3. The Murder of Officer Clifford Stang
March 21, 1935
Officer Clifford “Sid” Stang's last day started innocently enough as he reported to work a few minutes before his normal start time of 3:00 p.m. After signing in, Officer Stang walked out from the police station to Main Street, which was a short distance away. Officer Stang was assigned the walking beat east of Main Street, while Officer William Marz was assigned the west side of the street. As he was walking south on Main Street, Officer Marz yelled out to him, “Where are you going?” to which Officer Stang replied, “I'll be right back.” Officer Marz would see him less than ten minutes later, lying on the floor of the Conlin and Wetherbee Clothing Store, dying from a gunshot wound.
Officer Stang's wife, Jewell, had asked him to buy a tie clasp to spruce up his uniform. Walking the beat, officers became very familiar with the store owners, so it was no surprise that Officer Stang went into the Conlin and Wetherbee Clothing Store for this tie clasp. Officer Stang was on a first name basis with the owners, William Conlin and Herbert Wetherbee, who knew him by his nickname of “Sid.”
As Officer Stang entered the store he was unaware of the two armed subjects who had entered just before him, with the intent to rob the owners. In the store was both Conlin and Wetherbee, along with University of Michigan Student James Akers, who was looking for a suitcoat.
As the two subjects came into the store, one of them was noticeably taller than the other. The tall subject was helped by Mr. Wetherbee as he stated he wanted to try on a suitcoat. This subject tried on one coat and stated, “I don't like it, I want the best coat you have in the store.”
Mr. Wetherbee then went back to the clothing rack and handed the subject the best suitcoat he had in a size 38, which was a Hart, Schaffner and Marx. The subject turned his back to Mr. Wetherbee, tried on the coat and spun around facing him with a gun in his hand. He yelled to Mr. Wetherbee that it was a “stick-up!” At first Mr. Wetherbee thought that the subject was joking. This subject sensed Mr. Wetherbee's bewilderment and yelled, “This isn't any joke.” At that point Mr. Wetherbee was ordered to the rear of the store as was Mr. Conlin and Akers.
The larger suspect asked Mr. Wetherbee where he kept the store's money. Mr. Wetherbee told him all the money they had was in the cash register and to “help themselves.” The shorter suspect laughed and walked towards the register stating, “we'll do that all right.” As the suspect was about to open the cash register, he was interrupted by Officer Stang entering the store.
As Officer Stang walked into the store, Mr. Wetherbee shouted, “Look out Sid, its a stick-up!” Officer Stang thought Wetherbee was joking and stated, “oh yeah.” At that point one of the suspects yelled to Mr. Wetherbee, “Shut up or I'll blow your guts out.” The shorter subject had been walking toward the door and went behind Officer Stang. As he walked around him, he thrust a gun into the officer's ribs, telling him to “put your hands up.” The taller suspect then ran over to the officer and tore his gun from his holster, leaving him without a weapon.
Now realizing what was occurring, Officer Stang fought bravely with both suspects. With one hand on each suspect he tried to subdue them, but as he did, one of the suspects shot him once in the stomach. The bullet pierced his right lung and exited out of his back. Two shots were fired in the attack on Officer Stang, one which mortally wounded him and the other lodged into a table.
Officer Stang died in the store and never uttered a word after he was shot. It was initially thought that Officer Stang was murdered with his own weapon, but this was not true.
The taller suspect had enough presence of mind to remember his coat, as he had taken it off to try the new one on. In his coat was possibly his identification and he fled the store with it, along with the one from the store.
When the suspects fled the store they entered a waiting Ford, with a partial license plate of Y105. There was a third suspect waiting in the getaway vehicle who drove them from the scene. This information was obtained by Kenneth Larue, a taxi driver who was near the store.
Officer Albert Heusel was the first officer on the scene as he was at the police station and received the call of a robbery. Officer Marz ran to the store seconds later as a citizen approached him on the corner of Fourth and Huron telling him of the shooting. The officers found Officer Stang lying on the floor, bleeding from his mouth. Officer Heusel loosened Officer Stang's tie, took off his “Sam Brown” belt and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. An ambulance was called for and Officers Heusel and Marz went to the hospital with the mortally wounded officer, while other officers processed the scene for evidence. Officer Stang was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and pronounced dead.
