End of Watch: The death of Jacksonville police officer (and Pensacola Native) William Kelly

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By Mike Simmons

The article on Page one in the September 4, 1924, edition of the Pensacola News Journal was entitled, “Jax Officer Dies from Gun Wounds.” The subtitle said, “Motorcycle Policeman Kelly, shot at Jacksonville, was former Pensacolian.”

William Kelly not only grew up in Pensacola, but he came from a lineage of respected citizens.

There is not much that is more peaceful than watching a sunrise, and the sunrises don’t get much better than in Wilmington, North Carolina. That is where, on April 7, 1814, William W. J. Kelly was born.

Atlantic sunrise at Wilmington Beach

When W. J. was sixteen years old, the family moved to Pensacola, Florida, where his father, Hanson Kelly, became postmaster. W. J., who set his sights high, studied law and was accepted to the Bar of Escambia County at the age of 18.

Judge William W. J. Kelly

W. J. served in the Florida Territorial legislature, the state House of Representatives, Justice of the Peace, Pensacola Alderman, in the Mexican War, in the U.S. Navy, in the Civil War, and he served as the first lieutenant governor of Florida. In 1868, W. J. returned home to Pensacola where he served as a judge. He also served as customs inspector at the Port of Pensacola. He died on September 8, 1878, and was buried at St. John’s Cemetery.

One of his sons, Aaron, played baseball in one of the city teams in Pensacola and was apparently very good. He also found himself in several scrapes with the police as a young man. He married Carrie Powers on December 9, 1889. Four years later, on August 10, 1893, the couple gave birth to William Kelly.

On December 4, 1908, Aaron became a Pensacola Police Officer and served faithfully for ten years. In 1918, After serving in the U.S. Army during WWI, Aaron moved to Jacksonville where his son, William, lived with his family.

The Pensacola Police Department in 1909. Officer Kelly is the sixth from the right on the third row.

In 1920, William, his wife, Eula and daughter, Carolyn moved from Pensacola to Jacksonville, where he, like his father, joined the city police force there. William had a muscular frame – he was described as the “star athlete” at the Jacksonville Police Department. His nickname was the “Brave Man.”

By 1924, William had proven that he had what it takes and was promoted to Motorcycle officer. Then, at 3:15 PM on September 1, 1924, the tragic story began. Willliam made two arrests at a local brothel. After processing the two arrestees, he returned and placed two more under arrest. As he was calling the police department call box to arrange for transport, a man named Will Douglas emerged from a bedroom, armed with a firearm, and fired four rounds into the officer, striking him in the chest and lungs. Despite being mortally wounded, William ran outside and chased the suspect. He was taken by a civilian vehicle to the hospital where he died three days later.

Officer William Kelly

Douglas made his way to New York where he adopted the name of Nathan Perry. He lived there until his true identity was discovered and he was arrested in May 1925. On May 20, he was escorted from New York back to Jacksonville.

After confessing to committing the crime, his trial started in August 1925. He was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty.

On March 9, 1926, while Douglas was waiting for his hearing appealing the death penalty, he died of a blood disease.

You reap what you sow…

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