The Martyred Sheriff of Montcalm County

By Ryan Jeltema • Last Updated 6:04 pm on Monday, September 26, 2011

A drunken man skirting Prohibition laws in effect 85 years ago during Lakeview’s homecoming celebration ended with the first police line-of-duty death in Montcalm County and the area’s first female sheriff.
Sheriff Franklin B. Henkel died 85 years ago today from a pair of gunshot wounds after he tried to stop Edgar Arnett, 20 at the time, from driving home drunk from downtown Lakeview.
Henkel, 42, had been sheriff for four years when the shooting occurred on Sept. 22, 1926. He died two days later under the care of Dr. Lee Kelsey in Lakeview.
Henkel’s wife, Ileea, was serving as undersheriff when the shooting took place and assumed the duties of sheriff five days after her husband’s death. She was just the fifth female sheriff in Michigan history.

Drunken encounter
Arnett said he met “a short, thick-set fellow from Edmore” in Lakeview during the celebration who sold him a quart of moonshine for $3. Arnett said he drank about half and gave the other half to three other men, according to the Independent Daily News.
He met his mother on the street. She noticed he was drunk and told him to go home with her. Arnett refused, saying he would go home with his brother, David, 33.
Franklin Henkel was patrolling the Lakeview homecoming around 11:30 p.m. on the Wednesday evening when he came across Edgar and David Arnett quarreling downtown alley near Farmers & Merchants Bank.
Henkel advised the brothers they had overstayed their welcome and should head for home. He walked them back to their Ford, where David’s wife was asleep in the back seat.
Edgar said he didn’t recognize Henkel.
When they got to David’s car, Edgar climbed into the driver’s seat. He told Henkel, who had climbed into the car with them, that he felt coherent enough to drive.
Henkel disagreed and threatened to arrest Edgar. He finally recognized Henkel at that point.

Gun, fight and shots
Edgar said he panicked because he was carrying a 32-caliber revolver in his pocket. On an impulse, he picked up the gun lying on a piece of furniture at another brother’s house and loaded it with bullets he had purchased in Lakeview earlier in the afternoon.
Edgar said he removed the gun from his pocket to toss into the back seat. Henkel grabbed the gun and nearly wrestled it out of Edgar’s hands.
Edgar claimed the gun fired accidentally during the struggle with a round striking Henkel in the abdomen. The bullet traveled completely through his body, damaged his intestines and exited from his back.
Henkel gave a groan but continued fighting. David, who was in the back seat, grabbed the sheriff’s chin from behind. At some point, all three tumbled out of the car “in a heap,” according to the Independent Daily News.
Henkel was able to grab his billy club and strike David on the head, causing a gash and significant bleeding. Edgar claimed Henkel was hitting his brother with a gun, but several witnesses testified to seeing a club.
Edgar said he broke free from the struggle and fired two more shots deliberately, one aimed to the side of Henkel and the other aimed at Henkel’s legs. However, one of the shots hit Henkel in the back and traveled between his lungs and heart before stopping a couple inches below the skin and his rib cage.
“I’m shot, I’m shot. See the blood?” several witnesses quoted David as saying.
“Come on, you’re not shot. I shot the sheriff,” they said Edgar replied.

Fleeing, getting help
The struggle broke up after Edgar fired the last two shots. Edgar fled to a nearby creamery, where he hid behind a hedge.
David ran down the alley where they were fighting.
Witnesses said Henkel stood up and walking around the back of the Arnetts’ car. Bystanders helped him record the car’s license plate number before escorting him to Kelsey’s hospital.
“Gamely he climbed two flights of stairs to the operating rooms,” the Independent Daily News reported.
Irving Forst, chief deputy of the Sheriff’s Department, heard about the shooting but didn’t know who the victim was. He went downtown and found David wandering around with blood gushing from a head gash.
Forst questioned David about the blood and David said it came from running into the corner of a brick building. Not fooled, Forst arrested David and took him to Kelsey hospital.
There, Forst found his boss, the sheriff, awaiting an operation. Kelsey performed an emergency surgery on Henkel, removing the bullet lodged near Henkel’s rib cage.
“A report from the hospital this morning indicated that the sheriff was resting fairly well, though no statement was made as to his chance for recovery,” the Independent Daily News reported the day after the shooting.
David was treated and released into police custody. Forst transported him to the county jail in Stanton.

Flight to Morley
Meanwhile, Edgar went to a nearby farm north of Lakeview to ask for a ride home. The resident testified that Edgar told him of “a scrape with the sheriff.”
When the resident refused to take Edgar anywhere, Edgar left and threw the gun into a nearby swamp. He took off walking to his brother’s house.
He slept in a barn belonging to David’s father-in-law. In the morning, David’s wife told Edgar the police were after him so Edgar started off walking to Morley.
He hitched a ride on another brother’s school bus for the last leg of the trip.
Once in Morley, Edgar went to an automotive garage and asked for a ride to Grand Rapids. John Feightner, the garage’s proprietor, told Edgar he was heading there later in the day and he would drive Edgar to Sand Lake.
Edgar was waiting for the ride when police showed up and arrested him without incident less than 24 hours after the shooting.