Officer Stang was hired by the department on February 26, 1929, and is the only Ann Arbor Police Officer to have been murdered in the line of duty. Officer Stang was happily married to his wife, Jewell, who never remarried after his death. Over 2000 people attended Officer Stang's funeral when he was placed to rest at a quiet cemetery in Saline. The Conlin and Wetherbee Clothing Store was located at 118 E. Washington, now home to the Arbor Brewery Restaurant.
Detectives worked the case for months trying to find the killers of their brother officer. The investigation revealed that the partial license plate supplied by the taxi driver was stolen from a vehicle in Detroit. This vehicle was later found abandoned and partially burned in Jackson. The detectives believed that the suspects lived in Detroit since the vehicle was stolen there. They contacted the Detroit Police Department and looked through numerous mugbooks. Based on the description of the shorter suspect, they developed a possible suspect by the name of William “Shorty” Padgett. They brought Mr. Wetherbee to Detroit to look through the mugbooks and he identified Padgett, AKA William Hayden, as the shorter suspect.
Padgett's whereabouts were unknown and “WANTED” posters were distributed across the United States in an attempt to locate him. Padgett had a criminal record and had served time in Jackson Prison for armed robbery.
Detectives finally got their break when Padgett was arrested in Los Angeles for breaking and entering. Detectives there found that he was wanted for the murder of a police officer in Ann Arbor and they quickly informed Ann Arbor Detectives of his arrest. Prosecutor Albert Rapp, Chief Lewis Fohey and Sgt. Sherman Mortenson took the train to Los Angeles and Padgett was extradited back to Ann Arbor.
They returned to Ann Arbor on March 22, 1936, almost a year to the day of Officer Stang's murder. The officers and Padgett traveled to Ann Arbor by train. When they arrived at the Michigan Central Railroad Station (where the Gandy Dancer Restaurant now stands), a large police guard was waiting. Hundreds of spectators were also on hand to witness the event.
Shortly after his arrival back to Ann Arbor, Padgett's preliminary exam was held. Padgett was representing himself as he could not afford an attorney. The key witnesses in the case were the store owners, William Conlin and Herbert Wetherbee and the student in store, James Akers. Both Mr. Wetherbee and Akers testified that they were positive that Padgett was the suspect that attempted to rob them and fought with Officer Stang. They also identified Padgett by a scar on his forehead.
Padgett did ask a few questions of the witnesses, asking Officer Marz if Stang made any statement before he died to which Marz replied that he did not. Padgett declined to question Conlin or Wetherbee, stating, “I'm not smart enough to ask them any questions.”
Padgett did demand a map of Ohio and West Virginia stating he needed to figure out where he was when the murder occurred. He swore he had only been in Ann Arbor on one previous occasion, when a bus he was on traveled through the city.
At the conclusion of the exam, Padgett was bound over to the Circuit Court for the murder of Officer Clifford Stang.
Padgett's trial began in late June and he was represented by local attorney, Arthur Lehman, with Prosecutor Albert Rapp representing the state.
Testifying first in the trial was Doctor Edwin Ganzhorn, who was the county coroner and had been called to the hospital to supervise the autopsy of the slain officer. Dr. Ganzhorn testified that he had examined the officer's body and found a bullet wound that entered between the fourth and fifth rib. He was asked the cause of death by Prosecutor Rapp and he stated, “The cause of death was the shot that went through the right lung, causing hemorrhages that tore the blood vessels in the lung, and he died of a hemorrhage as a result of this bullet wound through the lung and blood vessels.”
Attorney Lehman offered little in the way of cross examination and the doctor concluded his testimony.
Prosecutor Rapp then called Officer Albert Heusel to the stand as he was the first officer on the scene. He testified that he saw Officer Stang sign in at the police station and leave to go out on his beat assignment. He received the call to the murder scene and responded from the police station, which was just a block away from the clothing store. He testified that once he arrived at the store he attempted to help Officer Stang, who was bleeding from the mouth and could not speak. Heusel told the jury what he did at the murder scene and his testimony concluded.
Numerous other officers testified but by far the most important testimony was by Mr. Wetherbee and James Akers, eyewitnesses to the murder.
Mr. Wetherbee testified that when Officer Stang entered the store both suspects maneuvered around him. They then disarmed him, “before he took the matter seriously.” Mr. Wetherbee observed Officer Stang wrestling with the suspects, attempting to control them using one hand on each. Wetherbee turned to phone the police when he heard two shots ring out and then observed Officer Stang fall behind a table. Wetherbee testified at length about the scene of the murder and the description of the suspects. He was positive that Padgett was the shorter man that was in his store and robbed him on March 21, 1935.
