Memorial to Charles F. Cummins
End of Watch: June 12, 1940
Rank: Sergeant, Badge No. N/A
Years of Service: 18
Location of Death: 1700 Rhode Island Avenue, NE
Sergeant Cummins was involved in an argument with Officer Blackwell inside a restroom when Officer Blackwell drew his .38 caliber service revolver and shot Sergeant Cummins in the head, killing him instantly.
Officer Cummins was married and had one child.
Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JUNE 13, 1940
D.C. POLICE PRIVATE SLAYS SERGEANT AND SHOOTS HIMSELF
A falsehood “to cover up a search for a missing bird dog” was blamed by police officials last night as the indirect cause of the act of a Metropolitan Police private who shot and killed his superior officer and critically wounded himself.
The private was enraged over a reprimand, declared police witnesses to the shooting at the twelfth Precinct Station.
The dead man is Sergt. Charles F. Cummins, 43, of 216 Eleventh Street, NE. He was shot in the jaw.
His assailant, Private Otho L. Blackwell, 39, of 3012 Central Avenue, NE, lies in extremely critical condition at Casualty Hospital, a bullet lodged in his right temple.
A third policeman, a colleague of Blackwell, was suspended from the police force two hours after the tragedy for giving a false account of tardiness on Tuesday. He is Private A. K. Frank, 43, of 1566 Lawrence Street, NE, who served as Blackwell’s scout car mate at the Twelfth Precinct Station.
It wasn’t until after the fatal shooting yesterday afternoon that Frank told his superiors that his “flat tire” explanation was false. He appeared before Capt. Marks, Maj. Ernest Brown and Inspector Kelly.
Actually, Frank admitted he left the scout car Tuesday afternoon to look for his bird dog that had been lost in the Terra Cotta area. He had asked Blackwell who was driving the car to pick him up later. As a result, the two men at the Keane School eight minutes late.
The tragedy occurred at 4 pm in the Twelfth Precinct Station, 1700 Rhode Island Avenue, NE, within a few feet of more than 23 police reporting and going off duty at 4pm.
Wife hears shots
Private Blackwell’s wife, Dorothy, waiting outside the police station to drive her husband home, also heard the shots, and raced to the hospital behind the patrol wagon bearing the wounded men.
The double shooting, police officials said, grew out of an excuse Frank gave for showing up late for duty Tuesday. For the offense, Blackwell and Frank had been taken off scout car duty and returned to the street as a foot patrolman only a few hours before the shooting.
On Tuesday, according to police officials, Blackwell, who has a long record of “excellent service”, and his scout car mate. Frank appeared at the intersection of Riggs and Blair road northeast, eight minutes late. They were due at 3pm to aid the Keane School children in crossing the dangerous corner.
Questioned on tardiness
Sergt. Cummins, whose job it is to check on Twelfth Precinct police, on asking the reason for the tardiness was told by Frank that they had had a flat tire and had gone to a garage for repairs. When the sergeant asked the same question of Blackwell, the latter replied, according to the official report: Frank told you where we were. I have nothing to say.”
Sergt. Cummins filed a report of the incident with Capt. Sidney J. Marks, Twelfth Precinct commander. Yesterday morning, Capt. Marks, together with Inspector Edward J. Kelly, interviewed the two privates and were told a flat tire had to be fixed. Blackwell said he had not answered the sergeant’s question because “I’m hot tempered and was afraid of getting into trouble”.
On investigating, the captain and the inspector learned that the scout car had not been repaired at the garage named. So, at 1:30 pm yesterday, Inspector Kelly relieved both men from scout car duty and placed them on foot patrol.
Later, the inspector left word that he wanted to see the two privates again when they reported at the end of their shift at 4pm and retired to Capt. Mark’s office.
In a terrible rage
According to the captain, Private Blackwell appeared at the office door “in a terrible rage” as Inspector Kelly was speaking on the telephone. The inspector motioned Blackwell to wait outside until he had finished the telephone conversation.
Then, as reported by Lieut. John R. Jeffries and Acting Sergt. B. R. Campbell only witnesses of the shooting, Blackwell walked down the corridor and spoke with Sergt. Cummins at the washroom door.
Sent by the inspector to recall Blackwell, Lieut. Jeffries said that as he approached the sergeant and private, the latter drew his 38-caliber service revolver from the holster and fired a shot at Sergt. Cummin’s head. The sergeant staggered into the washroom followed by Blackwell, Lieut. Jeffries said, adding that he then heard another shot.
Blackwell rushed out of the washroom revolver in hand and ran to the rear corridor door leading to the garage, outside of which his wife was waiting at the car. Lieut. Jeffries, who is 43, tackled Blackwell at the door and the two toppled to the garage floor two steps below. Jeffries said he had both arms around Blackwell but that the latter managed to raise the gun to his own right temple and press the trigger. Blackwell made no attempt to shoot him, the lieutenant asserted. Capt. Marks declared latter that he and Inspector Kelly might have been the victims of Blackwell’s burst of temper had not the private obeyed- apparently out of habit of discipline- the inspectors command that he stay out of the office during the telephone conversation.
Within an hour after Cummins death, all police stations were ordered to lower flags to half-staff. Police officials spoke of the “splendid record” he had achieved during his 18 years with the force. Cummins had been promoted to sergeant only last year.
Buys gift for father
Eleven-year-old Charlena Cummins had bought a tie and socks earlier yesterday to present to her dad on Father’s Day Sunday. Mrs. Cummins was stunned by the tragedy. She said her husband had told her yesterday morning that he intended to show leniency toward the two privates.
She told of their recent plan to sell the old house and buy a new one. “The kind we always wanted”. “Last night he brought home a red rose,” she remembered. “And he was going to plant it when he came home today.”
Appointed to the police department in 1924, Blackwell had earned several commendations from Maj. Brown for the arrest of an automobile theft ring in 1925, apprehension of a housebreaker in 1932, capture of a firebug in 1937, and for his work during the visit of the King and Queen last year.
Blackwell was the policeman called to the scene last December 4, when Peter Riedel, the German Air Attaché, allegedly his auto in the garden of a 120-pound mechanic and was pummeled for the act. In the murder of Mrs. Blanta Landis, estranged wife of a rookie fireman. Blackwell was one of the investigating police and for his work in the solution of the crime received commendation.
Blackwell’s two teenage sons, Otho Jr, and John, heard of the disaster after returning from a movie. Their mother kept vigil at the bedside of the critically wounded father.
(Blackwell died soon after the article was published)