Sudden turn
Kelsey reported that Henkel’s condition was “better than expected” the day after the shooting, but not out of danger. Kelsey conferred with Dr. R.J. Hutchinson of Grand Rapids to “allay anxiety” about the sheriff’s condition.
“It is felt that unless some complications arise in the next twenty-four hours, Mr. Henkel will be likely to recover,” the Independent Daily News wrote. “The sheriff’s case is not a bad one, though the bullet passed entirely through his body.”
Henkel rested comfortably with his wife, Ileea, at his side the day after the shooting. Deputies brought Edgar to the hospital so Henkel could officially identify him as the shooter.
Edgar then was taken to the county jail, where he was lodged in a solitary confinement cell in the upstairs. Neither he nor David was arraigned while prosecutors waited for word on Henkel’s prospects for recovery to decide what charges to file.
On Friday evening, two days after the shooting, the Independent Daily News reported Henkel’s condition “was not quite up to normal” but doctors weren’t particularly alarmed.
However, he “began to sink” around 11 p.m. Henkel died at 11:30 p.m.
“Mrs. Henkel was at his side with the attendants when the end came,” the Independent Daily News reported.

Grief and anger
As a popular sheriff, news of Henkel’s death brought an outpouring of grief over the county and all of West Michigan.
“He is of a peacemaker disposition and has managed heretofore to avoid encounters. He is popular with people all over the county and his many friends are anxious to hear of his condition,” the Independent Daily News wrote.
“To the outside world, Franklin B. Henkel will be remembered only as the sheriff who lost his life in the performance of his duty, but to the people of Montcalm County his memory bears a greater significance, for Frank Henkel was a man in every sense of the word,” Clifton A. Youngman wrote in the Grand Rapids Herald.
Henkel’s death also apparently was met with anger.
Sheriff deputies moved the Arnetts from Stanton in the middle of the night “as it was sensed that public indignation would be at a high pitch when word of the sheriff’s death was spread about,” the Independent Daily News reported. They were taken to the Ionia County Jail, but their location was not disclosed publicly until they returned to Stanton on Sept. 28, three days after Henkel died.
Henkel’s funeral took place the Monday after he died at First Congregational Church in Howard City. The Henkels lived in Howard City in a large white house at the corner of Federal and Henkel roads.
The Independent Daily News estimated the crowd at nearly 1,000.
County offices were closed that day.
Six sheriff deputies served as pall bearers and seven other deputies served as honorary pall bearers.
The Rev. W.W. Gadd of the Congregational church in Atlanta remembered Henkel for his honesty and “sterling” character.
The Rev. L.E. Price of Howard City Methodist Church gave a fiery speech, saying the shooter “brought down on himself the hatred of the community.” He “declared emphatically” for capital punishment, the Independent Daily News reported.
A funeral procession of 300 cars followed the hearse to Pierson Cemetery for the burial. Streets in Howard City were lined with flags at half staff when the procession passed.
Judge Royal A. Hawley hosted a communitywide memorial service a week later on Oct. 7 at the county courthouse in Stanton. The service was organized by a three-member committee of attorneys from the county bar association.
“He died a martyr of the cause of justice and law enforcement,” the committee wrote in a resolution included in the court record. “Never in the history of Montcalm County has such a feeling of sorrow and sadness fall upon the people as at the tragic death of Franklin B. Henkel.”

Female sheriff cracks down on booze
Ileea Henkel officially assumed the duties of sheriff on Sept. 29, five days after her husband’s death.
“She is a woman of high intelligence and her friends declare that she will handle the affairs of the office well with the assistance of Irving Forst, chief deputy,” the Independent Daily News wrote.
The county Republican committee met the same evening to decide who to place on the ballot for sheriff in the upcoming November general election.
Delegates considered four names: Ileea, A.E. Ward, C.W. LaDu and Forst. Ileea tied with A.E. Ward on the first ballot and eked out a 27-23 win on the fourth ballot.
Ileea quickly went to work ridding the county of bootleggers and moonshiners to “avoid any more tragedies” like the events that ended in her husband’s death.
She sent a letter to all sheriff deputies encouraging them to “arrest any person under the influence of liquor that appears on any public street, highway or in any public gathering.”
Coming in the middle of Prohibition in the 1920s, deputies quickly got to work arresting two drunk drivers in Langston and Lakeview.
Her appointment as sheriff only lasted about three months. She won her own two-year term as sheriff on Nov. 3, 1926, by a two-to-one margin over two other candidates.
“The sympathy drawn by the shooting of Sheriff Henkel… and the attitude of Mrs. Henkel in pushing law enforcement against liquor violators brought strong sentiment in her favor,” the Independent Daily News wrote.

