Fallen Heroes: Officer George Edwards

Nelson Zoch

George Dewey Edwards was born near the small East Texas town of Rusk on April 25, 1899. His actual home place was around the community of Sardis, where his parents and other extended families all lived and farmed. George attended school there and when World War I broke out, he served his country honorably in the United States Army. He came home safely after serving eighteen months in France.

Audie Edwards, who by all accounts just worshipped her husband, faced tough times after his death. While Kathryn was already married and had a child, Mrs. Edwards was left to raise Kenneth as well as help Kathryn, her young husband and the couple’s child. The Edwards family had resided at a small house at 2408 Princeton in the Houston Heights. It was reported that Mrs. Edwards received a total of $2,500 from the following sources: $500 from the City of Houston, $1,500 from the Police Burial Fund and $500 from a privately held insurance policy. There was no such thing as a police officer’s city pension in those days or an annuity for her and the children from the 100 Club of Houston. Not only did the family lose a husband and a father, it lost a job and a paycheck.

Mrs. Edwards, determined to support her family, entered several business ventures including a restaurant, icehouse and later a night watchman service. In the early 1940s, with World War II looming on the horizon, economic times were very tough. Kenneth Edwards, due to severe financial difficulties, was forced to drop out of Reagan High School. He lived on his own in Houston for a time and later took a job in San Antonio.

Then, World War II entered the picture and Kenneth, following in the footsteps of his dad, entered the U. S. Army. He served in the India-China-Burma Theater for two years and while he saw no actual combat, this zone was known as a dangerous combat area of the war. He was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon with three Bronze Stars for his service. Fortunately, he returned safely to Houston, where he took advantage of the G. I. Bill, obtained his GED and attended the University of Houston.

It is not unusual for an officer killed in the line of duty to receive high praise from his friends and colleagues. Officer Edwards was no exception. Coincidentally, in the weeks prior to him being killed, he was chosen for what today is called a photo opportunity. One local newspaper had him pictured smiling while issuing a traffic citation to – yes – a smiling citizen. This was obviously a 1939 public relations effort on the part of the Houston Police Department to convince citizens that Officer Friendly was out there to protect their safety in the burgeoning motor vehicle traffic out there on the streets of the growing city.

To no one’s surprise, the legend of George “Country Boy” Edwards extended outside of the continental United States. His son Kenneth recalled what he learned from an Army friend of his dad’s:

“While in France during World War I and after most of the hostilities had ceased, George, the country boy, befriended a disabled French soldier whose wife had just recently given birth. Times were tough and the young mother, who had become undernourished during her pregnancy, was not able to provide an adequate amount of milk for the child. The family had a dry cow. George Edwards, the country boy from Sardis, Texas, took it upon himself to ‘pull’ some strings. He was able to trade the dry cow for a wet cow.”

This was a happy ending to a rather strained situation. It was also indicative as to what the citizens of Houston later became accustomed to from George Edwards, a caring and compassionate Houston police officer.

Officer Edwards’ parents and siblings are all deceased. After a number of phone calls to the Dialville-Rusk area of East Texas, as well as an unsuccessful search of Rock Springs Cemetery, HPD Homicide Lieutenant Nelson Zoch received a surprise call in 2005 from Kenneth Edwards, a long-time Houstonian who was eighty-one years old. Edwards was responding to Zoch’s effort to locate George Edwards’ gravesite. Country Boy’s son shared memorabilia with Zoch and the HPD Police Museum. His sister Kathryn was eighty-three and lived with her son Thomas Farmer in Sulphur, Louisiana. Kathryn was only seventeen when her dad was killed but she was already a mother of young Thomas. She later had two daughters, Debbie and Renee. She is the grandmother of seven and is also a great-grandmother.

Kenneth Edwards worked for many years in the television industry as a transmitter engineer supervisor for KUHT-TV (Channel 8), the UH public television station. He and his wife, Leitha Joy, resided in Houston, both retired. They are the parents of a son, Bruce George (named after his grandfather) Edwards and a daughter, Nancy Joy.

Mrs. Audie Edwards, also a native of East Texas, worked hard to play the hand she was so abruptly dealt. She later remarried to Charles Wren, a man Kenneth Edwards described as very dedicated and devoted to his mother. She passed away from leukemia in 1965 in Houston. She is buried in Brenham, where her daughter Kathryn lived at the time.

There is not much remaining of the old farming and railroad community of Dialville. The Rock Springs Cemetery is next to the Rock Springs Baptist Church. It was here that the remains of Officer George Edwards were laid to rest. A World War I Veterans Administration marker designates the grave with the following wording:

George D. Edwards

Texas

Pvt Co B 21 Mg Bn 7 Div

World War I

April 25, 1899-June 30, 1939

There was no reference to indicate how this heroic Houston police officer gave his life in the line of duty. With the permission of Kenneth Edwards, the administration of Rock Springs Cemetery has agreed that another stone, the 100 Club of Houston Line of Duty marker, can be placed at the gravesite to honor this man. The placement took place in September 2005.

