Ceremony, memorial to honor local fallen deputy sheriffs
The memories of two Tonganoxie men will be honored Saturday in Leavenworth as a tribute to fallen law enforcement officers is unveiled.
The Northeast Kansas/Leavenworth County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge will host a dedication and unveiling ceremony for a Fallen Officer's Memorial at 9 a.m. Saturday in front of the Leavenworth County Justice Center.
The memorial honors Leavenworth County deputy sheriffs Elmer "Oakie" Parmer and Robert L. Freeman, who lost their lives in the line of duty.
According to lodge secretary Shane Duncan, the FOP has held several fundraisers during the past several years to finance the memorial, which was made by Eagle Memorials of Linwood.
The names of Parmer and Freeman are etched in the memorial.
"There's also an etched picture of an officer down on one knee with his hand on his head," Duncan said. "And it has a poem, 'The Supreme Sacrifice.'"
The memorial stands about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Parmer and Freeman both served the county as deputy sheriffs and both lived in Tonganoxie.
Here's a look at the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the two men, according to files of The Mirror newspaper.
Elmer M. "Oakie" Parmer
Parmer, a 27-year-old, was electrocuted after a high-speed chase. Parmer was chasing a car about 12:25 a.m. Aug. 28, 1960, on U.S. Highway 24-40 about eight miles southwest of Tonganoxie and had just radioed for help when the car swerved into the oncoming lane of traffic and hit a motorcycle, killing the driver, Robert Lee Farmer, 20, Lawrence.
After hitting the motorcycle, the car went into a ditch, striking a guy wire, which snapped.
About 30 minutes after the accident, Parmer and a truck driver from Texas, who had stopped because of the crash, were moving the guy wire from the highway. But a power line dangling from the pole apparently brushed the guy wire and sent an estimated 12,000 volts through Parmer, killing him. The truck driver received burns, but did not die.
Parmer was married and had a son and a daughter -- and his wife, Susie, was expecting another child.
A comment piece that appeared in The Mirror after Parmer's death noted that the deputy was "universally liked."
"The simple story is that we liked him, all of us -- and now for a few reasons: Remember last winter when the snow was heavy -- several times he worked most of the night, so that the rest of us could get around easily during the day. Who was the man that took several of our young people home rather than to the judge -- that too was Oakie. People generally had little idea of all the good deeds done by our deputy sheriff, few knew of the long hours he worked or of the personal sacrifice he made some time back refusing another job because he liked to work here. Perhaps Susie and little David will know some of the local feeling by the response of the community in its attempt to reduce the burden of loss. It is too bad Oakie couldn't know too."
The driver of the vehicle that Parmer had chased -- a 25-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man -- was jailed on charges of fourth-degree manslaughter, speeding, having an open bottle, reckless driving, resisting arrest and driving while under the influence of liquor. One passenger in his car suffered a head injury, and three other occupants fled the scene on foot, but later were apprehended. All were from Kansas City, Kan.
Parmer had served as a deputy for about four years before his death, which the county sheriff at the time called "a terrific loss to the Tonganoxie community and to the sheriff's force as well." The sheriff also had said Parmer was a perfect example of an outstanding deputy sheriff and described him as a courageous lawman.
Robert Lee Freeman
The story of Lee Freeman's death in August 1944 actually began seven months earlier, on Jan. 22, 1944.
According to the Jan. 27, 1944, edition of The Mirror, a 20-year-old state prison parolee stole a car in Leavenworth that he soon wrecked. The man, Arthur Lathrop, then forced a Tonganoxie man, Ernest Elston Sr., and Elston's companion, Josie DeVoe, to drive him from Leavenworth to Tonganoxie. Once in Tonganoxie, the man boarded a bus.
Elston got word to deputy Freeman about the incident. Freeman stopped the bus before it left Tonganoxie. As Lathrop was exiting the bus, he shot the deputy.
The bullet apparently lodged near Freeman's spine, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Then, after a struggle with Elston, Lathrop fled on foot and several hours later stole another car in Tonganoxie that he abandoned in Ozawkie in Jefferson County. Eleven days after he shot Freeman, Lathrop was captured in Hot Springs, Ark.
Meanwhile, Freeman continued to cling to life. He remained at Memorial Hospital for seven months.
On Aug. 26, the 48-year-old Freeman killed himself with the same gun he used to try to arrest Lathrop.
"He ended it with his own weapon, which had been placed in a package in a drawer of a dresser in his room that he asked the night nurse to hand to him that evening. He had asked for the gun previously as he proposed to sell it to a state highway patrolman," the newspaper reported at the time.
"He made a gallant fight, but as months dragged on, he failed to improve to any extent and hope apparently deserted him of ever making a recovery," the newspaper reported five days after his suicide.
Freeman, who was a lifelong Tonganoxie resident, had held a variety of jobs -- farming, clerking in a local store, working as assistant postmaster and then as a bookkeeper at Franklin Ice Cream Co. -- before he as appointed deputy sheriff the year before he was shot.
His obituary said that since being shot, "he has been in Lawrence Memorial Hospital in a critical condition, but was extremely patient in enduring the pains of his injury. He remained cheerful the majority of the time, enjoying the hundreds of letters, cards, flowers and visits of his many friends and relatives."
Among Freeman's survivors were his wife, a daughter and two stepdaughters.
In addition, the obituary said, Freeman "was always ready and willing to perform any duty asked of him for the betterment of the town and community."