The tragic shooting deaths of Houston officer Isaac Parsons and Harris County deputy Arthur Taylor

Nelson Zoch, Contributor

EOW: May 24, 1914

In the afternoon hours of Saturday, May 23, 1914, there was a great deal of difficulty involving one suspect in the near fifth ward area. An unknown male had been terrorizing the neighborhood and on several occasions, shots had been fired by this suspect.

At one point in the afternoon, Police Chief Chauffeur Granger and Police Secretary Edmund Cardona drove to this area in response to a call.  A citizen pointed out the suspect, who then ran from the Officers armed with a rifle.  They pursued him along some railroad tracks for some distance and he then ran through some vacant lots.  They abandoned their machine, pursuing him on foot.  Granger emptied six rounds from his pistol, believing he had struck the suspect.  However, the suspect escaped.  Cardona was not armed at this point.  They returned to the city.

There were two part-time Officers at the time, both of them very well respected throughout their departments.  They were HPD Special Officer Isaac Parsons, also known as IKE or BUNK, a full-time barber.  The other was Harris County Sheriff’s Department Special Deputy Arthur Taylor, who had just recently been commissioned but had worked extensively with Deputies from his department prior to his commissioning.

On this night, HPD Chief Ben Davidson had assigned Officer John Richardson to team up with Officer Parsons.  Between 9 and 10pm,  Officer Parsons called in to say he would not be there to meet Officer Richardson, (but that he had gone into the area alone to work on this problem.)  Officer Richardson was assigned Mr.  Cardona to assist him.

Tragically, neither Richardson nor Cardona knew that Deputy Taylor was also in the area working on this situation.  Richardson and Cardona rode the midnight Liberty Road trolley out of Houston to the intersection of Nance and Schwartz.  There, they began their investigation by interviewing citizens who had knowledge of the havoc this suspect had been placing on their neighborhood.

At approximately 12:35am, they heard gunshots.  Richardson and Cardona were aware that two other HPD Officers, Bryson and Lyons, were in the area.  Fearing for their safety, they ran towards the sounds of the gunshots, which they believed to be on Barron between Cline and Meadow Streets.   Enroute, they heard two more shots.

Unknown to all, Deputy Taylor and Officer Parsons had met up in the area and were working together.  They apparently also heard the gunshots and were rushing to the same area.  Officer Richardson saw a male running toward him in the darkness.  He shone his pocket light on this male.  Officer Richardson then observed that this male, who turned out to be Deputy Taylor, had a pistol in his hand.  Richardson ordered this male to drop the pistol, but the male refused.  Richardson then began shooting, striking Taylor twice and killing him instantly.

Officer Parsons then came running into the area and Richardson and Cardona saw him running with a pistol in his hand.  Richardson and Cardona then fired at this male, who turned out to be Officer Parsons.  Parsons was struck four times, also being killed instantly.  Upon closer observation of the two dead men, Parsons was recognized by Richardson and Cardona.  They did not recognize Taylor due to his short tenure as a Special Deputy.

An investigation begins and charges are filed

Chief Davison arrived on the scene, as did Justice of the Peace W.T. McDonald, who held an inquest.  They found one of the dead men lying in a ditch.  This was Officer Parsons and when ambulance attendants conducted their examination for the Judge, his police badge was in his coat.  His pistol was in his scabbard.  He had been shot twice in the side.  Deputy Taylor lay dead only a few feet away, having been shot through the heart.  Neither Parsons nor Taylor had fired their weapons.  In Taylor’s clothing was found a commission appointing him a Special Deputy by Sheriff Hammond.  This commission was dated May 23, 1914.

Chief Davidson immediately ordered a complete investigation into this tragedy.  As a result of the initial investigation, there was no reason to believe that Officers Richardson and Cardona had known in the darkness that the two individuals were Officer Parsons and Deputy Taylor.  However, Complaints charging Murder were filed against Officer John Richardson and Mr. Edmund Cardona, secretary to Chief of Police Davidson. They were placed on Indefinite Suspension by Chief Davidson and were placed in jail.  An examining trial was scheduled and they were each released on $250.00 bail by Judge McDonald.

