Fallen Heroes: Detective Worth Davis

Nelson Zoch

On Saturday night, June 16, 1928, Detective Albert “Worth” Davis and his partner, Detective Henry Bradshaw, were working the night shift in the city’s Fourth Ward. At about 2 a.m., they observed an unruly crowd gathered at the intersection of Andrews and Genessee. Sensing trouble from this gathering at this time of the morning, they sought to disperse this group. In doing so, Detective Bradshaw arrested one of the men in the group for dropping a pistol on the ground.

Another man in the crowd, later identified as Robert Powell, took to his heels and ran, with Detective Davis in hot pursuit around the corner to Robin Street. Detective Bradshaw later said, “I heard an automatic pistol shot and then two or three reports from Davis’ gun. I got someone to hold my suspect and ran around the corner. I found Davis lying on the sidewalk with bullets in his head and side.”

Bradshaw called Detective Sergeant Billie Cain and advised him of the shooting. An ambulance came for the wounded officer. Percy Heard, night chief of police, led a posse of fifteen men to look for the suspect. Within thirty minutes of the wounding of Detective Davis, all available officers were in the process of combing the Fourth Ward for the suspect.

Officers soon learned that Robert Powell was wounded in the exchange of gunfire with Davis. His brother-in-law later said that Powell ran through his house screaming that he had been shot. The posse found him at his residence at 1717 Robin, arresting him at 4:30 a.m. as he was lying in bed suffering from a gunshot wound that entered his abdomen just above the waist line and exited his back. A blood-stained blue serge suit was found near the bed, identical to the type Bradshaw saw the suspect wearing when he ran from Davis. Powell was taken immediately to Jeff Davis Hospital for treatment of his wound. Initially, two uniformed officers were assigned to guard him while the shooting investigation continued.

Unfortunately, Detective Davis’ wounds were very serious. He died at 11:45 a.m. Sunday, June 17, 1928. He was thirty years old. Davis was a member of the department for six years, serving as a motorcycle officer until six months before his death, when he was promoted to the Detective department. He had earned an enviable reputation for the number of burglars and thieves he apprehended.

Detective Albert “Worth” Davis was survived by his wife Alma and two young sons, James and Felix Davis. Also surviving him were his three sisters, Marjorie Vercher, Nola Slocovich and Ruth Wiggins.

Funeral services were conducted from his home at 1238 Waverly at 5 p.m. Monday, June 18, under the direction of the Morse Undertaking Company. The Reverend J. White of the Church of Christ officiated. Pallbearers were from the Houston Police Department: R. A. Trammel, A. O. Taylor, E. H. Meinke, M. L. McGrew, J. H. Tatum and Henry Bradshaw. Burial followed at the Hollywood Cemetery.

The investigation into this tragic death continued at a rapid pace. Police took statements from a number of witnesses, all acquaintances of Powell who implicated him as the suspect who shot and killed Worth Davis. As a result, the state filed murder charges against Powell. Doctors initially felt that Powell might not survive his wounds. The day of Davis’ funeral they decided that he would likely recover. At least the Houston Police Department had the culprit arrested and charged. The accounts of witnesses made the case against Powell very strong.

However, on the Monday night after the funeral, things took a definite turn for the worse. A group of unmasked white men, armed with pistols, entered the hospital and kidnapped Robert Powell. The previous report of two police guards had apparently changed, as he was under the watch of a lone hospital security guard. The kidnapping was immediately reported to the police. All available Houston officers, Harris County Sheriff T. A. Binford and his deputies, as well as investigators for District Attorney Horace Soule were assigned to search for Robert Powell and his brazen captors.

Then, at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, Houston Detectives Ira Nix and John Gambill found Robert Powell hanging from a bridge on Post Oak Cutoff Road, eight miles west of the city. He had been lynched. This location was near what is now Interstate 10 West and Loop 610.

One can only imagine the turmoil a lynching caused in the City of Houston. City Council immediately met and committed $10,000 to the capture and conviction of the person or persons responsible. The governor of the State of Texas sent three Texas Ranger captains (one being the legendary Frank Hamer) to assist in this investigation. Local newspapers were flush with stories about the lynching. Fortunately for everyone involved, the investigation took a positive turn. By the end of the week, the state had six suspects in custody charged with murder and sought yet another who was charged but on the loose.

The following week, June 25-29, the Democratic National Convention was in Houston for their 1928 presidential nomination convention. The newspapers were relatively guarded in what was reported about the lynching during that time. The investigation continued until early July when a grand jury returned indictments for murder in the death of Robert Powell against seven suspects. Soule, the district attorney, vowed a quick trial.

In December 2006, an expert genealogy researcher helped to locate Felix Davis, the eighty-eight-year-old son of Detective Worth Davis, who lives near Humble. Felix Davis is a retired major general (two stars) of the United States Army. Detective Davis’ other son, James, is deceased. Felix Davis had entered the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man in 1934 at a very young age, even attending the U. S. Navy Academy for one year. After the beginning of World War II, Felix joined the U. S. Army and served in the Pacific and Indian Ocean Theater of operations, as well as in Alaska.

He was later called for further duty during the Korean War and his total active time was fifteen years. He served in the U. S. Army Reserves. For a period of time, he was the commanding officer of the 75th Maneuver Area Command here in Houston, retiring in 1975 as a major general. In that command, he was responsible for the training of all Army reserves west of the Mississippi River. While serving in the Reserves, the general had HPD Lieutenant Jim “Pete” Gunn serving on his staff.

General Davis was certainly not without tragedy in his life. Of course, he lost his father at age ten. He married in 1938 and a son, his namesake, passed away from polio at the age of four. Shortly after his retirement in 1975, his wife of thirty-seven years died from leukemia. The general’s daughter and son-in-law, Jarrie Davis McCarty and Danny McCarty, practice law in Houston. Each of the couple’s three children were in the process of taking the bar exam. General Davis’ other living child is Patrick, a pipeline engineer and Texas A&M graduate who was a member of the Corps of Cadets. Patrick and his wife have three children and reside in Boerne.

General Felix Davis passed away in October 2006 at the age of eighty-nine.

Much more is known about the abduction/lynching of the suspect Robert Powell and the resulting Murder charges against those suspects. However, the purpose of this story is to honor Officer Albert Worth Davis and the rest of the story will remain unwritten in this document in order to properly preserve the memory of Officer Davis.