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Published: Monday, 5/12/2008

Officers memorial to add rail detective killed in Toledo in 1916

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jason Lang lois, a Lucas County sheriff s deputy, stands along the tracks where railroad Detective Frank Smith was shot by robbers in 1916. The site is near Bowsher High School. Detective Smith got skipped over, Mr. Langlois said. 
Jason Lang lois, a Lucas County sheriff s deputy, stands along the tracks where railroad Detective Frank Smith was shot by robbers in 1916. The site is near Bowsher High School. Detective Smith got skipped over, Mr. Langlois said.
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Standing along a stretch of railroad tracks in South Toledo, Jason Langlois tried to envision the area nearly a century ago when railroad Detective Frank Smith was shot there during a robbery.

Back in May, 1916, the track belonged to the Toledo, St. Louis & Western perhaps better known as the Clover Leaf Route hauling freight cars through South Toledo, Maumee, Waterville, Grand Rapids, and Delphos, Ohio.

Now the mile-long stretch of tracks where the shooting occurred is less traveled and runs through a residential area near Bowsher High School.

It is likely that few know the story of Detective Smith, who was shot while working in a railroad yard near Wildwood Road and South Detroit Avenue.

Soon he will be nationally recognized.

During a candlelight vigil in Washington tomorrow, Detective Smith s name will be unveiled on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial an honor bestowed upon law officers killed in the line of duty.

He is one of 358 officers being added to the memorial this year, along with Toledo police Detective Keith Dressel.

People soon forget about things, Mr. Langlois, a Lucas County sheriff s deputy, said. I took it on as my personal quest to make sure they re not forgotten. They deserve to be remembered.

Mr. Dressel, a plainclothes officer, was killed Feb. 21, 2007, after he and his partners confronted Robert Jobe, 15, and Sherman Powell, 19, in North Toledo.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, near E Street in Washington, honors officers killed in the line of duty.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, near E Street in Washington, honors officers killed in the line of duty.
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Jobe and Powell ran in opposite directions when police approached. Detective Dressel caught up with Jobe, they struggled, and the teenager fired a fatal shot.

Six members of the Toledo Police Department s Honor Guard, about 15 other police officers, and members of the Dressel family will travel to Washington for the ceremony.

While reading through old newspaper articles for a book he is writing chronicling Toledo homicides, Mr. Langlois came across the stories of Detective Smith and several others.

Further research showed the detective hadn t yet been recognized for his sacrifice, he said.

He wasn t a city cop, he was railroad police, Mr. Langlois said. I think he kind of got skipped over.

And although it has been 92 years since Detective Smith was killed, Mr. Langlois said the least he could do was have the name added to the national memorial.

Frank Smith is among 358 officers whose names are being added to the law enforcement memorial in Washington.
Frank Smith is among 358 officers whose names are being added to the law enforcement memorial in Washington.
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I hope that wherever he is, that maybe it s brought some peace to the whole thing, he said.

Mr. Langlois is working on submitting the names of four other officers for inclusion on the national memorial. All four were killed in the line of duty. Mr. Langlois said he came across them during his research.

Detective Smith, 45, and his partner were working in the Clover Leaf railroad yard in South Toledo a half-mile from Bowsher High School about 9:30 p.m. on May 26, 1916.

A crew member noticed three crates of 30 new automobile tires next to the tracks, likely dumped from a train by thieves who would return to retrieve them.

Detective Smith and his partner, who was not named in newspaper reports of the robbery, staked out the area.

Soon two men approached.

While hiding behind a bush, Detective Smith made a slight move and was noticed by one of the robbers, who drew a gun and fired.

Detective Smith returned fire, killing one of the men, and was shot in the chest during the exchange. He died two days later in Flower Hospital.

Detective Smith, born in Frankfort, Ind., had a wife named Laura.

Lucas County Sheriff James Telb, who signed some of the documents submitted for approval, said railroad detectives in the early 1900s were a major part of the industry, protecting the people and commerce traveling across the country.

In some respects, they had larger roles than local police, he said.

There was a lot of danger those railroad detectives had to deal with for many years.The railroad police served an important role in keeping people safe and keeping those goods and commerce moving, Sheriff Telb said.

But once highway systems were developed and railroads were used less, their police forces became less significant.

[Railroad detectives] virtually fell through the cracks and weren t recognized, he said.

He commended Mr. Langlois efforts for taking it upon himself to see that Detective Smith is honored for his sacrifice.

Most of the local police officers were all memorialized and recognized at some point, Sheriff Telb said. For the railroad detective to get [recognition] is really good.

Rudy Husband, spokesman for Norfolk Southern Railway, which now owns the tracks where the detective was shot, said railroad police are still used today to protect freight cars and railroad employees.

He said railroad police are fully accredited law enforcement officials with the same powers as local police officers and take the same risks.

A few years ago in Chicago, a railroad officer was shot when he confronted an individual on Norfolk property in the process of committing a crime. The railroad officer survived, Mr. Husband said.

For Detective Smith to be recognized at a national level is exceptional, Mr. Husband said.

Anytime a railroad police officer is recognized for bravery and heroism is a positive development, he said.

Kevin Morison, spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said their office has received an increase in the number of applications for historical cases like that of Detective Smith.

The ability to research using the Internet and an increased interest in genealogy has boosted people s interest in recognizing officers killed several decades ago, Mr. Morison said.

A lot of [police] departments are interested in preserving history to make sure their loved ones are remembered even if it is 100 years ago, he said. It s important to us from a historical standpoint to make sure we re honoring and remembering all those officers who died in the line of duty.

Contact Laren Weber at:lweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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