Fallen Heroes: Officer Richard Calhoun

Nelson Zoch

October 10, 1975

Richard Howard Calhoun was born on Aug. 4, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. His father being a career U. S. Navy man, Richard and his siblings traveled extensively in his   early years.

Where are They Now?

An extensive investigation ensued into this individual’s possible involvement with the escapees. Eventually, four other individuals with connections to the Bandidos motorcycle gang were indicted for conspiracy to commit escape. However, with the three escapees being deceased, no strong evidentiary connection could be established and the charges were dismissed.

This capital murder scene was investigated by Homicide detectives Jim Tucker and David Massey. They were assisted by J. W. “Moose” Clampitte, Jerry Carpenter and Bobby Rouse, with Carpenter and Rouse doing extensive follow-up on the escape conspiracy.

In 2001, Ken DeFoor, who retired in 1983 as a captain, was chief deputy of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department.  Sgt. Fred Walschburger retired in 1988 from the Police Academy Pistol Range and lived in Houston. Officer Roy Slay was working in the HPD Narcotics Division, as he has for many years. Officer Paul Thornton, a close personal friend of Calhoun, resigned from HPD in 1979. He retired from a local chemical company and livedin Hempstead. Mike Lyons resigned from HPD in 1981 and went to work for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. County Detective Pete Cooper is deceased. County Detective Jay Evans later retired from the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office and has worked as a public information officer with both HPD and HFD. George Machado’s whereabouts are unknown, as his last record with TCLEOSE was 1983. P. D. Hawkins retired from HPD Westside Patrol in 1995 and went to work for the Alief School District.

Homicide Detective Jim Tucker resigned from HPD at the rank of lieutenant and died in an accident in 1998. Detective David Massey is veteran captain of more than 35, assigned to Community Services Division after having previously commanded the North Patrol Division, the Narcotics Division and the Police Academy.

Detective Bobby Rouse lost his life in an automobile accident in 1979. Detective Jerry Carpenter retired from the Burglary and Theft Division in 1991 and now resides in Baytown. Detective J. W. Clampitte retired from HPD in 1983 and was with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for a number of years.

In 2001, Arlene Calhoun resided in Deer Park, as does Robert and his three children, Richard Howard Calhoun II, a namesake for Officer Calhoun, and daughters Stephanie and Christina. Donna’s children are Amber and Steven. Terri has two children, Andrea and Courtney. Barbara’s children are Jessica and Stephen. Arlene has been blessed with nine grandchildren, all of which were deprived the opportunity to know their paternal grandfather.

Officer Richard Calhoun was not the first member of Police Cadet Class No. 42 to meet a violent death in the line of duty, nor was he the last.  In October 1972, Officer Jerry L. Spruill was murdered in the 600 block of Westheimer.

Another class member, Officer Michael Rivers, resigned from HPD and in 1980 was shot and killed by a hijacker while on duty with the Hedwig Village Police Department.

Richard Calhoun served his country for more than 10 years, most of his service during the Vietnam War. In order to provide his wife and four children a more stable geographical environment, he resigned from that honorable service to enter another one, law enforcement. In an effort to rid the citizenry of three armed and dangerous escaped felons, he lost his life.

Arlene Calhoun, her four children and her nine grandchildren will never forget the loss they endured in October 1975.  We, as fellow officers and friends, retired and active, should not forget Officer Richard Howard “Roho” Calhoun and the ultimate sacrifice he made.

Upon graduation from Jasper High School in New Bern, North Carolina in 1959, he followed his father and older brother by enlisting in the U. S. Navy, spending the next 10 years in the service of his country. His last tour of duty was as a Navy recruiter in the Houston area. He joined the Houston Police Department by way of Police Cadet Class No. 42, graduating on Jan. 27, 1970. He wore Badge No. 2414.

After having worked the Accident Division for more than five years, he transferred to the Radio Patrol Bureau, Park Place Substation, in July 1975.

Escapees Take Hostage

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1975, three convicts escaped from the Central Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Sugar Land, Texas. A supervisor was taken hostage and forced to drive them to Houston. Releasing this man in southwest Houston, they took another man hostage and forced him to drive them to Dumble and Telephone in southeast Houston.

Again, they released their hostage. The three escapees were Michael Robbins (White Male, 37) and Benjamin Windberry (White Male, 29), both in for robbery, and Noel Smith (White Male, 29), doing 30 years for murder.

By the morning of Friday, Oct. 10, Park Place Substation Lt. Ken DeFoor and Sgt. Fred Walschburger received a call from the Harris County Organized Crime Unit to meet them as they had information that the three escapees were in a house at 9410 Ave. J. One was reportedly dead and the other two were alive in this two-story frame house near the Houston Ship Channel.

Park Place officers met Organized Crime near this location and upon discussing the information, it was decided to surround this house and summon the newly formed SWAT Unit to the scene.

At 8:15 a.m., Officers Calhoun and Michael J. Lyons, while securing the exterior, found a back room window unlocked and climbed in while other officers were at the front door shouting to the suspects to surrender.

After making entry, Lyons opened the front door for Officers Roy Slay and Paul Thornton and County Officers Pete Cooper, Jay Evans and George Machado. Officer Calhoun took the lead and started up the stairway. After going only three steps, an arm holding a shotgun appeared over the railing and one blast from it struck Officer Calhoun in the neck.

SWAT Arrives

At this point, Officers Lyons and Thornton pulled Officer Calhoun outside to shelter behind a police car, but it was believed that he was already dead. Slay and the County officers returned fire up the stairway while officers outside “opened up” toward the upper floor.

The Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) arrived at the scene but little gunfire came from the house after the initial barrage. SWAT began lobbing tear gas into the house, which eventually burst into flames. The Houston Fire Department was called but was forced to fight the fire from several houses away due to the danger of more gunfire from the house.

The fire was extinguished at 10:47 a.m. and officers made their second entry into the gutted house. Inside they found Benjamin Windberry dead, shot and burned. An autopsy determined that he had been killed by police in the exchange of gunfire. Noel Smith was found badly burned and dead and it was later discovered that he had shot and killed himself.

Michael Robbins was found dead and the autopsy determined that he had died about 10 hours prior to this incident, having been kicked or beaten to death by Windberry and/or Smith.

SWAT Officer P. D. Hawkins, who was on the scene of this tragic incident, was wounded when a shotgun leaning against a car accidentally fell, the shot hitting him in both legs.  He later recovered from the wounds.

Officer Calhoun, 35, was survived by his wife Arlene and four children: son Robert, 15, and three daughters Donna, 14, Terri, 11, and Barbara, 4. Other survivors were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Calhoun, brother, Chief Robert Calhoun of the U. S. Navy, and sisters Shirley Jarvis and Donnie Wilson.

Funeral services were held at the Park Place Lutheran Church at 8130 Park Place at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 13, 1975. Burial followed at Forest Park Lawndale.

Pallbearers were fellow officers and friends, Capt. L. D. Sherman, Sgts. W. E. Plaster, Fred Walshburger and Bobby Morgan, Detective Sam Merrill and Officers Paul Thornton, John Eaton and T. J. Buchanan.

After the dust settled, there were a number of unanswered questions as to how the three escapees came to be in an occupied residence where no one was home. The owner, a wrecker driver, was questioned about this situation. His story was that his wife was in the hospital and that he was staying in a nearby motel.