The long-forgotten 1881 line-of-duty death of Oberlin constable Franklin Stone has recently been rediscovered.
While researching homicides in Cleveland for his next book, author Don Hilton brought the constable to the attention of retired Elyria police detective Alan Leiby.
Leiby passed the information along to retired Oberlin police Sgt. Bill Wiley, who shared the information with his son Bashshar Wiley, an Oberlin patrol officer and history buff.
The trio worked for a month without ever being in the same room, all digging into newspaper archives and books. They were able to locate Stone’s grave site at Westwood Cemetery, along with scanned articles confirming the incidents that led to his death.
“I’m making it my personal goal to give this guy the recognition he deserves,” said Bashshar. “We do a police memorial every year, and this guy was more or less forgotten. He gave the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life just like some offers do today.”
Stone is one of two Oberlin officers to be killed while on duty. Patrol officer Robert Woodwall died in a motor vehicle crash on March 10, 1971, when his vehicle slid off the icy roadway and crashed into a tree on East Hamilton Street.
Stone’s is the first recorded law enforcement death in Lorain County. Until now, the earliest had been Marshal Brenner of Wellington, who died in 1883.
Born in Pittsfield Township on Aug. 15, 1835, Stone lived there until 1866, when he moved to Iowa. He remained there for three years until relocating to South Professor Street in Oberlin. He worked as an agent for the United States Express Company and also operated a carriage and transfer line.
In the spring of 1881, Stone was either appointed or elected marshal of the city.
Following an assault near the Union School House, now the New Union Center for the Arts on South Main Street, Stone arrested Tom Durham on a warrant at approximately 7 p.m. on May 12, 1881.
The man initially cooperated with Stone and agreed to accompany him to the police station, but then hesitated as they passed a blacksmith shop where his brother, Butler, was working.
Butler exited the shop and attacked Stone, allowing the prisoner to escape.
Tom fled on foot with Stone firing — one of the rounds hit home. He chased Tom to his residence at 26 Mechanic St. — that’s modern-day Locust Street — where he encountered Tom’s father, Samuel.
The father stood in the doorway and said, “You shot my boy and I will shoot you,” before taking aim at Stone’s breast with a rifle.
Stone, just 45 years old, was taken to his home and died of injuries on June 4, 1881.
Samuel was convicted of second-degree murder at the the county court of common pleas and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 1891 due to his old age and frail condition. He died six years later in October 1897.
Stone will be added to the roll of those honored each spring at the Lorain County Police Memorial and his name will be engraved at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Steps are being made to have him added to the Greater Cleveland Police Memorial Society and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.