An Alibi for Murder

Note: This is a chapter from my upcoming book, Unsolved: Cold-Case Homicides of Law Enforcement Officers (policehistorybyjamesbultema.com.)

 

Frank-Hardy

Patrolman Frank Hardy

Officer Frank Hardy
Seattle (Washington) Police Department
End of Watch: Friday, March 12, 1954
Age: 31

In police work, few radio calls raise the hair on the back of your neck and get the adrenaline pounding through your veins more than an “All units, a robbery in progress” or a silent robbery alarm at a bank. Law enforcement officers train endlessly for just such an event. There is diagonal deployment to consider, concealment and cover, what additional weapons to take and above all, communication with responding units . Patrolman Frank Hardy responded to just such a call. Regrettably, it would be his last.

What would become known as one of the most spectacular bank robberies in Seattle

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The Seattle First National Bank was the scene of the robbery and shooting that left one officer dead and two others seriously wounded.  Photo from Seattle P-I file/Dec. 1948

history began on Friday, March 12, 1954, at 10:40 a.m., when three middle-aged men entered the lobby of the Seattle First National Bank at 404 N. 85th St. wearing disguises. When they saw the large fake noses with black-rimmed glasses, many of the 20 customers thought it was some sort of prank. The snickering stopped when they saw the men were armed with guns. (Much of the following information was reported by the Behind the Badge Foundation which provides comprehensive support to Washington state’s law enforcement agencies, families and communities after an officer has died or suffered serious injury in the line of duty.)

Once in the bank, Suspect No. 1 pointed a gun at the bank manager and ordered him to open the vault. Suspect No. 2 stood in the lobby as the lookout and kept an eye on the two entrances. Suspect No. 3 entered the tellers’ cage area and starting loading money into brown paper bags he had taken with him. A bank employee lying on the ground, bravely used his foot to activate a hidden silent alarm. The call of the silent robbery alarm at the bank went out at 10:45. The closest unit to the bank was Sgt. Howard Slessman in Car 252. Officer Vernon Chase in Car 223 and Officer Frank Hardy in Car 213 arrived right behind Sgt. Slessman. Unfortunately for the officers, the glass in the bank’s windows was all one-way, which made it nearly impossible for them to see inside while providing the criminals with a clear view of what was occurring outside.

 

Armed with a shotgun, Sgt. Slessman parked at the south side of North 85th and moved toward the main entrance. Officer Chase approached from the east side, also armed with a shotgun. Sgt. Slessman told Chase to take the east entrance. Slessman continued to the main entrance. Inside, the three suspects saw both officers approaching. The sergeant glanced inside the bank and saw several people in the lobby, none of whom appeared alarmed. He would later state it appeared like business as usual, and he thought this was probably just another false alarm. Slessman entered through the first set of doors. As he did, he saw a man moving toward him who he thought was the bank manager coming to explain the error in setting off the silent alarm. Suspects No. 2 stopped eight feet from the inner door, quickly raised his .45-caliber simiautomatic pistol and fired through the

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A bank employee points to the bullet hole through which Sgt. Slessman was shot. Photo from Brownell/Seattle P-I file.

glass door. The bullet hit Slessman in the shoulder and entered his upper torso. The shot paralyzed his right arm. The sergeant went down. Suspect No. 2 walked over to the wounded man, leveled his gun directly at Slessman’s head and instead of executing him, calmly told him to stay where he was. He then strolled back into the bank.

 

Suspect No. 1 and No. 2 started to walk through the lobby toward the east door. As Slessman lay on the floor, he saw Officer Hardy moving from the sidewalk east of the bank toward the east entrance. Suspect No. 2 peering through the one-way glass, fired a shot through the quarter-inch plate-glass window, striking Officer Hardy in the head. Quickly, Officer Chase went to aid Hardy. Suspect No. 1 and No. 2 walked out the east door into the parking lot. Suspect No. 2 took aim and shot Chase in the abdomen. Chase went down. Not one shot had been fired by the three officers, and all were on the ground, bleeding. Suspect No. 3, the only remaining robber in the bank, used his pistol to smash out a window on the west side of the bank. He jumped out with a bag containing $6,900 ($63,000 in today’s money) and left behind another bag, this one containing $90,800 ($831,000).

