A Look Back at violent local crime

All too frequently at the present time, we are confronted with violent criminal acts in which one person is responsible for the shedding of blood of many innocent people.  

A review of old newspapers from many, many years ago indicates most crimes involved people who knew each other.

Every life is precious, and it is no comfort to say “only” one person’s blood was shed.

It seems in recent months more law enforcement officers, sworn to protect the public, have given their lives in the effort to do so.

July 1, 1905—At 12:20 this morning, Decatur police officer William A. Baber met his death at the corner of Railroad and Lafayette streets while in the discharge of his duties, he being the second police officer to be shot down on the streets of Decatur within the last few weeks.  

The other officer was E. L. Steele, who was shot by Will Jackson. Jackson paid the penalty of his crime on the gallows June 16.

Last night as policeman W. A. Moore was walking his beat on Lafayette Street, he came upon Percie Couch and Henry Gerstman engaged in a difficulty just in front of the American Hotel.  He arrested them and turned Couch loose to search for Gerstman, at which point Couch ran behind a billboard just across the street.

About this time policeman Baber came up and went after Couch. Couch said: “Don’t come any closer to me or I will kill you.” The officer paid no attention to Couch but proceeded. Couch drew his gun, a .44 Colt revolver, and fired four shots at Baber, all taking effect. Two shots hit the officer in the chin, one in the back and one in the neck, severing the jugular vein, causing blood to spew out from his stricken body in great quantities.  

The latter shot caused his death.  

Officer Moore, for some reason, had no gun with him at the time.  

Gerstman, who lives in south Decatur, told a reporter he was not acquainted with Couch, that he had passed him on the street and called him names, which brought on the quarrel between them. He also stated Couch drew a gun on him. When searched, nothing but a small pocket knife was found on Gerstman.

He said earlier in the evening Couch had had a difficulty with another man, and it is presumed that when he met Gerstman, he took him for the man with whom he had quarreled at sunset.

When Officer Baber fell, he fired two shots at Couch, but they went wild. He fell to the ground and cried, “He has got me.”  

Couch then ran and fired two shots at Officer Moore as he ran, but these shots were wild.  Couch then went to the Louisville and Nashville yards, where he remained for a while, then returned to the depot and purchased a ticket for Chattanooga.  

He left the train at Huntsville, however, and took the Nashville-Chattanooga and St. Louis there and was arrested in Fayetteville, Tenn., this morning while on the train, telegrams having been sent here.  

When arrested he acknowledged he shot Baber but said he did not know whether he was dead or not.

Couch was taken to Huntsville at 3 p.m. today and will be brought to Decatur at 11 o’clock tonight. Sheriff James Wiggins went to Huntsville this afternoon and will accompany Couch here.

The feeling against Couch in Decatur is strong, but there is no apprehension of trouble of any kind at this time, although there was considerable talk on the streets, and large crowds were discussing the cold-bloodiness of the affair on every corner before day this morning.

Baber was one of the most popular policemen in Decatur. He was a member of the Junior O.U.A.M., Odd Fellows, Masons, Woodmen of the World and several other secret orders. He owned considerable country property and was quite well off in this world’s goods.

He leaves a wife and several children. His wife is almost crazed with grief. The scene at the home this morning was one of the saddest ever witnessed in Decatur.

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