He was born January 12, 1891 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1908, he was accepted into the U. S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1912. Charles P. Mason was officially an Annapolis Midshipman.
World War 1, known as “The Great War,” broke out in 1914. However, President Wilson declared the United States would remain neutral. But in 1915, American sympathies began to change when 128 Americans died from a German U Boat attack that sunk the British ocean liner Lusitania. Mason recognized that war was inevitable and naval aviation would play a part. He volunteered for the infant naval aviation program and was transferred to Pensacola in 1916. He became Naval Aviator #52 the following year. Shortly afterward, when it looked like Germany would team up with the United States’ neighbor, Mexico, The U. S. entered the conflict, in 1917. It was then that Chalres met and married Ralphine Fisher. He served on the armistice commission in Germany before commanding the first seaplane squadron in World War I.
In 1923, the couple happily returned to Pensacola when he was assigned as Superintendent of Training Flight Schools. Later, he served on the first aircraft carrier in history—the U. S. S. Langley. It was there that he made the first night takeoff and the first catapult launching. Mason was there when WWII began—Pearl Harbor. As a captain in 1942, he took command of the U. S. S. Hornet. At the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the Hornet was sunk—he was the last man to abandon ship. A hero in that battle, he was promoted to Rear Admiral.
After 38 years in the U. S. Navy, he retired in 1946. It was then that Rear Admiral Charles P. Mason and his wife came home to Pensacola forever. Admiral Mason was chosen Mayor in 1947 and served until 1957, when the Florida legislature gave him the title of Honorary Mayor for Life.
He died in 1971 at the age of 80 and is buried in St. John’s Cemetery. The Admiral Mason Park, located at the corner of 9th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway, was named in his honor.
In the phots: On February 13, 1953, officers of the police department stand for their annual inspection by the old admiral – Mayor C. P. Mason – who felt an annual inspection was good for discipline and morale.
An excerpt from the soon-coming book “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest” available on Amazon.
What does a hero look like? Have you ever wondered that? In the movies, it is usually the good-looking, smiling, confident guy that everyone likes. We all know that is not always the case, but sometimes it is.
Greg Gordon is one of those guys that you want to like. When you see Greg, you gotta smile. He does that to you. He is usually smiling back. On top of that, he has those Hollywood looks – yep, he is what you think a hero is supposed to look like. The best part is…you want him to be a hero. You just like him!
Greg was born in Michigan. As a child growing up, he always wanted to be a police officer. He wanted to help people and he wanted to give traffic tickets! So, it was not surprise to anyone when he joined the Pensacola Police Department.
The job fit like a glove! Greg excelled in every assignment. In great physical shape, he was one of the fastest officers the department has ever had. As a bicycle officer, he excelled in police biking maneuvers. During police bike demonstrations, Greg would not only ride his bicycle down a flight of stairs but turn around and ride it back up – smiling the whole way!
His humble attitude rounded him out. He was one of those guys who could put someone in jail and write them a ticket and they would thank him for it! Unbelievable!
On July 3, 2009, Greg had just finished a report and was driving to the police headquarters when he heard a call go out. The dispatcher explained that someone had called 911 from 410 E. Hatton Street but didn’t say anything. Not uncommon. Was it a kid that was playing? Was it a game being played by children? Was it an accidental call from an adult? Or…was it a true emergency? He couldn’t tell, so, being close, he decided he would respond.
“Headquarters, I’m enroute,” Greg said over the radio. He sped up a little. When he rounded the corner, the routine call immediately became unusual. The entire house was on fire! Black smoke billowed out of the windows.
When Greg got out of the police car, he noticed a crowd of onlookers in the road. They were staring at the inferno and at the newly-arrived officer. Greg figured the house must be vacant, or at least the occupants were out, but he asked anyway.
“Is anyone inside?”
One onlooker said “Probably. Leroy Lett lives there. His truck is there, which means he usually is.”
Greg wrestled with himself, “Should I go in? If no one is inside, I could get burned or overcome with smoke – for no reason. On the other hand, what if someone is inside and can’t get out?”
