Officer William A. Bell


Sgt Benjamin Graham

William A. Bell  

On this day in Baltimore Police History 2 Jan 1932 we lost our brother Officer William A. Bell - Officer Bell was shot and killed instantly on 2 January, 1932, while trying to arrest a burglary suspect, Willie Wright, in a 3rd floor apartment at 1709 Madison Avenue. The suspect was wanted for a series of burglaries in the Northwestern District. He was apprehended in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 1932. Officer Bell was 52 years old and unmarried. Officer Bell joined the department on October 1, 1908. We lost our brother Officer William A. Bell to gunfire based on the following – On 2 January, 1932, while attempting to arrest burglary suspect, Walter Wright, on a series of burglaries warrants in the Northwestern District; and while in a 3rd floor apartment located at 1709 Madison Avenue. The suspect opened fire on Officer Bell hitting him two times in the upper body, killing him instantly. The suspect jumped over Officer Bell’s lifeless body as he made his escape down a back set of stairs. When Officer Bell’s partner, Officer William Sempeck came in, he was slowed as he briefly stopped his pursuit to capture Suspect Walter Wright as he stopped momentarily to help Officer Bell to the ground, and render first aide, it was only after he realized the fate of his friend that he continued on in his chase for Walter Wright. Due to unfamiliar area, steep, long winding stairwell, Officer Sempeck would lose his suspect that night; he was quoted as saying, “He must’ve leaped down them, he got away so fast!” Wright would be arrested 2 days on 4 January 1932 while in Washington D.C.

The following are from two newspaper articles dated, 3 Jan 1932 and, 26 Jan 1932. They wrote a little differently back then; so some words were changed to represent a more modern way of expressing events.


3 January 1932

Black Male Holds Up Suspect Kills Patrolman, William A Bell - 52

The Death in an Apartment House - Assailant Jumps Over Body, and Flees - Wilbur Wright, Accused by Police, is Sought Throughout The City - Patrolman William a Bell, 52 was shot and instantly killed shortly before 9 o’clock last night (2 January 1932) by a Black male believed by the police to a been Wilbert Wright. - William Bell and Patrolman William Sempeck were about to make the arrest in the third floor apartment at 1709 Madison Avenue.- The Black male jumped over the body of Policeman Bell as Patrolman Sempeck chased him down three flights of narrow, winding stairs. He escaped before his pursuer had a chance to fire a single shot.


Wright, a suspect in a series of holdups and robberies in the northern section of the city, is said to have killed Bell as the patrolman was standing guard at one of the doors to the apartment in which detectives asserted they had learned the suspect (Wright) was visiting. Patrolman Sempeck had gone to a door about 20 feet from the stair landing in the hall and Bell had stationed himself at a door to the apartment near the stairway. Sempeck said he entered the apartment, and as he was walking through a dark room heard a shot.


He said he then ran to the living room in the apartment, and saw Officer Bell falling to the floor in the doorway. A Black Male was leaping over Officer Bell’s body, while two black females, and a man stood huddled in a corner. “I tried to catch Bell as he was falling.” Sempeck said, “Then I laid him on the floor and started after Wright who was already running down the rear stairs. He must’ve leaped down them, he got away so fast.”


In a few minutes a score of policeman from the Northwest District Station and a detailed Detective from Headquarters had reached the scene. Every police station in the city was notified of the killing and a police dragnet was spread in an effort to capture the killer. Police headquarters in Washington and other nearby cities also were told of the shooting and asked to watch for the fleeing suspect. Policeman looked for the fugitive at railway stations and area wharfs. Charles D Gaither, Police Commissioner, announced that he personally would give a $250 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer.


The three occupants of the apartment at which the shooting occurred were arrested and held as states witnesses they were Dorothy Paulson, 29, who lived in the building, Andrew Walker, 29, who also lived in the building, and Katherine Dobson, 23 from the 1500 block of McCulloch Street. Detectives found two guns – a .45 caliber automatic with a .45 caliber Army Revolver – both were in a white paper bag within the apartment. The residents of the neighborhood described Wright as a, “Bad man” and said he usually carries two pistols.


The police said they had been holding numerous wants for Wright’s arrest during the last few months. And that patrolman Bell had learned from an informant that Wright could be found in the Madison Avenue apartment house. The policeman had a warrant last night for Wright’s arrest in connection with a burglary in the 300 block of E. 25th St. Wright has served five years in the penitentiary. He was arrested for the first time September 27, 1918, for the theft of a bicycle and was paroled of by Judge John J Dobler. In April 1919, he was sentenced to six months in the house of corrections for purse snatching.


He was sentenced to the pen in 1923 on charges of burglary, larceny and carrying concealed weapons. He received five years on each count, to be served at concurrently. He appears in police records under various aliases – Walter Brian, James Wheatley, PD right and William Taylor. The shooting attracted hundreds of persons, and the police were originally hampered in their investigation by the milling crowd.