Suspects No. 1 and No. 2 sprinted to their stolen getaway car parked at the northeast corner of the bank parking lot. The late-model green Oldsmobile had Washington plates that had been lifted from a Studebaker in an auto wrecking yard. The two suspects drove north on Phinney Street as responding units pulled up. As Office G.D. Boyer arrived, a woman was yelling that a man had run behind a house on Phinney. Officer Boyer looked in that direction and saw Suspect No. 3 just getting into the getaway car. He chased the suspects on foot north on Phinney until he lost sight of the car.

At the bank, officers and citizens, along with several doctors and nurses from a nearby clinic, arrived to give aid to the three wounded men. The officers were loaded into three different ambulances and transported to nearby hospitals. Officer Hardy died while en route. Ninety minutes later, the getaway car was found abandoned in a parking lot. As the car was being recovered, one of the most intense manhunt in the history of the Pacific Northwest was underway.

Following the robbery and murder of Officer Hardy, a joint task force of the Seattle Police Department and the FBI, logged 10,000 hours in just two weeks of investigative work while following up on more than 700 leads. On the day of the shooting, a police bulletin detailing the robbery was sent to outlying agencies. After hearing of the Seattle robbery, Vancouver detectives who had been investigating a series of bank robberies were quick to note the similarities between the two. The MO (modus operandi) fit perfectly. A Canadian police superintendent promptly phoned the Seattle investigators.
Consequently, four months after the shooting, detectives had two of the three suspects identified: Clifford Dawley and John Wasylenchuk, both convicted criminals with lengthy rap sheets. Of the three suspects, Dawley, the apparent triggerman (Suspect No. 2), stood out as the leader. Despite the quick identification of the suspects, it would take nearly a decade for a grand jury indict the two men for the murder of Officer Hardy and the bank robbery.

Authorities attempted to extradite Dawley, who was serving his first year of a nine-year prison sentence in Canada—but were turned down. Canadian law prohibited extradition until the full term of a sentence is served. Investigators were stunned. Nevertheless, Wasylenchuk, who was not in prison, was put on trial in a Seattle federal court in 1964.

Prosecutors had a strong case and were going after the death penalty. But to everyone’s disbelief, Wasylenchuk was provided an alibi by a retired sergeant of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who stated that Wasylenchuk was at his home the day of the shooting. This same Mountie had also been a defense witness in a previous bank robbery case in which Wasylenchuk was convicted. Through different informers, U.S. investigators learned that several Canadian officers had assisted criminals in setting up bank robberies in western Canada and, for a price, provided them with false alibis. With the alibi, Wasylenchuk went free. And with that acquittal, the second suspect, Dawley, was never brought to trial.

Postscript. Wasylenchuk had a heart attack and died in 1968. Dawley, who police always believed shot all three officers (Suspect No. 2), died in a boat fire in 1974. The RCMP sergeant died of natural causes four months after the trial. The third suspect was never officially identified.

 

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Following the murder of her husband, fellow officers, including the chief of police, along with tradesmen from throughout the area did a complete remodel of the Hardy home. In July 1954, Seattle Police Chief H. James Lawrence presented keys to Rolene Hardy. Photo from the Seattle P-I Davis file.

Sgt. Slessman and Officer Chase both returned to work in July 1954. Chase never fully recovered from his wounds. After 19 surgeries and hospitalization for over three months, Chase retired on a disability pension in 1963. He died in 2002. Slessman was later promoted to captain and became head of internal investigation in 1977. His son, Mike, became a Seattle police captain. Howard Slessman died in 1981.

 

Frank Wallace Hardy was born in 1923 in Minnesota but lived most of his life in Seattle. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946. He joined the SPD in 1951. Before his death, Hardy was remodeling the family home into their “dream house.” Following his murder, fellow officers, including the chief of police, along with tradesmen from throughout the area did a complete remodel of the Hardy home. It became known as “Project Hardy.” His wife Rolene, their newborn son, and his daughter, Antoinette, moved into the completed dream house Frank had always wanted for them.

Sources:
http://www.behindthebadgefoundation.org/roll-call/hardy-officer-frank-w
• Seattle PI. http://blog.seattlepi.com/seattle911/2013/03/06/the-1954-seattle-bank-heist-that-exposed-a-political-scandal/#photo-211913 and
http://blog.seattlepi.com/thebigblog/2010/09/20/p-i-archive-story-of-1954-greenwood-bank-robbery/
• The Seattle Times: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19931128&slug=1734219
• Newspapers.com
• A book was written on the shooting and robbery in 1994 entitled: Cops, Crooks and Politicians by Neil W. Moloney, the former chief of the Washington State Patrol and a former Seattle police officer.1 - Unsolved - Cold Case Homicidesjpeg

Cold Case Homicide: Officer Michael Lee Edwards

(This is an excerpt from a book I am currently researching and writing, entitled: Unsolved: Cold Case Homicides of Law Enforcement Officers).

