Fallen Heroes: Officer Henry Williams

Nelson Zoch

February 8, 1886

A headline from the New York Times of Tuesday, February 9, 1886 read:

 

A POLICEMAN MURDERED-THE CRIME OF A MAN DRIVEN CRAZY BY STRONG DRINK

 

From that same day, a headline from the Galveston Daily News read:

 

SLAIN WITH A SIX-SHOOTER-MORE BLOODSHED IN THE BAYOU CITY

 

Other newspapers in Dallas and Houston basically told the tragic story of how a drunken young man from a prominent family took the life of one of the Houston Police Department’s finest, Officer Henry Williams.

Kyle Terry, a tall, well-built and handsome young man from a prominent family in Richmond, Fort Bend County, had been in Houston for several days. It was reported that he had been indulging in liquor rather freely and had become extremely intoxicated. Officer Henry Williams confronted him for a city ordinance violation. Officer Williams, aware of Kyle Terry’s reputation, used caution in dealing with him. He summoned Officer Jack White to assist him, figuring that Terry would resist any attempt to being arrested but would likely go peacefully with the more personally familiar Officer White.

On this Monday night, February 8, 1886, officers arrested Kyle Terry and took him to the station house. There, they removed a pistol from his possession and filed an additional charge relating to the weapon. Probably partially due to his family connections, he was released on bond with orders to appear in court the following morning at 10 o’clock to answer the charges levied against him.

After leaving the court and before going home for the night, he returned to the scene of his arrest. There, in one of the local bars, he met up with some of his drinking buddies. They added fuel to the already hot fire between him and Officer Williams. These “friends” were apparently successful when they prodded Terry on, telling him that Officer Williams had made verbal threats against Terry and obviously was “out to get him.”

Terry arrived early for his court session the following morning. Being impatient, he admitted later that he desired a drink and left the courthouse to go to the bar. En route, he encountered Officer Henry Williams on Preston Street at the south corner of Market Square.  Williams, who had likely been on duty the entire night,  was on his way to do his duty by testifying against Terry regarding the arrest of the previous night.

Witnesses abounded at this daytime confrontation. An independent witness, A. F. Lazier, was very close to the tragic event. The Galveston Daily News wrote of his account:   Lazier observed a disturbance between Officer Williams and several men. He started across the street and saw Terry there and heard him making some threatening remarks to the officer. He then saw Terry draw a revolver from his pocket and point it toward the officer, saying something like, “I am determined to kill.” Everyone nearby scattered and ran. Terry rushed toward the officer, and from a distance of only four or five feet, fired one shot and then several more. Kyle Terry was heard to say something to the effect, “I have killed you, you SOB.”

Constable Perkins grabbed Kyle Terry and tried to hold him, pleading for someone in the crowd to come and help him. Eventually, another officer, Dan Scanlan, stepped in and assisted Constable Perkins in the arrest of Terry.

There were numerous other witnesses to this murder and they were all consistent with Mr. Lazier. These independent witnesses stated that as Terry saw Officer Williams, he shouted to him while pulling his pistol, “there is the sonofabitch who is wanting to kill me.” Whether this was true, it was apparently what Kyle Terry believed, especially after having been fired up the night before by his “friends.” The only area in which these witnesses differed was whether Officer Williams was felled by the first shot or had already fallen when he was shot the first time.

All were in agreement that Kyle Terry fired more shots after Williams was on the ground.  Another point of consistency in the witness accounts was that Williams had not drawn nor fired his weapon. One witness was quoted as hearing Terry shout “Get back all of you. Give me equal break or I will dose you all.”

Unfortunately, the damage was done. Officer Williams died almost instantly in the gutter.  He was taken at once to Justice Railey’s office, where a jury of inquest was impaneled. The inquest, conducted by Dr. T. J. Boyles, determined that Williams was struck by one ball of ammunition near the left nipple, passing through the aorta and lodging at the junction of the ninth rib and the spinal column, causing almost instant death. Second and third balls struck his body, rendering the victim completely helpless and immobile.

The verdict of the inquest jury:  “We, the jury, believe from the evidence before us that the deceased, Henry Williams, came to his death from a gunshot wound inflicted by one Kyle Terry, and that said pistol was held and fired by Kyle Terry, on February 8, 1886, in the City of Houston, Harris County.” The jurors were listed as John Lang, J. B. Perkins, J. J. Sullivan, A. O. Harnett, J. A. Railey and H. Yungst (It is unknown whether this was HPD Officer Herman Youngst, who was killed in the line of duty in 1901).

Authorities took Kyle Terry to the county jail. As would be expected, the suspect’s accounts differed greatly from those of the witnesses: Terry stated that as he met Williams on the street and the officer pulled his pistol. Terry also freely stated that several of his “friends” told him that Williams was “dogging him” and had made threats against his life.