Staying true to his calling, Greg decided to risk it and look. He rushed up to the front door and kicked it open. He was not expecting what happened next. A wall of thick black noxious smoke hit him in the face. Oxygen was depleted. All he could breathe were fumes. He dropped to the floor where the air was at least breathable.
The controlled fires on television and in the movies show frightening flames that are conveniently to the side of the objective the hero is headed for. In real life, two facts must be dealt with – heavy black poisonous fumes and extreme heat. Both were present when Greg opened the front door. But, above the roar of the fire, Greg heard what he thought was labored breathing. He called – no answer. Was it just his imagination? Maybe the risk was too great. After all, no one would expect him to go into…this!
But what if it was a person breathing? What if they couldn’t answer? Again he decided to try. On his hands and knees, he crawled into the blazing furnace – the heat and smoke affecting his every move.
Completely blind – not able to see anything, Greg felt a man’s body. He had to get him out, and in a hurry. Neither he nor the victim would last long. He started to pull the man out the way he came in, but soon realized another obstacle. This guy was huge! He would have to pull him out by the clothing – except he only had his underwear on. Greg would have to pull the man by his sweating, slippery arm while crawling out himself, and he didn’t have much time. The smoke was already taking its toll. Greg began coughing and trying to catch his breath. But he continued.
Dragging a slippery, 250-pound man through the living room in the middle of a deadly house fire without the help of clothing to hold onto takes a lot of strength. Greg was in great physical shape, but could he do this? Nothing else to do but to try.
When he finally got to the front door, Greg was met by Sgt. Robert Hurst and Escambia County Deputy Curtis Cephas. Together, the three men got the victim onto the front lawn. They began life-saving efforts until Emergency Medical Services arrived and took over. Mr. Lett was trying to breathe and was foaming at the mouth. He had soot, ash and burns all over his body and his fate was still not determined. Sgt. Hurst, not knowing if others were inside, went to the back of the house where he might be able to get in. But the heat and smoke were too intense. He decided that nothing else could be done.
Exhausted, Sgt. Hurst looked for Greg. He found him a few yards away coughing and struggling to breathe. In payment for what he put his body through, he was suffering from smoke inhalation, a deadly condition. His face and uniform were covered in soot and ash, and he had a cut on his arm. Sgt. Hurst ordered Greg to go to the hospital, which he did.
Happily, both Mr. Lett and Officer Gordon fully recovered.
In a later interview with the Pensacola News Journal’s Sean Dugas, Leroy Lett explained his hopeless predicament: “I tried to unlock the back door to escape but couldn’t. Then my lungs quit. I knew I was finished. I was through, so I started talking to God.” With no hope of getting out alive, Mr. Lett did the only thing he could think of – to make a hopeless attempt to try to crawl. Just as he was giving up, Greg Gordon appeared.
“God used him as an angel. I called to the Almighty and He answered me,” recalled Mr. Lett. Greg, whose strength felt supernatural to Mr. Lett, grabbed him and pulled him to safety, saving the citizen’s life.
From the hospital, Greg was sent home. Sgt. Hurst, amazed at the ability of his officer, investigated. He viewed the scene and spoke with others present. Then he completed his report, including a recommendation for Officer Gordon to receive recognition for his feat.
On January 7, 2010, Officer Greg Gordon was awarded the Pensacola Police Department’s highest award – the Gold Medal of Valor, the tenth in the history of the Pensacola Police Department. He was also awarded the National Medal of Valor from the U. S. Department of Justice, the Law Enforcement Commendation Medal from the Pensacola Chapter Florida Society, Sons of the American Revolution, the Police Officer of the Year from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Thomas F. Welch Post 706, his name was added to the Heroes Hall of Fame of the Police and Firemen’s Insurance Association. He was also recognized as a hero by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission – only one of about 9000 in Canada and the United States awarded since 1904. He was also presented with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition by the United States Congress and Congressman Jeff Miller. The honor was read into the official record on the floor of the United States Congress.
So, in case you were wondering…a hero looks like Greg Gordon.
