My grandfather was finishing up watching a television show on a late humid-soaked Sunday night, July 12, 1981. My grandparents lived in a well-kept home where my mother and her siblings grew up in on the east side of Waterloo, Iowa, near downtown. As he was getting ready to go to bed, Grandma and him heard several loud “bangs”, to which they thought a car had blown out its tires.
Little did they know, the epicenter of the biggest story in Waterloo history would be in their neighborhood.
The events that took place two blocks from their house began “the longest week” I will always remember.
Thirty years ago today, shortly after midnight on Monday, July 13, 1981, Waterloo police officers Wayne Rice and Michael Hoing were gunned down by James Michael “T-Bone” Taylor. It is an unpleasant anniversary, but an important one in the eastern Iowa industrial city I called home for the first 22 years of my life.
This is an anniversary that will continue to reopen raw emotions and reactions for the families, the citizens, and everyone who was affected and lived through this period. I am writing this based on the solely on the facts and my personal recollections of what that tumultuous week was like in the eyes of a 5-year old.
To explain what took place, this is an excerpt from State (of Iowa) v. Phams, courtesy of FindACase, with some edits by me.
Shortly before midnight, July 12, 1981, Officers Hoing and Rice were called to the house located on 1027 1/2 Franklin Street on a complaint of loud music. That night, Joseph Phams, and his brothers Johnny and Thomas, Thomas Ketchens, and James Michael “T-Bone” Taylor were in the house. Taylor was recently released from a federal prison in Missouri.
After the music was turned off, the officers left the front yard area and returned to their squad car. Angered by the police intrusion, James Taylor, Thomas Ketchens, and Phams’ brothers, Howard and Johnny, the individuals in the house began yelling and cursing at the officers. Both officers returned to the house and placed Johnny Phams under arrest for disturbing the peace. Johnny Phams protested the arrest and began struggling with officer Hoing. Defendant (Joseph Phams) then burst through the front door, knocked officer Rice to the ground, and began struggling with him. Sometime during the struggle defendant got up and began hitting Rice on the head with a chair.
James Taylor, who had been standing near a car by the porch, ran to where officer Rice and defendant were struggling on the ground. Taylor struck Rice several times with his fist and, after two or three attempts, removed Rice’s gun from its holster. While Taylor was attempting to remove the gun, Rice was struggling and wiggling his hips, but apparently defendant had him pinned. When Taylor got possession of the gun he yelled “move.” Defendant rolled off Rice and Taylor fired two fatal shots into Rice’s chest. Taylor then ran to where officer Hoing was still struggling with Johnny Phams, and shot that officer (Hoing). Hoing died hours later.
The following morning, my dad received a call that something bad happened. As a probation officer, the last thing you want to hear is that one of your clients got into trouble. Nevertheless, he rushed off to the office, as the news spread on KWWL-TV and on local radio of the slayings. The Phams brothers and Ketchens were arrested. Taylor was on the run.
It was no secret that the relationship between the African-American community on the blue-collar east side and the Police Department was at times layered with distrust, hostility, and disdain towards each other. It was like that for a long period of time. Some of that acrimony still lingers today in the fabric of Waterloo. There were some talk that if both officers didn’t walk back to the house, the incident would have not happened. I can’t substantiate or verify that claim. I was too young, at age 5, to understand how contentious the climate on the east side was then.
Waterloo, from the way I saw it, was under martial law. Waterloo Police, the Black Hawk County Sheriff, and surrounding areas canvassed the Cedar Valley, in search of Taylor. Governor Bob Ray dispatched a National Guard helicopter, and Cedar Rapids Police/Linn County Sheriff lent their helicopter to search from the air. The week was muggy and hot, and filled with anxiousness.
The city was on edge, not knowing what was going to happen next. That was when things became surreal.
On Tuesday the 14th, a call came in that Black Hawk County Supervisor Carroll Hayes was involved in a shooting incident. Hayes was getting in his car and his gun, looped in his belt, fell out, discharged, struck Hayes in his spleen and the bullet went through the roof of his car. Black Hawk Sheriff’s Deputies William Mullikin, John Sewick, and Mark Johnson heads out to Hayes’ residence, about 10 miles south of Waterloo and 5 miles east of Voorhies. The squad car had it’s lights and sirens on speeding down the blacktop roads.
