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New Hero Search Wilbur W. Hendrickson Sr.
- Jun. 02, 1915 -

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Dade County Sheriff's Office Patch
Resided: Miami (Dade County)
Born: Sep. 12, 1870  
Fallen: Jun. 02, 1915
Race/Sex: Caucasian Male / 44 yrs. of age
Dept: Dade County Sheriff's Office
9105 NW 25 St.  
Doral, FL   33172   USA
County: Dade
Dept. Type: County/Police
Hero's Rank: Deputy
Sworn Date: 1/1909
FBI Class: Homicide - Gun
Weapon Class: Firearm
On The Job: 6 years
Bio: Wilbur W. Hendrickson was born in Fair Port, Ohio, on Sept. 12, 1870. His father, Simeon E. Hendrickson, "who was a captain of a Great Lake steamer," died when he was a child so his mother moved her three children (Wilbur and two sisters) to eastern Pennsylvania. Wilbur's uncle, Captain U.D. Hendrickson, moved to Palm Beach in 1878 (at the age of 32) and opened a store at Lake Worth. He was a recent graduate of Harvard Law School and started a shipping business. He owned several boats that transported goods from Jacksonville to Palm Beach including the "Emily B" which carried household goods and lumber to Miami for Julia Tuttle's new home. His general store in Lake Worth housed the Lake Worth post office for 17 years (until 1901). Capt. Hendrickson remained in business in Palm Beach until 1920 and died in 1925 at the age of 79.

In 1888, Wilbur, 18, joined his uncle in Lake Worth and worked in the "family store." By 1890 his uncle had "put a steamer on the lake" and as soon as Wilbur reached the age of 21 he "was made pilot and operated the boat between the old town of Lake Worth and Hypoluxo until the railroad came through in 1894." After the railroad displaced the steamers, Hendrickson went to Juno (the county seat) where he worked for the newspaper, the Tropical Sun. He "ran the first paper through the press that was ever printed in this county." The young pressman "made his home in the building of the Tropical Sun for a year and a half." He was also a "master printer" and "had charge of the painting of the Poincianna Hotel."

Hendrickson was married on Aug. 21, 1901 (at the age of 30), to Marion O. Platt at West Jupiter. Her father, F.M. Platt, was a "pioneer resident" of Palm Beach. F.M. Platt and his eight children (including Marion) became the "first white settlers in Indiantown" in 1868. The Palm Beach Times ran a picture and story of F.M. & Annie Platt on Oct. 22, 1932, on their 64th wedding anniversary when he was 83 and she was 81 and described F.M. as one of the area's earliest pioneers and a successful cattleman.

Wilbur Hendrickson, Sr., had a long law enforcement career. He had been marshal of the town of West Palm Beach for 5 years (1904-1909) before his 6 & 1/2 years as a deputy sheriff in Miami. Shortly before his death Hendrickson had announced his candidacy for the office of Chief of Police of the City of Miami. However, he failed to receive the nomination on the Tuesday primary day (the day before his death). He had told justice of the peace J.J. Combs on election day that if he did not win the election he planned to retire to the Lake Okeechobee region and "engage in growing vegetables." Mrs. Hendrickson's father resided near the Lake and had offered to let his son-in-law farm a tract of 20 acres of vacant land.

Hendrickson was the jailer on July 3, 1913, when Dade County executed its last condemned man before the state took over this function. He and Sheriff Dan Hardie "marched" Joseph Brown to the scaffold which had been set up outside the jail in Miami.

Wilbur Hendrickson's funeral service was held on June 4 and was described by the Miami Herald: No sadder or more impressive funeral has been held in Miami than that of the late W.W. Hendrickson yesterday afternoon at the Southern Methodist church, where hundreds of the city's most distinguished men and officials and the close friends of the departed gathered to pay homage to the dead. Judge Branning and the court officials as well as members of the bar, Mayor Watson and members of the city council, the police department, firemen and others attended. The building was crowded to the doors and there were many standing outside who could not find seats. (Miami Herald, 6/5/15) The casket containing the body was borne by pall bearers from the court house where Hendrickson had been employed for the past six years. The Woodmen's band joined the funeral procession at the city cemetery, playing the dirge. "Hundreds of friends of the family and city and county officials stood with bared heads as the last words were spoken and the body consigned to the grave."

