“We always honor our heroic dead, the soldiers who have died for their country. I would not detract from the glory of our soldiers in war, but, the greatest soldier there is the soldier of peace. The officers of the law who by their lives fight the battle of peace that the law might prevail are true soldiers, no less than those who march to the drum taps of time. And those who died in the battles of peace in defense of the laws of their country die as noble deaths as those who sleep now on Flanders Field, row on row, where poppies grow.” Orange County Justice of the Peace March 26, 1930.
In the lobby of the Orange Police Department are three framed photographs for the department’s officers who died in the line of duty–Chief Ed O’Reilly (1935), Acting Chief Johnny Godwin (1935) and Captain Danny Gray (1974). One on-duty death, though, has been lost through the years
Night Officer Will C. White was shot to death in a wood frame house at the corner of Mill and John streets in the early morning of March 26, 1930. The year was one of Prohibition in America when whiskey and other alcoholic beverages were illegal without a prescription. Though only White and the man who shot him were present during the murder, most everyone who testified in hearings and a trial agreed whiskey was present.
N.E. Perkins was charged with capital murder for killing White. He claimed it was self-defense, that White had wanted him to get him more whiskey, but the jury disagreed. They spared him death in the electric chair, but gave him a 99 years in prison as a punishment.
The daily Orange Leader reported Perkins was age 41 and had previously served as a Texas Ranger, a department sheriff and a probation officer. He had come to Orange about 1915 in connection with strike troubles. Texas governors, at the request of business leaders in a town, often sent the Rangers to help break up labor problems.
But Perkins didn’t stay on the side of law. For the past few previous years, he “had been frequently charged with Prohibition law violations and served a federal prison sentence,” the paper said.
March 1930 was five months after the infamous stock market crash and the depths of the Great Depression had not hit. The U.S. Census that year put the city of Orange’s population at 7,913, a 14 percent decrease from 1920. The 1920 census had been bolstered by people moving to town for the World War I shipbuilding.
Will C. White was 52 years old when he was murdered. The daily paper reported he had lived in or near Orange for 25 years. His survivors included his wife, two sons and two daughters, who appeared to be grown because of married last names or being in the military. However, three months later during Perkins’ trial, a newspaper reporter said Mrs. White had attended with her children, W.C. White Jr, age 7, and Dorothy Mae, age 5. Perhaps they were grandchildren.
White’s brother, Sol White, who was living in Houston at the time of the murder, was a former Orange mayor. White and his family lived at 201 Ninth Street, an address which in 2017 is part of the Orange Police Department’s officer parking lot.
Leonard Carr was the main witness in the case, though he wasn’t inside the Perkins house at the time of the shooting. He was a taxi cab driver. He told authorities he had met the Southern Pacific train. No arriving passengers needed his cab; so he then went to the Dixie Cafe for coffee.
In those days, the city had only one policeman (no women back then) working at night. White’s official title was “Night Police Officer.” Carr said White went by the cafe, honked for him and asked him to ride with him. The way Carr spoke, riding with the policeman was not unusual for him in the middle of the night.
Carr said he drove around with White. About 1:15 a.m., they drove by the Perkins house and saw lights and heard loud voices. “Will said that we had better go in and see what the argument was about at that time of night,” Carr testified.
He said Mrs. (Fannie) Perkins had been drinking. White calmed her down. Perkins, who testimony showed was wearing a bathrobe, asked for a cigarette, but White had only one.
Carr said White gave him a dollar and told him to take the car to buy some cigarettes. Defense attorneys would later question why White sent Carr away instead of telephoning a store to have the cigarettes delivered.
Carr said he was gone maybe 10 minutes, not more than 15. When he returned, Perkins met him at the door and said he had killed White. Perkins told Carr to get Sheriff Pate Brown and no one else. Carr could see White lying on the floor.
Perkins and his wife, who was originally also charged with murder, told authorities White had been drinking. After he sent Carr for the cigarettes, he drank some of Perkins’ whiskey and then got mad when Perkins wouldn’t give him more. He claimed White became agitated and shot at him. Killing White was self defense.
However, Carr and the authorities that came to the Perkins’ house said they did not smell any alcohol on White. They also found three bullet holes in the floor nearby White’s body. The bullets had come from White’s pistol, which was found about 18 inches from his body. The testimony was that Perkins had used White’s pistol to shoot the holes to make it seem like the officer had fired at him.
The prosecution, led by County Attorney Hollis Kinard, argued that White was shot in the back. During the trial, they brought in White’s bloodied coat to show bullet holes.
During the inquest, Dr. A.G. Pearce, whose son Wynne Pearce was also a local physician, testified White had sustained two bullet wounds. One looked like it may have been through the back, but Dr. Pearce said the entrance and exit wounds were the same size and he could not be sure. For the trial, two veteran Beaumont police investigators testified White was shot in the back.
White’s funeral was held at his house the day after his murder. The daily newspaper reported the service “had one of the largest crowds attending a funeral here in many years.” Many floral offerings were present, including ones from the Orange Volunteer Fire Department and the city offices.
The Reverend J. Luther Stone, pastor of First Christian Church; Dr. E.T. Drake, pastor of First Presbyterian Church; and Reverend N.H. Miller of First Methodist Church, gave the service. Interment followed in Jett Cemetery.
Pallbearers were White’s friends from local law enforcement, Sheriff Pate Brown, Jeff Carter, George Jett, Clarence Cochran, Elmer Dulap and George Gibson.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-