Howard B. Taft, Patrolman
Elyria Police Department
End of Watch: August 18, 1942
Patrolman Taft was taking his fellow officer Andress home. Andress, on the force one month, was off-duty. A call came on the cruiser’s radio to investigate a minor accident. Thus began a bizarre account of three violent deaths.
Taft’s investigation completed, he determined that Nathaniel Spuriel, whose expensive coupe had collided with another car, was intoxicated. Taft took the wheel of the coupe to bring the Clevelander to Police Headquarters asking Andress to follow in the cruiser. About one hundred feet from the accident scene, Taft stopped and left the car to free a front fender that was scraping a tire. An eyewitness to the events that followed was standing on the sidewalk.
Spuriel removed the keys from his car. Taft ordered him to surrender the keys and an argument broke out. Taft retrieved the keys and ordered Spuriel back to the car. Both Officer Andress and the eyewitness, Arthur DuReitz, said that Spuriel fired a shot from the car and then jumped out and grappled with Taft. Taft pulled his pistol and fended off the resisting man. Andress, unarmed, attempted to go around Spuriel’s car, grabbed a rock to circle around from behind, but was driven back when Spuriel shot at him. Spuriel followed Taft to the street, both men’s guns blazing. Taft sustained gunshot wounds in his abdomen and hip but managed to put three bullets into the heart of his assailant, killing him instantly.
Andress rushed Taft to the hospital where he died an hour and one half later. Spuriel’s car revealed something interesting when it was searched at headquarters. A woman’s nude body was discovered in the trunk. She had been beaten to death. She was identified as being involved with Spuriel, and they were to appear for trial that week in connection with operating a house of prostitution.
Officer Taft’s chief interest in private life was his wife and his eight months old baby son. He had become one of the best liked on the force, with a high devotion to his duties and a strict sense of propriety in his work. Taft was twenty-nine at the time of his death.
Survivors included his wife Georgia his son Gary, a brother and his mother Mrs. Clifford Waltzer of Cleveland.
Howard B. Taft’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C., on panel 39, west wall, line 14.
Special Thanks from the Elyria Police Department to Norm Drew of the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society for this wonderful Narrative.