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.