Archive for Thursday, September 14, 2006

Colleagues remember former undersheriff

September 14, 2006

Last week, Leavenworth County and Tonganoxie lost a veteran law enforcement officer.

Wayne Turner, who died Sept. 6 at age 76, was known for his investigative skills.

"He was like a bloodhound," said Leavenworth County Sheriff Dave Zoellner. "He'd track you down. He was that kind of an investigator that if he got on a case he would stay with it, he was like a bloodhound."

For instance, Zoellner said that in the 1970s, it wasn't uncommon for thieves to steal grain from one grain elevator and take it to another grain elevator to sell it. So Turner started looking from the ground up, literally following a trail of grain that had spilled onto the roadway.

"It came into a residence in Leavenworth where they had covered up the truck," Zoellner said. "He followed the tracks over the bridge on out where it went to Rushville, Mo."

When Turner started on the sheriff's office in May 1969, there were 10 people on staff, including the sheriff, who at that time was Dan Hawes. Today 109 people are on the staff.

Though Turner, who retired in Aug. 1990, excelled at working investigations, Zoellner said there was more to him than that.

Turner and his wife, Jean, moved to his home town of Tonganoxie after he retired from the Navy. With them were their four children, Wayne, Robert, David, Mike and Lisa.

"He was quite a family man," Zoellner said. "He was really into his kids."

Zoellner said the Turner's children were athletic.

"I always talked to him about his daughter, who was avid in track and what she was doing. And of course the boys played football and I always knew the big rivalry was between Tonganoxie and Lansing."

And Turner had an easygoing humorous side, Zoellner said.

"He was pleasant to be around," Zoellner said. "He was a jokester."

To his credit, he accepted jokes pointed in his direction, as well.

Zoellner recalled that Turner liked to eat sunflower seeds, and that in a vehicle accident Turner rolled his patrol car.

"We said that was a heck of a way to clean the sunflower seeds out of your car," Zoellner said, chuckling.

Role model

Tonganoxie police dispatcher Mike Vestal has a memory of Turner that no one else has. He got to know Turner while he was in high school and Turner allowed Vestal to ride along with him on patrol.

On Sept. 9, 1970, the 19-year-old Vestal was in a tragic car accident. His injuries resulted in paralysis of his legs.

"He (Turner) was the first one on the scene of my accident," Vestal said. "He took his police shirt off and put his T-shirt on my head to use as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. I remember looking up and seeing him, that's about all I remember."

Vestal said Turner made a lasting influence on his life.

"He's kind of what made me want to be in the police department," Vestal said. "If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be, so I owe that all to him."

Smile on his face

Former Leavenworth County Sheriff Terry Campbell worked with Turner as his undersheriff from 1980 until 1990 when Turner retired.

The two were cousins. Campbell's father, Chick Campbell, and Turner's mother, Edna Turner, were brother and sister.

Since 1993, Campbell has worked with Clarence M. Kelly Associates, a private investigation firm. Campbell said that as an investigator, Turner was unusually talented at getting people to talk. Occasionally, Turner teamed with detective Hank Spellman.

"When he and Hank Spellman worked together in investigations, it seemed like they could always come up with the information," Campbell said.

Turner was equally talented in an administrative role, Campbell said. And of course, Campbell said, Turner was pleasant to be around.

"He was the type guy where there was always something going on when Wayne was around," Campbell said. "And he always had a smile on his face."

  • An obituary for Mr. Turner appears on page 8A.

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