For a better future, study the past.

In Memory: Officer Elmer Michael of the DeLand, FL Police Department

Elmer Lunger Michael

Born in West Virginia in 1889, young Elmer Lunger Michael knew the difficulties life could bring. Growing up in Morgan County, he was the eldest of five children born to Albert (might be Tolbert) and Mary Michael. Elmer was to only complete the eighth grade before quitting school, most likely to help his family. By the age of twenty he had left his parents home, was married, and employed as a farmer. Elmer’s World War I draft registration shows him as being of medium height and build with brown hair and blue eyes.

Elmer, and his wife Ida Maud, moved to Volusia County, Florida sometime around 1925/1926. Elmer left the uncertainty of his last job of being a truck driver for what they hoped would be a brighter future in Florida. Elmer and Ida Maud were the parents of two children, Ralph, and Virginia.

In 1926, Elmer had been hired as a police officer with the DeLand police department. This would no doubt have been a welcome job during lean years for a man with no formal education and limited marketable skills.

For those who would harken back to an earlier time when streets were safe, there was little violence, and people had a respect for the law; the story of Elmer Michael is a harsh reminder of the realities in the world.

The Crime

On October 25, officer Michael was working the overnight shift, a shift that might have been considered safe considering DeLand was a small town of around 5,000 residents.

It was during this shift that John Wallace and John McGuire, known criminals from Indiana, were caught in downtown DeLand in a car reported stolen in Daytona Beach. While attempting to apprehend the criminals near the corner of Woodland and Wisconsin Avenues, Michael was shot and wounded. He was also pushed to the ground and received a serious wound to the head.

The following day Florida East Coast Railway workers M. A. Snyder and Walter Minton were both wounded during an encounter with the fugitives in New Smyrna Beach. Snyder received five bullet wounds; and Walter Minton, a special agent out of Palatka where he worked for the Florida East Coast Railway, was shot twice in the arm. Snyder was hospitalized for his wounds while Minton was released from medical care.

John Wallace was arrested later in the day on October 26 after the confrontation with Snyder and Minton. Local reports stated that McGuire was still wanted but Volusia County Sheriff S. E. Stone was confident he would be apprehended shortly.

On November 4, the DeLand Sun News ran an editorial thanking officer Michael and congratulating him on his release from DeLand Memorial Hospital.

Dear Elmer:

That was great news to hear that you are out again after the attempt made on your life recently by auto bandits. Elmer, it is such men as you that keep up the honor of a police force and in whom we have confidence that the law will be enforced. We congratulate you on your fearlessness and the whole of DeLand is happy that you escaped with your life. The next time Elmer any of that type of criminal sticks a gun at you, shoot him first. The country is well rid of such offscourings. (1)

While Sheriff Stone was confident that John Luke McGuire would quickly be apprehended, these thoughts were premature. During the first week in November Stone was working with Fort Wayne, Indiana authorities in order to put together a wanted campaign including photos. McGuire was described as twenty-three years old, five fee six inches tall, gray eyes, blond hair, with a medium build and complexion. The reward for the capture of McGuire was placed at $50. Five hundred copies of the wanted poster were distributed. In addition to the wounding of officer Michael and the FEC workers, McGuire and Wallace were accused in the robbery of a Daytona Beach pharmacy. (2)

The Trials

With McGuire still wanted, prosecutors began their case against John Wallace in December. Judge Marion O. Rowe was expected to announce a trial date when he convened court on December 2. The following day, Wallace, a young man of only twenty, was to plead guilty to three charges: the theft of two automobiles and participating in the robbery of Bogart’s Pharmacy. He received a six-year prison sentence at state prison in Raiford. Wallace was not arraigned that day on charges of assault with intent to kill in the attack on the three wounded men.

Good news reached DeLand in January 1930 where word was received that McGuire had been arrested in Ft. Wayne, IN on a weapons charge. The good news was short lived as Indiana authorities refused to immediately extradite the fugitive to Florida to face charges. McGuire and his attorneys used multiple legal maneuvers, including “witnesses” stating he was in Memphis, TN at the time of the shootings, to prevent his being returned to Florida.

Harry Leslie Indiana Governor
Indiana Governor Harry Leslie courtesy Indiana Historical Bureau

In a scene that is right out of a movie however, on February 26, 1931, Indiana Governor Harry Leslie signed extradition papers. Volusia County Sheriff Stone was there to immediately take possession of the prisoner and begin transporting him to Florida where he would stand trial.

Samuel D. Jackson, the attorney for McGuire was able to obtain a writ of habeas corpus from Marion Circuit Court Judge Harry O. Chamberlain, which would have kept the prisoner from being extradited. Jackson made his petition claiming that McGuire had not been identified by his accusers and the use of questionable witnesses placing the accused in Tennessee on the date of the crime.

With a several hour head start, Sheriff Stone easily outpaced Jackson who was chasing the Florida lawman attempting to serve the writ and keep McGuire in Indiana. Stone drove unimpeded to Florida where McGuire was greeted with six charges in Volusia County, including three assaults with intent to murder.

Judge Bert Fish
Judge Bert Fish courtesy State Archives of Florida

 

The trial of John McGuire began in August 1931 in the courtroom of Judge Bert Fish, a highly respected legal mind who would go on to serve as a foreign ambassador in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.

