A community’s history is best told by those that lived it, or by their descendants. We will be adding to this page frequently. Contact the Laurel History Boys and tell us your story!
Coming soon: oral histories by:
- Laurel’s Mailmen
- Laurel Volunteer Fire Department
- Laurel Rescue Squad
Who else should we talk to? Send us your ideas!
By Kevin Leonard
Every couple of weeks a group of former cops from the Laurel Police Department gathers at Oliver’s Saloon. Mike Bleything, Billy Schmidt, Ray Boone, Carl DeWalt, and Bob Althoff were gracious enough to let us attend recently and talk with them about their service. The stories flowed as fast as the beer taps. Even with the joking it was obvious that they were all proud of their time as a Laurel cop. Some of their stories, though, vividly illustrate the dangers all cops face on a daily basis.
[The transcript has been edited for space (and language).]
On the worst days on the job:
Bleything: When I had a shootout with a guy in his apartment on 9th Street behind the old firehouse. It was a hostage situation. He had two guns on him. I snuck through the window and then the damn window fell shut. He heard it and jumped up and fired at me. I fired back and we both missed but he fainted. When I cleared all the plaster from my face and looked at him, I saw he had fainted with both guns in his hands. He was a corrections officer and came home to surprise his wife one night but she surprised him. She had company. I really thought I was dead that time. It didn’t bother me until I got to the station and I tried to write. I grabbed the pen and [his hand shakes]. I had to go outside for an hour and walk around.
Schmidt: I enjoyed it every day. Actually, the worst day was when I thought JW Harris [a Laurel policeman] got shot. It was a domestic situation. The woman threw her TV out of the window and it exploded. I thought it was a gunshot. He didn’t answer his radio. That was a scary scenario.
Althoff: I was a detective and got a call from Laurel Regional Hospital. A two-year-old girl was dead at the hospital. The whole family was surrounding her and I noticed a slap mark on the side of her face. So I cleared the room and started working it as a homicide. That was probably my saddest day. Eventually we couldn’t get a cause of death–it was undetermined so we couldn’t get a homicide charge.
Bleything: Edie Miles—she worked at Safeway—they shot her in the back of the head. They caught the guy and when they brought him back he said he was going to go down by suicide by cop. He told them during the interview he was getting ready but the state trooper looked too young. I told him he was lucky it wasn’t me. If I’d come after you, you’d be dead.
DeWalt: I responded to a call at Laurel Park Apartments. Two of my officers had a guy in an apartment on a domestic violence call. As I’m coming down the hallway, a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old came down the hallway and they were covered in blood. So I got ’em both to another officer to get ‘em out. I go in the bedroom with the two officers and the guy. He had stabbed a woman 35 times. He was a big guy and the knife had broken off so they only had the handle. I told the two officers to cover me so I grabbed him and threw him back to these two guys, who locked him up. I started doing CPR and blood is flying everywhere but she was dead.
Boone: I got a call for an alarm at an apartment rental office. There was a guy that had an ax stuck in the door. As we’re walking up, he’s pulling at the ax. I said, “Alright, pal, stop. Don’t pull it out of there.” All of a sudden, it came out and he turned around and started walking at us. He only took two steps. We opened fire and he went down. When he starts coming at you…
Bleything: I got shot at three times in Laurel. One time the guy standing behind me got hit. I chased him up to the Lamplight and ran him off the road. They bailed out and I caught one but the other one started shooting. And in December of ‘69 I stumbled into a robbery in progress in Keller’s. I hadn’t even gone to the academy yet. That was the first time I was shot at.
Schmidt: A 20-year-old girl in a car with her boyfriend blew a stop sign at Montgomery and 7th Street. I’m doing 110 miles an hour on Brooklyn Bridge Road and could not catch her. That was insane. I kept going and finally got her at Riding Stable Road and 198. The only reason was she had to slow down for the stop sign. She was in a ‘72 LTD station wagon and I couldn’t catch her in my cruiser doing 110. That was a scary night.
Althoff: I was serving an arrest warrant on this guy that was strung out on PCP. I knocked on the door and he looked out and saw it was me. He tried to close the door but I got in. We got into it and he was wild. He tried to get my gun but, thank God, it was snapped. That scared the hell out me.