Harris County District Attorney Clarence Kendall began a thorough investigation into the death of these two Peace Officers.  Further investigation revealed that Deputy Taylor had been killed by Officer Richardson.  Richardson’s official statement indicated that upon shining his light on Taylor, he did not recognize him, had never seen him before, and had not known of his commission or that he was officially on this case.  He further stated that he had ordered Taylor to drop the pistol and upon doing so, Taylor raised the pistol and placed it on half cock.  This all occurred in near total darkness from only a distance of six feet.  Richardson fired two shots, striking and killing the Deputy.

After those initial shots that took Deputy Taylor’s life, Officer Parsons came running across a ditch.  Not recognizing him, Richardson fired twice and Cardona four times, striking Officer Parsons four times.  Again, both Officers Richardson and Cardona stated they had no knowledge of these Officers being in the area.

On Thursday, May 28, 1914, an examining trial was held on these charges in the Court of Justice of the Peace McDonald.  Their cases were bound over to the Grand Jury and bail was set.  Both Richardson and Cardona were released on bail pending their trial.  D.A. Clarence Kendall was to be in charge of their prosecution and the defendants were represented by Attorneys James Storey and Campbell Sewell.

Isaac Parsons was born in Houston in the Fifth Ward on September 29, 1885.  Funeral services for Officer Isaac Parsons, age 28 years, were held on Monday, May 25, 1914.  Burial followed at the Evergreen Cemetery (Lockwood and Market).  He was the third of his family of three brothers to die a violent death.  One brother had been shot to death near Sugar Land and another had recently died of stab wounds.  However, Special Officer Isaac Parsons had died an honorable death. He was a single man.

Basically, after the investigation was complete, there were no witnesses that could in any manner implicate Officer Richardson or Mr. Cardona as having any malice toward Officer Parsons or Deputy Taylor.  In other words, there was no intent that could be proven and it was declared a tragic case of mistaken identity.  This was not the first time and unfortunately, it was not the last either.  In this author’s career, he can recall in 1974, an undercover Harris County narcotics Officer was tragically shot and killed by a uniformed HPD Officer.  That Officer was nobilled.

Documents were located which indicated the following in January, 1915:

NOLLE PROSEQUI-No Prosecution:  THE STATE OF TEXAS VS. JOHN RICHARDSON AND EDMUND CARDONA.  Now comes the District Attorney, and asks the Court to dismiss the above entitled and numbered criminal action, for the following reasons, to-wit:  Because the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.  The facts viewed from defendants’ standpoint as the law requires it to be viewed shows an excusable Homicide caused by mistaken identity and purpose.  Signed by Criminal District Attorney John H. Crooker.

It should be noted that in 2001, retired HPD Officer Doug Hudson, now a Harris County Deputy Sheriff, uncovered this tragedy while doing research into another Harris County Deputy’s death.  His documentation of this incident led to Officer Isaac Parsons being included in the names of HPD Officers who lost their lives in the LINE OF DUTY.  It was further through his efforts that the names of Officer Parsons and Deputy Taylor were submitted and accepted to be included on the Police Officer Memorials in Houston, The State Memorial in Austin, and the National Memorial in Washington, D.C.

It was further through Deputy Hudson that I learned that Officer Parsons was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery and that Deputy Taylor was buried in Olivet Cemetery.  Unfortunately, neither grave is marked.  Deputy Hudson and I recently met at Evergreen Cemetery with a retired Prairie View University Professor who is involved in the restoration efforts at this cemetery, which has been badly neglected through the years.  Our efforts will continue towards the placing of a marker for both law enforcement Officers if any documentation can be uncovered as to the actual burial site.