HPD History: Stories of Legendary Houston Police Officers

Earl Musick

During my career with the Houston Police Department, I had the opportunity to work with some legendary Houston police officers and on Saturday, Oct. 29, I was fortunate to share a table with some of those legendary retired officers.

The Houston Police Retired Officers Association (HPROA) each year holds a reunion at Lady Bird Park in historic Fredericksburg. This year my son, Sgt. Robert E. Musick, went with me to the reunion and we enjoyed visiting with friends and fellow retired police officers.

On our way to this year’s meeting, we visited the Texas Rangers Heritage Center, which is located on 12 acres of land just before entering Fredericksburg. The center is dedicated to one of the most legendary law enforcement groups in the world, the Texas Rangers. Also, before reaching Fredericksburg, we passed through Johnson City and paused for a few moments to look at the Bill Elsbury Law Enforcement Center.

That center is named after legendary Houston police officer William “Bill” R. Elsbury Sr., who passed away on Feb. 20, 2012. Bill’s widow Deborah (Debby) J. Elsbury is a retired HPD officer and she was at this year’s reunion. Debby lives in Johnson City and is currently the Blanco County district clerk. Bill’s son, Sgt. William R. Elsbury Jr., is assigned to the Homicide Division.

Visiting with Debby at this year’s reunion brought back a flood of memories regarding Bill when he was a Houston police officer. Bill entered HPD Academy Class No. 50 on June 1, 1971, and was assigned to the Patrol Bureau. In 1972, Bill was the 100 Club “Rookie of the Year” and was assigned to Patrol, working in Central, North Shepherd and Northwest Divisions before being promoted to detective on Feb. 28, 1976.

During his police career Bill was involved in several gun battles with robbers and crooks. In the 70’s, Southland Corporation presented engraved pistols to police officers who on-viewed robberies in progress at 7-Eleven Stores and arrested the suspects. Bill was the only police officer I knew that was presented two engraved pistols after having two separate shootouts with robbery suspects at 7-Elevens.

Bill understood the dangers of his encounters with armed robbers and he witnessed first-hand the tragic results when things go wrong.  In the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 1975, Bill lost a very close friend, who confronted a robber.

On that sad date, Officers Johnny Terrell Bamsch and J. D. “Pops” Ellis on-viewed a robbery by firearms in progress at the 7-Eleven Store at 4600 Yale. During a deadly gun battle, Officer Bamsch was mortally wounded by the robber Richard Delain Kyles. Kyles was also shot and wounded during the exchange of gunfire, but survived. For details of Officer Bamsch’s death see Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City, (Robbery Suspects on Yale Murder Officer Johnny Bamsch in Cold Blood) by Nelson J. Zoch (pp 164-166).

On the night of the shooting, Bill and Officer R. L. Doyle were the first officers to arrive on the scene. When they arrived, Bill found his friend lying beside the road bleeding and dying. Bill remembered knelling in water and holding his friend while they waited for an ambulance. He also recalled conversations he had with Officer Bamsch’s family after Johnny’s death. Bill was not only a phenomenal law enforcement officer; he was very compassionate and he shared the family’s pain.

Mr. Bamsch, Bill’s father, wanted Bill to have and carry his son’s duty weapon in memory of Johnny. Some months later while carrying this gun, Bill on-viewed a robbery in progress at the 7-Eleven Store on West 43rd Street. Using Johnny’s gun, Bill engaged the robber in a gun battle before the suspect surrendered. For his heroic actions in the arrest of this suspect, who was involved in several armed robberies, Southland presented Bill an engraved pistol, during a ceremony performed in the office of the chief of police.

Several months later, Bill observed four suspects robbing the 7-Eleven Store at Heights and 14th Street. Alone, Bill attempted to stop the robbery and arrest the suspects, who immediately started shooting at him. During this gunfight the pistol Mr. Bamsch gave Bill jammed after Bill had shot one of the suspects.

The jammed pistol allowed the other suspects to get into their getaway car and flee.  Bill quickly pursued the car with the suspects continuing to fire at him and his patrol car. One of the suspect’s bullets came through the windshield of Bill’s car, hitting the seat on the passenger side. Bill didn’t back off. He continued to chase the suspects at plus 100 mph speeds. While pursuing the car, Bill fired back at the suspects through the hole they had made in his windshield and he stayed right behind their car.

The high-speed chase went outbound on Interstate 10 past Dairy Ashford Road with several other shots being fired at Bill.  Finally, Bill was able to wound the driver, causing the fleeing car to crash. There were several patrol units now in the chase just behind Bill’s car and all the suspects were arrested. Southland again presented Bill with another pistol in another ceremony in the chief’s office.

After being promoted to detective, Bill was assigned to the Burglary and Theft Division, where he again excelled and soon was ask to work in the Special Thefts Division – Fence Detail. When the Targeted Offenders Program (TOP) was established, Bill was selected as one of the original sergeants.

While working TOP, Bill and Sgt. Gary Bratton were working an investigation and driving outbound on the Eastex Freeway. They observed five suspects robbing a man at gunpoint at a phone booth on the east side of the freeway. Bill exited the freeway and followed the suspects, who were leaving in a car.

When the suspects observed a vehicle following them, they stopped their car in the middle of the street and started shooting at Bill and Gary, who returned fire.  Three of the suspects quickly surrendered while two suspects threw down their weapons and ran.  Those two suspects were later arrested and all the victim’s property was recovered.