From my book: “Pensacola’s Finest”, available on Amazon
*Note: There are many versions of the following incident and many agencies said to have captured the famous killer. Most of them are similar in the facts of the arrest. This is simply one of those versions.
Rumor has it that he shot a man for snoring too loudly. “In self-defense” he claimed he killed 40 men. Research has shown that many of them were killed in cold blood.
His name was John Wesley Hardin, and he was one of the most infamous and feared gunfighters in the history of the Old West. One of the men Hardin killed was Comanche County, Texas Deputy Charles Webb.
An arrest warrant for Hardin was issued for murder. Hardin may have been deadly with a gun, but he was no match for the Texas Rangers, who would be hot on his trail. Maybe he and his gang could get away to Florida. It would be quieter, and his partner, Robert Joshua “Brown” Bowen had family there.
Hardin and Bowen headed east. Bowen had his own troubles, being a robber and murderer in his own right – he had active warrants for murder and escape. Pensacola was 797 miles away. Sounded good.
Hardin and his gang settled in nearby north Santa Rosa county with the Neill Bowen family near a community that later became the town of Jay.
“Life will be simpler now” he told himself. However, like many people, Hardin believed that the problem was the location. Not true. The problem was inside Hardin. Consequently, John continued in his habits.
Under the alias “James W. Swain,” he began hanging around in Pensacola, occasionally gambling and getting into scraps with others, but always under the radar. Mr. Swain was even familiar with Sheriff Hutchinson and Marshal Comyns.
Unbeknownst to Hardin or Bowen, the Texas Rangers, on the trail of Bowen, had put an undercover Ranger on the case. Hardin’s wife, Jane, was surveilled daily. They intercepted Bowen’s mail and kept track of every person he contacted. One letter they intercepted revealed that the gang – including Hardin and Bowen – were living in or near Pensacola. A road trip was suddenly planned by Texas Rangers John Armstrong and Jack Duncan.
When William Chipley, superintendent of the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad (and later mayor of Pensacola and Florida State Senator) learned that the Hardin gang was to catch a train at the Pensacola L&N Freight Depot, he accompanied the Rangers, Sheriff Hutchinson and Marshal Comyns to the train. A posse of Pensacola Police Officers and Escambia County Sheriff’s Department Deputies were also on hand.
Hutchinson, Duncan, Comyns and Chipley entered the train and apprehended Hardin before he could draw his weapon. However, one of his gang was fatally wounded in a shootout. Armstrong and Duncan escorted Hardin back to Texas where he stood trial.
On June 5, 1878, John Wesley Hardin was sentenced to 25 years in state prison – finally ridding the world of the danger of this killer. He was released on February 17, 1894.
On August 19, 1895, was shot in the back of the head by John Selman, Jr., killing him instantly.
From the book “I’m a Dead Man” – The JFK assassination and the unsolved murder in Pensacola
They were after him and he knew it. He said to his brother, “I’m a dead man. They’re going to kill me, but I have run as far as I am going to run.”
March 17, 1964: Pensacola, Florida
In the quiet of the darkness, a long dark automobile slowly pulled up in front of 316 West Romana Street and stopped. The driver’s window came down and, in the shadows, the two dark figures could be seen in the front seat. At first, the dark ominous figures simply stared at Hank. It was strange that he was outside his home at that time of morning – 4:15. Further, it was cold for a morning in the month of March in Florida. The frost could be seen on ground, even in the darkness. But Hank couldn’t sleep. He knew they were coming, and he was far too nervous to lay down and accept what he felt was inevitable. He hadn’t slept well all night, anticipating the arrival of the long black car with the grim reapers inside. He had been expecting them for several days. Hank strained and squinted to see if he could recognize who was in the car, but the first quarter moon didn’t provide enough light.
“Get in” the driver said without emotion. Hank knew what that meant – probably his last car ride. At first, he didn’t move. Should he run? Should he fight? He didn’t want to be killed in his mother’s front yard with her just inside the house. That would be too much for the old woman. His hesitation showed because the driver suddenly showed his right hand clutching a large, black Colt revolver.