When the jury returned its verdict on August 17, 1931, McGuire was found guilty. When Judge Fish attempted to talk with McGuire before announcing the sentence the young man had no reply. Fish’s sentence was reported in the paper as follows

I cannot recall anytime in Volusia County in recent years when any man displayed the reckless regard for life and property that you have been convicted of showing. You said nothing in your own defense, and your case does not seem to offer anything that would amend the sentence. As a punishment to you and as an example to others it is the judgement of the law and the sentence of the court that you be confined to the state prison for fifteen years at hard labor. (3)

As defense attorneys are paid to do, McGuire’s attorneys requested a new trial, a request denied by Judge Fish. They were however provided ninety days to present a list of exceptions for the court to consider.

When appeals of the verdict reached the Florida Supreme Court in November 1932, they were denied. A request for a rehearing was also denied, sending McGuire back to the prison at Raiford to continue his sentence.

Death of Elmer Michael

Elmer Michael returned to the DeLand police force after his recouperation though it was reported at the time that Michael never returned to his old self. In February 1942, Michael was admitted to the hospital for what was considered at the time to be a non-life-threatening situation. The local newspaper theorized that over-exertion while making an arrest for public drunkenness may have led to the hospital stay. (4)

On the morning of February 17 Michael unexpectedly passed away having served dutifully for sixteen years on the force. “Mike” as he was known to many local residents and merchants left behind his wife, son, and daughter, along with a community to honor his memory.

Funeral services for the local officer were held on February 19 at First Christian Church with the Reverend Clyde Smith officiating. The local newspaper reported hundreds in attendance at the ceremony and city hall was closed during the service. Fellow police officers served as pallbearers and the local Masonic Lodge handled the burial ceremony at Oakdale Cemetery.

One week after officer Elmer Michael was laid to rest, his son, Ralph Michael was hired by the DeLand Police Department and reported for duty on March 1, 1942.

The March 2, 1942 DeLand Sun News ran a thank you notice from the Michael family for the outpouring of love and support they had received.

Card of Thanks.

We wish to thank our many friends for the beautiful flora offerings and kid expressions of sympathy expressed at the death of our husband and father.

Mrs. E.L. Michael                                                                                                                                                Mrs. Cecil Barnes* (Virginia)
Ralph Michael

Elmer Michael Headstone
Elmer Michael Headstone located in Oakdale Cemetery, DeLand
Elmer Michael Headstone Detail
Detail of Elmer Michael’s headstone including Masonic symbol

The Monument

Some of you may be wondering how I came upon the story of Officer Elmer Michael. Well, as it is for many historians, it was by accident. Often during my lunch break at work, I take a walk, partly for exercise from my desk job, and partly to see what I can find. One day recently was one of those type days.

Elmer Michael Memorial
Elmer Michael Memorial
Elmer Michael Memorial
Elmer Michael Memorial shown facing Woodland Boulevard

I was on my way back to my office, walking along Wisconsin Avenue near Bank of America and the Courtyard by Marriott when I noticed something on the other side of the street, kind of an after thought but what looked to be a piece of concrete that was out of place. I kept walking but it gnawed at me. After a hundred feet or so I just had to go back and see what this was that was located near the hotel.

 

 

 

When I got there, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There, on the sidewalk was a memorial to Officer Elmer “Mike” Michael. The memorial itself is pretty plain and the plaque didn’t give much description but it was more than enough to spark my interest and contained enough information to send me on a newspaper chase that allowed me to write the article above.

Elmer Michael monument detail
The top plaque of the Elmer Michael monument located near the corner of Woodland Blvd. and Wisconsin Avenue

In Memory of

Elmer “Mike” Michael

Outstanding Service in the

Line of Duty for the City of DeLand

DeLand Patrolman

1926-1942

 

Detail of the Law Enforcement Memorial at Historic Courthouse showing Elmer Michael's name
Detail of the Law Enforcement Memorial at the Historic Volusia County Courthouse

 

Officer Michael’s name is also included on the Law Enforcement Memorial Volusia and Flagler Counties that is located at the Indiana Avenue entrance to the Volusia County Historic Courthouse in DeLand.

Ida Maude, the widow of Elmer, lived her remaining years in DeLand. She passed away in February 1986 at the age of 97. Survivors included daughter Virginia, son Ralph, a sister Grace Lintz, and many grand, great grand, and great, great grandchildren. (5)

*As I was researching this article and printing newspaper articles, the name Cecil Barnes struck me but I couldn’t place it immediately. I knew I had seen it before. A quick search of the multiple projects I am working on turned up his name. Not only did the Michael family lose their patriarch, Elmer, in February 1942; daughter Virginia, lost her husband, Staff Sergeant Cecil Barnes, on May 29, 1944 in fighting at Biak Island in present day Indonesia. Staff Sergeant Barnes is buried in Oakdale Cemetery, DeLand. (6)

Cecil Barnes headstone detail
Detail of the headstone for Cecil Barnes
Cecil Barnes headstone
Headstone for Cecil Barnes who was killed in action during World War II

 

 

 

 

 

 

1)DeLand Sun News. November 4, 1929.

2) DeLand Sun News. November 7, 1929.

3)DeLand Sun News. August 17, 1931.

4)DeLand Sun News. February 17, 1942.

5)DeLand Sun News. February 8, 1986.

6)DeLand Sun News. June 8, 1944.

I have not included citations to every piece of information gathered from local newspaper articles. Almost all information was gathered from the DeLand Sun News. There are multiple other articles on the crime, trial, and death outlined above.

If you are interested in law enforcement in Volusia County, you may wish to read my blog post on a mural created for retired officer Francis McBride that is located in downtown DeLand, not far from the memorial to officer Michael.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

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