OFFICER VOLNEY L. STEVENS – EOW: 1-14-1921
By: Officer Mike Severance – North Precinct
On the morning of Friday, January 14, 1921, Mr. Joseph Stevens, who lived on Logan Ave., called the Ballard Police Station to report an abandoned vehicle which was parked on 32 Ave. W. midway between W. McGraw and Magnolia Blvd. It was near the spot where the Howe Street Bridge crosses over 32 Ave. W. The vehicle had reportedly been there for at least two days. What the caller did not know is that the vehicle had been stolen several days earlier from in front of a Federal Ave. residence. It had been stolen by a gang of four very bad men who were responsible for a string of robberies and burglaries from Bellingham to Enumclaw. They were Creighton Dodge, 21, Ward Daniels, 19, Louis Madsen, 18, and Clifford. A. Brown, 20.
Officer Volney L. Stevens, 46, and Sgt. Edward Herald were dispatched from the Ballard Station. Shortly after they left the station, Mr. B.T. Pickett called. He was a caretaker at Carleton Park. He reported seeing four suspicious men with suitcases in the area of the Howe Street Bridge. Pickett was told that officers were on their way to a call in the same area. He was instructed to go meet the officers. Police cars at the time did not have radios. Officer Stevens and Sgt. Herald were unaware of this new information.
Shortly before the officers arrived at the scene, the gang of four had returned to the stolen car. For some reason, they could not get the car started. The officers arrived in the area around 9:00 a.m. They drove past Mr. John Green, a carpenter working on a house at 31 Ave. W. and W. McGraw. Green saw the police car turn off paved McGraw and onto the dirt road which was 32 Ave. W. As the officers neared the stolen car, they could see the vehicle was occupied. Sgt. Herald jumped from the patrol car and ran to the suspects’ car. He observed a suitcase in the car. He later stated he thought it might have contained liquor or drugs. Herald asked the suspects what was in the suitcase as he took it from the car. As Herald bent over to open the suitcase, one of the suspects jumped out of the car, pointed a gun at Sgt. Herald, and disarmed him. At that point, Herald was pushed or pulled into the stolen car. Officer Stevens moved to assist Herald. Dodge and Daniels started shooting at Stevens. The officer returned fire. One of the officer’s shots hit Dodge in the abdomen. Another hit Daniels in the arm. Officer Stevens was shot twice in the torso and went down in the middle of the street. Sgt. Herald was not injured in the exchange of gunfire.
The gang ran to the police car and used it for their getaway. They turned it around and headed north. Sgt. Herald ran to aid Officer Stevens. Mr. Pickett was arriving at the scene when the shooting started. Pickett and Herald did what they could for Officer Stevens until a car arrived. Mr. Green heard what he described as about 20 gunshots. As he ran towards the scene, he observed the suspects leaving in the stolen police car. When he got to the scene, he helped Herald and Pickett. Officer Stevens was put in a car and rushed to City Hospital. It’s not clear if this was a police car or a citizen’s car.
Officer Stevens underwent surgery to perform a transfusion in an attempt to save his life. He died at 12:20 p.m. with his wife at his side. He was survived by his wife, Helena, and his children, Avery, Lloyd, Wayne, Beryl, and Lois. The Stevens family lived at 3012 W. 68th St.
The gang, with two of their members wounded, abandoned the stolen police car near 23 Ave. W. and Commodore Way. They ended up at the house of Mr. Fred Hundertmaik, a baker, at 2304 Commodore Way. His wife, Anna, was at home and answered the door. One of the gang told her two of his friends were very sick. She invited them in to rest, but she noticed two of them were more than sick. They appeared to have been shot. Around 10:00 a.m. Anna somehow managed to alert one of her neighbors who called the Ballard Station. Officers Willisten and Rothaus were dispatched to that call. Before they arrived on Commodore Way, the gang became suspicious and left the house. They walked to the beach and stole a 20 foot rowboat. They started rowing into Salmon Bay. When the officers did arrive at the beach, the suspects were about 150 yards away. Officer Rothaus fired several shots in the direction of the suspects. The officers ordered the suspects to return to shore. They did return to shore and were arrested. Dodge and Daniels were transported to City Hospital. Dodge underwent surgery, but he developed a nasty infection and suffered horribly before he died on January 19th. Daniels recovered from his wound.
The funeral for Officer Stevens was held on January 18, 1921 at the Gilman Park M.E. Church in Ballard. Like all funerals for Seattle police officers killed in the line of duty, a huge crowd was in attendance. More citizens lined the procession route to Crown Hill Cemetery.
Three days after the funeral, three Seattle police officers were shot by one suspect. The three officers died. Over the span of seven days, four Seattle officers had been shot in the line of duty.
The three remaining gang members were convicted of first degree murder in February 1921. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1925, Daniels and two other convicts escaped from the Walla Walla Penitentiary. They went on a crime spree. Daniels was captured about a month later while he was burglarizing a store in Eugene, OR. He was returned to Walla Walla. But life imprisonment for murdering a police officer didn’t mean very much to some people back then. In 1927, Governor Roland H. Hartly gave an executive parole to Louis Madsen. In 1929, he paroled Ward Daniels and Clifford. A. Brown.
Volney Lewis Stevens was born on September 3, 1874 in Meshoppin, PA. By 1880, the family was living in the Dakota Territory. On June 11, 1902, he married Helena M. Watkins, a North Dakota girl. They were living in North Dakota when Avery was born in 1903 and when Lloyd was born in 1905. Volney Stevens was commissioned as a Seattle police officer on May 8, 1907, but his name first appears in a Seattle Directory in 1908 living at 2662 Thorndyke Ave. Their daughter, Beryl, was born in Washington on December 16, 1906. It appears the family moved to Washington State between 1905 and 1906. Helena Stevens never re-married. She died in Seattle in 1966. She is buried with her husband at Crown Hill Cemetery. Both of their names are engraved on one headstone. A son of Wayne Stevens currently resides in Kirkland.
In May 1998, Officer Volney Stevens was one of forty Seattle police officers, killed between 1881 and 1976, to be awarded the Washington Law Enforcement Medal of Honor. His medal has been in the custody of the Seattle Police Department since then.