In the long and illustrious history of the Los Angeles Police Department, tragically, there have been over 200 officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. The majority of these have been the result of gunfire. In nearly every case, the killers have either been captured or slain. Three cases however, remain open; cold case files where the suspects were never apprehended. The thought of these murderers never having to pay for their crime, is an extremely hard reality to accept—especially for those in the close knit LAPD family. By keeping these three men in our thoughts and speaking about their murders, there is always hope. Hope that someone might step forward, or a new clue uncovered that might lead to an arrest and bring peace to these three brother officers and their families.

“Who Executed Mike?”    edwardsphoto

Tobie Edwards, an innocent 6-year-old, was playing in her grandma’s backyard after her father, Michael Edwards, dropped her off one Friday. It would be the last day they were ever together. On the next day, her play was interrupted by two uniformed Los Angeles Police officers who were dressed just like her daddy. As she later learned from her grandparents, the news was devastating. Tobie’s father, Officer Edwards, had been found shot to death, execution style. There were no suspects in custody, and 42 years later, there still aren’t. The motives and theories for the murder of Edwards are as plentiful as evidence markers at a crime scene.

The 26-year-old officer was last seen alive on May 10, 1974, enjoying some buddy time with other cops at the LAPD Police Academy bar in Elysian Park. It was Friday night, and Edwards was celebrating his final stint on the anti-gang unit, CRASH, and looking forward to his upcoming vacation to Hawaii.

At 10:30 p.m., Edwards said goodbye to his friends, telling them he had a date in Long Beach. The guard at the entrance to the Police Academy substantiated the time as he watched Edwards’ gold Ford Pinto drive past the guard shack. From there, he drove to 77th Street Station, where he was assigned. Afterwards he was observed at a nearby hospital. After leaving the hospital, Edwards was never seen alive again. From here, the mystery begins. It is a whodunit in epic proportions and has haunted detectives, friends and loved ones for over four decades.

Through the years, scores of detectives have worked the Edwards case. Many are deceased, most are retired. Today, one active detective, Daryn DuPree, of Robbery/Homicide Division, has the cold case file on Edwards and says he is actively investigating it. His examination of the case adds to the generations of LAPD’s elite detectives who have preceded him. Here is what is known.

In some way, after leaving the hospital, Edwards was forced or was transported to an abandoned, burned-out apartment building at 122 W. 89th Street, in South-Central Los Angeles. It was here that he was shot six times, execution-style, with a 9-millimeter handgun, which for identification purposes has six lands and grooves with a right-hand twist, Lands .085. His underwear (some have stated it was not his) was pulled over his face, and he was handcuffed. His car, his personal .38- caliber Smith & Wesson Airweight revolver, and some money were missing.

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A little more than a month after Officer Michael Edwards’ murder, LAPD detectives issued this police bulletin seeking help in locating the people responsible for his death. They are still looking four decades later.

Fifteen hours after his body was discovered, police located his Pinto about 10 miles from the murder scene at 1034 W. 186th Street in Los Angeles. The location was near the old Ascot Raceway, a frequent drop spot for stolen vehicles. Divorce papers from his wife were on the passenger seat. The keys were in the ignition. A handkerchief was found in the car, but no suspect prints were uncovered. No one has come forward who witnessed the actual shooting.

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Fifteen hours after his murder, Officer Edwards’ gold Ford Pinto was found abandoned at this location on 186th Street.

In 1981, Edwards’ revolver was found, and detectives were hoping this would provide the one clue to blow the case wide open. In Las Vegas, the police department had been broadcasting PSAs to encourage citizens to turn in their firearms. A woman and her fried surrendered a revolver that turned out to be the gun that Edwards was carrying on the night of his murder. LAPD was promptly notified. After an in-depth interview, the two were cleared of any wrongdoing. “We tried just about everything we could do at that time,” said Tom McGuine, one of the original detectives on the case. “We had the people power, we had the time, we had everything going for us. But sometimes you get to a point where you just don’t get the answer.”

