Three Brave Officers

From Mike Simmons’ new book: Stories of Pensacola’s Finest

Hawkshaw. hawk.shaw /ˈhôkˌSHô/- a detective; a gumshoe. – brings to mind a dark, dimly lit street and a man wearing a fedora in a London Fog overcoat – kinda like Humphrey Bogart.

But in Pensacola, the word has a different meaning. Long before the Europeans landed on the shores of West Florida, Native Americans inhabited the land. Known as Hunter/gatherers, they lived along the shoreline of the eastern portion of town. The Hawkshaw Indians’ diet consisted of mainly seafood, which was plenteous.

After the area was settled and became the town of Pensacola, working people, who couldn’t afford to live in the area surrounding Seville Square, built houses in Hawkshaw. The poor neighborhood of blue-collar workers was a tight-knit group, raising great, hard-working citizens.

In the middle of the twentieth century, many of the houses in Hawkshaw were razed, and low-income housing, known as “Aragon Court,” was built. Again, the neighborhood became close, and neighbors became more like family.

The Moody family lived there. One of the children, Greg, was destined to become a success. He was athletic, competitive and tough. He had to be – he lived in Aragon Court.

When Greg was in high school, the Moody family moved to Oakfield Acres, a quiet, middle-class neighborhood with lots of kids. Life was good.

On Friday, October 2, 1967, Greg celebrated his seventeenth birthday. Five days later, on Wednesday, October 7, at 7:50 AM, Greg was riding the school bus to nearby Woodham High School when he and the other kids on the bus witnessed an event that assuredly they will never forget.

Hollis Cook was a hometown football hero. Attending and playing football for Pensacola Technical High School, the team’s strategy was “give the ball to Hollis.” In their first game against Crestview High, Tech won 18-6. Hollis scored all three touchdowns. He was obvious college material – maybe even pro.

Hollis and three friends, Sandra Cort, Frances Creighton, and John Flanagan (also a football standout) were riding to school on Hancock Lane in a Volkswagen Bug. When they crossed the L&N railroad tracks, a train broadsided the little car, knocking it about 30 feet. When they found Miss Cort’s body, it had been dragged 300 feet down the track by the train. Mr. Cook’s body was found lying 10 feet in front of the car. Creighton and Flanagan were ejected and injured but survived.

At that moment, Greg realized how short life can be. He determined to make the most of it.

Throughout his high school years, the United States was heavily involved in the war in Vietnam. Daily accounts of the action, the deaths and the victories were listed in the newspapers and on television. In such a world, what does a young, athletic, competitive, tough kid want to do? He wants to go fight!

After graduation, the draft notices began showing up. The graduates of the high schools in Pensacola – like the rest of the United States – were now considered ready to defend freedom, and the government told them so.

“I don’t want to be told where and how I am going to fight,” Greg told himself. He had heard the nightmare stories of unwilling men being sent to undesirable places to do unwanted things, and he wanted no part of it. If he was going to be sent to Vietnam, at least he wanted it to be on his terms. “I’m going to join the U. S. Marines!” He immediately signed up.

The fighting was fierce – to fierce to dwell on many years later. After repeated tours in an unknown land on the other side of the world, Greg had done his duty and was released from his three-year obligation. He came back to his hometown of Pensacola. He found employment at several different places, but finally landed on a position with Trailways bus station at Baylen and Wright Streets.

Working his way up to assistant manager, Greg liked his job – sort of. He still felt like something was missing. First of all, he didn’t make enough money to live on. His house was in Myrtle Grove and he rode his bicycle downtown to work every day – about five miles. Secondly, the job didn’t seem fulfilling enough to a Vietnam Vet who had faced life and death circumstances every day for several years.

One cold evening, the young assistant manager was making reservations for some passengers when he was confronted by a drunk. “Hey, give me some money!” the man demanded from Greg and from the passengers.

“I’ll take care of this now,” Greg said to himself. He called the police. In a matter of minutes, two large officers in impressive leather jackets showed up.

“What can we help you with?” one asked.  

“That guy has not business here. He has been harassing me and my customers.”

The officers approached the man – one on each side – and began talking to him. Within seconds, he didn’t like what they said and began yelling obscenities. Without a word, the two giants looked at each other, grabbed an arm apiece, and carried the man outside and into the waiting cruiser. The job was wrapped up in a matter of minutes.

Greg stopped and stared. Then he pointed his finger at the lawmen and with determination said to himself, “That’s what I’m going to be!”

 When 1976 arrived, his dream came true. He found himself wearing the light blue uniform shirt and the historical badge of the Pensacola Police Department.