“I said, GET IN.” said the man, quietly but emphatically. Hank contemplated. Then, with a huge surrendering sigh, he made his way through the front yard toward the street where the vehicle waited like a large black coffin. Hands shaking, he reached down, slowly opened the back door and got in, sitting just inside. As the car door closed, the vehicle sped away. The sound of the closing door woke his mother.
“Where are we headed?’ Hank asked. No answer. Would they take him to an isolated spot and shoot him in the head? At least it would be quick. Maybe he could convince them. “Y’all know that I don’t know anything. I was there, but I didn’t hear what was said.” The men replied with silence. The night was dark, cold, and eerily silent, but inside the car it seemed to be darker and colder to Hank. He was truly afraid.
Pensacola is situated at the extreme northwest corner of Florida on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Its historical roots reach well before the 1500s. Originally founded by native Americans and laid out by the Spanish, many of the streets are named after Spanish rulers and heroes. But at this time of morning, the normally busy downtown was empty. As old as it is, the town is not large. Even the sailors from the nearby navy base know that the town shuts down as soon as the last bar closes. The big car moved up Reus Street to Garden Street and turned right. “Maybe they are just trying to scare me!” Hank thought. But deep down inside he knew the truth. These men weren’t sent here to scare him. After all, he did possess some information.
The three figures rode in silence for three blocks, although it seemed like miles to Hank. As the driver got to the main drag – Palafox Street – he turned right and began heading south. At 4:19 am, the road was deserted except for the street sweeper.
The driver proceeded two blocks to Intendencia Street. He turned the corner and stopped. Hank swallowed deeply. I guess this is it… he thought to himself. The two men in the front seat exited the automobile. The driver said something low and unintelligible to the other man, who nodded in agreement. Hank could see that both were dressed in black overcoats. The driver wore a black felt fedora and gloves. Hank wondered if he really needed gloves, but that caused his imagination to run wild. The passenger had on a similar fedora, but it was grey. He kept clinching his fists. Hank couldn’t tell if it was due to the chilly weather, or if the man was preparing for action…but he figured it didn’t matter. Neither man smiled nor showed any expression. Hank got the impression that they had done this before.
“Get out” ordered the passenger, unemotionally. Hank could now see that both men were armed with revolvers. They wanted him to notice. Hank sat for a moment. This might be his last walk – ever. If their intention was to frighten Hank, it worked. He was visibly shaken. “Guys, you don’t have to do this” he pleaded. “I’m not gonna say nothin.” The passenger – the larger of the two – finally spoke. “HE SAID TO GET OUT OF THE CAR!”
His voice was unemotional, as cold and dark as the night. Finally, slowly, Hank exited the big automobile. In the dim light provided by the streetlight, Hank could finally see the faces of his intimidating sentinels. Neither showed any expression. They were simply doing a job. Hank thought he recognized the driver as someone he had seen before in Dallas. Was it at Jack Ruby’s club? Maybe at the Dallas Police Department. He couldn’t remember, but he was convinced he had seen him somewhere.
Silently, the solemn trio walked to the corner of Palafox and Intendencia Streets. Suddenly, before Hank could react, the quiet night air was pierced with the crash of the large window on the corner store.
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me.” Those are the last words the chief of police says to a new officer before he or she takes the oath of office to become a Pensacola Police Officer.
A flood of questions and emotions run through the officer’s brain at that moment: “What am I getting into?” “Am I up for it?” “What is expected of me?” and hundreds more. The cameras, the setting, the friends and family looking on don’t make the answers any clearer!
At that moment, the officer is following the time-honored tradition of accepting the responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of Pensacola. The new officer may not know it, but he or she is joining one of the oldest and most historic police departments in the United States. Most officers who become part of this old family don’t realize the historic institution they are stepping into, nor do they realize the legacy they will leave. Even though July 19, 1821 is celebrated as the department’s beginning, enforcing the law in this location began long before.
James Johnstone was appointed constable of West Florida in Pensacola in 1767 before the land was part of the United States. Juan de las Ruelas was the Alquacil (Spanish word for constable) for the Luna expedition in 1559. Before that, the Hawkshaw tribal councils had enforcers to see that their laws were carried out. In other words, men and women have been policing in Pensacola for a long time.
