by Tim Gilmore, 1/13/2022
1. Shotgun Slaying
“It was dark,” he said, “and I couldn’t see. When he turned around, I shot him. I aimed low. I didn’t want to kill anybody, but I didn’t want my father to kill my mother or me.”
James Calvin Patrick, Jr., 19 years old, said he’d “struck” his father “on several occasions” when J.C. Patrick, Duval County’s 47 year old chief homicide investigator, had been drinking and beating the boy’s mother. Last time, Patrick told his son that if he touched him again, he’d kill him.
The December 15, 1969 headline in The Florida Times-Union read, “Youth Held in Slaying of Father.” The story said James C. Patrick, Jr. had been charged with murder “in the shotgun slaying of his father about 3 a.m. Sunday at the family home in Jacksonville Beach.”
Two months earlier, a narcotics raid downtown at Friendship Park had swept “the youth” up in a mass arrest. Instead of drug charges, however, they’d booked him for “vagrancy by loitering,” the old police catchall before the U.S. Supreme Court declared vagrancy laws unconstitutional in 1972. His father had the charges dropped.
The investigator, meanwhile, had been hospitalized for alcoholism. Decades later, former colleagues would say he’d reeked of liquor at work. He’d taken his young son to Ku Klux Klan rallies. He’d been known to break a few ribs during interrogations and at least once beat a suspect unconscious. More than a decade after his death, federal court testimony would reveal that he’d taken bribes to cover up evidence in murder investigations.
None of that kept J.C. Patrick from being worshiped as a hero. “If somebody had told Patrick to serve a warrant on the Devil, he would have tried to do it,” Duval County patrolman Roland Grant told The Jacksonville Journal.
From a helicopter in 1961, Patrick discovered the bodies of 25 year old Patricia Ann Hewitt and 43 year old Althea Ottavio, both of whom had been missing for a week, in a palmetto thicket in southwest Jax. The two Georgia women had come to Jacksonville “to make a dream bet at a dog track.”
In 1964, Patrick led the manhunt for Earl Kraal, a 58 year old escaped mental patient, murderer and “giant of a man,” who stood 6’6”. “Two men won’t take him,” said his former wife, “Mrs. Fred Wilder,” who claimed Kraal had been hanging around her suburban Oceanway home for three nights, laughing and saying, “This time I’m going to kill you.” Patrick led the manhunt with deputies on foot, horseback, motorcycle and plane, though it wasn’t until May 1966, after seven and a half years on the lam, that Kraal was arrested in Jacksonville for shoplifting beer.
J.C. Patrick had begun with the Duval County Sheriff’s Office in 1950, long before city-county consolidation in 1968 created the strange hybrid of a city sheriff’s office. He could look bureaucratic enough with his glasses on; without them, it was easier to notice he had a head shaped like a bullet. He’d worked under the corrupt Sheriff Rex Sweat, then served as Sheriff Dale Carson’s chief criminal investigator from 1958 to ’66.
About what happened next, the sheriff’s office seemed less than forthright. Patrick went on sick leave in 1965, ostensibly for hand surgery, with Carson saying rumors he was leaving were untrue. Then on June 15th, Carson said he’d extended a leave of absence for Patrick and that, though “Patrick has not submitted a formal resignation, his resignation will be in effect at the end of the 30 days.” He said Patrick was leaving to work for a large private agency. His wife would soon testify that his drinking now became even worse.
In February, newspapers reported Patrick had taken a job with Wackenhut, the private detective agency based in Coral Gables. When accusations of greater misconduct surfaced in the 1980s, former detectives would say Patrick had been placed on leave for evidence tampering, though they accused Carson and Patrick both of taking bribes.
Though Carson said he didn’t want “to hold him back as I realize he has a great potential in the private industry,” Patrick didn’t stay with Wackenhut for long. When his son shot him to death, he was working as a deputy constable for the Jacksonville Beach Police Department, well below his previous position with Duval County.
The coroner’s jury was split on whether J.C. Patrick, Jr. should be prosecuted. Judge Guy Craig and defense attorney Lacy Mahon both said they’d never encountered a hung coroner’s jury. He finally pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served five years’ probation.
On December 19th, the T-U reported, “Both the youth and his mother stated Patrick was a heavy drinker and had abused them regularly for many years. Each said the victim had fired a gun on them on at least one occasion.”
