Officer Jones’ Killer evades Death Penalty, Gets ‘Sentence’ Years Later by Former Special Officer

Nelson Zoch

EOW: January 30, 1927

Perry Page Jones was born in Waller County, Texas, on July 3, 1893, to Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Jones. He attended Black Terrapin School and as a teenager, his family moved to both Tomball and Houston before returning to Waller County. On December 16, 1914, he married Mary Simmons and they made their home on a farm in Waller County. Their marriage was blessed with five children, Vanice Ione (Bernice) in 1915, Severn Frankline in 1917, Lyle Thurman in 1920, Howard Page in 1921 or 1923, and Talmadge Ray in 1925.

Farming in Waller County and feeding a family in the 1920’s was a rough life. However, it became worse when the fourth child, Howard Page Jones, passed away in 1923 from smallpox complications. Then, in August 1926, it became even tougher when Mary Jones, the wife and mother, died at age thirty-five. This left Perry Jones a widower with four children. Continuing to farm probably was not an option, with four children under age eleven. Jones left the farm and moved his motherless children to Houston, where they stayed with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Jones, at 4202 Julian.

Jones joined the Houston Police Department on October 1, 1926 as a patrolman on the 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift. At approximately 3 a.m. Sunday, January 30, 1927, Officer Perry Page Jones was on foot patrol in the 400 block of Milam in downtown. He was assigned to the Milam Street beat from the City Auditorium to Commerce. As he patrolled alone, he confronted what he believed to be an intoxicated male who had just exited a bar near this location.

A city employee was in this area operating a street sweeper when he heard a gunshot. He then saw an individual, later identified as Officer Jones, sink to his knees. Just six feet away stood another person, the suspect, holding a gun in his hands. After the officer fell and lay still, the suspect pointed the gun and snapped the trigger twice at the individual with an HPD badge.  Neither round fired. This witness, Ed Perry, then saw the suspect enter and quickly exit a lounge with four other people, leaving the scene in an automobile.

Police located two other witnesses later that morning. Their observations were that they saw Officer Jones struggling in an apparent attempt to arrest the individual who would shoot and kill him. They saw the suspect break away from the struggle and fire a shot at the officer. They also saw the aborted shots at the fallen officer and watched the suspect enter Smith’s Café at 411 Milam.

When all was said and done, Officer Perry Page Jones, thirty-three years old and a widowed father of four young children, lay dead in the street from a single gunshot wound to the head. A police career of less than four months ended and four young children were left as orphans.

The suspect at this time was unknown. Homicide detectives swung into action immediately. The suspect was seen frequently around Houston and thought by many to be from Galveston. When Homicide Detective George Peyton learned the description of the suspect, he assigned Detective Charlie Stewart to assist him in identifying this suspect. His name was Pete Chester. Chester had moved to Houston from Galveston, where he had an extensive criminal record. Five witnesses identified him as the man who shot Officer Jones. 

Riding out San Felipe Street, Peyton spotted Chester, who was fifty-three years old. Detectives Peyton and Millsap arrested him. They searched him and found no evidence. A further search of his room revealed three cartridges which had been snapped and not exploded. 

Officer Jones was survived by his children, eleven-year-old Vanice (Bernice), ten-year-old Severn, seven-year-old Lyle and two-year-old Talmadge. Other survivors were his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Jones, brothers A. L. Jones and M. L. Jones; sisters, Mrs. J. M. Smith of Houston and Mrs. W. A. Scroggins of Goose Creek; an uncle J. F. Page and an aunt, Mrs. A. B. Credge. In addition to his wife, Officer Jones was preceded in death by a son, Howard, two years old, who passed away in 1923.

Funeral services for Jones commenced when a procession of Houston officers met the hearse at the corner of Heights Boulevard and Washington Avenue at 8 a.m. Monday, January 31, 1927. This sad group of family members and police officers proceeded to Waller and from there to the New Hope Methodist Church. Burial followed in the Fields Store Cemetery. Fogle West Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements and Christian services were conducted by the Reverends Henry Jones and John Campbell. Pallbearers were Sergeant Sid LeStrange and Officers J. H. Goodwin, T. G. Moore, J. A. Urban, A. O. Taylor and Albert Worth Davis, who later died in the line of duty in 1928.

Witnesses had identified Pete Chester as the deadly shooter in the case of Officer Jones.  Chester, earlier alleged to have killed two people in Galveston, pled not guilty due to self defense. In 1927, emotions ran high. While the Harris County District Attorney vowed to have a quick trial, rumors ran rampant that there would be an effort to “grab” the suspect from the Harris County jail for “some quick justice.” Harris County Sheriff T. A. Binford was concerned enough that he “smuggled” Pete Chester out of his jail under the cover of darkness and took him to Huntsville, where he was placed in the protective custody of the prison system to await trial back in Houston.

