A Houston police officer investigating a crime looks for clues every which way, leaving no proverbial stone unturned or any box left unopened.
This past month Officer Johanna Abad and her team has conducted an intensive search of historical materials in the HPD Museum, trying to uncover hidden, unrevealed pieces of police history to enhance a video dedicated to the memory of the 119 (or 120?) HPD officers killed in the line of duty.
The debut of the special video is set to be shown at the annual HPOU reception for the surviving families of these fallen heroes scheduled for Friday evening May 7. It will be one of only several Police Week events, the limited celebration due to ongoing pandemic restrictions.
Abad, a member of the HPD Officer of Community Affairs staff, vowed that the video would be extra special to its viewers due to the extra found content.
What’s in the Box?
One reason: the contents of Box 75.
Now, let’s explain the significance. Over the years HPD Museum directors and their volunteers have spent an extraordinary number of hours cataloging and filing various artifacts, documents and photographs which detail a policing history that goes back to 1841 and even beyond.
Abad is leading a hybrid group of former museum directors and dedicated volunteers whose mission is to reinvigorate the museum in the lobby of 1200 Travis and bring its vast assortment of files and memorabilia to become more user friendly and visually exciting.
Abad admits she has seen her passion for the project become much like a police detective in aggressive pursuit of a suspect. The group stays in hot pursuit of any factoid or historic depiction that helps her and the team make their case.
She and a host of volunteers have been shuffling through boxes and files with sharp eyes out for intriguing detail – seldom seen and never revealed to the public.
Just recently Abad ran across Box 75. She explained what happened:
“I just found Box 75,” she recalled for the Badge & Gun. “Now this might not be a big deal to many but to me it was extra exciting. For Police Week I have found something that is very dear to my heart.
“It’s a picture. From our research we have done we have determined that this could be a photo of the first police escort of a fallen officer.”
Originally, Abad figured that Box 75 contained information about one of HPD’s most storied chiefs – Percy Heard. This chief holds the distinction of serving as chief during both the Great Depression and World War II, the latter service in an acting capacity while the real chief was serving our country.
Furthermore, Heard’s son Jack ranks as the only sergeant to be promoted directly to become the Houston police chief. Jack Heard also later served as Harris County sheriff.
Percy Heard gained special notoriety when, while returning to the station after having lunch at his home off South Main, he witnessed a robbery in progress in a store. Chief Heard calmly parked his shop around the corner, entered the store and shot the armed suspect between the eyes.
Abad was hoping to find some detailed documentation in Box 75 when she ran across a negative that – once processed by the HPD Photo Lab – depicted the historic HPD police escort during the memorial tribute to the fallen officer.
The Team Grows
“When we pulled this box, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning,” Abad said. “There is so much good stuff in it. In looking at this photo, we could tell it was possibly an ambulance and that the solo officers surrounding it were not necessarily looking in a rush. It seemed rather somber. So, Charles Williams, my lead volunteer and retired HPD officer, and I paid a visit to the National Funeral Museum in the Greenspoint area.
“We found that this type of vehicle was used between 1929 and 1953. They had a dual purpose – to be used as an ambulance and a hearse. We cannot tell in what year the picture was taken. We’re thinking it might have been in the thirties. These vehicles didn’t last a long time so it could have been any time between the late twenties and late thirties, in our estimation.”
The organization of items such as Box 75 can be attributed to the work of original HPD Museum director Denny Hair and successors and advocates such as Williams, current museum director Howard Thevenin and previous director Steve Duffy.
“This video is going to be more comprehensive, more accurate, with more photos than what we had before and some extra photos like this one we have collected through the years and kept in places like Box 75.” We hope to have it playing in the police museum very soon so everyone can watch it.
She explained that it wasn’t until the 1980s the department started keeping photos and elaborate accounts of the memorial services of fallen heroes. More photos were taken beginning in that era due mainly to the fact that the HPD Honor Guard enhanced the visual excitement of these special services.
“In last 10 years we have elaborate photo essays of these funerals and the Honor Guard,” Abad explained. “Because of the Honor Guard the funerals became more photogenic, more memorable so we can all remember these heroes. These have become very special events in special locations, a very multi-faceted way to make sure Houstonians never forget their heroes.”
That said, it’s time to see the video that was made extra special by the contents of Box 75.