Police cars are the most common form of transportation for law enforcement officers. Horses, electric streetcars, horses, and buggies have also been used over the years, but not near as much as automobiles.
In Pensacola in the month of November 1913, discussion and approval took place at the regular meeting of the city commissioners regarding allowing for $600 for an automobile for Chief Sanders. On November 29 the Pensacola News-Journal reported that a large, four-door used Ford was purchased for $950 to be used primarily by the chief, but also by the commissioners as needed.
An article in the Pensacola News Journal on December 30, 1915 read that a lighter police car was needed that was better on gasoline. A year later, a smaller car was purchased. In 1936, the Pensacola Police Department owned six “police scout cars” that were driven 24 hours a day. The 1936-37 city budget included money to purchase two new cars so repairs can be made without running short on the street. Eventually, the police department fathers realized that police cars were more efficient than horses, so the last one was sold.
In 1997, Chief Norman Chapman instituted a take-home cruiser program for patrol officers. Prior to 1997, about fifty marked cars were driven 24-hours a day, putting about 100,000 miles on each car per year – hard miles. Obviously the cars did not last long. Under the new plan, each patrol officer would be issued a marked car and could take them home.
At first the unsurety involved with costs, problems, and coverage haunted those who pursued the idea. However, the program proved to not only save money, increase coverage, expand security and further recruiting. It was a win-win for the Pensacola Police Force. Since Pensacola police cruisers started sporting logos and paint jobs, the cars have been decorated with no less than six paint schemes, including black with a small logo, black and yellow, white with a door shield, red, white and blue, white with a “swish,” black and white. Different lights have also adorned the tops of the cruisers.
The equipment contained and installed in cruisers have increase since their advent. From regular, no-frills cars to large vehicles that are full of specialized and electronic equipment that favors an airplane cockpit, the cars became traveling police precincts.
As crime-fighting continues, police cruisers will continue to be the most widely used form of transportation and a valuable tool for policing.
The first motorcycle purchased for police work occurred when the Detroit, MI Police Department purchased a Harley-Davidson in 1908. The Pensacola Police Department purchased its first motorcycle, also a Harley-Davidson, in 1913.
In the 1920s, the advent of motor vehicles had brought on an increase in traffic without the safety precautions of today’s vehicles.
Without traffic rules or enforcement, many people became victims to terrible crashes. Many people also realized that they could outrun the law if they were sought after, resulting in an increase in police chases. To combat this, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company created a police division. New police-version flatheads were developed which were faster than anything on the road.
By 1930, the Pensacola Police Department traffic division had risen from a “new idea” to a necessity to an elite unit. Each officer wore a special winged-wheel patch made especially for traffic officers. They are still in use today. The patches, accompanied by the tall leather boots (for protection against the engines), the Sam Brown belts and the specially made pants made for quite a site!
The motorcycles and officers became the department’s show pieces. They were used for parades, escorts, funerals, traffic enforcement, crowd control, and traffic jams. Boys looked at the slick motor officers as larger than life, girls looked at them as knights in shining armor, men looked on them with disdain, and women…well they just looked at them.
From within the department, being chosen for the Motor Unit was an honor. Not all officers want to ride the two-wheeled attractions, but many did.
Besides being fun and flashy, riding a police motorcycle was a fast track for promotion. Many department leaders over the years were motor officers at one time.
The other side – they were hot in the summer (wool jackets in Florida in the 1900s-1950s, sitting atop a hot gasoline engine), cold in the winter (30-degree weather driving 60 mph in the open), dirty, and a lot of work to maintain them. Most officers, however, never complain.
Riding a police motorcycle is glamourous but dangerous. Many officers have been injured and three lost their lives while riding.
Motorcycles at the Pensacola Police Department definitely add a level of class to the department, but if you are riding one and don’t know what you are doing, you could end up hitting a Ford truck on Bayfront Parkway!
An excerpt from my latest book, “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest.”