(Rumors of unauthorized but quick justice came true seventeen months later when the killer of Officer Albert Worth Davis was kidnapped from Jeff Davis Hospital and lynched in far west Houston.)

District Attorney Horace Soule announced that the trial would begin on Friday, February 11, 1927. The trial was to be held in Criminal District Judge Whit Boyd’s court and a venire of over two hundred men was summoned for jury duty along with fourteen witnesses. Meanwhile, Chester remained in Huntsville in protective custody. Newspaper accounts do not indicate whether Pete Chester was present at the trial.

The trial was reset to March 21. Chester’s defense attorney was John M. Mathis Sr.  During the trial, three snapped cartridges recovered from Chester’s residence were important pieces of evidence. This matched the street sweeper’s testimony that the shooter stood over the fallen Officer Jones and attempted to shoot him again.

In 1917, Pete Chester was convicted of assault to murder in Galveston. He got a five-year suspended sentence. The court dismissed another similar charge at the same time. Earlier, in 1916, Chester was found not guilty on an identical charge. 

On Wednesday, March 23, 1927, the judge presented the charge to the jury. Jurors then deliberated just more than an hour before finding Chester guilty of murder in the death of Officer Jones and assessing him the death penalty. During the trial, all four of the orphaned children were in the courtroom, the youngest held in a relative’s lap. The prosecution definitely exploited the children, a move that ultimately proved successful.

Research of records failed to indicate that Pete Chester was ever executed. Records did show that an appeal was upheld and granted Chester a new trial. This trial was held in Huntsville, home of Texas’ Death Row, on a change of venue from Houston. 

On May 11, 1928, Judge Carl Harper dropped a bombshell when he presented his charge to the jury in the second trial. Judge Harper charged the jury on manslaughter, thereby eliminating the murder verdict possibilities. Under the manslaughter statute, five years in the state pen was the maximum punishment. Needless to say, the state’s attorneys, Walker County District Attorney A. T. McKinney and his assistants, were dumbfounded with this development. Was Judge Harper stating that Chester had not shot Officer Jones in malice? Had he not recalled the testimony of the street sweeper who stated that Chester had attempted to shoot the officer while he was on the ground?

Newspaper accounts of the trial shed some light (or suspicions) on this strange ruling. It seemed that Judge Harper had just recently been himself acquitted of a murder charge in Brenham, Texas. His defense was self-defense, the same as that of Pete Chester. Another even stranger twist was that Attorney Mack Gates, who assisted in Judge Harper’s Brenham defense, was hired as a special prosecutor to assist District Attorney McKinney. A special fund raised by the Houston Police Department was used to retain Gates. It would take less than a suspicious mind to think that this was extremely irregular.

The jury found Pete Chester guilty of manslaughter and assessed him four years in prison. He was discharged on October 1, 1931, less than five years from the time of the murder.  Chester went from Death Row to being a free man. What a bitter blow to the family of Officer Perry Page Jones. It is unknown what happened to Pete Chester after his release.

Fields Store Cemetery is off Farm Road 1488, north of the Waller/Hempstead area. In 2004 Officer Jones’s grave was found to have a Woodmen of the World marker which reads:

PERRY P. JONES, 7/3/1893 – 1/30/1927

HOW DESOLATE OUR HOME BEREFT OF THEE.

Buried next to Officer Jones is the wife who passed away less than six months before, leaving him a widow with four small children. This marker reads:

MARY M. JONES, 5/3/1890 – 8/8/1926

SHE DIED AS SHE LIVED, TRUSTING IN GOD.

With the cooperation of the management of Fields Store Cemetery as well as the 100 Club and the Houston Police Officers Union, a KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY marker was placed in September 2004 at Officer Perry Jones’ gravesite to honor his life and tragic death.

The miracle of the Internet provided more information about the Jones children. In June 2006, a Severn Jones, who had passed away in 1998 was located on a genealogy Website. A Houston Chronicle obituary noted that there were several surviving grandchildren of Severn Jones who carried rather unusual names. These uncommon names helped tremendously in locating the grandchildren of Officer Jones.   

When contact was initiated with a son of Mary Bess Jones, a daughter of  Severn Jones, the young man knew immediately the story of Officer Jones due to the stories passed down to him by his mother about his great grandfather, Perry Page Jones. Mary Bess and her sister Margie and brother Larry were all apprised of the search for Jones’ descendants. Later, Perry, Terry and several of the granddaughters also came forward. In July 2006, Margie and Larry and his wife Janie shared a wealth of family information for the publication of this book. Prior to this contact, even though as a family they had been at Fields Store Cemetery early in 2004, they were totally unaware of the 100 Club marker which had been placed there in memory of their grandfather, a police officer they  never had the opportunity of knowing.

