Fallen Heroes: Officer Jim Kilty

Nelson Zoch

APRIL 8, 1976

James Frederick Kilty was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 11, 1940. He graduated from Bishop Hogan High School there in 1958 and after his graduation he served in the U. S. Coast Guard for four years.

His family had moved to Houston while he was in the Coast Guard and when he moved to the Bayou City on May 20, 1963, he joined the Houston Police Department Police Cadet Class No. 28. He graduated on Sept. 6, 1963 and was immediately assigned to Radio Patrol and served there until transferring to the Narcotics Division on Feb. 15, 1974.

Narcotics Officer James “Jim” Kilty was conducting a self-initiated narcotics investigation, which began prior to April 7, 1976. As a result of this investigation, Officer Kilty had learned that a Willie Howard (African American; 47) was selling heroin from his home on the north side of Houston. He also learned that Howard was carrying narcotics on his person to and from his job at the Ramada Inn, 2929 Southwest Freeway, where he was employed as a cook.

Had the Suspect

Further, based on his information, Officer Kilty had obtained search warrants for Willie Howard’s residence and his vehicle.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, April 8, 1976, other Narcotics Division officers were assigned to assist Kilty in the planned execution of the search warrants.  Officers were sent to conduct surveillance on Willie Howard’s residence with instructions to contact Officer Kilty and his immediate supervisor, Narcotics Sgt. Joe Andrews, when Howard left for his job. Kilty, Sgt. Andrews, and Narcotics Officers M. D. Harrison and P. A. Brooks planned to be at the Ramada Inn, awaiting the suspect.

Officer Kilty’s plan was to execute the search warrant on Howard’s vehicle when he arrived for work and after that execute the papers on Howard’s residence.

At approximately 5 a.m. the four veteran Narcotics officers were set up at the Ramada Inn to complete this assignment.  The surveillance team reported to them that Howard had left his residence. When he arrived for work, he parked at a different location than anticipated and then walked toward the front entrance rather than the kitchen door as expected. When Howard got out of his vehicle, Officer Kilty, who clearly identified himself as a police officer, confronted him. Howard pulled a small chrome revolver and shot twice at the officer.

Kilty went down and after shouting to his fellow officers that he was hit, returned fire. Officers Harrison and Brooks also returned fire, striking Howard numerous times. The suspect died at the scene.

Even though the officers summoned an ambulance, Sgt. Andrews thought Kilty’s condition was quickly worsening and decided to load the wounded officer in an undercover car.  With Officer Brooks driving and Sgt. Andrews in the back seat with Kilty, they sped toward Ben Taub General Hospital, where the officer was dead on arrival.

Further investigation revealed that Willie Howard possessed a small amount of heroin in the band of his wide-brimmed hat. He was an ex-convict having served time for assault to murder and possession of heroin.

Officer of the Year

Officer Jim Kilty was 35 years old at the time of his death. He was unmarried and was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. William F. Kilty, three brothers, William, Tom and Mark, and one sister, Mary Anne. His grandmother, Mrs. Mary Anwander, of Kansas City, Missouri, also survived him.

Funeral services were held on Saturday, April 10, 1976, at the St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church. Entombment followed at the Memorial Oaks Mausoleum.

Officer Jim Kilty was a very active patrol officer, working out of the Beechnut Substation, but riding in the Montrose-Westheimer area in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The drug culture was new, but in those days it was especially strong in this area of town, which was mostly inhabited by a new group of citizens who proudly referred to themselves as “hippies.”

In an interview Jim’s long-time partner, John R. Hake recalled those days on patrol together. He mentioned the large number of arrests that the two made in this area for drug possession and the number of times they observed a number of hippies playing softball in a park. They had previously arrested many of these hippies and the group challenged them to a softball game. This game was billed as the Pigs versus the Hippies and after several cancellations was eventually held and became a national media event as the first of its kind. Whether it helped police-community relations was debatable.

As a result of Officer Kilty’s initiation of many drug arrests, the One Hundred Club of Houston named him 1973 Officer of the Year in the Radio Patrol-Investigative Field. Also, after his death, the Houston Police Officers Association (now Houston Police Officers’ Union) for a number of years conducted the Kilty Law Enforcement Softball Tournament.

This author was a Homicide detective at the time of this tragedy and recalls being in the Homicide Office later that morning. Someone commented to the effect, “Well, at least the crook also got killed.” Another comment was made that I will always remember and believe it to be true and accurate any time a police officer and a crook both get killed in the same incident. The comment was, “Yes, but it’s like trading a shiny new gold piece for a rusty old penny.”

Where are They Now?

Homicide Detectives Doug Bostock, Earl Haring, Tommy Baker and Johnny Thornton investigated this offense. Baker was retired in March 2000, as are Bostock and Thornton, who now work as investigators in the Harris County D. A.’s Office.  Haring is employed by the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1.

Officer John Hake is retired and after several years of softball and travel is now employed with the Veterans Administration Police. Another partner and close friend, J. W. Collins, is still with HPD, assigned as a sergeant at the Bush Airport Narcotics Detail.

Sgt. Joe Andrews retired as a lieutenant and left to teach school. Officer M. D. “Mad Dog” Harrison drowned in a fishing accident in the early 1980’s at Lake Conroe.  Officer Phil Brooks is still with HPD, working out of the Southeast Patrol Division.

In March 2004, Mrs. Kilty is still alive, living in Southwest Houston. Mr. Kilty died several years ago.

Officer Jim Kilty’s three brothers and one sister are still living. His grandmother is deceased. Kilty’s siblings have six children between them, nieces and nephews who never had the opportunity to know their Uncle Jim.

Jim’s youngest brother Mark became a Houston police officer in 1978 and has worked Beechnut Patrol and Narcotics. In 2000 he was a sergeant assigned to the Vice Division. One of Mark’s sons is a namesake for Officer James Kilty.

The family and friends of Officer Jim Kilty will never forget the loss they suffered that Thursday morning in April, 1976. We should not forget either.