Wise As It Was: Given a proper remembrance; Marker placed for fallen WF officer

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, November 24, 2018

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Proper Recognition

PROPER RECOGNITION – A headstone was placed on the grave of Robert Fennell this week at Sweetwater Cemetery. The Wichita Falls officer was killed while on duty in 1938. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

For 80 years, a single rock marked the grave of Robert Fennell in the Sweetwater Cemetery just outside Decatur.

Fennell, a special agent with the Wichita Falls Police, was killed in March 1938 after being attacked by H.B. Whitlow outside a dance hall in Wichita Falls.

After eight decades, the fallen officer received a proper headstone this past week commemorating his service.

“The recognition warms my heart,” said Lisa Brazier of Decatur, who is a great-niece of Fennell.

Brazier recalled her father talking about her great uncle, the police officer, whose life was tragically cut short.

Growing up, Shirley Donley of Bowie also remembered her mother telling stories about her great uncle and how he gave his life in the line of duty.

But over the years, the family wasn’t certain where Fennell was buried. Brazier’s grandfather had picked up Fennell’s body and brought him back to Decatur for burial with family members.

“Robert was my granny’s little brother,” Brazier said. “My grandfather went and got him.”

Donley said records from a little funeral home that handled arrangements were not easily located after being transferred.

A few months back, the family was contacted by Kerry Clower of the Wise County Historical Commission about Fennell’s grave and putting a marker on it.

A group in Wichita Falls also took up the task. According to KFDX in Wichita Falls, the 100 Club and Boulder Designs designed and placed the monument at Fennell’s grave Monday.

“He’s an officer. He’s a family member of the Wichita Falls Police Department,” Officer Brian Bohn told the TV station. “You don’t leave an officer behind. Once we found out about it, we took care of it.”

Donley said: “It’s really sweet for them to do that.”

According to the March 24, 1938, issue of the Messenger, Fennell was attacked after he’d asked Whitlow’s sister to leave the Blue Bird Inn, a club at Walnut and Texas Streets in Wichita Falls.

Fennell had previously taken three knives and two razors from girls in the club. He told the escort of Whitlow’s sister to take her from the club. The pair left and went across the street and talked, according to witnesses.

The escort then went into the club to call out Whitlow. Fennell stood at the door of the club and was slashed around the throat by Whitlow.

Whitlow ran from the place. Fennell pulled out his gun and followed but fell and dropped his gun. The night club owner Murphy Crain rushed out of the club with a gun in his hand. When Whitlow advanced on the fallen Fennell again, Crain picked up Fennell’s gun and shot Whitlow three times.

Crain helped Fennell across the street where he was picked up by an ambulance and taken to the hospital. He died 15 minutes later. Whitlow died at the scene.

The police and district attorney office declined to press charges on Crain. Assistant District Attorney W.W. Ballard said Crain shot Whitlow in defense of Fennell.

“It was really a sad situation,” Donley said.

But she is glad to see him remembered.

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