Vanice Ione (Bernice) attended schools in Waller County and in Houston. As a young woman, she worked for a large insurance firm in Houston. She married a man named Rufus Sawyer, whose employment took their family to a variety of locales. Eventually they settled in Houston. They had three children, Gayle, Martha and Tommy. Vanice is now deceased.   

Severn Franklin “Sonny” Jones received his education in Waller County schools and Houston. He also worked for the same insurance company as his sister. He enlisted in the United States Air Corps in the early years of World War II. After training in San Antonio, he saw service in the China-Burma-India Theatre as a first sergeant in a repair squadron. After the war, he married his wife Maxine, who was from San Antonio. They lost an infant daughter while living in San Antonio and later moved to Houston, where they raised three children, Larry Severn, Marjorie and Mary Bess. 

Severn Jones had a successful lengthy career in the oil transportation industry while Maxine was employed at an engineering firm. Severn Jones and his family were personal friends with HPD Honor Guard Officer David Freytag and Retired Homicide Sergeant Jim Ramsey.  Severn was preceded in death by his wife. He died in 1998.

Lyle Thurman Jones received his education in Houston. Lyle suffered from eyesight problems and he was rejected for military service for World War II. However, he did serve his country by working in defense plants during the war. He was married and blessed with twin sons, Perry Page Jones and Terry Edward Jones. Lyle was involved in a variety of business interests in and around the Houston area. They included home construction, sales, real estate and used cars.  He is now deceased. 

Talmadge Ray Jones attended Houston schools until his induction into the United States Air Corps in 1943. He served as a gunner on a bomber and was shot down over Switzerland.  Surviving this, he was reassigned to the States and contacted his family members prior to their learning of his ordeal. At one point he was listed as “Missing in Action.” He worked as a carpenter and then followed his father into police work by joining the Spring Valley Police Department. He was married and was blessed with two daughters, Sharon and Neva. Talmadge passed away from a heart attack as a young man of only thirty-nine in 1964. 

Had Officer Perry Page Jones not killed by Pete Chester, he would have been the proud grandfather of ten grandchildren.  His family told of a special marker that had for years adorned the officer’s grave at Fields Store. The family had removed it several years ago with the thought that it might possibly be vandalized or stolen. It is of heavy brass and was severely tarnished from many years of weather. Larry has had it refurbished and it is a truly, remarkable item. Who placed this marker there for Officer Jones? Basically, it consists of the wording, P. P. Jones and Honor Legion – Houston Police Department. The mystery continues.

Perry and Terry Jones, Lyle Jones’ sons, believe that Pete Chester might have met his own violent and untimely death shortly after his release from prison. A male had surfaced at Lyle Jones’ house and told him that he was the one who killed Pete Chester. Death records show that Pete Chester did in fact die of gunshot wounds on December 22, 1933. Newspaper files indicate the following information related to Chester’s death:

Charlie Stewart was the “behind the scenes” investigator that assisted Homicide detectives in identifying Pete Chester. He was a special officer for about three years with HPD until April 1929. It was through him that Detectives Peyton, Millsap and the rest of the Homicide posse were able to center their investigation on Pete Chester. Officer Stewart likely operated in the later tradition of Ed Jones, Stocky Gray, Truitt Newton, Charles Banks and many other officers who worked behind the scenes to assist HPD detectives in a wide variety of investigations.

In December 1933, Pete Chester learned of Charlie Stewart’s employment as a cook in a café on West Dallas. Basically, Chester started coming around Stewart’s job, stalking him and making it known that he was going to “take care of Stewart.” Chester apparently harbored a grudge against Stewart for his part in the investigation, even though Stewart never testified against him. He merely did the leg work and obtained the name of Pete Chester based on the witness descriptions. 

Charlie Stewart believed from comments Chester made to him, as well as his knowledge of Chester’s behavior, that Chester was carrying a weapon when he came around his job. A week prior to Chester being killed, Chester threatened Stewart, who at the time was drinking coffee.  Stewart threw hot coffee on Chester, who then retreated.

On Friday, December 22, 1933, Pete Chester approached Charlie Stewart in the 700 block of West Dallas. As they neared each other, Stewart saw Chester reach for a pistol. Feeling certain that Chester was carrying a gun, Stewart pulled his own pistol after Chester made the infamous “hip pocket move.” Stewart emptied his pistol, striking Pete Chester six times in the arms and chest. Pete Chester was dead at age fifty-seven. When old Pete was loaded into the body car,  a fully loaded pistol fell out of his clothes. Finally, Officer Perry Page Jones and his family received some semblance of justice – not from the State of Texas, but from forty-six-year-old Charlie Stewart.

The same newspaper article that described the shooting indicated that Charlie Stewart was charged with murder. The disposition of that charge was unknown, but it is highly unlikely that this charge was prosecuted.