The Galveston Daily News of February 9, 1886 contained an interview with Terry, who told the reporter that he was in Usener’s saloon playing pool between 7 and 8 p.m. with James Freeman, Judge Cox and A. C. Bonds, all family friends from Brazoria County. A slight disagreement took place with Freeman.  “We left and went over to Charley Tharonat’s saloon when Officer Williams came in after us and displayed his nippers (slang for handcuffs), caught hold of me, and said, ‘I want you.’ I told him, ‘You can take me if you treat me like a gentleman, but you can not take me under any other circumstances.”

The party then left the saloon and scattered to different points, with Kyle Terry going to Jones’ saloon. “Officer Williams followed me,” Terry said, “and I told him that if I was to be arrested, I would go with Officer Jack White.”

The defendant later said that Williams pulled his pistol on him the next morning on the street, a point that all of the witnesses disputed with their accounts.

One of the night-before witnesses was listed as Mike Floeck, believed to be the same individual who shot and killed Officer C. Edward Foley on March 10, 1860. While there was a strong movement to lynch Floeck on the same day he killed Officer Foley, unfortunately cooler heads prevailed. The reasons why Floeck was never properly processed through the Houston legal system remain a mystery to this day

Kyle Terry (White Male, 31) conducted business in Fort Bend County and resided in the Fifth Ward with his family. He was the son of General Frank Terry of Confederate Army renown, the namesake of the famed Terry’s Rangers from the Civil War days. The defendant Terry also came from a fighting family, being a nephew of Judge A. W. Terry of California. He was a first cousin of a member of the most prominent law firm in Texas, that of Balinger, Molt and Terry of Galveston. After his arrest, he called this lawyer cousin for consultation. This might explain the considerable news coverage given to this Houston incident by the Galveston newspapers of the day.

Several conditions became apparent after numerous sworn witness statements involved a number of reputable citizens. Henry Williams and Kyle Terry had irreconcilable differences and were destined to meet a tragic fate. Terry thought Williams was out to get him and Williams, a man of some stature himself, had told several other officers that Terry had embarrassed him in the eyes of officers and citizens. Something had to give, and it did.

The funeral took place on the afternoon of February, 10, 1886. The remains were escorted to the gravesite at Glenwood Cemetery by the police force in uniform as well as relatives and a large number of friends. The pallbearers from the police force were Captain Jack White, Dan Scanlan, A. C. Moreland, James Furlong, J. Fitzgerald and George Gorham.

The station house was draped inside and outside with white and black streamers, and on the brick front was a large green wreath with fourteen in the center in black figures. The whole force showed deep respect for the memory of its dead comrade. Wall and Noland Undertaking took charge of the proceedings and conducted the funeral procession from Officer Williams’ house in the Fourth Ward.

Henry Williams lived in Houston from boyhood. He was considered a reliable officer and at the time of his death held one of the most responsible night beats in the city. His home was in the northern section of the ward, where he left a wife and two or three children. With obviously no pension or official support for the family, a newspaper article of February 17, 1886 said, “Theo Pereira and Henry Ross donated a large oil painting to be raffled off for the benefit of the widow of Henry Williams. It is now framed and on display in the Two Orphans Saloon. Alex Erichson started the list by taking ten chances at $1 each. Five hundred chances are to be taken.  It is believed that all the chances will be secured within the next few days.”

While the entire life of Kyle Terry has not been researched, it should be noted that this was certainly not his first brush with the law. The Houston Daily Post of April 6, 1883 listed one Kyle Terry on the Criminal Court docket of Harris County on an assault charge.

The criminal proceedings in the Williams case began as early as February 17, 1886. The prosecution was in the hands of Major Frank Spencer, who had but few equals in the South as a prosecutor. Kyle Terry, seated dressed in a black suit, looked cool and collected and did not seem to manifest any uneasiness during the proceedings. He was represented by Messrs. Hutcheson and Carrington, two of the finest lawyers in the State of Texas. A number of witnesses testified at the preliminary hearing in this case. It seemed like a case that could easily be proved as a murder.  However, due to the defendant’s family ties, strange things started to happen.

The Galveston Daily News edition of Friday, March 5, contained a headline that read, “KYLE TERRY GRANTED BAIL IN THE SUM OF $5,000 BY THE COURT OF APPEALS.”

The story read verbatim:

“It is a well known fact that whenever the duties of an honest, upright and conservative judge call him to sit in judgment upon a friend or a friend’s relative, who is charged with a crime, his endeavor to mete out justice impartially and faithfully to his trust extends beyond the middle line and goes to the opposite extreme. A better illustration of this fact cannot be found than in the instance in which Judge Gustav Cook refused bail in the Kyle Terry case.

