Fallen Heroes: Officer Pete Corrales

Nelson Zoch

 

January 21, 1925

On the evening of Wednesday, January 21, 1925, the lives of three individuals came abruptly to a violent end in the 2000 block of Congress Avenue at what was then near the eastern edge of  the City of Houston.

There was Houston Police Detective Pete Corrales, an officer for just four short years, having joined the force in 1921. Corrales, married and the father of seven children, was nearing the end of his tour of duty at 9 p.m. He was in the barber shop section of an establishment at 2003 Congress that served as both a barber shop and soft drink parlor.

Detective Corrales and an older gentleman, Jesus Caceras, were seated in the barber shop.  Through a thin partition, they overheard a very disturbing conversation. Corrales’ interest in what he heard cost him his life.

The conversation involved a twenty-five-year-old woman named Juanita Guzman, a native of Coahuila, Mexico. She had only been in the United States a short time and operated the soft drink stand at this location. She lived in the rear of 2003 Congress address. Also overheard in this conversation was Max Martinez, a Hispanic male later reported to own an interest in a restaurant on nearby Odin Avenue.

Martinez and Guzman had been dating for some time. Their relationship included numerous quarrels Even though she had broken off the relationship, most acquaintances felt that she had remained on friendly terms with Martinez. Unfortunately, Martinez was not able to let his feelings for this young woman rest.

On this night, Juanita Guzman was seated on a chair near the end of the partition where she could keep her eye on the soft drink counter as well as listen to the barber shop conversation.  Naturally, the barber, Mr. Cantu, was present.

Martinez entered the establishment and ordered a soda from Guzman. She was heard to say, “I have none.” This was apparently a rebuke that Martinez was not mentally prepared to hear. The room became quiet for a few seconds. Witnesses heard muffled conversations but couldn’t understand the words.

All of a sudden a shot rang out, prompting Detective Corrales to draw his pistol and run around the partition. In doing so, he confronted Martinez standing over the prostrate body of Juanita Guzman, his spurned sweetheart. The guns of both men blazed simultaneously and when the firing stopped and the smoke cleared, both Detective Corrales and his assailant Martinez were on the floor, critically wounded.

Detective Corrales managed to regain his feet and staggered to a nearby drug store where he waited for an ambulance. A Fogle-West ambulance arrived and rushed both men to St. Joseph’s Infirmary. Martinez died en route and Corrales died a short time later. Neither was ever able to speak after having been shot.

Five shots were fired, in what the Houston Press reported to have been the shortest gun battle in the records of the Houston Police Department. Juanita Guzman was dead at the scene, having been shot point blank in the face. Detective Corrales was struck above the heart and seen by witnesses with blood gushing from that fatal wound. It wasn’t exactly clear where Corrales’ bullets hit Martinez but it was obvious that they also hit home.

While no obituary for Detective Corrales was published in the local newspapers, he left a wife and seven children. Newspaper accounts the next day reported the detective’s widow as saying, “He did his duty. He died as he lived—bravely. He did as I would have had him do. He faced danger without flinching.” The interview was reportedly done at their small cottage at No. 22 Chenevert as her seven children grouped around her. Some of them were too young to understand the gravity of the situation. They nodded in approval of their mother’s comments.

At this point, Mrs. Corrales wasn’t crying; her tears had all been shed during an seemingly endless sleepless night with her family. She also was quoted as saying, “I’ll be able to take care of the children some way.”

In a more detailed interview with Mr. Cacera, the following was learned:

Further investigation determined that Guzman and Martinez had been involved in a relationship for some time. Their original relationship had broken off and it was believed to be on friendly terms – except from Martinez’ real point of view. He owned and operated a restaurant on nearby Odin Avenue and was still upset about the break-up. Martinez, in essence, was an early-day stalker, apparently unable to accept Guzman’s refusal to continue the relationship.

Funeral services were held for Detective Corrales on Saturday, January 24, 1925, at 2:30 p.m. from the modest Corrales family home at No. 22 Chenevert. Religious services followed at 3 p.m. at the Guadalupe Church, with the Reverend Father De Anta officiating. Burial took place under the direction of the Houston Undertaking Company at the Holy Cross Cemetery on North Main. This is a Catholic Cemetery with an entrance separate from the larger Hollywood Cemetery at North Main and what is now the North Freeway.

Detective Corrales was the only Hispanic detective on the force at the time of his death. Six of his fellow officers carried him to his grave on that dark and dreary day in January. They were W. F. Blalock, W. H. Anderson, T. J. Lyons, Gus Butler, W. H. Cain and Tony Margiotta.

The Houston Post failed to carry stories about this tragic event and the Press and Chronicle provided only limited coverage. No plans were mentioned in either of the latter two publications regarding any financial assistance for Mrs. Corrales and her large family.  The January 22 edition of the Chronicle ran a front-page photo of the inside of the business where the shooting happened. Featured in the photo was Mr. Caceres pointing to locations, probably in a reenactment of the crime. Also in the photo was Mrs. Eva Bacher, HPD’s first-ever female officer, who was seated in the same chair where Ms. Guzman was seated. Also shown were Herman Radke and F. Berner, city detectives. Detective Berner was the grandfather of retired HPD Robbery/Homicide Detective Frederick Berner.

Retired HPD Lieutenant Eli P. Rivera had indicated to me in the past that he was in some manner related to Detective Corrales.  Research through the Catholic Cemetery Association revealed an earlier date of burial than originally used in the story of Corrales’ death and the above date has been proven to be correct.   Rivera advised this writer of a lady who was the youngest of the seven Corrales children. She stated  in a phone  interview that she was three years old at the time of her father’s death and originally desired to remain her privacy.  However, she was contacted in March, 2007, at which time she was eighty-five years old, and was agreeable to speak with this writer.

This daughter, Mrs. Ruby Lewis Banks, was in fact the youngest of the Corrales children.  From this lady, the following was learned:  Officer Pete Corrales and his wife, Mrs. Sabena Nette Corrales, were both from the area of Many, Louisiana. In 1925, this family (and their approximate ages) consisted of Pete Corrales Jr. (18-19), Mary Corrales (16), Delphine Corrales, Jesse Corrales, Thomas Corrales, Frank Corrales (5), and Ruby Corrales (3).  Another son, also named Frank, was killed in a traffic accident at the age of seven.  This was prior to Officer Corrales’ death and another son was born and named in his memory.  Son Thomas was killed in World War II on a troop carrier that was bombed.  The second Frank Corrales served as a Military Policeman during WW II.  The family moved from Chenevert Street on Avenue S in the east end and Mrs. Sabena Corrales worked for the National Biscuit Company.  Mrs. Sabena Corrales passed away in 1970.

Prior to meeting with Mrs. Banks, I had  also learned from Mark Clark, Executive Director of the HPOU, and Retired Homicide Detective J. W. Clampitte that both had been acquaintances of Pete Corrales Jr. through a fraternal organization.  This information led to the discovery of an obituary from June ,1984, that indicated that Peter H. Corrales had passed away that month at the age of seventy-seven.  He left a wife, three daughters, two sisters, and two brothers.

In speaking with Mrs. Banks, she fondly recalled that when her Dad would leave their house for work in the early afternoon, she would attempt to follow him.  However, he would return and take her back home.  Unfortunately, not much else could be recalled by this lady regarding the lives of her older siblings.