An excerpt from the book “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest,” available at Amazon.
August 19, 1938 was a hot, 91-degree, muggy day. Archie Bowman was a special officer (detective) with the Pensacola Police Department. An investigation led him to 1005 N. Hayne Street, the home of Ben Davis, a known liquor peddler, who had been selling illegal alcohol to children.
Ben had had his troubles with the law before. He had been arrested for drunkenness and a few traffic violations. On one occasion, he was arrested for using a private vehicle to pick up taxi fares. His wife had recently been charged with possession of illegal alcohol.
Davis reluctantly allowed Archie into the house. A minute later, Davis walked back into the front room, lifted a bed cushion, and pulled out a pistol. Looking at the gun, he said “I’m tired of them police always searching my house, looking for illegal alcohol!” Then he ran into the back room. Seconds later, four gunshots were heard. Davis ran outside, jumped into a car and sped away.
Archie had been shot multiple times – in the arm, shoulder, abdomen and chest. It didn’t look good. An ambulance and the police were summoned.
Within minutes, the small house was swarming with emergency workers, including Chief of Police William O’Connell. The wounded detective was soon loaded into an ambulance owned by Fisher-Pou Funeral Home and rushed to Pensacola Hospital, but he died on the way. The distinguished career of an excellent police officer who showed no fear came to an end in an instant – at the hands of a small man.
In such a moment, every officer – in Pensacola and abroad – that heard of the death of a brother felt a stab in his heart. The stab went deep and stayed…because nothing could make it better. Nothing, that is, except to focus all the pain and attention on capturing the responsible party. If the perpetrator of this cowardly act wanted to kick the hornet’s nest of hundreds of angry, expert lawmen, he accomplished it.
What developed from the group of heartbroken officers at the scene quickly grew into the largest manhunt that has ever been formed in northwest Florida up to that time. A small army of police officers, deputies, constables, and state officers from Pensacola to Atmore, Alabama to Fort Walton grabbed their pistols, shotguns and bloodhounds and answered the call for help in the search. They checked out every sighting reported, went through wooded areas, small communities, towns, and cities looking for the fugitive.
Sunday, August 21, 1938:
The intersection of “L” and Government Streets needed a traffic cop. Cars were lined along both sides of the streets for several blocks in each direction. Inside the small house at 1816 West Government Street lay the body of the fallen hero, his family seated beside it. The house was not only full, but the yard, the sidewalk and the street as well. Reverend C. V. McMurphy and Reverend I. I. Roberts conducted a moving service. They went over Archie’s fearless dedication to his job, and his efforts to keep the city safe.
After the service, the body was taken 35 miles north to the cemetery at Ray’s Chapel in McDavid, Florida – Archie’s stomping grounds growing up. The funeral procession stretched for three miles. The hearse was at Palafox Street and Pottery Plant Road (Fairfield Drive) when the last car joined in on West Government Street.
When the graveside services were finished, guns were picked up by tired, grubby lawmen who got back to work with a renewed fervor to capture Archie’s killer.
Friday, August 26, 1938:
Thanks to a tip, Ben was arrested in Monroe, Alabama and taken by Sheriff Farish to Atmore where he was met by Escambia County, Florida Sheriff Deputies.
On January 18, 1939, Ben Davis was found guilty of murdering Officer Bowman and sentenced to life in prison. He spent the rest of his days at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.