William Fenton Wilson
Appointed October 14, 1914
At 0500 hours (5:00 a.m.) on Tuesday, February 6, 1923, Police Chauffeur William Fenton Wilson1, Badge No. 96, working out of the Prior Avenue Substation, was killed while driving a police “touring car” as he and three other officers left the scene of a traffic accident at the fair grounds at a high rate of speed in the City of Saint Paul. There is some indication that they may have been on another emergency run. A newspaper editorial at the time places some of the blame on the “natural consequence of the policy of letting snow and ice accumulate in ruts in the city of St. Paul.”
Southbound on N. Snelling Avenue, the wheels of their squad were apparently within the electric streetcar tracks but left the tracks near the intersection of W. Minnehaha Avenue. When they attempted to get back into the streetcar tracks the vehicle went out of control and crashed into a building (Hamline Millinery Shop) at the corner of N. Snelling and Van Buren Avenues. The force of the crash knocked the studding out from under the front of the building and a shower of bricks and iron beams rained down onto the squad.
The driver, Police Chauffeur William Fenton Wilson, and Patrolman Edward Earl Hackert2, Badge No. 243, who was in the front passenger seat, were killed instantly. The two patrolmen in the back seat, Arthur Haessig3, Badge No. 223, 281 & 440, and William F. Kostohryz4, Badge No. 427, who had been picked up earlier from their foot beats to assist at the fair ground traffic accident, were buried in the debris but were rescued two hours later. They suffered minor injuries. Two people sleeping in a second floor apartment, Mr. And Mrs. W.W. Throckmorton, were bruised on the head and shoulders by falling bricks as their bed fell down with the bricks and dust, landing on the squad. There were also others in the building at the time, but they were not hurt.
Although police personnel records state that William Fenton Wilson was born in 1882, other records indicate that it was February 23, 1880. Raised in Iowa, he came to Saint Paul in 1901. Forty-three year old Wilson had been with the Bureau of Police since October 14, 1914 (nine years), working most of his years out of the Prior Avenue Substation. He was survived by his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, and “special friend” Minnie Aiken5. Police Chauffeur Wilson’s funeral was held on Friday, February 9, 1923, in his home at 155 Aurora Avenue, and he is buried at Oakland Cemetery, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
James S. Griffin6, in his book “Blacks in the St. Paul Police and Fire Department 1885-1976”, published in 1978, identifies William F. Wilson as the only Saint Paul Police Black officer killed in the line of duty.
1 William Fenton Wilson was appointed Police Chauffeur October 14, 1914; and was fatally injured in an automobile accident after responding to an emergency run Tuesday, February 6, 1923.
2 Edward Earl Hackert was appointed Motorcycle Patrolman April 15, 1918; and was fatally injured in automobile accident after responding to an emergency run Tuesday, February 6, 1923.
3 Arthur F. Haessig was appointed Patrolman May 1, 1911; was promoted to Roundsman January 1, 1913; was assigned to Plainclothes Duty December 30, 1913; was reappointed Patrolman June 12, 1915; and retired October 17, 1953. Please note that during that time period there was at least one resignation and reappointment.
4 William F. Kostohryz was appointed Patrolman May 15, 1915; and retired April 1, 1954. Please note that during that time period there was at least one resignation and reappointment.
5 There is some indication that Minnie Aiken may have been Wilson’s second wife, wed on or about March 4, 1920.
6 James Stafford Griffin was appointed Patrolman (reserve) August 6, 1941; was appointed Patrolman (permanent) August 1942; was promoted to Sergeant September 16, 1955; was promoted to Captain March 2, 1970; was promoted to Deputy Chief October 6, 1972; and retired August 31, 1983. Griffin broke the “glass ceiling”, becoming the first Black male in the department to be promoted to the above ranks.