Greg soon discovered that the job was a better fit than he originally thought. He found himself engaged in helping other officers with defensive tactics and physical fitness. It was the perfect job! “Imagine,” he thought to himself, “I drive around, help good people and put bad guys in jail…AND THEY PAY ME TO DO IT!!!”

Monday, November 17, 1980, 1:59 AM:

            The midnight shift in November in Pensacola. It seems rather mild. Florida weather – even cold weather – is not bad. Pensacola is not a large city, so it must be quiet.

            While there is some truth to those views, there remains the other side. The cold, wet wind on the coast during winter will send chills through you. And the small city of Pensacola has its seedy moments for sure.

            That’s the way it was at 1:59 AM on Monday morning, November 17, 1980. The convenience store at Alcaniz and Cervantes Street in downtown Pensacola, the 7-11 Store, was the scene of many late-night disturbances. Today was no different, and Officer Joe Spirakis was dispatched to respond. When he arrived was when the story took a turn.

            Allen Stallworth and Patricia Grice had been living together. To call their relationship volatile would be an understatement. As a result of one of their disagreements, Allen moved out and moved in with his grandmother, Anna Marie Pickett at 712 N. Hayne Street (across the street from the 7-11.)

            Joe got out of the cruiser to screams and panic. The store’s night manager, Wanda Pence, yelled at Joe to look across the street at the fire. Allen was also screaming and pointing, but he was also jumping up and down in a frenzied state.

            What Joe saw gave him an accurate picture of the situation. Several small fires had been started under Annie Marie Pickett’s frame house and she was apparently inside at the time. In an old frame house, the wood is ready at any moment to catch fire, which it did. Joe called for the fire department to respond, and he headed to the house. He, Officer Mack Cramer and Officer Greg Moody arrived at the same moment. The fire had already rendered the front door impassable. As a team, the men entered the old tender box through the window and the back door.

            “But, I need to pack a suitcase if I’m going to have to leave,” said the elderly Mrs. Pickett.

            Greg Moody looked at her and respectfully said, “No ma’am. We don’t have the time to pack a bag. This house is on fire!”

            “At least let me get some clothes from the closet to wear.”

            Greg, contemplating picking the woman up and carrying her out, figured that, if he placated her, she might cooperate and come with him. He reached into her closet and grabbed a handful of clothes hanging. He then grabbed Mrs. Pickett’s arm and led her out. They started around the south side of the house but realized that a huge propane tank sat outside the bedroom window. Not a good idea. If it blew, it would rival any July Fourth fireworks anywhere! The small group of three officers and one elderly woman made their way around the north side to the front. They were met by firefighters and a fire truck from Station One, who took over the scene. The men got Mrs. Pickett out of harm’s way.

            “This is an arson.” Joe told the other officers. “Stallworth told me it was set by his girlfriend, Patricia Grice.” They radioed for the dispatcher to call out the on-call investigator for an arson complaint.

            Skip Bollens didn’t seem like a police officer. Very articulate, intelligent and…nice, his demeanor was sometimes demeaning. Like Greg, he was a Vietnam Vet and had seen some real action. Skip was laid back, but he could be set off if pushed too far. Tonight, he was the on-call detective.

            Through interviews with the witnesses, the victim and the officers, Skip put it together pretty quick. It appeared that Patricia Grice, in an attempt to get back at Allen Stallworth, set fire to Mrs. Pickett’s house. About a week later, Allen died in another house fire on Deleon Street. Patricia Grice narrowly escaped harm in that one. Go figure…

            On February 6, 1981, the Pensacola News Journal reported that Greg Moody, Mack Cramer and Joe Spirakis were all awarded the Pensacola Police Department Bronze Cross for their heroic effort. In his letter to Chief of Police Louis Goss, Lt. James Beaumont wrote “The woman was overcome by smoke, very groggy and had to physically removed. No doubt, she would have succumbed without the actions of these officers.

Just proves that officers are heroes at any moment, no matter the circumstances.

#oldpolicestories #pensacolasfinest #pensacolapolice

Mack Cramer
Joe Spirakis
Greg Moody

Published by Mike Simmons

I am a retired sergeant with the Pensacola Police Department. I currently work as a coordinator at the George Stone Criminal Justice Training Center. I am married to the former Jerri Crabtree. We have three grown children and seven grandchildren. I volunteer with a boys' mentoring program known as "Royal Rangers."

4 thoughts on “Three Brave Officers

  1. I was going to Tech when that accident took place. I have articles and photos of Hollis Cook playing football. People were crying in the halls that morning. It wasn’t until a little later I found out why. A very sad time.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: