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February 15, 2014

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The heroic death of city detective Steve Kendall

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute detective Stephen Kendall died Jan. 23, 1924 during a duel with one of two men attempting to rob a gasoline filling station.

Kendall surprised the bandit by stepping from a rest room of the Show-Me Oil Co. service station on the southwest corner of Lafayette and Linden streets minutes after the man demanded that Harry Eascham, the sole employee, hand over the day’s receipts.

Kendall apparently ordered the robber to drop his weapon. Instead, the intruder opened fire. The first shell struck Kendall’s chin at close range and entered his mouth. Four subsequent shots pierced the officer’s chest, leg and back.

Though Kendall fell to the floor awkwardly, breaking his arm, he emptied his revolver. Three bullets hit the bandit. Three others lodged in the wall behind his target.

Eascham was so shaken by the tragedy that he had trouble providing a coherent story. Police eventually ascertained that, at about 7:30 p.m., two men drove into the Show-Me service area in a Ford touring car and asked for two gallons of gas.

Eascham obliged. One man paid and the attendant gave him change. “An older man” stayed in the car. As Eascham returned to the station, the young man followed him, soon brandishing a pistol and demanding all cash on hand. As Eascham nervously handed over the money in his cash drawer Kendall entered the room and the duel began.

The man who followed Eascham into the station was described as 24 or 25 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches in height, of slight build weighing about 140 pounds, and wearing a dark suit and shell-rimmed glasses.

Terre Haute police chief Jack Smock distributed a bulletin containing all available information about the suspects and their vehicle and ordered officers to “shoot to kill.”

“Evidently officer Kendall attempted to take the man unharmed and so met his death,” Smock said. In a later press conference, the chief added:

“Steve’s death has come as a personal blow to me. I attended school taught by his father. I knew him in his boyhood and through the later years when he became a member of the department. . . . [H]e was an officer in which every dependence could be placed and  . . . a man who played fair, square and open with everyone.”

Those redeeming qualities cost Kendall his life. Virtually everyone who knew the 42-year old detective were certain that he wanted to capture the prisoner alive. As a result, he did not open fire on the robber but waited until his adversary initiated an attack.

Kendall joined the department as a patrolman on Nov. 22, 1910. He served as a bicycle officer with Frank C. Voelker and became a detective on Jan. 2, 1922. He was active in Lodge No. 51 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

A native of Farmersburg, Stephen was survived by his wife Sadie Ross Kendall, 17-year old son Malcolm, his mother Belle Kendall, four sisters and three brothers.

At 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, the Ford touring car in which the triggerman and his accomplice escaped was found on North 13th St., a short distance south of Spelterville, near the Grasselli Chemical Co. plant  The auto had been stolen from North 25th St. and Fifth Ave. at about 6:30 p.m. the previous evening, an hour before the attempted robbery.

When it became known that Kendall had been investing time and money for several years renovating his home at 2634 North 12th St., Vigo Circuit Court Judge David W. Henry suggested that Terre Haute newspapers promote a fund to collect contributions to pay the Kendalls’ $1,500 building and loan association mortgage.

Sadie Kendall was overwhelmed by the response:

“Malcolm and myself could have made out without the kindness by the people from Terre Haute but it does make me feel that the people feel that Steve did his duty and did not flinch. . . . [H]e believed that he could arrest these men without crippling them or killing them. It was his feeling for his fellow man that cost him his life.”

Funeral services on Sunday, Jan. 27 were brief but the Terre Haute Star reported that more than 2,700 people filed past Kendall’s bier. Thousands stood along the route to Highland Lawn Cemetery and near the burial plot on the cemetery grounds.

By Monday, the Kendall Mortgage Fund surpassed its goal and, at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 29, the Terre Haute Tribune as custodian paid $1,647.30 to a tearful Sadie Kendall. The ceremony was conducted at the offices of J.D. Bigelow Co., which held the lien.

Meanwhile, the Terre Haute Tribune and the City of Terre Haute each offered rewards of $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the men who killed detective Kendall.

In March, police arrested Edward Barber, a 19-year old St. Louis man with a  criminal past, for robbing Roy Stewart’s confectionary at 801 Maple Ave. Barber, whose real name was Arthur L. Smith, and Joe Parker, another St. L ouis man, were convicted.

After the trial, Barber confessed that he was the triggerman who gunned down Kendall. He also implicated Parker as his accomplice. According to Barber, Parker drove the getaway vehicle, a Ford touring car the pair had stolen earlier in the evening.

Parker, 23 years old, whose correct name apparently was Charles Plant, contended he was in St. Louis on the night of Kendall’s murder. However, Barber’s confession was so detailed that prosecutors were confident of its truthfulness.

Ironically, Barber extricated Parker from any involvement in the Stewart robbery, for which both had been convicted, and later admitted committing about 20 crimes in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

Defended by pauper attorney James P. Stunkard, Parker was tried in the Vigo Circuit Court and convicted April 3, of Kendall’s murder and sentenced to be executed.

On April 4, Barber withdrew his previous guilty plea, contending that his confession was coerced and that Kendall’s death was an accident. The case was venued to Clay County, where Barber was found guilty on May 13 and sentenced to death.

Both men received several stays of execution. Barber’s conviction was reversed and, remanded and the case was dismissed. After Edward J. Fogarty, warden of the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City, declared both to be “ideal prisoners” and “exceptionally bright,” Apparently Parker’s case also was dismissed.

On Feb. 4, 1931, Sadie Kendall married Terre Haute policeman Robert E. Cedars.

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    March 12, 2010