Gertrude Vance and her husband, Robert , was driving from the opposite direction. Gertrude Vance makes a left turn at the intersection and into the path of the deputies. The cars collided, with the Vance vehicle rolling down into the ditch. Mullikin and Robert Vance were killed.
The manhunt for Taylor was suspended for the day as authorities rushed to the accident scene to mourn a loss of another officer.
Wednesday, July 15, was the funerals for Rice and Hoing. Both services were held on opposite ends of Waterloo: Officer Rice at Sacred Heart, Officer Hoing at Grace Baptist. Rev. Dale Rausch of Sacred Heart offered these words for a shell-shocked and bewildered community:
“…we should not yield to pessissism…we can come out of this tragic week with greater strength, pride, and responsibility.”
-quote taken and written by Jack Holveson, Des Moines Register, July 16, 1981
On Thursday, a witness came into the police department. She was an elderly lady whose vision wasn’t very good. She thought she spotted Taylor near her home. My dad, his boss, and a few others went over to the station. The police put together a lineup and asked her to point him out.
They brought in a police lineup, and out of nowhere, one of the officers told my dad to stand in the lineup. My dad looked at him and asked why. The officer didn’t give a reason and repeated his request. Dad’s boss told Dad to go ahead and do it. Dad was angry about it, but proceeded to walk to the other side of the glass and stand. The elderly lady kept looking at dad and saying “I think that’s him” several times. Dad started to sweat and became uncomfortable.
Dad and Taylor had nearly the identical skin complexion, however Taylor was more muscular and he had a t-shaped scar on his left cheeck, hence his nickname of T-Bone.
The police kept asking her several times “Are you sure?” Just as she was going to say “yes” for the 5th time, she remembered something. She pulled out her purse and reached inside. A pair of glasses were in her hands as she struggled to put them on, so she could see who she was looking at. She peered intently at dad and uttered “I’m sorry. That’s not him.” Again the police asked the lady is she sure. She repeatedly said yes and described that Dad didn’t fit the profile or even look similar to T-Bone in the face.
Dad walked out of the police station, trying to make sense of what took place.
On Friday, the funeral of Deputy Mullikin took place in Cedar Falls. Officers from across the state returned to Waterloo to mourn the third law enforcement officer to lose his life in the line of duty. During the service, a phone call was received by the dispatcher at the police station. Two women out in rural LaPorte City ran into Taylor on a farm. A helicopter was canvassing the field and confirmed that Taylor was running and ducking from being seen.
The report was relayed to the church. Each officer bolted out of the church in waves. A photographer was stationed in front of the church and took an unforgettable picture of law enforcement officials racing out of every door in the church heading to their squad cars, from the front and the back.
Back out in the farm field outside of LaPorte City, officers armed with shotguns, swarmed all over the place, feverishly trying to find Taylor. Taylor was crawling on the ground, to keep from being seen. The crops were high enough to give him an advantage.
Iowa State Patrol Sergeant Marvin Messerschmidt notices the crops moving. He walks towards it, shotgun cocked, and Taylor sprints out. Messerschmidt gives chase through the soybean crops after Taylor. Taylor trips and falls. Messerschmidt towers over the fugitive and says “Are you Taylor?” T-Bone looks up, and says “Yes.” The other officers wrestles the gun out of his hands, handcuffs him, and escorted him out of the field and into the cruiser to head back to Waterloo.
The largest manhunt in Iowa history was over.
A Waterloo Courier photographer (not the same one at the church) arrives quickly and takes a picture of both officers hauling Taylor out of the field. That photo, and the church picture, stays fixed in my mind.
“T-Bone” Taylor was tried and convicted for double homicide in Council Bluffs, as the trial was moved because of publicity. Currently he is still in the Men’s Reformatory in Anamosa, serving two life sentences. Officers Hoing and Rice are memorialized every night as softball teams take the field at the Hoing-Rice Complex. Mullikin’s widow established a scholarship in her husband’s memory one year after his death.
The house, that was tucked on the corner of Franklin and Courtland Streets has long been destroyed. However, every time I drive past there to head to my grandparents’ house or to another destination in town, that deserted spot is an automatic reminder of that night and that week in July 1981.
It was bizarre, surreal, and tragic.
The longest week.