Bank Robbery Suspects Arrested

On March 13, 1956, Officer George Miller was commended for arresting three suspects who had held up a Pinckney Bank. The suspects were armed and robbed the bank of $4400. They left in a 1951 Plymouth Sedan and were apprehended by Officer Miller on Pontiac Road near Dhu Varren. Officer Miller had gone to that location as he had been given a description of the vehicle and thought the suspects may have been headed to Ann Arbor. The vehicle was stopped and all of the money and weapons were recovered. Officer Miller's hunch was correct as all of the suspects were Ann Arbor residents.

What is interesting about the case is that uniformed Lt. Henry Murray entered an Ann Arbor restaurant to eat earlier in the day. He sat in the booth behind the three suspects, that were arrested later in the day by Officer Miller. The three suspects exited their booth and went to another at the other side of the restaurant.

As it turned out, the three were plotting their robbery of the Pinckney Bank.

The Death of Patrol Officer Leonard Alber

On May 31, 1956, at 5:10 a.m., the Ann Arbor Police Department suffered its second traffic fatality involving an officer. Officer Leonard Alber died when his patrol car slammed into a light pole at E. William and Main Street. Officer Alber was 33 years old at the time of the accident and had been with the department since April of 1955.

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Officer Alber was traveling in patrol vehicle 65, northbound on S. Main, when the vehicle left the roadway and struck a light pole. Officer Alber had just left the police station to turn in a parking meter key, which he had been using. He did not appear sleepy to those that observed him at the station, just prior to the accident.

There was one witness to the crash, Carl Briegel, who was in his vehicle pulling onto W. William, when he observed Officer Alber's cruiser nearing the light pole. He watched as the cruiser struck the light pole and then ran to it, to assist Officer Alber.

Officer Henry Hix was walking his beat on Fourth Avenue when he heard the crash and was the first officer to arrive on the scene. Officer Alber complained to him of injuries to his chest and said something to the effect of “lost control” and “what happened.” Officer Alber was transported to the University Hospital where he died a short time later. An autopsy revealed no apparent reason, such as a heart attack, for the accident.

The patrol car was inspected for mechanical defects, but none were found. The steering apparatus was sent to engineers at the Ford Motor Company, to rule out any defects with it. The investigation revealed no defects to the steering column and the reasons for the accident remain unknown. It is known that he was not in pursuit of a violator and had not been sent on an emergency run.

The accident happened on Thursday, May 31, and Officer Alber was to be married the following Saturday. He instead was buried at the Oak Grove Cemetery in Chelsea.

On May 8, 2000, I received a visit from Officer Alber's nephew, Gale Alber. Mr. Alber resides in Florida and came to Ann Arbor for his daughter's graduation from college. He was curious about his uncle's death and came to the police department to see if he could find any information about the accident, which had occurred almost 44 years prior to his inquiry.

Mr. Alber told me he was in the process of gathering information about his family's history, which sparked his curiosity about his uncle who died when he was a teenager. He initially was unable to obtain any information about his uncle and stated this bothered him as it seemed his uncle was forgotten.

Mr. Alber stated his father was deeply saddened by the death of his brother and “was never the same after it.” His father was never happy with the result of the subsequent investigation and felt there was possibly more to the incident then he was told.

I did have the entire police report on the accident in my possession, which was very lengthy. I could find nothing which gave me any indication that the department had kept anything from the Alber family. The report of the accident could reach no conclusion as to how it occurred and it is clear we will never know.

Mr. Alber was very pleased that I was aware of Officer Alber's death and that the facts were included in this book.

The East Ann Arbor Police Department

Many, including myself before researching this book, are not aware that there once was a city named East Ann Arbor. The city was obviously on the eastside of Ann Arbor, with approximate borders of Packard, Washtenaw, Platt, Ellsworth and Carpenter. The city had a city manager form of government and it's offices were located in the 3000 block of Packard, near the current location of the East Ann Arbor Hardware. The offices consisted of three desks, one for the clerk, one for the city manager and one for the police department.

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The police department itself consisted of five officers, one of them a chief and one a sergeant. As the police station was closed at night, when a citizen needed an officer they phoned a family who was paid to have the police department's phone ring into their home. The resident would then phone the sheriff's department, who would then dispatch one of the East Ann Arbor Patrol cars. This resident had to agree to have someone at their house 24 hours a day, to answer the phone.

In the mid 1950's, the City of East Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor agreed to merge into one city. East Ann Arbor citizens had to vote on the issue to approve it and did so in 1956.

When this occurred, East Ann Arbor's Police Department was disbanded. Its five member force were offered jobs with Ann Arbor's Department and only one of them, Officer Greg Katopodis, did so. East Ann Arbor Officer Jim Murphy joined the sheriff's department and the other three went into private business.

When writing this book I was a guest on a local radio show, talking about the history of the department. Former East Ann Arbor Officer Jim Murphy heard the show and later made contact with me. He still had his East Ann Arbor badges and an East Ann Arbor patch, which he donated to the city. These items are now hanging in a frame in the Ann Arbor Police Department.

Citizen Assist?

As noted earlier, officers quite often used their weapons to dispose of wayward animals. In the movie, “Police Academy,” a comedy about police recruits, an officer was called to an elderly woman's home, as her cat had climbed a tree and could not get down. The officer took care of the situation by shooting her cat out of the tree.

While humorous in the movie, we could not conceive of this ever happening in the real world of police work. In December of 1958, an Ann Arbor Officer did just that, however.

The officer responded to a citizen's complaint of a cat stuck in a tree. The complainant told the officer that the cat had been in the tree for two days. The officer assessed the situation, withdrew his service revolver and shot the cat out of the tree.

A citizen observed this and filed a complaint with the department. The department responded that the shooting of the cat was a matter of judgment on the part of the officer. He had based his decision on the fact that the cat had been in the tree for two days and probably would have starved to death.

The humane course, in the judgment of the officer, was to destroy the animal as painlessly as possible. Today's officers are asked to explore other options!

Radar

In January of 1959, city council approved the purchase of the first radar unit for the department. Prior to receiving this unit, officers used electrically operated timers, which used a rubber hose stretched across a street, to monitor speeders.

Deputy Chief Gainsley

On July 15, 1959, Captain Barney Gainsley was promoted to deputy chief. This paved the way for his promotion to police chief the following year. Deputy Chief Gainsley was second in command of the department. The post of deputy chief was created by city council on the recommendation of Chief Enkemann. Deputy Chief Gainsley's salary was $7602 a year.