Most anyone who grew up on the west side of downtown Pensacola, Florida knows the name Gaudet. Beginning from their West Gregory Street home, Louis and Mary’s five sons have produced a plethora of Gaudet kids who inhabit homes across Pensacola and Escambia County, Florida.
The son that probably was mentioned most in the news was Tim. Not for his crime activity, however, but for his crime fighting activity. From 1982-2011, he was a Pensacola Police Officer.
Tim Gaudet was not the flashy “look-at-me” type. He usually worked behind the scenes. He was never in the job for the attention. As a matter of fact, he tried to steer clear of the politicians and movers & shakers of the city. Rather, Tim was a street cop.
What does that mean? Tim’s desire was always to be in the middle of the goings-on in town. I don’t mean the political goings-on, but the street goings-on. Tim’s favorite place to be (no matter where he was assigned) was to be on the street. Give him an area of town and before long he would know everything that was going on there.
A detective had warrants out on a local bad guy one time.
“But, I don’t know where to find him!” he complained.
“He can be anywhere, and how am I supposed to know when he is out and about? How can I know when he is on the move where I can grab him?”
Another officer looked at him and smiled, “Tell Gaudet.”
“Tell Gaudet and then sit back and wait. He’ll call you with the arrestee!”
One detective referred to him as the pied piper. “People just follow him to jail! Every night he will have a line of them coming in behind him.”
Tim especially liked working the west side of Pensacola. He grew up there and knew most of the people. Either he grew up with them, went to school with them, knew their families, or had arrested them. They all respected him. Because he respected them.
In Tim’s mind, his job was to protect those people. When he was on duty, Tim’s focus was on every person walking down the street, every car, every house, every business. Nothing got past him. Besides being a good street cop, Tim was a long-time instructor at the shooting range. Not only was he a good shot, but he trained most of the department how to shoot.
On Wednesday, January 23, 1991, the sun was out and the temperature was a pleasant 55 degrees. Tim was working the evening shift – 4 PM to 1 AM.
This shift usually carried with it the most fun, because it was during this time when stuff happened. The day shift made for a more “human” schedule, and the midnight shift was for the vampires in the department, but the evening shift was – fun. The night usually went by fast because officers were busy!
For Tim Gaudet, the evening shift meant that he could find out more stuff. He could meet with informants, make arrests and glean information from his arrestees, and patrol around, observing every little detail, which was his specialty.
That is what he was doing on January 23, 1991. Beat 10 was one of the roughest areas of town. It included part of downtown, most of the red-light district, and Brownsville. Brownsville was an old bustling community that provided affordable living and its own commercial district. The main strip, along Cervantes Street, included a row of stores on both sides of the road, with an alleyway behind them. That is where Tim was patrolling on the fateful day in 1991.
As he was driving through the alleyway behind Carter’s Pawn Shop between “U” and “V” Streets, Tim noticed Mr. Carter’s truck still there. “Strange,” he thought to himself. “Mr. Carter is usually gone from here by five or shortly afterwards.”
Carter’s Pawn Shop was an icon in Brownsville. It seemed like 59-year-old George Carter had been in business at 2727 W. Cervantes Street forever. George was described as a good, Christian man who always dealt fairly with people. As a matter of fact, on that Wednesday, George was headed for church from the shop as soon as he closed up for the day.“
George, it will happen too fast! You won’t be able to load it then!” said his friend, W. D. Connell. George carried a gun in his right front pocket but insisted that he could load it in a moment if something went wrong. However, after considering it he realized that his friend had put up a good argument, so George loaded the pistol and returned it to his pocket. In such a store as a pawn shop, in such an area of town as Brownsville, anything could happen in a moment’s notice, so possessing a firearm for defending himself was a good idea.
January 23, 1991 5:34 PM:
The store next door to Carter’s Pawn Shop was Will’s Marine, a boat and boat accessory store. Jack Wills, the owner, was a long-time friend of George Carter. He and George had known each other for a long time, so he knew it was strange, that George, who didn’t like loud noise, had the televisions from his store for several minutes. At first, he thought it could have been a customer trying the volume on a television, but not for five minutes! More importantly than that, Mr. Wills could hear George through the wall. “Don’t kick me! I’m already down!” It sounded like he was in an argument – maybe a fight. That wasn’t like George. Mr. Wills decided he was going to call the police.
