When a police chief dies in a high speed chase, his family suspects he was actually murdered. Hamrick arrested a local gang member....
In the late 1960s, a group of young men began terrorizing the quiet and peaceful community of Rock Creek, Ohio. According to former Police Chief Andrew Ceder of neighboring town Jefferson Village:
"They were involved in fights. They were involved in threats. They had the entire village under their thumb. When they spoke, the village pretty much listened."
The town counted on the Sheriff's Department for protection, but they seemed unable to stop the crime wave. So the citizens decided to start their own police department. In July 1969, Robert Hamrick was the third man in less than six months to take charge of the new police force. The other two had both left after receiving threats from members of the Rock Creek Gang. But his wife, Myrtle Hamrick, was confident her husband could clean up the town:
"He wanted it to be a nice friendly town and he wanted, you know, to get this gang off the streets so that people wouldn't have to be afraid of them."
Almost immediately Hamrick and his family were harassed. Myrtle Hamrick knew there was not much her husband could do:
"They just did anything that they could to aggravate him when they knew he was home. He would get fed up and take off after them."
A fellow officer found Hamrick barely alive
Five months after he was sworn in, Chief Hamrick investigated an abandoned building on the edge of town. Inside, he found an expensive sports car that had been stolen. Police officer Gary Martin assisted in the investigation:
"We came across it, fingerprinted it and we bugged the building because we didn't know who was there. We put a radio in our car and just drove around and listened until the guys came back. Bob was hiding in the office and when they showed up, we jumped out and busted them."
The suspects were believed to be members of the Rock Creek Gang. They were arrested and released on bail. Soon after, the threatening calls began. One day, Myrtle Hamrick answered the phone:
"There was a man on the other end and he said, 'Tell your husband to leave things alone and get him out of town or he's going to be hurt. And he's going to be hurt bad.'"
Was Hamrick murdered in his police car?
One month later, on March 10, 1970, during a routine patrol, Chief Hamrick called in to report that he was in pursuit of a car heading west out of town. An hour and a half passed with no further radio contact. Finally, the dispatcher requested that deputies try to find the missing chief. Four hours later, Hamrick's patrol car was located on an isolated road. It had hit a tree. Hamrick was semi-conscious and barely alive. Former Ashtabula County Deputy Chief Dennis Chapman was first on the scene:
"He had head and facial injuries. I was surprised to find him moving when I got there. And then my next thing was to keep him from moving so that he wouldn't do further injury to himself."
Blood covered the back seat of the car, Hamrick's service revolver and nightstick were missing, and the car's ignition and lights were switched to the off position. Ashtabula County Sheriff William R Johnston suspected foul play:
"I still don't believe to this day that all the injuries that Bob received were the result of that car accident."
Robert Hamrick never regained consciousness and ten days later, he died. Despite all the evidence that pointed to murder, his death was officially ruled accidental, the result of a vehicular pursuit. Myrtle Hamrick believes otherwise:
"I believe my husband's death was not a car accident. And that he was beaten to death and that it was covered up."
Six hours after the crash, the car that Hamrick had been chasing was found at a nearby gas station. It was splattered with mud and had a damaged tire. The owner of the car said that when she dropped the car off for repairs the previous day, it was in good condition. One of the station employees was known to be a member of the Rock Creek Gang. Sheriff William Johnston knew the suspect's history:
"Knowing that he hung around the Rock Creek area, and that I had trouble with him in the past, I felt that he was directly involved."
One local woman who wished to remain anonymous claimed that she overheard members of the gang bragging that they had murdered Chief Hamrick:
"They were saying, 'We killed us a cop and we got away with it.' And they proceeded to tell how they killed him and how they beat him in the head. They had it all planned. They set him up getting him down here on this dirt road and they took his billy club and they started hitting him with it. They put him back into his car and then they left him there, left him to die. I knew in my heart they would never get caught."
Chief Hamrick's daughter, Brenda Hamrick Lewis, still believes the people who killed her father can be caught:
"There is evidence and people just have ignored that evidence. And they've ignored the circumstances at the time and what was going on in the village at the time. I just hope that we find out what actually happened and if we find out who's responsible, that they pay for what they did. They took my father from me and I think it's time that they got something taken from them."