Aurandt, at the age of 48, was not so lucky. He died the day after the attack with his wife, Anna, by his side. But, the story doesn’t end there.

With great courage, Anna Aurandt vowed that the death of her husband was not going to destroy the lives of her children.

She succeeded – so well in fact that her son, Paul, went on to become one of the most beloved figures in all of America. He is the most popular broadcaster in the history of radio. He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt but, of course, we all know him simply as Paul Harvey – and now you know the rest of the story. Harry Aurandt’s story is one of many pulled from the files of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial that will ring familiar.  It could be a name, a place, or an unforgettable moment in history, but chances are you know these officers, or at least the stories surrounding them.

Consider, for example, the story of Andrew Turner, a correctional officer who worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. On March 26, 1916, he was assigned to the dining room at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. Approximately 1,500 inmates were gathered for the noon meal.  Robert Stroud, an inmate who was serving time for manslaughter, requested permission to leave his table. The day before, Officer Turner had taken Stroud’s name and prisoner number.

Stroud approached Officer Turner and asked him if he had filed a report on his conduct the previous day.  The inmate was worried that his upcoming visit with his brother might be canceled. Officer Turner told the inmate he had not filed a report. Stroud apparently still had his doubts, though, because he suddenly pulled out a homemade knife and fatally stabbed the officer in the heart.

The other inmates were so shocked by the senseless killing that they raised $400 for the officer’s family, which included a wife and two young children. Robert Stroud was convicted of killing Andrew Turner and sentenced to hang. President Woodrow Wilson later commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, and Stroud went on to live another 50 years in the federal prison system.

To help fill some of the long days behind bars, Stroud developed a fascination with birds, and soon after his death in 1963 he was immortalized in film as “The Birdman of Alcatraz.” In the early 1930s, with crime becoming increasingly more random and ruthless, the public became outraged and demanded tough action against the gangsters who were terrorizing the country. In 1934, Congress responded by granting expanded powers to a federal agency that would soon be dubbed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Heading up the anti-gangster effort was one of the FBI’s rising stars.  His name was Samuel P. Cowley.  Only 35 years of age, Inspector Cowley had managed to build quite a reputation for himself as a man with a brilliant, analytical mind, and a tireless work ethic. Because of his stature and ability, J. Edgar Hoover selected Inspector Cowley as the man to lead the assault on America’s gangsters. Inspector Cowley was dispatched from headquarters to the Midwest, where so many of the outlaws were operating. Under his leadership, the FBI moved quickly. “Pretty Boy” Floyd was killed in 1934 by FBI Agents and local police in Ohio while resisting arrest. On July 22, 1934, John Dillinger, who was responsible for the deaths of eight law enforcement officers, was tracked down and killed in a shootout with FBI agents. Finally, on November 27, 1934, Inspector Cowley and Special Agent Herman Hollis got word of the whereabouts of George “Baby Face” Nelson — a hot-tempered, cold-blooded killer who served in the gangs of Al Capone and John Dillinger. Upon Dillinger’s death, Nelson had been declared “Public Enemy Number One.”

They located him in a car near Barrington, Illinois.  A running gun battle took place. During the shootout, Special Agent Hollis was killed.  Sam Cowley was also mortally wounded. He would die the next day. But, as he went down, his gun was blazing and he was still shooting straight.  Nobody who knew him was surprised. “Baby Face” Nelson would soon die of the 17 bullet wounds inflicted by Inspector Cowley and Agent Hollis.  Sam Cowley’s work was done. The incident that may best exemplify the service and sacrifice that is expected of all U.S. Secret Service personnel occurred on November 1, 1950.

That afternoon, White House Police Private Leslie William Coffelt was at his security post at the front door of the Blair House, which was then the temporary residence of President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman. President Truman was taking a nap upstairs when two Puerto Rican terrorists approached the Blair House with the intention of killing or kidnapping the President.A brief but fierce gun battle ensued.

Officer Coffelt was mortally wounded in the shootout, but before he went down, he killed one of the would-be assassins. Two other officers, Donald Birdzell and Joseph Downs were also wounded, but they recovered. Like all members of the Secret Service, the officers on duty that day were determined to protect the President, no matter what the costs.

Craig W. Floyd is chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and is a regular contributor to AMERICAN POLICE BEAT.

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