In the Line of Duty

Detective Sam Booth

Sam Booth was born June 11, 1882, in Fort Smith. He was a Fort Smith police detective when he was shot and killed. Booth was married to Kate Booth at the time of his death. Sam and Kate Booth lived with their three children — Sam Jr., Mildred and Lucile — at 613 S. 13th St. in Fort Smith.

Detective Sam Booth was the first Fort Smith police officer to die in the line of duty. He was shot near the intersection of Towson Avenue and Rogers Avenue around 7 p.m., March 21, 1931, after he and his partner, Detective D.N. Willis, stopped two youths for speeding at Towson and South E Street. Apparently, the young men — one of whom gave his name as Tom Moore from Poteau — knew the officers, as they called the detectives by name. At the time, the officers were unaware that the car the youths were driving had been stolen from the parking lot of St. Edward Hospital about an hour earlier. The officers decided that Willis would pick up the night captain, and Booth would ride to the jail with the young men in their car. According to an eyewitness, the stolen coupe pulled to the curb immediately after turning east on Rogers Avenue. All three occupants scrambled from the vehicle. Booth, who already had been shot once, had his pistol in his hand when he exited the car. More shots were exchanged between the officer and one of the young men. Both youths then ran away and Booth, now mortally wounded after being shot four times, walked south down the alley from Rogers Avenue and entered the back door of Rudisill Motor Company, 111 Towson Avenue. Staggering through the building and holding his pistol stiffly at his side, Booth said to Archie Franklin, salesman for the motor company, "Call me an ambulance, I'm shot all to pieces! Take me to St. Edward Hospital and call Dr. Stevenson." Although Mr. Franklin tried to get a description of the killers, the detective became incoherent. Booth died less than 30 minutes later at St. Edward Hospital. The slain detective was laid to rest in the Catholic Cemetery in Fort Smith on March 25, 1931. Sam Booth was 48 years old.

Captain William A. Bourland

William Andrew Bourland was born Feb. 28, 1880, in Belle Green, Alabama. He was captain on the Fort Smith Police Department when he was shot and killed. William Bourland and his wife, Mabel, lived at 611 N. E St. in Fort Smith and had four children, John D., Clyde, William H. and Katie. Captain Bourland was a member of First Methodist Church.

A gun battle between Fort Smith police officers and three armed robbers on the night of Sept. 2, 1931, resulted in the deaths of both Captain William Bourland and Officer Ralph Howard. Three men robbed a Spiro service station around 8 p.m. that night and were spotted around 11:30 p.m. by the Fort Smith officers who were looking for them on the Spiro highway. The robbers attempted to elude the officers who pursued them into Fort Smith traveling east on South Y Street to its intersection with Towson Avenue. As the vehicles started north on Towson, the police officers forced the robbers off the street and a gunfight erupted. All three robbers were wounded and one of them died while still in the car. Funeral records from Putman Funeral Home indicate Bourland was shot in the head, and in both the left and right chest. Bourland died that night as he was being carried into St. Edward Hospital. He was laid to rest on Sept. 4, 1931, in the National Cemetery in Fort Smith. William Bourland was 51 years old.

Patrolman Ralph Howard

Ralph Howard was born in Texas on April 26, 1878. He was a patrolman for the Fort Smith Police Department when he was shot and killed. He and his wife, Melville, lived at 811 Birnie Avenue in Fort Smith and had two children, Frank Jr. and Mrs. R.N. McLeod. Patrolman Howard was a member of the Dodson Avenue Assembly of God.

Patrolman Howard was fatally wounded in the same incident in which Captain William Bourland was killed. In the gun battle on Towson Avenue with the robbers from Spiro, Officer Howard was shot in the neck, in the chest and through both hands. Following what the Southwest American called "a gallant fight for life," Howard died at Sparks Hospital on Sept. 4, 1931, two days after being shot. Funeral records from Putman Funeral Home list his cause of death as septic pneumonia, following gunshot wounds to the neck and chest. He was laid to rest on Sept. 5 in Oak Cemetery in Fort Smith. Howard was 53 years old.

Patrolman Randy Basnett

Randy Monroe Basnett was born Sept. 18, 1946. He was a patrolman for the Fort Smith Police Department and was shot and killed Sept. 24, 1976. Randy lived with his wife, Cindy, at 914 P St. in Barling. Living with Randy and Cindy were stepson Bill Howard, stepdaughter Shanon Howard, and Amanda (infant daughter of Randy and Cindy). Amanda Basnett Kinsey now has two daughters, Jessica, 9, and Awbrey, 2. Randy was a member of the First Baptist Church of Barling.