The 1970s were turbulent times in the nation. Not since the 1920s, have so many officers been killed. Radical groups such as the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army) committed bank robberies, committed murders, planted bombs under LAPD cars and kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst. Just days after Edwards’ body was discovered, six SLA members died in a firefight with the LAPD SWAT team. Some thought there might be a connection between the execution killing of Edwards and the SLA. Investigators tested the weapons used by the SLA but could not connect them to the Edwards murder. The SLA was subsequently ruled out.

In 1999, detectives from LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department established a team to reexamine unsolved slayings of LAPD officers and sheriff’s deputies. Included on the LAPD team were detectives Dennis Kilcoyne, Rosemary Sanchez and Paul Coulter. After solving a sheriff’s cold case homicide, they turned their attention to the Edwards case. As a starting point, detectives reexamined prior evidence and what the prior detectives had done. They looked over possible suspects and witness statements. They established a $15,000 reward and even went so far as to send out press releases while posting billboards that read, “Who Executed Mike?”

The joint detective task force sent out letters to officers, both retired and active, who might somehow reveal evidence they missed the first time. They had the FBI retest fingerprints, with no luck. They revisited the crime scene and interviewed friends and family members. Although they received numerous calls and clues, nothing substantial was added to the case files. The cold case remained just that. It was at this point that detectives began to focus on Edwards as a man, rather than as a police officer. “It’s usually not the Sunday night mystery,” Kilcoyne said. “It’s usually something blatant right in front of you. You just overlook it.”

It was just a few days after the murder that investigators learned that Edwards may have been involved with an African American woman who worked near 77th Street station. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2002, Detective Kilcoyne pointed out that former detectives on the case believed Edwards would have not dated a black woman. “That’s hard to swallow now, but in 1974, the mind-set of society was totally different.” At that time, detectives thought that tip might be the key to solving the case. As it turned out, another dead end.

Another individual who thought the murder of Edwards was personal and not related to his position as an LAPD officer, is his daughter, Tobie Edwards—the little girl who was playing in the back-yard so many years ago. Over the ensuing 40-plus years, Tobie has worked tirelessly in her personal attempt to find the killer of her dad. Much of the following information comes from an interview conducted by this author in December, 2016.

She believes to the core of her being that it was a “love triangle” that got her father murdered. Mike Edwards was then separated from her mother, Penny Sue, and was dating a woman from Long Beach who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear for her life. This woman had previously dated another LAPD cop by the name of Bill Pearson before she had started dating Edwards. It was this woman that Edwards was on his way to visit the night he was killed.

The other slant to the triangle was Pearson, a disgraced cop who had been fired by the LAPD one year earlier, in 1973. Those who knew him, saw the downfall for Pearson occur exactly one year after the death of Edwards when Pearson was arrested for felony vehicular manslaughter. He was found guilty of DUI and speeding and causing an accident that killed a 16-month-old boy and seriously injured the parents. He was sentenced to one year in jail.

LAPD detectives questioned Pearson at length over “the possible love triangle.” He told investigators he had been “experiencing blackout spells” on the night of the murder and “could not state whether or not he had been involved,” blaming it on his memory lapses. Police conducted lengthy interviews with those associated with him but were never able to account for his whereabouts around the time of the murder.

 

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The official report from the Los Angeles County Coroner detailing the bullet strikes to the body of Officer Edwards.

During the subsequent years, officials have repeatedly interviewed Pearson about the Edwards murder but have not gotten anywhere. “Honestly, right now we’re still at ground zero on this case,” said the current detective on the case, Daryn DuPree. Regarding Pearson, “What he remembers I’m not going to say,” commented DuPree, but he made it clear officials are still looking at him as a suspect in the murder of Officer Edwards.

Tobie Edwards just wants peace and closure, not unlike what her mother and grandparents wished for—all who have since passed and never gotten an answer. “I have heard that Pearson is very sick, and when he dies, then what?” She went on, “My only wish is to know why and who killed my father.” You are not alone, Tobie; you have a family of LAPD officers who want to know the same thing. No brother left behind.

Anyone with information is urged to call the LAPD Robbery/Homicide Division at (213) 486-6830 and ask for Detective DuPree. Talk to your friends about the case and post on social media to keep the memory of Officer Edwards alive. One never knows where this might lead.