Retired St. Louis police Officer Tim Tumbrink is on a mission to ensure the grave of every St. Louis police officer is marked. On Sunday, he started with two, including the city's first police chief, James McDonough, who has been lying in an unmarked grave for 147 years.
"I've made it a mission to honor those who have gone before me, missing birthdays, anniversaries and other family events because they had to work," Tumbrink said. "I'm going to ensure they all get recognized."
He's focusing on raising money for grave markers for officers who died in the line of duty, but believed marking the first police chief's grave was equally as important, even though McDonough died of natural causes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On Sunday, Tumbrink placed his first grave marker for a line of duty death at a cemetery in Macoupin County before dedicating McDonough's gravestone in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. He'll arrange for a ceremony at the Macoupin County grave later.
Tumbrink retired after a 20-year career with the city's police department in 2008 and lives in Vichy, in central Missouri. He relies on the department's personnel division, photo lab and human resources files to research officers he writes about for the St. Louis Police Officers Association newsletter, The Gendarme. He scours websites where people post photographs of graves and sometimes visits cemeteries to see if the officers' graves have markers.
Of the 1,005 police officers he has memorialized, 54 died in the line of duty. Ten are in unmarked graves. He estimates that there are five or six unmarked graves of fallen officers at Calvary Cemetery, and others in St. Peters Cemetery, Valhalla Cemetery and Bethany Cemetery.
"Everybody should have a headstone, especially someone who has given their life in the line of duty," he said. "No man or woman should lay in an unmarked grave."
He and Rich Pettit, who owns Tom Murray Monument Company, drove to Shipman, Illinois, about 45 miles from St. Louis, early Sunday to deliver a grave marker to the St. Denis Cemetery where Officer Bernard T. Cook is buried.
Cook was killed in the line of duty while guarding a payroll truck on July 7, 1922. The 28-year-old was posted near the Eli and Walker Trunk Factory at 1410 North 16th Street to make sure no one got robbed during payroll disbursement when two men walked up.
Cook yelled out to them. One of the men fired three shots, striking him in the left arm, chest and heart, Tumbrink said.
They installed Cook's stone closer to the foot of his grave because a military marker is at its head.
"It's in very sad shape, it can't be read," Tumbrink said. "He was in an unmarked grave for 14 years before he got the military grave."
Tumbrink said he expects to find more unmarked graves.
"There was no Social Security back in those days, there was no St. Louis Police Officers Funeral Association, and when it was mandated by state law to retire at age 65, a lot of these these policemen, sergeants and lieutenants, once they retired, there was no pension system in place," he said.
Tumbrink is adding some personal touches to the designs of the markers for officers like Cook, including a porcelain insert with the likeness of a star-shaped badge designed for the 1904 World's Fair.
McDonough's flat stone at Bellefontaine Cemetery bore the same badge design. Tumbrink selected galaxy black granite from South Africa, which comes out of the ground with gold flecks in it. Pettit, whose business is nearby, provided the stones at cost.
Ten people, including Pettit, attended a small ceremony for the unveiling of McDonough's stone Sunday afternoon. Brother John Fava, a chaplain for the police department, offered a prayer and sprinkled the ground with holy water.
"Grant that our brother, James McDonough, may sleep here in peace until you awaken him in glory, for you are the resurrection and the life."
Tumbrink offered a brief history of McDonough's life. He came to St. Louis from Baltimore in 1839 as a journeyman carpenter, and then got a job as a city guard, which preceded the police department. He started a detective agency in 1846, and drafted an authorization for a police force in the city. The new board appointed him chief in 1861. During his tenure, he resigned twice and served three separate times as chief. He died in 1892 at age 76 from complications of cirrhosis of the liver.
Retired Sgt. Gary Weigert told the group that from his research, McDonough seemed to keep politics out of his decisions. He sent police to protect newspaper offices during the Camp Jackson affair during the Civil War, and set up the city's first poorhouse. "This man was ahead of his time," he said.
Retired O'Fallon, Missouri, police Chief Roy Joachimstaler, who served for 39 years in the St. Louis police department, said that when he started as a cadet in 1969, they were taught to honor the history and tradition of the department. Tumbrink gave Joachimstaler the honor of unveiling the stone, which had been covered with a small, green carpet.
"He's quick to give the compliments to everyone else," Joachimstaler said, turning to Tumbrink. "I thank you, and the rest of the department and the retired members of the department thank you."
With two markers now under his belt, Tumbrink is set on continuing his mission. He'd like to raise money for a marker for Isaac Kidwell, buried in Valhalla Cemetery near Bel-Nor. The St. Louis police officer was shot and killed in the line of duty 1917 at age 41 while attempting to question a man.
For years, Tumbrink has been hunting for the grave of Officer Arthur Huddleston, who died in 1912. His death certificate shows he is buried in Florence, Missouri.
"This guy is like Jimmy Hoffa," Tumbrink said. "I can't find him. I'm not a doctor, but I have a lot of patience."
So far, fellow police retirees have donated to Tumbrink's cause. He's raised almost $2,000, but the cost of a stone plus installation can range from $300 to $900. Donations can be made payable to the Tom Murray Monument Company.
Should he have any money left over after placing the stones, Tumbrink said he will donate it to the BackStoppers.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.