Wilbur and Marion Hendrickson had one son, Wilbur, Jr., who was nine years old when his father was killed. The slain jailer also was survived by two sisters, Mrs. Mary Henry of Redlands, Cal., and Mrs. Rose Buck of Cleveland, Ohio. Two uncles, U.D. Hendrickson of Palm Beach and Alvin Hendrickson of Key West, attended the funeral.

Wilbur W. Hendrickson, Jr., who was 9 when his father was killed in 1915, died at the age of 53 in 1959 in Jacksonville, FL, after a career as an electrical engineer. He was buried by the side of his father in the Miami City Cemetery on Nov. 18, 1959. A large (3 feet by 8 feet) monument reads:

Wilbur W. Hendrickson Sept. 12, 1870 - June 2, 1915

The stone monument marks the location of the graves of the father and son. Since the large marker for the father is rather new, it would appear that the son had the monument erected before his death. The Hendrickson monument is located near the front of the cemetery (on N.E. 2nd Ave.) just a few feet to the right of the central pathway. Wilbur Hendrickson, Jr., was also survived by his wife, Mrs. Olive H. Hendrickson of Jacksonville and a daughter (the granddaughter of Wilbur, Sr.), Mrs. Paul J. (Donna) Cato of Charlotte, N.C.

In 1995 Wilbur Hendrickson, Sr., was survived by a granddaughter, three great grandchildren, and eight great, great grandchildren. The granddaughter, Donna Cato, 64, and her husband Paul J. Cato lived in Charlotte, N.C. Their oldest daughter, Mrs. P. Lynn (Shawn) Watkins, 39, also lived in Charlotte with her four children (Heidi Lynn, 12, Nathan Paul, 10, Emily Beth, 8, and Erin Elizabeth, 6). Jeffrey Scott Cato (and his wife Roxy) lived in Birmingham, AL, with Angela Scott, 15. Christopher Paul Cato (and his wife Donna) lived in Burlington, NC, with their three children, Robin, 20, Jamie Lauren, 16, and Ryan Christopher, 14.

The name of Wilbur W. Hendrickson is inscribed (West Wall, Panel 56, Line 8) on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. His name is also inscribed on a stone "wall" in the lobby of the Metro-Dade Police headquarters building and is read each May at the Police Memorial Service in Tropical Park in Miami. The Cato family was not aware of the "fame" of Wilbur Hendrickson, Sr., until located (after a two year search) and contacted by Dr. Wilbanks in Sept. of 1993. Also, the family now has a picture of their famous grandfather and plans to visit Washington, D.C., to see his name on the National Law Enforcement Memorial.

Survived by:
Marion O. Hendrickson - Wife

Wilbur and Marion Hendrickson had one son, Wilbur, Jr., who was nine years old when his father was killed. The slain jailer also was survived by two sisters, Mrs. Mary Henry of Redlands, Cal., and Mrs. Rose Buck of Cleveland, Ohio. Two uncles, U.D. Hendrickson of Palm Beach and Alvin Hendrickson of Key West, attended the funeral.

Fatal Incident Summary
Offender: Bob Ashley
Location: FL   USA   Wed. Jun. 02, 1915
Summary: Dade County deputy sheriff and jailer Wilbur W. Hendrickson, 44, was shot and killed around 1:00PM on Wednesday, June 2, 1915, by Bob Ashley, a member of the notorious Ashley gang, in an aborted attempt to break his brother out of the Dade County jail.

As the killer of Hendrickson attempted to escape, he engaged in a shoot-out with Miami Police officer John Rhinehart "Bob" Riblet, 31, resulting in the death of both men. Riblet was the first Miami officer killed in the line of duty. Hendrickson was the third Metro-Dade officer killed (Rhett McGregor and Gustav Kaiser were killed in 1895) and the second jailer (Gustav Kaiser was the first).