Wright, a light-skinned Black Male, is about 5’5” tall and weighs about 135 pounds. Patrolman Sempeck said the Black Male who fled the shooting was wearing light trousers, but had no coat or hat, when he fled. Norbert Norris, 26, a taxicab driver living in the 2200 block of E. Fayette St., said he picked up a Black Male who answered Wrights description at McCulloch and Mosher streets about 15 minutes after the shooting this black male, however was wearing a hat and coat Norris said he took him to Madison and Bond Streets.


In announcing the reward for Wright’s capture, Commissioner Gaither said, “It is a case of another policeman shot down in the performance of his duty, and just goes to show the Baltimore police are ready to make the supreme sacrifice at any time.” Gaither went on to say, “This man (Officer Bell) was one of the Boy Scouts” Patrolman Bell recently had been assigned to day shift, but last night was on a special detail because a large number of robberies, and holdups on the northern end of the city in the last few months.


Patrolman Bell was appointed to the police force on October 1, 1908. He is survived by his mother, Mrs. Emma Bell, and his sister, Mrs. Jeanette McGeoch. All lived at 2949 Clifton Ave. Patrolman Bell is also survived by two daughters, and a son. They are Mrs. Ruth King, of New York, Mrs. Naomi Bell and Edward Bell of this city


Five Northwestern district policemen have been fatally shot by black males since the summer of 1962. Patrolman Webster E Schuman and Thomas Dillon, clerk at the station house, were fatally injured by a crazed black male at Lafayette and Argyle Avenues, on June 28, 1926 seven other persons were injured at that time.


on August 5, 1927 patrolman William F Doehler was shot and killed by David Berry, a black male, as the officer, with the suspect in custody, waited for the patrol wagon at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Biddle Street. The suspect in that case never was caught. Patrolman John P Burns was shot over the heart by Willie Smith, a black male, on January 26, 1931, as patrolman Burns, accompanied by another officer, attempted to arrest the black male in the house in the 500 block of St. Mary Street. Patrolman Burns died the following day. The suspect in that case was riddled with bullets as he fled the scene.


Last week Mrs. Margaret Burns was the recipient of the honor award intended for her husband. Gov. Ritchie made the presentation The following is the 2nd article


Wright found guilty of First-Degree of Murder of Patrolman Bell - Sentence due soon - Death Penalty or Life Term Mandatory – Prisoner Visibly Affected by Verdict - Walter F Wright a Black Male who shot and killed patrolman William a Bell, of the Northwestern District, was found guilty of murder in the first degree late yesterday by Chief Judge Samuel K Dennis and Judge Duke bond. The verdict was announced following the trial of Wright in criminal court. Sentence was suspended to enable Wright to confer with his court-appointed counsel, Welford F Coyle Jr. Under Maryland law, the verdict makes either the Death Penalty or Life imprisonment mandatory.


Unless a motion for a new trial is requested, sentence will be imposed before the end of the week. The verdict was announced after the judges had conferred for a few minutes in chambers. Wright, who had listened intently to the witnesses and the attorneys during the closing arguments, but without displaying any emotions, was affected visibly by the verdict.


Patrolman Bell was killed January 2, when accompanied by Patrolman William Sempeck, he went to the third floor the house at 1704 Madison Avenue to arrest Wright, wanted on a warrant charging burglary, Wright fired while escaping and was caught the following day in Washington DC. Wright did not testify, but in a confession read into the record by the state, he said, Patrolman Bell fired first, apparently, however, without intending to hit anyone that he (Wright) then fired over his (Patrolman Bell’s) head, that patrolman Bell fired a shot at him, and that he then fired two more shots in the direction of the patrolman.


The defense contended that the facts as presented by the state failed to show premeditation, and that the patrolman illegally entered the Madison Street home and did not actually have the warrant for Wrights arrest in their possession. Charles C. G. Evans and William Carswell Baxter, assistant state’s attorneys, the prosecution argued that Wright, who lives in Washington, knew he was wanted by the police here and that he came to Baltimore armed with an automatic pistol and two revolvers.


The shooting was done by Wright in an attempt to escape justice, the prosecution held, and ask for verdict of first degree murder. Patrolman Bell was shot twice. The weapon used by right had been stolen from the home of a Washington patrolman. As his brothers and sisters of the Baltimore Police Department we will not let him be forgotten, His service Honored the City of Baltimore, and the Baltimore Police Department may he rest in peace, and may God bless him.

More Details

End of Watch January 2, 1932
City, St. Baltimore, 1709 Madison Avenue
Panel Number 41-E: 14
Cause of Death Gunfire
Weapon - Handgun
District Worked Northwestern


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