Memorial to Officer Johnny Bamsch to be rededicated hopefully by Jan. 30 – the anniversary of his death on duty

Tom Kennedy

Neither demolition nor Mother Nature can keep HPD from remembering those in its ranks who gave the ultimate while protecting the citizens of Houston.

Officer Johnny Terrell Bamsch, 27, ranks high in the category of those who gave their lives in the line of duty. Bamsch, a veteran of two and a half years with the Department, was shot and killed – murdered, actually – while on patrol Jan. 30, 1975.

A Special Memorial

He was assigned out of the North Shepherd Substation, where a tree was planted in his memory. The tree shaded a plaque which still reads:

JOHNNY TERRELL BAMSCH

KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY

1-30-75

A POLICE OFFICER AND FRIEND

DONATED BY EARTHMAN INC.

This special memorial made it impossible for anyone who took notice to forget the sacrifice of the young officer and Vietnam veteran. He was an only child and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Bamsch, virtually adopted the officers at North Shepherd, for many years bringing donuts and other goodies to the station for the officers.

Mr. Bamsch is still remembered for his devotion to watering the tree and extending his tender care for its upkeep for the many years. Mrs. Bamsch, the officer’s mother, died in 2001. “Mr. Bamsch came every weekend to water that tree,” Capt. Larry Baimbridge of North Patrol remembered. “It wanted to make sure it didn’t die. He was always bringing donuts to us and making sure the memory of his son didn’t fade away.”

This story will illustrate why that never will happen.

Mother Nature took the first tree planted at North Shepherd. But a new one took root soon afterward and has grown over the last 30-plus years to more than 25 or 30 feet into the Houston sky.

Then current events changed the tree’s fate – but not that of the Bamsch memorial.

Alas, when the new substation was built at 9455 West Montgomery, the city sold the old property to a developer who planned to demolish it to make way for new construction.

Retired Senior Police Officer and Honor Guard leader David Freytag quickly took notice and sought to replace the tree. Freytag worked with HPOU 1st Vice President Doug Griffith to plant a new tree with the granite memorial resting underneath.

“We have the funding secured to do a new tree and put together a new memorial,” Griffith told the Badge & Gun. “It (the new memorial) will mimic the old one and look exactly like it. A plaque will be placed in front of it with a concrete square base.”

The old memorial was rescued, of course. “It’s in my office,” Baimbridge said, “a granite chunk that we had dug up. It’s there for safe keeping.

“We are hoping to have the new memorial in place on Jan. 30, the anniversary of Officer Bamsch’s death. That is our goal. A company is donating the tree. We were hoping to transplant the old tree but it was so big that the chances of it surviving were slim. So we will have a new tree right in front of North Station.”

Griffith said HPOU has budgeted a total of $2,000 for this project.

Bamsch, a graduate of HPD Academy Class No. 55, was married to Cindy, who was pregnant with the couple’s first and only child at the time of the fatal shooting. At age 25, Cindy gave birth to daughter Mandy.

According to retired HPD Homicide Lt. Nelson Zoch, the author of Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City, after her husband’s death, Cindy Bamsch responded immediately to the kindness and support of the Houston Police Department and the 100 Club by joining the 100 Club as a lifetime member and an avid supporter.

“She and Mandy have promoted support for slain officers through a public service television commercial,” Zoch tells us in his book. “The 100 Club has generously provided financial assistance for Mandy’s college education. Cindy also gratefully appreciates and advocates the recently formed COPS, which stands for Concerns of Police Survivors.”

The Details

Lt. Zoch detailed the circumstances surrounding the young officer’s death. As recounted, he tells us:

On Wednesday night, Jan. 29, 1975, Officers Johnny Bamsch and J. D. “Pops” Ellis reported for duty as usual on the night shift at the North Shepherd Substation. Being regular partners, they were assigned to Unit No. 1161. On this particular night, Johnny was “on the ground” and Jim was driving.

Just prior to 1 a.m., they were on patrol, driving south in the 4600 block of Yale. Johnny observed some suspicious activity at the 7-Eleven Store on the northeast corner of Yale and Norview. He alerted Jim, who made a left turn into a service station parking lot on the southeast corner of that intersection.

They both observed a Black Male exiting the 7-Eleven as well as a vehicle moving slowly on Norview toward Yale and then turning onto Yale, going north.

At this point, Johnny got out of the patrol car and approached this Black Male, who was apparently headed toward this suspicious vehicle, which went north on Yale.   Jim drove on to Yale to follow the suspect vehicle and after traveling just half a block, heard gunshots. He immediately turned around and saw Johnny wounded and on the ground.

Jim, seeing the suspect on the ground but holding a gun, used his shotgun, firing three shots. He put out an “Assist the Officer” on the radio and other units responded. Emergency medical personnel from the Houston Fire Department loaded Johnny into an ambulance and transported him to nearby Parkway Hospital, but he was dead on arrival.

Both officers had apparently shot the wounded suspect. Richard Delain Kyles, age 18, who was taken to Ben Taub General Hospital under police guard. He survived his wounds. Information was developed and later the next evening, Robert Lee Thomas, 30, was arrested for his part in this capital murder of Officer Johnny Bamsch.   The stolen vehicle Thomas used to flee the scene was recovered. Both Kyles and Thomas were charged with capital murder.

They were sentenced to life imprisonment. Over the years the Bamsch family has diligently opposed any opportunity for parole.