Patrolman Basnett was shot and killed a few minutes after 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24. He stopped at the service station across from Arkansas State Police headquarters in the 5800 block of Kelley Highway. While Basnett was at the service station, John Edward Swindler pulled into the same location. Swindler was wanted for a double murder and other felonies in both Georgia and South Carolina. Information about Swindler — his crimes, the vehicle he was driving and the fact that he was armed and dangerous — had been given to FSPD officers in their daily briefing that day. After Basnett radioed dispatchers that Swindler was at the service station, backup officers were dispatched to his location. Meanwhile, before other officers could reach Basnett's location, Swindler reached inside his car, ostensibly to retrieve his driver's license. Instead of a driver's license, Swindler came out of the car with a pistol in his hand and began firing at Basnett, hitting him twice in the chest. Swindler then scrambled back into his stolen vehicle and sped away. Basnett, now mortally wounded, shot six times at Swindler's vehicle as he fled. Two bullets struck Swindler and the remaining four hit the fleeing car. When officers found and arrested Swindler in the wooded area east of the scene of the shooting, he had several weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his possession. Basnett died in the ambulance on the way to Sparks Regional Medical Center. He was laid to rest in the Roselawn Cemetery in Fort Smith on Monday, Sept. 27. Basnett was 30 years old.

Detective Ray Tate

Ray Tate was born June 14, 1947, in Siloam Springs. He was a detective for the Fort Smith Police Department when he died from gunshot wounds he received Jan. 5, 1981. Ray and his wife, Anita Ruth, lived south of Greenwood with their two children, Charles Anthony and Christina. Tony now has two sons, Cameron and Nicholas. Christina has twins, Kendall and Samantha. Since Ray's death, Ruth has remarried and she and her husband, Lloyd Evans, live in Siloam Springs. Ray was a member of the Harvard Avenue Baptist Church in Siloam Springs.

Detective Tate went to 701 N. 48th St. on a Monday evening to investigate the disappearance of 21-year-old Larry Price. When Jawanna Price, the wife of Larry Price, had left for work that morning, her husband was talking with Thomas Simmons about a car that Larry Price was offering for sale. That day, Larry Price did not report to work, and he did not keep a lunch appointment with his wife. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact her husband, Mrs. Price became alarmed. She asked her boss, Holly Gentry, who was a family friend, to accompany her to the police department to report her husband's disappearance. From the police department, Tate followed Holly Gentry and Jawanna Price to the Price residence where he checked out on his police radio. None of the three were heard from again. About 11:30 p.m., Tate's police car was found at a truck stop in Van Buren near the intersection of Interstate 40 and Arkansas 59. Late Tuesday, January 6, the bodies of Tate, Jawanna Price and Holly Gentry were found in a river-bottom field in the Kibler community. All three had been shot execution-style in the back of the head. The body of Larry Price, who also had been shot and killed, was discovered a short distance away. Thomas Simmons was convicted of four counts of capital murder and sentenced to death for the slayings. Ray Tate was laid to rest in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Siloam Springs on Jan. 9. Tate was 33 years old.

Patrolman Bill Simms

Bill Wayne Simms was born March 20, 1947, in Clinton, Okla., and died on April 18, 1986, after being struck by two vehicles. Bill lived with his wife, Donna, his son, Matthew, and his daughter, Melissa, at 1410 Bluff Avenue in Fort Smith. On Aug. 18, 2002, Melissa gave birth to a son who was Bill's first grandchild. Bill served his country in both the Coast Guard and the Navy. He was a charter member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 39 and belonged to the Cliff Terrace Assembly of God.

Patrolman Bill Simms was struck by a car after he had assisted a stranded motorist just inside the city limits of Fort Smith on Rogers Avenue near Barling. The tragedy occurred a few minutes before 9 p.m. on a Friday. While on patrol Simms observed a motorist stalled on Rogers Avenue, activated the emergency lights on his police unit, and assisted the motorist in getting the stalled car off the busy street. As Simms was crossing Rogers Avenue, returning to his police unit, a westbound motorist hit him and knocked him into the path of an eastbound car. He was killed instantly. Bill was laid to rest in the National Cemetery in Fort Smith on April 21, 1986. Simms was 39 years old.

Chaplain Ben Stephens,
Fort Smith
Police Department
Sources: Fort Smith Times Record, Southwest American and Southwest Times Record newspapers, Arkansas Department of Correction documents and records from the families of the officers.