2. That Night, Part One: Mother
He’s bagged a couple ducks, hunting with friends since early morning. He’s tired. He’s expected it, but doesn’t let himself expect it. He just wants to crash. When he comes home to the little ranch style house at 1203 Fifth Avenue North, with its clean lawn and its obtusely angled roofline, that little rectangular band of brick stranded between four-paned windows in an otherwise woodframe façade, she tells him.
She tells him how it’s been. How it’s been once again, whiskey and fists all day long, that self-righteous vicious vitriol. How he aims all his hatred for the brutality and depravity he encounters at her. How he makes her pay for it, unable to see he’s as depraved as the people he’s put behind bars, the murderers, the rapists. How he can’t see the only difference is which side he’s on.
So he takes his mother to a neighbor’s house to get her away from his father, and goes out to Pete’s and downs a few beers himself. Fights fire with fire, some secret soul-cousin to the hair-of-the-dog trick. And he comes back home and goes to bed, so tired his limbs seem other than his own. The house is empty. If his anxious brain wakes him before the sun comes up, at least deep sleep can claim him now.
But then she calls home, calls him, at midnight; would he please come get her? He finds his father asleep in his car in the driveway, so he walks the short distance, collects his mother, places one arm around her shoulders and brings her back home, where she should be safe.
3. 40-Mile Shootout
The Jacksonville Journal referred to them as “desperadoes,” to the “great chase” as a “40-mile shootout.” J.C. Patrick, J.B. Bullard and Roland Grant followed the stolen getaway car at 95 miles per hour across four counties in “a real-life version of a scene which Hollywood made famous in its cops-and-robbers movies of the 1930s.” The State would electrocute Sam Hornbeck “for killing a police officer after a holdup that triggered the pursuit.” Hornbeck’s criminal career started when he was 16 and spanned 20 years of bank robberies and “society party hold-ups from Florida to Iowa.”
On December 13, 1953, Sam Hornbeck and Myron Goldman, whose wives helped them escape from jail in Savannah by smuggling them guns and handcuff keys, left a stolen car running outside the Worth Club near Murray Hill at 5004 Normandy Boulevard, while they robbed the place and downed its whiskey. They’d assaulted the bartender and his only customer, tied their hands behind their backs with bailing wire, stolen their wallets and were trying to break into the safe.By the time city and county cops and FBI agents swarmed the club, Hornbeck and Goldman stepped out into the night, holding their hostages before them. They tried to switch cars, a gun battle broke out, and county patrolman Thomas Robinson fell instantly dead. Goldman’s dead body turned up in a weedy lot the next morning. Hornbeck ran half a mile on foot, hijacked a Ford, and sped off down Blanding Boulevard toward Clay County. The patrol car pursued him through Middleburg and Starke, past Raiford State Prison, into the middle of town at Lake Butler. Hornbeck hadn’t noticed the tarpaulin the car’s owner had draped over the radiator and the hood to keep the engine from freezing when temperatures dropped that night. When the car overheated, white steam and black smoke pouring across the cold highway, he rolled down the window and started waving a white handkerchief in surrender. Then he slammed on the brakes and stepped out, his hands in the air, yelling “Don’t shoot!”
When Roland Grant remembered that night to Jacksonville Journal reporters after J.C. Patrick’s death, he said, “Patrick always said he was partly deaf after that and said it was my fault because I was firing my pistol past his ear.” That chase, Grant said, “was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me.”
4. Common Denominator of Corruption
Everybody knew J.C. Patrick took bribes, but it wasn’t until 13 years after his death that the 1960 Beverly June Cochran case and the 1964 Johnnie Mae Chappell case did what his son’s killing him couldn’t do and soiled his reputation.
It was August 1982 when former detective Donald Coleman testified in federal court that Sheriff Dale Carson and deceased Chief Deputy J.C. Patrick covered up evidence in multiple murder investigations. Lee Cody, Claude West and Don Coleman had brought the civil rights suit against the sheriff, which they would lose due to statutes of limitations, for firing them to rid the department of “troublemakers” 17 years before.
On February 24, 1960, Beverly June Cochran, a 19 year old housewife, had vanished, leaving her baby crying in her crib. That fall, two Miami detectives joined Jacksonville’s Donald Coleman and James Wingate to bring Emmett Spencer from Raiford State Prison to the Roosevelt Hotel where they holed him up downtown and interrogated him. Newspapers were calling Spencer “the dream killer,” since he claimed to know details of various murders because he’d dreamt them. Carson and Patrick had already interrogated Spencer in Miami, where Patrick beat him unconscious and broke two of his ribs.