Just as Tim was contemplating why Mr. Carter’s car was still there, the police radio crackled.
“Headquarters to Unit 133?”
“Unit 133, ‘U’ and Cervantes.”
“10-4, you’re close. Be enroute to the corner of ‘V’ and Cervantes for a Suspicious Circumstances call. Contact Mr. Wills; he hears strange noises coming from the business next door.”
“Be there in one minute.
”The corner of ‘V’ and Cervantes was just another corner. Only it wasn’t. Coincidentally, it was the same corner that the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy last saw freedom thirteen years prior. In 1978, Pensacola Police Officer David Lee, patrolling his beat just like Tim, saw Bundy in the parking lot of the restaurant at ‘V’ and Cervantes and chased him about a mile before making the arrest.
“Officer, I think Mr. Carter is in some kind of trouble.” said Mr. Wills as Tim pulled up and got out of his cruiser. “Something’s not right.” He then proceeded to lay out his justification for calling the police.
“For the past five minutes, it seems like every television in his shop has been playing full blast. But here’s the wild part. I am pretty sure I heard George pleading with someone a few minutes ago. He said ‘Don’t kick me. I’m already down!’ And one of my employees was pretty sure he heard screaming coming from the pawn shop. I don’t think he has left the store yet, but I am worried about him.”
“Did you hear anything else, like a gunshot?” Tim asked.
“No. nothing like that,” Mr. Wills answered. “But, with the televisions so loud, we wouldn’t be able to hear anything anyway.”
“I’ll go check it out. Thanks, Mr. Wills.”
“Unit 133 to Headquarters,” Tim radioed.
“Go ahead, 133.”
“Send another unit to 2727 W. Cervantes Street.”
Tim hardly ever got on the radio, especially to call for another officer.
“If Tim has asked for help, there is likely to be a problem.
”Several units replied that they were on the way. Knowing that the situation could be dire, Tim knew he needed to tackle this problem now. He crept around the corner to Carter’s Pawn Shop.
Antonio Melton and Bendleon Lewis had both just become adults. Both men were 18 years old and were friends. Both also had a lengthy juvenile record which was washed away when they became adults. Sixty-seven days ago, the two men, along with a third – Tony Houston – took a cab to west Lakeview Ave and ‘V’ Streets, about a mile north of Carter’s Pawn Shop. When the cab stopped, Lewis jumped out and ran. When driver Ricky Saylor announced the fare, Melton pulled his handgun and demanded all his money. In a few short seconds, Melton and Houston jumped out of the cab and left the dead body of Ricky Saylor in the driver’s seat with a bullet to the head.
A few weeks later, on January 23, Melton arrived at the home of Bendleon Lewis. They had been planning another robbery for a few days. Bendleon had borrowed a pistol from a friend.
“I know, what about that pawn shop on west Cervantes Street?” suggested Melton. “That old man won’t put up a fight and, if he does, we’ll work him over till he doesn’t remember anything.”
“Sounds good,” said Lewis. We’ll pay him a visit next Wednesday afternoon, just before he closes the store. But…don’t shoot this one.”
Melton didn’t reply – he just smiled.
On Wednesday, January 23, the two young men entered Carter’s Pawn Shop just before 5:30 PM, closing time. Melton was armed with a .38 revolver in his pocket. “Can I help you?” said Mr. Carter.
“No, just looking,” mumbled Melton.
“Okay, but I’ll be closing in about five minutes.
”Suddenly, Melton pulled his revolver out and put it to Mr. Carter’s head. “Now, we’re going to take that jewelry over there,” he said. “and we’re going to take your money and guns.”
Mr. Carter felt for the pistol in his pocket. He went for it, but Melton grabbed it from his hand. “So, you were going to try to shoot me, were you?” He took Mr. Carter’s gun and put his in his pocket.