When the application for a writ of habeas corpus was made on behalf of Terry to Judge Cook, his friends were confident that bail would be granted, both for the reason that they thought the evidence justified such, and that Judge Cook would be lenient on account of his friendship with Colonel Frank Terry, the father of Kyle Terry who was an old army friend of and who was succeeded in command of the Eighth Texas Regiment by Judge Cook. 

Not fully appreciating the effect of the above rule, they were much surprised when Judge Cook refused Kyle Terry bail. They thereupon appealed his decision to the Court of Appeals, to which court the case was submitted upon the record and argument of counsel Wednesday.

The case was immediately considered by the Court of Appeals and yesterday, Judge Willson delivering the opinion, the court reversed the judgment of Judge Cook and granted Terry bail in the sum of $5000, to be taken by the Sheriff of Harris County.  Judge Willson did not discuss the evidence in detail, nor intimate any opinion about it, but after citing section 11 of the bill of rights remarks, that as presented by the record the court could not say that the “proof is evident” that the prisoner is guilty of murder in the first degree, and therefore he is entitled to bail

Papers necessary to be issued before the sheriff could accept bail were immediately forwarded to Houston by the first train.

 

The citizens of Houston and especially the family and fellow officers of Officer Williams must have been devastated. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that “the fix was in.” Unfortunately, it would only get worse.

The Galveston Daily News edition of Saturday, March 6, 1886 contained the headline, “KYLE TERRY RELEASED.” The story read:

Early this morning a number of gentlemen presented themselves in Sheriff John Fant’s office and stated that they were ready to go on the bond of Kyle Terry, held for killing Henry Williams. After preliminaries that lasted until 11 o’clock the bond of $5,000 was finally arranged and placed before the bondsmen, who signed their names as follows: J. D. Freeman, F. Whitesides, G. K. Sessner and Judge Cox.

Three of these gentlemen arrived from the country this morning for the express purpose of going on Kyle Terry’s bond. All the signers are men of high standing and ample means. After the signing of the bond, Sheriff Fant issued an order for the release of the prisoner. When the doors of the cell and corridor were thrown open, he walked out into the open air, and after receiving congratulations of his friends, took a carriage ride and was driven by his wife to the Fifth Ward. He will remain at home until Monday, when he will leave for the plantation that he has in charge.

 

The Judge Cox assisting in making bail for Kyle Terry is the same Judge Cox with whom Kyle was drinking with the night before this tragedy.

            Kyle Terry’s journey through the legal system proceeded at a slow pace. After a number of continuances, the case finally went to trial in the court of Judge Kittrell in December 1886.  The evidence was completed on the late evening of December 30. Courthouse observers felt that Terry would be acquitted. However, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the second degree and assessed a penalty of two years.  To no one’s surprise, Terry appealed this verdict and sentence and was immediately released on bail.

He returned to his plantation in Fort Bend County where he became heavily involved in politics. Terry’s later activities are found to be rather intriguing.

In Fort Bend County after the Civil War, a rather infamous political feud brewed between two groups commonly known as the Jaybirds and Woodpeckers. On June 21, 1889, Kyle Terry went to Wharton, where he gunned down one of his political rivals, L. E. Gibson, in an obvious case of murder with which he was charged and released on bail. Sounds rather familiar.

The Gibson family also was well connected and the rival factions of the Jays and the Peckers both participated in the Riot of Richmond several months later. A number of people were killed. As a result, a federal grand jury indicted a large number of individuals. The case was such a political mess that somehow Galveston County wound up with the Terry murder case from Wharton County on a change of venue as well as the federal charges.

On January 21, 1890, an armed Kyle Terry arrived at the Galveston County Courthouse.  His attorneys advised the local authorities that his life was in danger. However, no special precautions were taken and that morning, L. E. Gibson’s brother, Volney, showed up and shot and killed Kyle Terry inside the Galveston County Courthouse. Volney Gibson was charged with murder, but the eventual disposition of the case was unknown.

Kyle Terry was buried at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, the same resting place of his famous father as well as that of Houston Police Officer Henry Williams. In death, just as in his life, Kyle Terry was accompanied by people of wealth who were friends of his father. Terry’s path of destruction through life was finally over at the age of thirty-four.

There is no marker at Glenwood for Officer Henry Williams, whose remains have laid there at rest since 1886, 120 years ago. With the cooperation of the 100 Club, the Houston Police Officers Union and Glenwood Cemetery, the grave will finally get an appropriate marker – the 100 Club’s LINE OF DUTY headstone that marks the final resting places for Houston officers who paid the ultimate price to keep the community safe from wrong doers, especially cold-blooded killers.