Bleything: I can tell you my most embarrassing moment. We used to have to walk Main Street a couple of times a shift. I had a big wooden nightstick that had a swivel strap so you could twirl it. I’m walking along twirling it and it hits me in the head and knocks my hat off. So I go to pick it up and I fall off the curb. I pick it up and stand up and I bang into a sign. And this little old lady said, “Officer, are you okay?” I just kept on going. It embarrassed the hell out of me. Seemed like it lasted 20 minutes.
Did any particular bars give you trouble?
[in unison]: B&E Tavern.
Bleything: Laurel Hotel was trouble, too. My first night on the job I broke a man’s arm in there. I took the last call there, too. When they were ready to knock it down I had to go in and make sure nobody was in there.
Schmidt: Laurel Hotel used to have nude dancers. They’d dance right on the bar.
On crazy things that happened:
Bleything: I was driving down Route 1 one time and I looked up and there’s an elephant coming towards me. It was 2 o’clock in the morning. I was rubbing my eyes. There was a circus where the go-kart track used to be and this elephant had gotten loose.
Boone: What did you do, shoot him? [laughter]
Bleything: No, I tried to keep him from going any further with my car. He would stop and try to go around me. They came down and herded him back. That was the strangest thing at 2 o’clock in the morning.
Boone: Who was the guy that shot up the 7-11?
Bleything: That guy got mad at his wife and took a chainsaw to his house. He cut everything in the house in half. Nothing we could do, it was his property. But then he tried to set it on fire.
Schmidt: We got him for arson.
Bleything: I had a City Councilman riding with me one night and I pulled over a car on 198 that was driving real slow. So I stop her and go up and she’s completely naked. I asked for her license and registration and I said “Can I ask why?” She said, “Yes, sir. I got so sunburned today and this is what I’m driving like.” I just gave her the license and registration back.
Bleything: The strangest thing I think ever happened was the porta-john incident. [laughter]
Schmidt: I was waiting for some of this stuff to come up.
Bleything: We had two officers working at midnight and they went down to the Avondale Mill. There was a construction site down there and they had porta-johns called “Bobby’s Johns.” One of the guys had a pickup so they put it in the back of the pickup and bring to the Police Department and put it in Robert Kaiser’s parking spot. [laughter] Kaiser pulled in the next morning—
Boone: There was **** everywhere.
Bleything: Yeah, all that stuff had spilled. And he went nuts. He had us out there dusting them for fingerprints.
Boone: This is crazy! I had to hand-carry the prints down to the Maryland State Police lab! They said, “What is this, a homicide or something?” I said, “No, it’s a porta-john.” [laughter] They said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “They put a ****ter in my boss’ spot.” [laughter]
On some memorable characters in Laurel:
I heard a story and wonder if you ever heard of this. Back in the ‘30s or ‘40s there was a Laurel cop who was illiterate. He would pull people over and then hand them the ticket book to write out their own ticket.
Bleything: Yeah, his name was Knox. Kaiser actually told me about him.
Boone: There was this guy who was really good buddies with the cops. I stopped him one night on Route 1 for something minor and he flashes a badge. A Laurel City ceremonial badge. They were given out by Kaiser. He had a lot of political friends.
Bleything: Look at Harry Stein.
Schmidt: A volunteer cop with a gun and a police car.
Bleything: He used to use a hair dryer and sit on the side of the road like he was working radar. He had an old pearl-handled 6-inch revolver. They took the gun away.
Bleything: We had a guy here for years. I never knew his name because he never caused any trouble. He was homeless. He stayed behind the Texaco station. He died back there one day. We got his prints and discovered he was a deserter from World War II. He’d been hiding all that time.
On the good days on the job:
Boone: They were all good days.
Althoff: Best day was when they locked up the guy that did that triple homicide. I did the undercover work.
Schmidt: It’s a good day when you’re successful at what you’re doing. We had just put down the July 4th Parade in 1985 and found a woman coming out the woods half-dressed. She had just been raped at a 4th of July party right here on Main St. We chased the guy down and caught him. It took a while to catch him but that was a rape in progress with her coming out of the woods, see him running, and give chase and catch him. That’s a good day for the job. Obviously the honor of being selected Police Officer of the Year—that was a good day. Being a life-long Laurel resident and earning that for what you did.
Boone: It was rigged. [laughter]
Bleything: You have to have a lot of good days or you wouldn’t do that job.
Schmidt: Absolutely. It’s also a good day when you don’t have to do stuff.
Boone: It’s a good day when you go home safe.