Akers was also positive as to the identity of Padgett, as he was asked by Prosecutor Rapp about the description of both men. He testified that the “smaller of the two men was the one that made the most impression on me.” He stated he was “quite sure” that Padgett was the one that shot Officer Stang and estimated his height to be 5′2″.
During his trial for the murder of Officer Stang, Padgett testified in his own defense and gave a strange account of his whereabouts when the murder occurred on March 21, 1935.
Padgett testified that he had been living in Detroit just prior to the murder of Officer Stang. He was on parole for armed robbery and was working for Ford's. He testified that he could not have murdered Officer Stang as he had left the state between March 8 and March 11. He went to Baltimore because he heard from some “acquaintances” that the Detroit Police were looking for him. He went on to say that he read something in the paper that “caused me to leave.”
Prosecutor Rapp asked him what he had read that caused him concern, to which he stated, “Well, that doesn't concern this case.” Prosecutor Rapp vehemently disagreed and Padgett was ordered to answer this question. Padgett stated he observed a photo of a friend of his, James Milan, in the paper who was eventually sent to Jackson Prison for an unknown crime. Padgett felt that Milan would turn him in for crimes they had committed together. Padgett would use Milan as a defense in his appeal, claiming that Milan was the actual murderer.
Padgett was asked why he would leave the state if he had done nothing wrong and he simply stated he heard the police were looking for him. Padgett's testimony concluded and he continued to deny any involvement in the murder. After closing arguments the case was sent to the jury.
After deliberations, Padgett was found guilty of the murder of Officer Clifford Stang and was sentenced to life in prison for the crime. The getaway driver and the second suspect in the store were never arrested. While the trial left many unanswered questions, it at least put to rest the hunt for one of the suspects. Detectives continued to search for the larger man that was in the store but were never successful.
Padgett appealed his conviction and in 1944 was granted a new trial by the Michigan Supreme Court, as they found that there were two procedural errors in his first trial. Padgett's second trial began and concluded in April of 1944. After deliberating for less than a hour, the 12 person jury again found Padgett guilty of the murder of Officer Clifford Stang.
Padgett did address the court at his second trial stating, “I still maintain your honor, that I am innocent. I never was in Ann Arbor when this thing happened.” Padgett then requested to meet with his attorney, Police Chief Mortenson and Prosecutor Rapp.
In this meeting he asked to take a polygraph test in order to prove his innocence. Prosecutor Rapp told Padgett that the matter was outside of his jurisdiction, but pointed out to Padgett that he was given the opportunity to take a polygraph test prior to his first trial but refused. Padgett refused to accept the jury's decision and continued to lobby for his release from his prison cell.
Padgett kept working and on December 23, 1949, Padgett was shockingly released from prison, with the partial help of Ann Arbor Police Chief Casper Enkemann. Trying to figure out why he was released has been a source of great confusion.
Padgett had steadfastly maintained his innocence during the fourteen years he served in prison for the murder of Officer Stang. Judge Archie McDonald opened an inquest into the case to reexamine the evidence at Padgett's request. After this inquest Chief Enkemann wrote, “I cannot help but feel that Padgett may be innocent.”
This was based in part on the work of Padgett's attorney, who had arranged for him to take a polygraph and a truth serum test. According to the operator of the tests, he could not find any “issues of deception” when Padgett was asked if he murdered Officer Stang. The operator did state that so much time had passed between the murder and the tests (13 years), that one could not discount that Padgett could in fact be lying about his involvement in the murder.
In a compromise, Padgett was paroled, not pardoned, from prison. When he was released he and his attorney, George Burke Jr., drove directly to the Ann Arbor Police Department to thank Chief Enkemann. Padgett stated he had no bitterness towards anyone involved in the incident and was glad to have his sentence reduced under order of Governor Williams.
I have spent many hours trying to find the reason why there were doubts as to Padgett's guilt. Even after Padgett was released the witnesses stated they were positive he was the one who committed the murder. Padgett was only 5′2″ tall, which matched the description given at the scene, as did the scar on his forehead. I have also found a newspaper account of Padgett's partial fingerprints being found at the scene of the murder. I spoke with Chief Enkemann's son, John, but he could not recall why his Dad did not object to Padgett's freedom.
What is known is that in March of 1949, Padgett's attorney, began assisting him, trying to obtain his freedom. Attorney Burke said police had promised him confidential files on the case, which would be made available through the parole board. These files were supposed to contain information which would help prove Padgett's innocence but they were never turned over.
