It’s just a sad fact of life that as you get older, you are faced with the reality that your friends and acquaintances are getting older too; the fragile nature of our mortality suddenly becomes real as this occurs with more frequency. You deal with the regrets associated with never having enough time to spend with those that matter. Such an event happened to me last week when my friend Charlie Carpenter passed away unexpectedly. Charlie was not only a history nut and a distant cousin, but a well-respected retired member of the North Kingstown Police Department family, having retired from that wonderful organization as a lieutenant. This story, one focused on law enforcement, is for him. God bless you Charlie, as he blessed us with your presence.
According to their website, only two men have been murdered while wearing the familiar and respected uniform of the Rhode Island State Police. Now you might naturally expect that these two brave troopers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens they were sworn to protect died in recent years and served, perhaps, in the urban center of our state. But you’d be wrong in that assumption; you see, both of these fine men served and died in the early 1930s, and both of them reported to work each day at the old Wickford Barracks located during that time frame at 24 Brown St. in the heart of the village of Wickford.
Before we remember these two men and the circumstances surrounding their deaths, let’s get a little background information. The Rhode Island State Police was established in the spring of 1925 by Governor Aram Pothier to help deal with the changes brought to the state by the increasing popularity of that new-fangled mode of transportation, the automobile. Additionally, the state police would be able to provide a little dose of “the law” in communities around the state where there was little or no organized law enforcement entity. That first year saw the appointment of a 23-man force headed by Colonel Everitte St. Jean Chaffee and one of the satellite offices opened was the South County Patrol staffed by six officers and located in Wickford at 24 Brown St. Although its official name was always the South County Patrol, it was called by all “the Wickford Barracks” and even after its relocation out of the village to its present day Post Road site in 1935, it’s still the Wickford Barracks to trooper and citizen alike.
The first of these two tragic events occurred on Dec. 18, 1931, when young trooper Arthur Staples noticed a vehicle with only one headlight pulling through the “Collation Corners” intersection of Tower Hill and Ten Rod Roads. He pulled the car in question over near Tower Hill’s intersection with West Allenton Road and began to examine the car and its occupants, 16-year old Armand Lescault and Phillip Janelle, both of Pawtucket. They had stolen the car earlier that evening and neither boy had a driver’s license. Before Trooper Staples could react, Lescault pulled out a revolver and shot him at point blank range in the back of the head. He died instantly and was left by Lescault and Janelle lying on the side of Tower Hill Road. Walter Kingsley, working in his store nearby, heard the commotion and went to investigate with a customer, Otis Taylor. They found the body and immediately called the Wickford Barracks. After one of the state’s “largest manhunts ever” Janelle was captured with the help of locals, Herbert Gardiner and Milton Freeborn, and Lescault, who had fled into Slocum and down the railroad tracks, was captured near Coventry. Staples was mourned by, not only his family, but by all of North Kingstown.
Two and a half years later, at a location just a mile or two away from the site of the Staples killing, Lt. Arnold Poole was shot and killed by an inebriated farm hand at the Baker Estate on what is now Prospect Avenue. He had gone there on May 30, 1934, to try to quell a disturbance between farm superintendent Tom Standeven and longtime farmhand Pete Freeman, a man considered by most to be “a good-natured man who was a heavy drinker that got mean and ugly on occasion.” Poole was acquainted with Freeman and had no idea what was to transpire on that day. When Lt. Poole arrived at the farm he and Standeven approached a shed where Pet Freeman was hiding. As Tom opened the shed door Freeman fired a blast from a double-barrel shotgun, nearly killing his target Tom Freeman. Poole drew his gun and told Freeman to come on out. Both guns blazed and Lt. Poole took a shot in the head and fell badly wounded. He called to Standeven and told him to call the Wickford Barracks. As Standeven ran to the phone Pete Freeman reloaded his shotgun and fired both rounds into the prostrate Poole killing him. He then calmly reloaded and headed off to track down his boss and finish the job. Soon after, the entire Wickford Barracks, plus a group of 8 trainees from the nearby Wakefield training facility arrived and cornered Freeman in a milk shed. After the ensuing gun fight, the largest in North Kingstown history, Freeman lay dead with 10 bullet wounds. Lt. Arnold Poole was found to have 180 pieces of buckshot in his body. Poole left a wife and three children behind. The entire community was shocked and saddened by the incomprehensible tragedy. Pete Freeman’s family, good people every one, never got over what their relation had done that day. No one understood “why he had done what he did.”
It’s been more than 85 years since that day and, thankfully, no other state troopers have met the fate of their comrades, Troopers Staples and Poole. These two fine men gave their lives here protecting the citizens of our fair town.