Eight fallen officers to receive headstones

Eight Greater Cleveland police officers, killed in the line of duty, to receive headstones on their unmarked graves

(Reprinted from Cleveland.com on May 23, 2014)

Headstones at Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, where three Cleveland police officers, killed in the line of duty, have rested for decades without headstones commemorating their lives and service. (Lisa DeJong, The Plain Dealer)
Leila Atassi, Northeast Ohio Media GroupBy Leila Atassi, Northeast Ohio Media Group 
on May 23, 2014 at 4:56 PM, updated May 23, 2014 at 5:51 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Of the 185 Northeast Ohio police officers killed in the line of duty, eight have rested in unmarked graves for decades – and in some cases, for nearly a century.

But now, thanks to volunteers with the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society and a donation from Milano Monuments, all eight are receiving granite headstones commemorating their lives and service.

Charles Lane Jr., president of the memorial society, said in a recent interview that his organization discovered the unmarked graves after resurrecting an old idea to place steel markers near the headstones of fallen officers every year during National Police Week.

Otto Ziska.JPGView full sizeThe headstone of fallen Cleveland police officer Otto Ziska on display before it is set at his grave site in Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland.

Hudson police officer John Dean, whose brother, Jarod, died in the line of duty in 2009, co-chaired a committee with his father, Tom, and the group set out to track down or verify each officer’s final resting place.

Many were documented through their respective police agencies or located as part of similar efforts years earlier, Dean said. But others required more sleuthing, calling upon volunteers to check death certificates, probate court records and old newspaper reports, he said.

Within a year, the grave sites had been identified. But to the volunteers’ surprise, eight were merely grassy patches, without so much as a rudimentary monument.

The officers died between 1905 and 1942 of gunshot wounds, smoke inhalation while saving people from a burning hospital and injuries from car, motorcycle and streetcar crashes. All but one were Cleveland patrolmen.

Click here to read more about their lives and deaths.

Why the officers lacked headstones is unknown. But last year, the memorial society began soliciting donations and holding fundraiser events to buy them, Dean said. And shortly into the effort, Jim Milano, owner of Milano Monuments on Brookpark Road, offered to produce the headstones at cost for the project.

On May 10, police officers from throughout the region volunteered to serve on honor guards during the placement of several of the headstones.

Three privately owned cemeteries – Knollwood in Mayfield Heights, Riverside in Cleveland and Calvary near Cleveland’s border with Garfield Heights — had waived their headstone setting fees, which usually range from $200 to $300 apiece.

But three Cleveland patrolmen, Alfred Ressler, Henry Richter and Otto J. Ziska, were buried in Cleveland’s Woodland Cemetery on Woodland Avenue. To waive those fees, City Council is required to pass authorizing legislation. Council did so unanimously this week, and Dean said the memorial society is prepared to install the final monuments soon.

The location of one of the eight officers, however, remains a mystery.

Patrolman James Goodwin, who died in 1942, was believed to have been buried without a headstone at Knollwood Cemetery. But records indicate that his body was exhumed, for unknown reasons, in 1987 and possibly moved, Dean said.

The memorial society is interested in speaking with any of Goodwin’s relatives, who might be able to point the group to his final resting place.

A lovely granite monument — 72 years past due — awaits him.