Highlighting Bill’s gun battles and exceptional career would fill a book. The shootings covered above were only three of the times Bill was forced to use deadly force during his career to protect himself.

Bill retired from HPD on July 15, 1995 to become the sheriff of Blanco County. During Bill’s term he gained the love and respect of an entire county. The Blanco County Sheriff’s Office became a professional law enforcement entity respected by the state and local agencies. After his death, the county named the new Law Enforcement Center after Bill.

On Feb. 20, 2012, retired Police Officer Paula Franks Mitchell posted in Facebook, “A Texas Law Enforcement Legend passed away today, my longtime friend, Sheriff Bill Elsbury, you will be missed, RIP.”

Replying to Paula’s post retired Police Officer Steven Jett posted, “A big hole in law enforcement, not to mention a great guy!”    Retired Officer David Crane replied, “He was a great man and an awesome police officer.  He was absolutely the guy we all wanted to be like.”   From watching the movie Tombstone, I think of Bill as being the modern-day Wyatt Earp. Bill was definitely one of the legendary police officers I worked with during my career.

Undoubtedly there are many great Houston police officers within HPD. They go about their day-to-day tasks and may never receive the recognition they deserve.

In the beginning of this article, I mentioned sitting at a table with some HPD legends. Across from me, at our table, were the Draycott brothers, who spent their entire career in Patrol. Tom Kennedy recently wrote an article about their exploits in the September 2016 Badge & Gun – (Draycott Brothers: HPD duo decide to retire at same time, ending 63 years always on Patrol, unceasingly facing dangers of the street; , pp. 6,7,8 & 10). If you haven’t seen Tom’s article about Jeff and Jim Draycott, check it out. They created their own legacy at HPD.

I was invited to share the table by another legendary police officer, Don E. Cotten, who retired March 29, 1990. Don began his career on June 1, 1959, out of Academy Class No. 21. He worked Patrol – Central Division and found “the love of his life,” Barbara Cotten, while he was with the department. Barbara also had an outstanding career at HPD.

Don has had some pretty exciting adventures during his career. When I started my career, Don was one of the experienced police officers working evening shift, riding Unit 623. At the reunion, Don told me about an unusual call for service he made when he was a very young officer.

Officer Frank Holecek, the police dispatcher, sent him to check for “a monster eating a lady’s shrubbery” and when Don arrived on the scene, he met with the distraught caller. She told him some kind of animal monster was eating her shrubbery.

In those days Don carried a rope with him on patrol and had used it on several occasions. He got the rope out of his trunk and was directed to the lady’s back yard where this monster animal was.

As Don got to the backyard, he observed a swimming pool and sure enough there was an “old goat” eating the shrubbery by the house. The “old goat” was large with horns and a long beard and did look a bit like some sort of a monster. As Don prepared to rope the “old goat,” the goat hissed, reared up and tried to butt Don.

Don moved to the side and was able to get the rope on the “old goat” and he could hear the lady exclaiming, “Oh Lord, it’s the devil!” The lady’s kids were starting to cry and Don had his rope around the neck of this wild animal which was trying to butt him with its horns.

Don said as he was trying to gain control of the “old goat,” he grabbed the goat’s beard. The struggle caused Don and the goat to fall in the lady’s pool. Don said his boots filled with water and he was trying to tread water and keep the goat from hooking him with its horns.

Don realized he could push the goat’s head under water, since he still had a hold of the goat’s beard. After struggling in the water with the “old goat” for what seemed like a long time, he almost drowned the animal. Don finally gained enough control of the animal to get out of the pool and pull it out.

Getting the “old goat” over to Don’s patrol car was easy, but getting the “old goat” in the back seat was another struggle. For an “old goat,” he was strong and determined not to be put in the back seat. Don had rapped the rope around the door post and was pulling with everything he had, but the “old goat” was strong.

Finally, Don got the “old goat” secured in the backseat of his patrol car and got on the radio to notify the dispatcher he was en route to the animal shelter with an “old goat.” While the mike was keyed the “old goat” was braying away in the back seat. Frank asked Don if he had a goat in his car and Don answered that, yes, he did.

Don remembered it was cold and him being wet did not help matters. He also remembered his patrol car’s heater did not work. Once he got the “old goat” to the shelter he was given permission to go home and get some dry clothes.

Arresting the “old goat” had caused a lot of interest from Don’s supervisors and his squad. They all wanted to come by the shelter and look at the goat that knocked Don into the swimming pool.

As for the “old goat,” he did not like anyone in a police uniform and every time a police officer would come to the pen, the goat would hiss, rear up on his hind legs and butt the fence with his head, trying to get at the officer. The officers would yell and jump back away from the pen in fear that the “old goat” might get them.

I really enjoyed reminiscing with all the retired officers that I hadn’t seen in a long time. They have some very interesting war stories about their careers in the “greatest show on earth,” HPD.

My son also enjoyed the reunion and will try to go with me again.

If you are retired or in DROP, you should consider joining HPROA and making some of the reunions or monthly meetings. It will give you the opportunity to connect with some old friends and hear some pretty good war stories and maybe tell a few of your own. You had a part in “the greatest show on earth.”

Make time to visit with some of the other players and I am sure you will enjoy it.