Melton told Lewis to get the money from the cash register and then turn up the volume on all of the televisions. Lewis obeyed. Then, with the victim’s own handgun, Melton ordered Carter to open the safe, which he did. BAM! The explosion of Mr. Carter’s gun suddenly sounded. The old gentleman crumpled to the floor, a fatal bullet hole in his head. Melton looked at him with an air of satisfaction, then smiled at Lewis. “Why did you have to do that?” Lewis asked.
“He deserved it. Besides, we are wearing gloves this time. They will never catch us. Think about it…they still haven’t caught us from the other one. Now, let’s get this stuff and get out of here.
”The two murderers bagged up the jewelry, guns and money and walked to the front door to leave. As they opened the door to Cervantes Street, they saw one of the backup officers slowly arriving across the four-lane street. “We’ll have to hurry!” Melton said. “We can run around the corner and get out of here before they know what happened.
”As Melton eased out the door watching the police cruiser to his right, he felt something cold, hard, and metal gently touch the left side of his head.
“Partner, don’t even turn around,” said Officer Tim Gaudet in his usual calm but authoritative manner, his Heckler & Koch 9mm pistol pressed against Melton’s left temple. “Just put everything down slowly and put your hands up.
”Melton and Lewis both froze in their tracks. Both men immediately emptied their hands, the guns, money and jewelry falling to the ground. Officer Gaudet ordered both men to the ground. As soon as the backup officers arrived, they cuffed the men. Tim then hurried inside to check on George Carter.
He first found the entire shop in disarray, something that Mr. Carter never allowed. Then he saw him. The kind, giving businessman lay dead on the floor, a bullet through his head, fired from his own gun, which was found in the pocket of Antonio Melton.
In a foot race, there is one place for the victor – the first runner to arrive. Likewise, in a trial, there is one place for the state’s witness – the first suspect to cooperate.
Although Antonio Melton refused to admit his involvement with Mr. Carter’s murder, the evidence was overwhelming. He could have been convicted on that point alone. After all, Officer Gaudet caught him mostly red-handed. The murder weapon was in his possession. Two strikes.
But Bendleon Lewis put it out of reach. For many years, he had been manipulated and intimidated by Melton, but he wasn’t going to wear this. When Detective Steve Ordonia sat him down for an interview, he told all. Not only did he give every detail about the killing of George Carter and the associated robbery, but he threw an evidentiary hand grenade.
“By the way, you know about the white cab driver that y’all found shot in the head in November?” he asked.
“I heard about it, but it happened outside the city limits,” answered Detective Ordonia. “So, it is being investigated by the sheriff’s department.”
“Antonio did that one too.”
“How do you know that?” asked Ordonia.
“I was with him and Tony Houston in the cab at first. When I heard Antonio say that he was going to rob the guy and I saw his gun, I got out of the car and left. Then I heard later that the man was dead.”
He left the room and called the detective assigned to that case.
“Get down here,” Ordonia said. “I think I may have found out who killed Ricky Saylor.
”The trial was very emotional, but it wasn’t much of a trial. The Saylor murder trial had already taken place, and Antonio Melton and Tony Houston were both found guilty. Houston got 20 years, and Melton got life.
At the George Carter murder trial, Bendleon Lewis testified against him. Combined with the testimony of Officer Gaudet and others, along with the physical evidence, no one was surprised when the guilty verdict was read. A month later, Judge William Anderson sentenced Antonio Melton to die in the electric chair. Tim, in his quiet way, never said anything about his heroics.
The truth is, Antonio Melton would have certainly continued on his murderous rampage. He had killed two people without consideration of their lives, families, friends, future…nothing. He simply wanted what he wanted. What he didn’t want, or expect, was to meet Officer Tim Gaudet. Tim single-handedly stopped the killing spree.
Exactly one year and two days after the murder – on January 25, 1992, the Pensacola Police Department, at an awards banquet, presented Tim with the Department’s second highest award – the Silver Cross.
Still doesn’t bring George Carter back, but Antonio Melton won’t be killing innocent people any more…thanks to Tim Gaudet.