These files were alleged to contain a statement from Theodore Rykelski, who had been arrested in Detroit for a hold-up. His partner in that crime was Joseph Tokan. When he was arrested, he told FBI agents that Tokan told him he had “shot a cop” in Ann Arbor. Tokan was killed in 1941 in an auto race, so obviously he was never questioned. Rykelski would later deny telling the FBI that Tokan shot Stang. I did read in the court files that Chief Enkemann believed an auto racer was possibly responsible for the murder of Officer Stang. It is unknown if he based his suspicion simply on Rykelski's statement.
Rykelski's statement is believed to be one of the reasons why there was some doubt as to Padgett's guilt. One must remember that there were two men in the clothing store that fought with Officer Stang and Tokan could have been one of them. This would not prove Padgett's innocence, but possibly Tokan's guilt. Padgett also mentioned James Milan as a possible suspect in the murder of Officer Stang, but it is not known what Milan's involvement may have been.
It is known that these files, which I was not able to find, did show that Ann Arbor Detectives worked the case for years after Officer Stang's murder. This was used against the department, to show that there was doubt within the detective bureau about Padgett's guilt. One would deduce however, that they were looking for the other suspect in the murder, who was never found.
When this new information came out, Mr. Wetherbee stated he felt he had made the proper identification of Padgett “not once but twice.” He stated, “We have given testimony on it twice. There is no reason for us to fight it. If the man is innocent we certainly don't want him in jail.”
What is very interesting is that Padgett sent Wetherbee a book from prison in which the subject matter was about innocent people who had falsely been sent to prison. He wrote to Mr. Wetherbee, sometime in the late 1940's, forgiving him for his “false identification.” One could interpret this letter as a genuine act of forgiveness or one of a consummate con man, trying to put doubt in a witness's head many years after the murder occurred.
Padgett submitted to a truth serum test on February 24, 1949, at the Ionia State Hospital. The sodium pentathol (truth serum) was administered by Dr. Harrer, who also interviewed Padgett. Present during the interview was Sergeant W.M. Peterman of the Michigan State Police, numerous parole board members and Padgett's Attorney George Burke Jr.
The transcript of the test is over twenty pages long. In it, Padgett denies killing Officer Stang and denies ever being in Ann Arbor. This is in conflict with his previous statement where he acknowledged passing through Ann Arbor while a passenger on a bus. He denied any involvement in the murder and professes his innocence time and time again. Listed below are some of the questions asked of Padgett while he was under the influence of the sodium pentathol:
Q: “Why did they pick you up?”
A: “They picked me up in California.”
Q: “Yeah, but why?”
A: “On suspicion of something.”
Q: “Of what?”
A: “On suspicion of burglary I think.”
Q: “Burglary? Where?”
A: “Well. I think there was a dragnet out to pick up floaters (street people). You know.”
The questioning goes on, and Padgett was asked about Officer Stang's murder.
Q: “Early in March, did you kill a police officer?”
A: “No I never killed anyone.”
Q: “You never killed anyone?”
Q: “Are you guilty of the crime that you're serving for?”
A: “No. No, I never did harm anybody. Physical harm I mean.”
Q: “What is the name of the policeman you were supposed to have killed?”
A: “Ah, Shrang, Strang, Stang, Strang, Strang, or something to that effect.”
I find his answer to this question very revealing. Padgett had been tried on two occasions for the murder of Officer Stang. His first trial resulted in the finding of guilt and he appealed and won a second trial. The second trial also resulted in the finding of guilt. Padgett had fought to have his convictions overturned from 1936 until his release from prison in 1949. He himself filed reams of paperwork to the court from prison. To think he would not remember the officer's name after two trials and years of appeals is hard to believe. I personally believe he knew exactly what the officer's name was, but was being deceitful.
Q: “You didn't, eh? Why do you suppose they accused you of this crime?”
A: “I have been trying to figure that out for thirteen years.”
Q: “Did you ever shoot a gun, Bill?”
A: “Never shot a gun in my life. Wait a minute, I beg your pardon. I shot a shotgun one time.”
Q: “Did you ever shoot a revolver?”
Q: “Did you ever use a revolver in a hold-up?”
A: “Well, with a fellow named Jimmie Milan I had a revolver, but that revolver wasn't loaded.”
Q: “Jimmie had one and you had one?”
A: “He had a pistol and I had one, but it didn't have any bullets in it.”
