End of Watch: The Death of Detective James Jeffcoat: March 22, 1968

From the book “Pensacola’s Finest,” available on Amazon.

54 years ago today…

On the front page of the June 10, 1951 edition of the Pensacola News-Journal was the story entitled “Painter Kills His Baby Daughter in Family Fight.”  Richard Bonifay, a local painter, lived at 521 N. Spring Street.  He was estranged from his wife, Jewell, and his 10-month old daughter, Linda Jean.

On June 8, Bonifay came to the Minton household, the home of the family that Jewell and her daughter were staying with at 503 N. Barcelona Street.  He became so disorderly that the police were called to make him leave.  Deputy Constable John Rowley responded.  He spoke to Bonifay, who had been drinking, and asked him to calm down.  He then ordered Bonifay to leave the house, which he did.  Constable Rowley made Jewell promise to call if Bonifay returned, and Jewell agreed she would.  She didn’t.

            On June 9, Bonifay returned, causing some suspicion from the Minton family, who were also the landlords.  Even though they feared that Richard might hurt Jewell and Linda Jean, Mr. and Mrs. Minton gave them some space and allowed them to talk, waiting in the next room.  After many minutes of Bonifay’s anger escalating, Jewell called the police again.  The Mintons then heard a thumping noise repeatedly coming from the room the Bonifays were occupying.  The Jewell Bonifay screamed “You have killed my baby!”  As the Mintons rushed into the room, Bonifay said “I hope I did.”  Mr. Minton then knocked Bonifay to the floor and held him for the police.  After a few minutes, it was obvious that taking the child to the hospital was more important, so Mr. Minton let Richard go. 

Constable Rowley was notified of a potential problem at the Minton home and responded, almost certain of what the problem stemmed from, but never guessing the current crisis.  On the way, he saw Bonifay walking on Jackson Street away from the scene.  Seeing his demeanor and suspecting some trouble, Constable Rowley took Bonifay into custody and escorted him to Police Headquarters, where he learned of the situation.  Bonifay was turned over to Detective James Jeffcoat and others.  The veteran detective was reserved and considered quiet and no-nonsense.  However, he was not afraid or indecisive.  He began a conversation with Bonifay and allowed him to speak what was on his mind, which he did.   Bonifay eventually asked for an attorney, but not until after he gave some damaging testimony. 

At the hospital, family, friends and officers learned that the child had died.  She suffered from a crushed skull, a broken neck and the bone in her left forearm was broken.  Testimony revealed that, during the argument, Bonifay grabbed his fragile 10-month old daughter by her legs and slammed her head on the floor and on the chest in the room.  

Detective Jeffcoat and the others did such a job that, at trial, Bonifay decided he had no option but to plead guilty.  He was sentenced by Judge E. E. Mason to life in prison in Raiford, Florida.

James Jeffcoat was pretty amazing.  He was born in Caryville, Florida, but grew up in Pensacola.  As a young man, he was a champion boxer in the Golden Gloves program.  In 1941, he joined the U. S. Army and was sent overseas.  He spent 46 months in the European Theatre, including storming the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  After the war, he immediately joined the Pensacola Police force in 1946.  He served as a patrolman for five years, being promoted to sergeant in 1951.    On April 25, 1961, he began his job as a detective after his promotion to the rank. 

James Jeffcoat’s hobby was to raise pigeons.  His expertise came in handy one Saturday in 1957 when a pigeon flew into one of the windows of the police station.  After the fowl waddled into Captain Raymond Harper’s office, Sergeant Jeffcoat responded to a call from the good captain and correctly discovered that the bird was from New Orleans but could not fly home due to oil on its wings.  The expert took the bird home, cleaned it up, and contacted the owner!

As a sergeant, James Jeffcoat was known all over town, especially the west side of town, as the guy that oversaw all day-to-day police matters.  He was instrumental in arrests, traffic crashes, and calls for help.  He was everywhere!  As a detective, he was involved in many cases, ranging from murders to burglaries to thefts.

On Friday morning, March 22, 1968, Detective Jeffcoat arrived at work as usual, and, as usual, faced a busy workload.  He went to work in his office at the police station.  Around 3 PM, he collapsed on the table in the detective’s meeting room.  His fellow officers immediately called for an ambulance and together, they carried him downstairs where they were met by emergency workers.  Detective Jeffcoat was pronounced dead on his arrival at Sacred Heart Hospital.

James was survived by his wife and two daughters.  They lived on Springhill Drive in Pensacola and attended First Methodist Church, where the funeral was held on March 24, 1968.  He is buried in St. John’s cemetery.

#oldpolicestories #pensacolasfinest

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