END OF WATCH: December 7, 1919
Cleveland Police Department
On Sunday, December 7, 1919, shortly after 2:00 am, Patrolman Robert Shelton, was shot and killed in the line of duty. Shelton was the second officer to be killed within a week and the fourth officer killed in less than a year.
On December 1, 1919, Shelton’s long-time friend, Sergeant William C. Isaac was shot and killed while attempting to search a suspect for concealed weapons in a Euclid Avenue cafe. Prior to joining the police department, Shelton and Isaac worked together as clerks at Southworth’s Grocery.
It was believed that many of the criminals pouring into Cleveland was due to raids on criminal activities in Toledo, Detroit and Chicago. As a result of Sheltons shooting, the police chief increased the force by assigning 61 Cleveland Police Academy cadets to regular duty. The cadets were to man a door-to-door search of an area which turned up the suspect’s coat in a garage near Engine House #17, at 5303 Windsor Avenue.
Shelton stumbled on an attempted burglary at the Standard Drug Company store located at 6821 Euclid Avenue. Shelton pursued the two would-be burglars and apprehended suspect, John Platzky, alias Stanley Platzky, a twice convicted felon.
Platzky claimed to live at 1920 E. 69th Street, but the woman who answered the door told Shelton she never saw him before. Shelton called the police station from the patrol box at the corner of E. 66th and Euclid. Sergeant Spellman informed him the Patrol Wagon was out so Shelton and his prisoner proceeded to the station on foot.
They were within several blocks of the station when Shelton was shot. Powder burns on Shelton’s coat indicate he was shot at close range. Shelton died at St. Luke’s Hospital before he could be revived for clues about the shooting.
Witnesses, Edgar Marvin and Marvin Eaton, advised they saw Shelton leading the prisoner down E. 55th Street, heard a single shot and saw the man run away.
Cleveland Firefighter, Mark Booth advised, immediately after the shot, he saw a man running down Windsor Avenue past Engine House #17.
Platzky’s partner, George Sherman, fearing he’d be charged with the murder, informed officers that he and Platzky planned to burglarize the drugstore, but their plan was foiled by Shelton and they both fled in different directions.
Platzky was caught by Officer Shelton who failed to find a revolver Platzky kept in his overcoat pocket. Previously, Platzky had been convicted of carrying a loaded weapon and burglary and was out on parole when he shot Shelton.
Police learned Platzky was hiding in Toledo after his juvenile girlfriend wrote her family in Cleveland advising of their whereabouts and fictitious names.
Cleveland Police traveled to Toledo and arrested Platzky and his girlfriend, Maude Robinson, alias Maude Younger. The arrest followed a raid on the residence of Sadie Zaebisch, who was charged with harboring the fugitives.
Both Platzky and his mother wept at his arraignment before Municipal Court Judge Moylan. Platzky was convicted on his own confession and sentenced to life in prison.
Robert Shelton was survived by his wife, Lizzie, age 38, and son, Woodrow, age 2 in the home they’d recently purchased on Ashbury Avenue near Case Western Reserve University.
There were twenty-one burglaries reported on the night Patrolman Shelton was slain.
Robert Shelton’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C. panel 39, west wall, line 15
By Recruit C. M. Witherspoon, Cleveland Police Academy