Q: “Is that the reason you left Michigan?”
A: “That's the reason I left Michigan. Because according to some fellow by the name of Brown, he lived on the west side and I just happened to like him and he told me that the police were looking for me. So that scared me and I left.”
Q: “Did you ever shoot anyone with a gun?”
A: “Never did. Thats just how I got involved in this was just an accident, I guess, but just because I was in prison once before they, they, they, well that's it. I was in prison once before and they went ahead and charged me with it. I took it as a joke when they brought me back from California.”
Interestingly in the interview, Padgett stated he grew up in a Maryland orphanage and knew Babe Ruth. He states that Ruth wanted to set him up in business, but he did not want to “sponge off of him.”
Padgett also stated when he got off the train in Ann Arbor “they had a whole regiment of policemen there. You know they had shotguns, revolvers and machine guns. You know that doesn't set very good with the public and that those things there, they helped to convict me.”
Reading the transcript of the truth serum test, which is 24 pages long, I did not see anything which made me feel that Padgett was telling the truth. On the contrary, I felt that he was being dishonest on a number of questions and had selective memory loss on others.
After the test, state corrections officials went to the county jail to play a recording that was made when Padgett was under the influence of the truth serum. Chief Enkemann attended this meeting and heard the tape in which Padgett is questioned about Officer Stang's murder. The chief would make no comment after listening to the tape, other than saying it was “very interesting.”
Padgett also took a lie detector test, which the operator of it found “no issues of deception.” His attorney stated, “If they've got any more tests, Padgett is willing to take them.”
Chief Enkemann, Prosecutor Reading and Attorney George Rapp, who prosecuted the first trial, were asked for their input from the state's parole board. Prosecutor Rapp was certain that Padgett was the killer. Chief Enkemann would tell the board he had no objections to the release of Padgett, if the parole board sought to do so.
Judge McDonald reviewed the completed inquest, which included statements from Chief Enkemann, Captain Albert Heusel and George Rapp.
Chief Enkemann wrote the judge that “the writer cannot help but feel that Padgett may be innocent.” Captain Heusel concluded that he “definitely could not declare Padgett innocent, however, I would have no objections whatsoever to having Padgett's sentence commuted.”
Prosecutor Rapp stated, “If yourself and the parole board are convinced that he is innocent, I would voice no opposition to his parole or discharge. Nevertheless, I have never been personally convinced that William H. Padgett was not the man who killed Clifford Stang.”
On June 14, 1949, Judge McDonald rendered his opinion to the parole board. Judge McDonald stated, “It would seem that no objections should be made to the parole or commutation of sentence and no criticism should be voiced in the event either is granted. In view of the fact that the conviction of the defendant required identification based upon observations made in the space of a few minutes, under exciting circumstance and further in view of the results of the Keeler Polygraph test, it would seem that no objections should be made to the parole board or commutation of sentence.”
I find the judge's statement interesting. Most identifications at crime scenes are made in the space of a few minutes and under exciting circumstance. Mr. Conlin, Mr. Wetherbee, Prosecutor Rapp and Captain Heusel, either felt that Padgett was the murderer or had very minimal doubts to his innocence. In any event, the parole board granted the release of William “Shorty” Padgett.
Padgett would leave the state after his parole and settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Officer Walter Schmid was employed by the department when Officer Stang was murdered and worked with him. I made contact with Officer Schmid's grandson, Kevin Schmid, who gave me many photo's of his grandfather.
In an odd coincidence, Kevin works at the site of the murder which is now the Arbor Brewery Company Restaurant. He was unaware that Officer Stang was murdered in the very building that he works. When I told him that Officer Stang was murdered at the site, while unaware, he felt that something like that had occurred there.
Kevin and fellow employees believe the building to have a ghost, due to strange occurrences in it. He stated things in the restaurant move without explanation, doors close on their own and there are other strange events there.
Prior to the Arbor Brewery opening, it was a restaurant called the Washington Street Station. I spoke with a former employee at the restaurant and he stated they were aware of Officer Stang's murder at the restaurant site.
I was also lucky enough to speak with Officer George Camp before his death as he was at the scene of the murder and helped load Officer Stang into the ambulance. His memories of the incident is in another section of the book.
Another interesting incident occurred while researching Officer Stang's murder. I contacted the circuit court to try and find more information on the court proceedings and was able to obtain all of the files in 1998. These files contained all of the court transcripts and evidence, including the bullet that killed Officer Stang.