Bleything: The stories that make it a good day sound corny. I was at the lunch counter at People’s Drug and this kid came up to me and said “You don’t remember me, do you?” I said, “No sir, I’m sorry. I don’t.” He said “When I was 16 you locked me up.” So I stepped back [puts his hand on his gun] and he said, “I want to thank you. It was that day I decided I want to be a cop because of the way you treated me.” That kind of stuff, when you can reach out and do something like that.
On the George Wallace shooting at the Laurel Shopping Center in 1972:
Where were you when he was shot?
Bleything: We had lunch at the old Howard Johnson’s. We left there and we went down and he was talking on the stage. He was supposed to come off the stage and come to me so I could take him to his car. He came off the stage and he went like this [points his finger in the air] to me and walked out to the crowd, so I followed him. Boom, that was it. I was this close.
Did you have a hand in grabbing Bremer?
Bleything: No, the County grabbed him. We were all trying to put him in a cruiser but we couldn’t find one that was unlocked. We went from car to car, pulling on the handles.
Were you aware of what happened earlier in the day at Wheaton? They were throwing tomatoes and stuff at Wallace.
Bleything: We didn’t know about it until later. Bremer is living in Cumberland now. He originally wanted to get Nixon.
On being a cop in a small town:
Schmidt: I was born and raised here in Laurel. Went to Pallotti and St. Mary’s. I spent 15 years in the Rescue Squad. I went to the Baltimore City Academy and spent three years down there and then came back to Laurel in ’84 or ’85. That was a community cop. Mike came here from the military and never left.
Bleything: It’s 50 years this year since I came here. I’m originally from Oregon. I like the small city. I like the people. I like the town.
Schmidt: A small town like this—members of the Rescue Squad, Fire Department, Police Department—we all hung together, went to the same bars, and you build a relationship like that. And we’d always see each other on the job, helping each other out—when you’re in a small town like this. When I was here, there were only 35 cops. Now there’s 70.
Bleything: I got a call of a hit-and-run right in front of Dr. McCeney’s office. The small town thing—this is why I’m bringing this up. I get on the scene and there’s this lady, she was pregnant, she had just come out of McCeney’s office. She was standing next to her car. Some guy nailed her and took off. Turned out she was my babysitter for my kids. I really had a tough time. I couldn’t handle the scene.
Boone: My podiatrist used to be my next-door neighbor. One day he knocks on my door and said, “Ray, I need a favor. My mother is 96 years old and she’s still driving. She has a paralysis in her neck. She can’t look to her left. She only drives twice a week—to get her hair done and to church. Can you talk to someone and have them pull her over and get her to get re-examined?” So I told him I’d do what I can. The whole force is watching for her but for a month they couldn’t find her. I said, “This is the best you guys can do? You can’t find a little old lady?” Finally she gets pulled over at the High’s on 5th St., next to her church. So the officers are talking to her pleasantly and somebody in the church sees that she’s pulled over. The whole damn church came out and screamed at the officers! “Leave her alone!” [laughter]
Did the politicians support you?
Bleything: It depended on the mayor. DiPietro probably did more for the police than anybody. And Craig Moe. I sit on one of his commissions and he does a lot of stuff. He keeps them up to date.
Schmidt: It goes back to DiPietro being a Laurelite, growing up here, knowing the families, Rescue Squad, Fire Department, Kiwanas, American Legion, all of that. The hometown stuff was so important back then but we lose that now. It’s not the same, but we still have some.
Bleything: He got us a 20-year retirement. Brought Roland Sweitzer in as City Administrator—he was a big help. Just supported everything we did. Got us most everything we asked for. Increased our pay quite a bit.
Was there ever any instance when anybody with the city got in the way of you doing your job?
DeWalt: Oh, hell, yeah. Depending on who you pulled over or who you locked up, anything like that.
Bleything: They usually said, “I know Carl DeWalt.” [laughter]
Schmidt: When I caught a former mayor’s daughter in the back seat with a guy. [laughter] That was a hard night. I’m not mentioning any names. [laughter]
Bleything: There was a feud back in the early ‘70s. Kaiser had put in for a federal grant and Mayor Harrison thought Kaiser had lied to him. That’s when he laid off three officers.
On traffic stops:
Boone: The hardest part is between the cruiser and the car. Once you get to the car, you realize what you have.
Bleything: A lot of it is not making the people you stop feel like criminals. There’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop. I hate it when news people say that.
What’s the best excuse you ever heard for getting out of a ticket?
Althoff: I know Carl DeWalt. [laughter]