John Ashley, 26, was a "trapper and trader in the Glades and operated along the Lauderdale canal" where he traded with the Indians. He was charged with the murder of DeSota Tiger, a Seminole Indian chief, as the Sheriff of Palm Beach County claimed that Ashley had killed the Indian to obtain his (trapped) furs.

John Ashley was arrested after Sheriff Dan Hardie and a deputy tracked him through the Everglades for 21 days. After a confrontation between John and Bob Ashley and the Sheriff, Bob Ashley escaped but John Ashley was "dragged" back to the Dade County jail by the Sheriff. Dan Hardie was clearly the most "legendary sheriff in the history of Dade County" and personified the "image of the fictionalized wild west law man." He served as Sheriff from 1908 to 1916 and 1933. (He was also involved in the chase of the Rice gang that led to the murder of posse members Alan and Will Henderson and Charles Williams.)

After a mistrial in Palm Beach County, the defense claimed John Ashley could not get a fair trial in Palm Beach County and sought and won a change of venue to Dade County. The Dade trial ended with a conviction for first degree murder and a death sentence. The attempted jail break that led to the deaths of jailer Wilbur Hendrickson and Miami Officer John Riblet occurred while John Ashley was awaiting an appeal of his conviction and death sentence.

John Ashley escaped briefly while in jail in Palm Beach County while being escorted from the court room to the jail. He "made his escape at the jail door, scaled a 10-foot heavy wire fence, and ran out through the back yard of the jail." He was recaptured at his home in Gomez and was returned to the Palm Beach jail.

A second attempt to escape jail occurred in Dade County when Ashley used a spoon to dig a hole in the concrete floor of the jail and a tunnel under the floor. That escape attempt failed.

However, Bob Ashley was not the type of man to allow his brother to remain in jail without making an effort to free him. He left his home in Palm Beach County on the train on June 1, 1915, intending to break his brother out of jail. He arrived in Miami late at night and slept in a boxcar until morning.

Ashley spent most of the morning on June 2 hanging around the Baker & Holmes grocery and warehouse in the "colored section". One witness later reported seeing Ashley communicating with his hands (using the "deaf and dumb alphabet") with someone in the jail which was in plain sight of the warehouse. Ashley's rifle was wrapped in blue paper at this point. Shortly before noon he walked to Jones' garage which was across the street from the old jail at the corner of Eleventh St. and Ave. E.

There were rumors after the killing that Bob Ashley had one or more accomplices. Some witnesses suggested that two men in a Ford were seen earlier with Ashley and that the Ford was parked in Jones' garage poised for a get-away. Others said they had seen various members of the gang (e.g., Kid Lowe and Joseph "Old Man" Ashley, the father of John and Bob) in Miami that day. However, Sheriff Hardie, after talking with the dying Bob Ashley discounted these rumors and maintained that Bob Ashley acted alone. The Palm Beach Post later reported that Joseph Ashley was seen working on a farm near Jupiter on June 2. The elder Ashley decided to go to Miami when he heard that his son Bob had been killed there but changed his mind "after giving thought to the kind of welcome he was likely to meet with in that agitated city."

Sheriff Dan Hardie had been concerned about security in the old jail, especially in light of rumors that there might be an attempt by the Ashley gang to break John Ashley out of jail. Three months before (on May 21) jailer Hendrickson had publicly criticized the security of the jail in an interview recorded in the Miami Metropolis. He said that "the way the county jail is arranged the jailer takes his life in his hands every time he enters within the walls." He added that the "condition of the present jail is a disgrace to the county" and suggested that there was ample room in the jail yard to make additions.

The Miami Metropolis indicated that at the time Hendrickson was killed there were three men under sentence of death and four more charged with first degree murder. The jailer also said that several visiting sheriffs had commented that they "would not act as jailer at a place like that at any price."

Hendrickson's concerns were mostly about internal security (i.e., assaults by inmates upon the jailers). A week after this statement Hendrickson was attacked by an inmate who seized the jail keys and attempted to escape before he was overpowered by Hendrickson. As a result of this incident Sheriff Hardie indicated that the jail "keys were locked up in a strong box which was not easily accessible." However, this public statement may have been made to deter attempts to break inmates out of the jail as it is difficult to see how a jail could actually operate with the keys locked in a strong box.

