An excerpt from the book, “Some Gave All,” coming soon.
By Mike Simmons
Friday, August 19, 1938: Like August usually feels in Pensacola, it was a hot, 91-degree, muggy day. Archie’s thirteen-year-old nephew, Henry Harvey, was riding with him to see what police work was really like. He never expected it would be his uncle’s last day.
During the shift, Bowman was called to Tarragona and Wright Streets near the old L&N Train Station in reference to some thefts from a vehicle. The fifty-two-year-old veteran detective saw a young lad walking along the sidewalk carrying a jug of liquor. “I got it from Mr. Ben Davis. He lives right around the corner.” Archie knew Ben. He had dealt with him before.
When they first arrived at the house – 1005 N. Hayne Street – no one was home. Archie and Henry went around back and met Davis as he was arriving. “Ben, I thought you said you weren’t making illegal liquor anymore.”
“No, Sir, Officer Bowman,” said the 23-year-old. “I quit that a long time ago.”
“If that’s the case, then, why did I just speak with someone who was carrying whiskey in one of your jugs? Let’s go inside and see what you have.”
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 made a vain attempt to keep the detective out, but Archie was determined. The three walked into the house. Archie instructed Henry to stay in the front room; meanwhile, he was going to take Davis into the back room while he searched it. Henry looked over at Davis. He had a strange look, Henry thought. At first, he seemed nervous, but his expression suddenly changed to anger. The two men disappeared into the back room.
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. Afraid, Henry ran out the front door. Seconds later, to his shock, Henry heard four shots. Then he saw the same man exit the door and run around the house.
Charlie Cheese was a young man of 30. He had grown up in Monroeville, Alabama, but moved to Pensacola where he got a job at the Pensacola Buggy Works, a car dealership located around the corner from the home of Ben Davis. Charlie saw Ben run out of his house with a revolver in his hand and round the corner where he jumped into a 1933 maroon Chevrolet and sped off. He reported what he saw.
When Henry checked on his uncle, he – along with others in the house – discovered that 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 where he was declared dead on arrival. 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 simply for his own betterment. Archie left his wife, Carrie to mourn his loss. The couple lived at 1816 W. Government Street, on the northeast corner of “L” and Government.
The calls started coming in. Sightings were reported in Cantonment, Molino, and across the north part of the county, as well as several reported from South Alabama. But it was in Uriah, Alabama that he was located. Monroe County Sheriff J. P. Farrish, Sr. brought the fugitive to Atmore where he was met by deputies from Escambia County, Alabama.
Wednesday, January 18, 1939: Finally, the day arrived. As soon as Davis was brought into the courtroom, the proceedings began. First, a jury was chosen. Then the opening arguments, followed by the prosecution’s case and the defense’s case. Then both attorneys gave closing arguments. The case finally went to the jury.
It took them fifteen minutes to reach a verdict – guilty. Davis was sentenced to life in prison. Within a few days, Convict Ben Davis arrived at his new home in Raiford, Florida, known as the Florida State Prison. He never got out.