End of Watch: The death of Pensacola Police Officer Edward O’Brien Pursell, August 12, 1944

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An excerpt from the book, “Some Gave All,” available soon on this website and Amazon

By Mike Simmons

They were known as “The Pensacola Hillbillies.” Brien Pursell and Johnny Wilkerson could play the fiddle better than anyone around. They regularly entered fiddling contests and always won. On one occasion, they traveled eight hours to Lake City, Florida, entered a fiddling contest…, and won. They were often asked to perform on WCOA, Pensacola’s radio station. They were good.

Edward Pursell never took music lessons. His family couldn’t afford to pay for them. However, his talent helped him rise above his unfortunate circumstances and he taught himself to play the fiddle. After hours of practice and hard work, he became successful.

He went on to win several championships. Discussion soon followed about him becoming a professional. Edward’s answer was an emphatic “NO.” His desire in life was to become a Pensacola Police Officer. That desire was fulfilled when he joined the force in 1943.

H. P. “Buddy” Peake

The times were lean for finding suitable police officers during World War II. At 46 years of age, Edward was considered an old man by police officer standards, but he had always wanted to do the job of law enforcement, so he joined. About a month before his 47th birthday, on August 9, 1944, Officers Pursell and Buddy Peake stopped Lt. A. D. Byers, U. S. N. on traffic charges. Byers immediately became abusive, cursing and using obscene language. After attempts to calm Byers, Officer Pursell placed him under arrest.

During the arrest, the lieutenant violently resisted the officers, causing a physical fight. Suddenly, Officer Pursell grabbed his chest and collapsed from a heart attack. He was rushed to Pensacola Hospital and placed in an oxygen tent. After battling for his life for three days, Officer Pursell succumbed. To make matters worse, Lt. Byers filed a complaint against Officer Pursell for excessive use of force, denying the resistance or abusive language.

Officer Edward O’Brien Pursell

Officer Pursell’s funeral took place on Sunday, August 13 at 3:45 PM. The funeral began at the Pursell home on the corner of Garden and DeVilliers Streets and continued at 4:00 PM at the First Assembly of God Church, 1920 W. Garden Street. Officer Pursell had been a member of the Pensacola Police Department for almost a year. Interestingly, most officers and citizens of Pensacola were unaware of Edward Pursell’s fiddle-playing fame. He was buried at Union Hill Cemetery in Myrtle Grove.

First Assembly of God Church, 1920 W. Garden Street


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