Late in May, I saw a Facebook post on the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page that stated that its only deputy to be killed in the line of duty had finally been memorialized, more than 90 years after his death. I asked the head of community and media relations at the sheriff’s office, Tracy Whited, if she could provide more information so I could put together a story for The Gazette.
The more she told me about Deputy Rea Christian Horlocker and the crash that took his life, the more I wanted to write a separate story about the circumstances of his death — but I knew finding information about a crash from the Prohibition era would be no easy task.
Fortunately, dispatcher Julie Buco had assembled a scrapbook of every article she could find about Horlocker and the men who apparently caused his death.
Horlocker was 39 years old when he was on patrol July 3, 1924. He responded to a call about a speeding Dodge Roadster heading south on U.S. 23, according to an article in The Semi-Weekly Gazette — a predecessor to this publication — published July 4, 1924.
A farmer told The Gazette he had seen Horlocker in pursuit of the Dodge when the men in the Dodge began shooting at him. Horlocker reportedly returned fire, as he came alongside the car on Columbus-Delaware Road.
The Gazette reported that the Dodge swerved toward Horlocker, crowding him off the road. He crashed into a ditch, catapulting him into a telephone pole. He was discovered by a passing motorist and taken to Jane M. Case Hospital in Delaware, where he passed away at 4:15 p.m.
Horlocker’s death certificate stated that the cause of death was internal injuries from the crash. He was buried in Sunbury Cemetery on July 6, according to his death certificate. He had reportedly been a Delaware County sheriff’s deputy for less than a year.
The Evening Dispatch then reported that, later in the day on July 3, Delaware County police and sheriff’s deputies had a gun battle with the men they believe were driving the Dodge. Patrolman Elmer Haley shot and killed a man, and wounded another during the clash near the heart of Delaware. Two men, Harry Pitts, 30, and Norman Bango, 36, both of Columbus, were arrested in connection with Horlocker’s death.
Both men denied any involvement in the incident with the Dodge but the men resided at 1264 Parsons Ave. in Columbus, the same address the Dodge had been registered to, the newspaper reported.
The Daily Journal Herald reported on July 5 that Bango was released after authorities determined he had nothing to do with the incident. However, Pitts remained in custody and witnesses identified him as the driver of the car.
Pitts later told authorities a man named Joseph Piccione, 29, of 919 Curtis Ave., Columbus, was the driver of the car, according to a July 29 story in The Gazette. They reported that Piccione confessed to driving the car after being interrogated by authorities for more than an hour. He told authorities that he lost control of the car when Horlocker started shooting and said he didn’t mean to run the deputy off the road.
Piccione told police he was employed by a ring of whiskey dealers from Jersey City and was being paid $50 a week — close to $670 today — to smuggle liquor from Detroit, The Gazette reports.
The Dodge was found July 4, along with 108 gallons of whiskey, in a Columbus garage, The Delaware Herald reported.
The Gazette reported Piccione was found guilty of manslaughter on Oct. 6 by a jury in Delaware County Common Pleas Court and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.
Delaware County Sheriff Fred Harter personally escorted Piccione to the Ohio Penitentiary on Oct. 8, according to The Gazette.
Many of the publications seem to have lost interested in Pitts because records are unclear as to his fate. He was last reported to be in the Delaware County Jail, according to court documents from August 1924.
Almost 90 years after Horlocker died, two Delaware County Sheriff’s Office employees, Buco and deputy Brian Mox, discovered that Horlocker was the only Delaware County sheriff’s deputy to be killed in the line of duty and that he had never been memorialized in any official capacity.
It took two years but in May Horlocker’s name was added to the Ohio Peace Officers Memorial Wall in London, Ohio, and a marker honoring him was added outside the Delaware police station.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG. Email: [email protected]