Having been raised on a farm and knowing what that tough life held for him, it didn’t take long for George and his young wife Audie to decide to move to Houston where a brighter future laid ahead. At this time in 1925, he and Audie were the parents of three-year-old Kathryn and one-year-old Kenneth.

Edwards secured a job in Houston at a Ford Motor Company plant and sent for his wife and children. However, he was laid off during the depressed economic times of the mid-1920s. He regrouped by joining the Houston Police Department on June 17, 1927. He wore Badge No. 259. He became known as either “the smiling cop” or “Country Boy.” Later reports indicated that he was the most liked and respected man in the department. He worked the evening shift patrolling downtown Houston throughout his twelve-year career.

On the Friday night of June 30, 1939, W. H. Everett of 1712 Elysian parked his automobile in the 300 block of Franklin. Returning to his car around 9 p.m., Everett saw someone inside attempting to start it. The would-be thief got out and walked away, and Everett followed him down Congress. At Preston and Fannin, the suspect met another man, who asked him, “What’s the matter? Can’t you get it started?”

The two men separated and as Everett continued to follow the first man, he saw Officers Edwards and G. H. Harrell walking on Fannin toward Congress and pointed out the man to the officers and told them what was going on. About this time, Detectives S. T. Roe and Rufus Seay came driving by. Another squad car was there at about the same time and Officer Edwards jumped on the running board while Officer Harrell got on Roe and Seay’s car.

They all caught up with the suspect in the 1200 block of Franklin. Detective Roe later stated: “They were all there at the same time and we grabbed the man, who was dressed in a gaudy cowboy outfit. I slapped his pocket, felt a gun and told him to give it up.”

“He wouldn’t and began fighting the officers and at the same time, trying to pull the gun. Officer Edwards grabbed the man from behind and both of them bent over. Then the man got his right arm free and pulled the pistol and fired. He then fired again and I got hit in the arm. I began firing my pistol at him and Detective Seay did, as did Officer Harrell. The man fell and was trying to fire again and we took the gun away from him. It wasn’t until then that we realized that Officer Edwards had been hit.”

The wounded officer was rushed to St. Joseph’s Infirmary in a Fogle-West ambulance, but was pronounced dead on arrival from a single gunshot wound to the head. He was forty years old.

None of the officers present could account for the man’s ferocity and determination to avoid arrest. Detective Seay stated that “the man would not give up the pistol and so we started hitting him on the head with our guns. I hit him so hard I bent my gun. We kept telling him that we would have to shoot him. His comment was ‘Shoot and be damned.’ We had no choice but to shoot him.”

Detective Roe, wounded in the line of duty for the third time in the last eighteen months, was heard to say during the struggle: “Stand back and I’ll just kill him.” Officer Edwards, probably still smiling, continued on with the effort to arrest the man as did the other officers.

Homicide Captain George Peyton took charge of the investigation, assisted by Detectives J. G. Irwin, Hugh Graham, J. F. Willis, Ted Walsh and George Seber. A large crowd gathered at the scene, some of whom had witnessed all or part of the tragedy. Officers took statements from numerous witnesses gathered at the scene.

The suspect, who was dead at the scene, was identified as Carl Adams (White Male, 32), an ex-convict from El Campo. Police learned that he was sentenced in Arizona for robbery by assault and given five years in 1935; he was released in 1936. He had been arrested and released in some type of investigation in May 1939.

Officer George D. Edwards was an extremely popular member of the Houston Police Department. He was survived by his wife Audie Edwards and two children, fifteen-year-old son, Kenneth Edwards, and seventeen-year-old daughter, Mrs. Kathryn Farmer, and one grandson, Thomas Farmer, all of Houston. Also mourning his death were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C. F. Edwards of Rusk, as well as five brothers: J. B., Robert, France, Bill and Charley, and two sisters, Mrs. Dora Berry and Mrs. Mack Dear.

Perry-Foley Funeral Home in Houston was in charge of arrangements and a funeral service was held at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 1, 1939. Police Chief L. C. Brown stated that every officer not on duty would be at the funeral. After the service in Houston, the entire motorcycle squadron escorted the body to Union Station, where the sad train journey continued to his childhood home in Cherokee County. The body went by rail to Jacksonville and another service was held at 9 a.m. Sunday, July 2, in nearby Dialville. Burial followed at the Rock Springs Cemetery in Dialville.