DECATUR, AL (WAFF) - When now retired former Decatur police Lt. Frank DeButy first joined the force in 1977, he had one question: "How many people have you lost in the line of duty?"
"And I was told zero. Zero? Zero? I mean this city's not the biggest but it's not the smallest either," he said.
DeButy's curiosity was peeked, and some research found two fallen officers.
"And last year I got a call from Neal Hudson, and he's a historian for one of the Masonic lodges. And so he found two more. So there's a total of four," he said.
He said he wanted something for these fallen men.
"If you're killed in the line of duty, you're enshrined in the memorial in Washington. And I wanted them in it," he said.
But getting there has been a challenge. DeButy had to find the 110-year-old graves or they will not allow the inductions.
"The oldest was in 1905. In fact, within 18 months, they lost three," he said.
He enlisted a lot of help.
"John Allison took me by the hand and showed me what to do and I owe him, Mr. Hudson, I had to find someone who would be willing to donate the material and the time and that material. It's painted, but it you take that paint off, that is high-dollar stainless steel. Kevin Cartwright with a company called K.T Grant donated all of that," he said.
The toughest grave to find was Evert L. Steele's in Trinity.
"In 1905, he arrested a gentleman up on Canal Street for vagrancy. And you know they didn't have cars. They were walking him to jail and they carried their weapons in their pockets," said DeButy.
DeButy said the bad guy grabbed the gun and shot Steel. The vagrant was hanged two months later.
"Lem Jones, he was in 1906 and this one was a little more colorful," DeButy said.
That's because Jones was in the presence of the mayor as he took a phone call from a local madam at her house of ill repute.
"They were shooting through the roof and so forth. So he lays hands on one of them, puts him in handcuffs and he walks him out the door to take him to jail, and the bad guy's compadre was sneaking around behind him and he didn't see him and he never, I don't think he knew what hit him because he took a round right behind the ear," DeButy said.
Jones' descendants showed up at the Decatur Cemetery when the marker was placed.
"They gushed. They were proud and they felt good and that made me feel good," said DeButy.
Police officer Billy Baber came to the aid of another cop on the corner of Railroad at Lafayette trying to coral two men.
"One of them got away from him and he ran and hid behind a billboard," said DeButy. "He knew he was back there and they knew each other. And he said 'Come out from behind there or I'm going to come back there and shoot you.' He said 'If you come any closer I'll shoot you dead.' And he never slowed down. He just kept coming ahead and he did. He filled him full of holes."
Another grave belongs to Thomas Wright. When Wright was a cop, he was on Johnston Street in Decatur and he was murdered by a man running for the state legislature who had previously held office in Madison County. The crime was running a stop sign on Beltline Road. They followed the former probate judge home.
"Named Skaggs. And when he pulled up in front of his house and they pulled up beside him, and officer Wright went up to his drivers side, and knew him and said 'Judge what are you doing?' And he responded with a 41 Derringer. And he lived for about four days because there was a lot of blood donation from other officers and stuff, but he died," DeButy said.
DeButy said the judge at first thought he would beat the wrap.
"He had not met the captain of the Moulton, Alabama football team, who he did meet in the middle of Moulton Street when he smeared him all the way down it with his car. So justice was served in the end," he said. "Courageous, just bared their teeth at death and walked right into it. And never hesitated. And I admire that," he said.
Justice for cops no one remembered who died more than a century ago, but who still will bear the moniker of hero, thanks to one man's quest for justice, honor and sacrifice.
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