Several grand juries had criticized the security provisions of the jail and the recent grand jury had strongly recommended that a new jail be built. On June 1 (the day before Hendrickson was murdered) the "county commissioners decided to build a new jail, arranging to levy a special tax in July for this purpose." Out of concern for external security (i.e., confederates breaking into the jail to free prisoners), the Sheriff posted a second deputy at the jail and had a blacksmith make a large chain to further secure the front door of the jail (which led to Hendrickson's residence). However, since no one expected a jail break during broad daylight, the chain was taken off the door during the day. And when Hendrickson later opened the door at Bob Ashley's knock, he "responded to the knock without a thought of danger." Curiously, Sheriff Hardie later expressed little surprise that the attempted jail break occurred during the day as many acts of the Ashley gang were committed in broad daylight, including the robbery of a bank in Stuart on Feb. 23.

Shortly before 1:00PM on June 2, Bob Ashley decided to make his move to free his brother. Hendrickson had just finished lunch with his wife and "went for his pipe" when the door bell rang. When Hendrickson opened the door Bob Ashley said, "Are you Hendrickson?" and when the jailer answered in the affirmative, Ashley fired a shot from a Savage .380 rifle into Hendrickson's body. The bullet passed close to the heart, making death imminent. Ashley fired two other shots which did not hit Hendrickson. One bullet went into the wall and the second into a staircase.

Mrs. Hendrickson was in an adjoining room when she heard the shots and ran to the front door in time to see the killer bending over her husband's body (she later found a pistol missing and assumed that the killer had taken it). She saw the man who was apparently the killer "leisurely walking to the street" and so she grabbed a shotgun and tried to fire it at the killer but the gun would not fire. She said that "she could have easily killed him if the gun had worked." Her husband had recently told her that one of two guns that stood side by side didn't work and she apparently had chosen the wrong gun.

Bob Ashley's plan is vague though one newspaper account suggests that he may have expected to find the jail keys on Hendrickson and fled when he found no keys on the slain jailer. Mrs. Hendrickson did later testify that she saw him lean over her husband and remove a pistol from his body but then he fled. Police speculated that the killer may have been scared away by the jailer's armed wife but that is unlikely given the reputation of the gang and the fact that he was heavily armed. But Bob Ashley may have feared more than the jailer's wife as the St. Lucie County Tribune reported that "Ashley grabbed the officer's keys and started for the jail, but when the shooting attracted men nearby, he turned and ran the other way, dropping the keys on the ground."

If Bob Ashley did shoot Hendrickson without any further attempt to enter the jail, the murder would seem rather pointless and reckless if his intent was to free his brother. Perhaps he feared additional armed guards inside the jail but if that were the case it is difficult to understand why he would alert those guards by shooting Hendrickson rather than taking him prisoner and using him as a hostage to force other jailers to free his brother.

It may be that rumors that Bob Ashley had been "crazy" for two months were true. Later on his deathbed, Ashley admitted to intentionally killing Hendrickson and also told Sheriff Hardie that he had intended to kill him also. When Sheriff Hardie asked why Ashley wanted to shoot him, Ashley replied: 'Because you wouldn't put your hands up.' 'What do you mean?' Sheriff Hardie asked. 'O, I always heard you wouldn't put your hands up,' Ashley returned. (Miami Herald, 6315) The nonsensical statement by Bob Ashley could have due to the fact that he was not thinking clearly as he was dying or because he really had been crazy for the past two months (as his father-in-law claimed) and thus that his behavior on June 2 could not be understood from a rational perspective.

Bob Ashley fled across the street to Jones' garage where a Ford car was parked. He attempted at gunpoint to force two different men to drive him north in this get-away car but was unsuccessful. Some later speculated that his confederates were to be waiting with a get-away car but abandoned him for some reason. At any rate, Ashley began to flee on foot but was chased by several townsmen who had heard the shots and been told by Mrs. Hendrickson and her 9 year old son ("they shot Papa") that he had been shot and that the gunman had fled on foot.

Source: Book       Excerpted from Dr. Wilbanks book-


by William Wilbanks

Louisville: Turner Publications


Related: John Rhinehart Riblet
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