Arnetts face justice
Police interrogated the Arnett brothers in the Ionia jail. Edgar flatly refused to talk. David allegedly admitted to his role in several parts of the shooting, but he refused to say who owned the gun or fired the shots.
Police quietly brought the Arnetts back to Stanton on Sept. 28. They made their first court appearance on Oct. 4 before Justice of the Peace John Nickerson in circuit court.
Edgar faced a charge of first-degree murder and David faced a charge of resisting a police officer.
Twenty witnesses testified during the hearing before Nickerson bound the case over for trial before Circuit Judge Royal A. Hawley. The brothers stood mute on their charges during a second arraignment before Hawley in circuit court so the court entered not guilty pleas on their behalf.
Hawley scheduled a trial for Nov. 29, 1926.
Soon after arraignment, prosecutors upgraded David’s charge to first-degree murder.
The Arnetts’ attorney, A.A. Worcester, sought a change in venue as the trial neared. Hawley deferred ruling on the motion until he could determine whether a fair and impartial jury could be found.
“Judge Hawley expressed the opinion that the people of this county are intelligent and law-abiding, stating that one proof of this was the shocked friends and relatives of the late sheriff withheld demonstrations and there was no act of mob violence.”
Worcester agreed to try both brothers together.

Four-day trial
Jury selection began as scheduled on Nov. 29. The process lasted one and a half days.
A full jury of 12 men was selected after a day and a half of jury selection and more than 100 people were excused after stating they already had formed an opinion on the case.
“This quick development of the afternoon was a surprise as the general opinion was that there was no hopes or securing a jury for a day or two.”
The Independent Daily News reported the jury was “guarded carefully” by two court bailiffs and “no liberties are being allowed.”
Opening statements began the afternoon of Nov. 30.
During the first two days of the trial, several witnesses testifed in quick succession to seeing Edgar with a revolver at the homecoming, the Arnetts arguing in the alley and the sheriff walking away after the shots were fired.
Drs. Kelsey and Earl Swift testified about Henkel’s wounds and the treatment they provided him.
The Arnetts took the stand in their defense during the third day of testimony, but mounted little defense.
Edgar admitted to shooting Henkel. However, he said the first shot was accidental but the last two shots were intentional — one aimed at the sheriff’s leg and the other aimed away from him — to protect his brother who was locked in a brawl with Henkel.
He then testified to his actions throughout the day of the shooting, where he dumped the murder weapon and how he got to Morley.
David took the stand next and corroborated Edgar’s version of the shooting.
Worcester next called a series of witnesses who testified to the Arnetts’ good character and the good standing their family enjoyed in the community.
Closing statements from both sides took place on the morning of the fourth day and jury deliberations began that afternoon.
Eight hours later, the jury reached a verdict.
Guilty as charged for Edgar, guilty of manslaughter for David.
Members of the jury took one ballot to convict David and three to convict Edgar.

Sentencing took place on Dec. 13, 1926. Judge Hawley sentenced Edgar to life in the Marquette State Prison.
“I have nothing but pity for you and this is one of the most painful duties of my life,” Hawley told Edgar. “But the public desires peace and security.”
Hawley sentenced David to from seven to 15 years at the Jackson State Prison.
“I don’t think I would be justified in passing a more severe sentence for you,” he told David. “I believe you told the truth when you said you did not know your brother had a revolver. But you interfered and the sheriff was killed.”
Worcester immediately requested an appeal for David’s conviction to the Michigan Supreme Court. Hawley granted the appeal and David was incarcerated closer to home in the Ionia prison.
Sheriff deputies transported both brothers from Stanton to the prisons on Dec. 18.
Over the next two years of her term as sheriff, Ileea continued her personal crusade against alcohol in the county to enforce the Prohibition laws on the books at that time.
Independent Daily News stories recount a nighttime raid on two Sheridan homes — one targeting a widow with four and half gallons of illicit liquor and another targeting a home with two and a half gallons of booze.
Illeea ruffled feathers along the way, making friends and foes while she went after illegal alcohol.
“Wise men said she could not enforce liquor laws in Montcalm County, however, she is doing the job more efficiently than ever before,” the Independent Daily News wrote.
She finished the two-year term in 1928.
When it was complete, she moved to Grand Rapids and got married to John O’Brien of Big Rapids in 1939. He died in 1954, so she moved back to Howard City to care for her ailing mother.
She met Elmer Hopkins seven years later in Florida and they married, but it was shortlived. He died in 1962 and Ileea died of a heart attack the day he was buried.
She is buried next to the late sheriff in Pierson Cemetery.
Decades later, Ileea’s niece, Margaret Hill, recalled living next to the female sheriff for many years with The Daily News.
“I knew her quite well,” Hill said. “She was a very outspoken, stern person — very likable, but you knew exactly where you stood.
“She was just a real nice person to be around,” Hill added. “I always liked her so well. No matter what you wanted to do, she was always willing to go along with it.”
Henkel will be honored during the Police Memorial Day Service at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids for the first time next May, along with Montcalm County Sheriff’s Deputy William “Bill” McCarthy, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1982.

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