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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2011

Assistant chief headed police detective bureau

ray vetter, 1923-2011

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ray Vetter, a retired deputy chief of Toledo police who was a persistent investigator and no nonsense in his command, died Monday in his West Toledo home from complications of kidney cancer. He was 87.

He was in declining health the last six months, his son Jim said.

Mr. Vetter retired from the Toledo police in 1986, 34 years after he graduated at the top of his police academy class. The position he held longest was as deputy chief, the rank to which he ascended Jan. 1, 1972 -- the same day he became the assistant chief, or second in command. When a police chief was away or ill or there was a vacancy, Mr. Vetter was in charge.

"He never was appointed chief of police," said current Chief Mike Navarre, "but he served as the assistant chief under several chiefs, and I think in the eyes of most veterans, he pretty much ran the police department for a couple decades."

Mr. Vetter and Chief Navarre's father, Jim, a retired Toledo police captain, were close friends.

"My father described him in simple but accurate terms as 'He was one of the great ones.' I couldn't agree with him more," said Chief Navarre, who retires Oct. 21.

Mr. Vetter began his career as a foot patrolman assigned to downtown area beats. In 1960, he was promoted to sergeant in the robbery section of the detective bureau. He remained in investigations as he rose in 1964 to lieutenant assigned to the homicide section and in 1968 to captain and supervisor of all detective bureau sections handling felony investigations.

"He was raised in the detective bureau, and he commanded there," said Tom Ross, a retired Toledo police homicide detective. "He was a good command officer."

"He was the J. Edgar Hoover of the detective bureau," said Mr. Ross, an investigator with the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office. Mr. Vetter read every report a detective produced and questioned any lead left unexplored.

"He insisted on the facts. He had a keen sense of awareness," Mr. Ross said.

And the veteran deputy chief was thoughtful enough to keep a full candy dish on a table in his office.

Mr. Vetter, always private about personal and family life, returned to the spotlight in 2006 as he was called to testify at the murder trial of Toledo priest Gerald Robinson. The deputy chief at his retirement told The Blade the biggest disappointment of his career was failing to solve the 1980 stabbing death of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in the chapel of Mercy Hospital.

Mr. Vetter, in commenting after Robinson's conviction in the murder, credited advances in forensics.

"We ran down every lead we could come up with," Mr. Vetter said in 2006. "We needed more evidence. We were hoping to get it, but never got it."

Mr. Vetter was proud when his son Thomas, the eldest of five sons, followed him into the police department and then rose to the rank of deputy chief in 1993. Thomas had a history of heart problems and died the next year at age 43.

"It was devastating," the elder Mr. Vetter's son Jim said.

Mr. Vetter golfed, worked on the family farm near Swanton, and, for years, walked eight miles a day. Mr. Ross recalled Mr. Vetter turned in the keys to his police vehicle on his last day and walked home.

He was a devout Roman Catholic. His children attended Catholic schools, and he attended Mass faithfully.

Mr. Vetter grew up in North Toledo and was a 1941 graduate of Central Catholic High School. He was drafted and served in the Army's 87th Infantry Division, fighting in Europe -- including at the Battle of the Bulge -- for the duration of World War II.

Surviving are his wife, Cecelia, whom he married in 1949; daughter, Jackie Lehman; sons, Jerry, Jeff, Jim, and Tim, and nine grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home. Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Catherine of Siena Church, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to the Toledo Police Memorial, St. Catherine Church; Central Catholic High School, or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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