Spencer said he didn’t kill Beverly June Cochran, but he knew who did, that his friend Clarence McCormick, the ne’er-do-well son of beach construction magnate B.B. McCormick, friend of J.C. Patrick, had raped her, kept her hostage and beat her to death with a tire iron. Patrick put his own investigators under constant surveillance. When they found evidence connecting McCormick to the crime, Patrick and Carson made sure it never surfaced. The case was never closed, Beverly June’s daughter grew up without her, and Clarence McCormick advanced a career robbing banks until he was gunned down naked in a Columbus, Georgia motel in 1980.
Patrick also took bribes in the case of the June 29, 1964 murder of a banker’s son named Glen Monroe, shot twice in the back and dumped on a deserted beach access ramp, his Volkswagen found abandoned in the 100 block of East Church Street downtown. Sheriff Carson would “suddenly remember” in federal court that he and Patrick had interviewed wealthy Atlantic Beach socialite and shopping mall developer Bobby Jacobs before deciding they’d never suspected him after all.
“It was common knowledge that Bobby Jacobs had paid [Patrick] off,” Jacksonville Beach Detective Ray O. Headon testified. Beaches Justice of the Peace William S. Gufford told him, “Money exchanged hands.” Headon said, “I told Patrick I was going to Bobby Jacobs’ home and interview him and his guard. I was told the case was reassigned and forget it.” A decade later, a gunman named Raymond Beauchesne tried to abduct Jacobs from his home at 2337 Seminole Road, shot him, killed a security guard, then committed suicide.
More than anything else in his entire career, it’s his corruption in the case of the March 23, 1964 racial murder of Johnnie Mae Chappell for which J.C. Patrick is best remembered. Detectives Coleman and Cody had taken the statement of a young redneck named Wayne Chessman who admitted being party to killing Chappell, and shortly thereafter, Coleman was unable to locate the file. He could find no evidence there was even a case. The detectives worked night shift and when they checked Patrick’s office after hours, Coleman noticed a piece of paper sticking out from under the mat behind Patrick’s desk. He looked closer. It was the police report for Johnnie Mae Chappell’s killing on top of about 30 other reports the chief investigator wanted dropped.
The attorney Ray Coleman, son of the detective, acknowledges Carson’s 28 year reign of corruption, but says everything “revolved around J.C. Patrick.” Sheriff Rex Sweat, after being in office for 25 years, only left after being “caught with desk drawers full of dirty money,” Coleman says, and the common denominator between the corrupt administrations of Rex Sweat and Dale Carson was James Calvin Patrick.
5. That Night, Part Two: Father
He doesn’t want to kill his father. Doesn’t want to kill anybody. They could never be free of him. Even if J.C. Patrick were dead, he’d still be there, inside them, raising a bottle and a fist.
He goes out to his father’s car in the driveway, wakes him to bring him into the house, drops him, shattered, into his bed. He turns on the TV in the living room, some show with contrived jokes and a laugh track, then closes his eyes once again. Maybe this time everybody will stay asleep, at least for a few hours.
And now his father is cursing and shouting, stumbling and pounding. It never ends. He knows those percussions, the sounds of fists, knows the sound of them on walls and the sound of them on this woman, Levera Patrick, his mother.
So she asks him again, asks him to take her away, to get her out of here, anywhere, anywhere but here, a neighbor’s house, her sister’s.
And his father tells them to go ahead. They have, he says, an agreement now. If either of them leave the house tonight, he’ll kill them both. He says they know he’ll do it, and they do. He knows murder, he says, inside out. It makes no difference if it’s Alice Winiecke Hardin, who stabbed her eight year old son three times and her six month old daughter five times before jamming the 10 inch butcher knife into her heart, or the former chief homicide investigator of Duval County who blows his wife’s and his only son’s heads off.
All that matters is that thin blue line. His heroic career with the sheriff’s office is over, Wackenhut sacked him, and he’s detoxed in the hospital, but this deputy beach constable still stands on the right side of the line.He’ll kill them, he says, says they know he will, and since they do know it, the boy goes back to his bedroom and picks up the same 12-gauge he used for hunting ducks a thousand years ago that same Saturday and he puts a single shell into the shotgun and he goes back out to the living room to face his father.