Voices from the Grave: The unsolved murder of Rockford Police Officer Arthur Bassett

Arthur Bassett (left) and Pearl Johnson
Arthur Bassett (left) and Pearl Johnson

By Kathi Kresol
Local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events

1927 was an exciting time for Arthur Bassett. At 28 years old, Arthur was already a highly respected police officer who had served in the department for three years. And he was soon to be married to Pearl Johnson.

Sept. 22, 1927, Arthur worked until 11 p.m. and then picked up Pearl for a short drive down Montague Road. On the way back to Pearl’s home, Arthur turned onto Michigan Avenue near the intersection of South Central Avenue when he pulled off to the side of the road. This is a residential area now, but in 1927, it was still surrounded by fields.

The couple hadn’t sat there very long when another car pulled up behind them. Arthur and Pearl were both startled when four men surrounded the Ford sedan, pounding on the hood and yelling obscenities. Arthur asked them what they wanted. “Get out of the car and you’ll see,” was the answer given.

Arthur Bassett’s two-door sedan with the bullet-shattered window.
Arthur Bassett’s two-door sedan with the bullet-shattered window.

Arthur climbed out of his car, grabbing both the .45 automatic that he kept stashed by the seat and his service revolver. One of the assailants jumped into the car with Pearl and told her to get down; Arthur turned to face the other three, and they all started to shoot.

The shooting soon stopped, and the man in Arthur’s car jumped out of the sedan. Pearl heard one of the men yell, “For God’s sakes, Ralph, get me in the car quick, I am bleeding to death!” The others picked him up and carried him to the car, and they roared away.

Pearl ran to Arthur, who was in the middle of the street, a pool of blood spreading out under him. Pearl ran down the street screaming for help. Police rushed to the scene, but there was nothing they could do for their fallen comrade.

The police could tell the gun fight had been at very close range, and the substantial amount of blood in the field near the road told that one of the men had been hit. They spread out and searched the fields and road around the scene with flashlights, certain they would find another body, but there was nothing.

A scene re-enacting the killing: X marks the spot where Bassett died; the cross is the position of the bandit wounded by the officer; and the figure to the left of the car is Bassett’s slayer. (All photos from the Rockford Register Republic)
A scene re-enacting the killing: X marks the spot where Bassett died; the cross is the position of the bandit wounded by the officer; and the figure to the left of the car is Bassett’s slayer. (All photos from the Rockford Register Republic)

That same night, Dr. O.M. Ford was awakened by pounding on his door at 2011 School St. There was a man at his door yelling for help for his friend who had been shot, and the friend waited in the car. Dr. Ford explained that he didn’t have the proper equipment there at his home. He told the man to take his friend to a hospital. The men left, and Dr. Ford noticed it was around 12:30 a.m.

Later that morning, when Dr. Ford heard about the shooting, he phoned police to tell them of his late-night visitors. He said the man who knocked on the door was young but that he didn’t notice the type of car or see anyone else. Since the wounded man was taken to the doctor’s home, the police theorized that at least one of the men was local.

At Arthur’s autopsy, Coroner Fred Olson reported that the fatal shot went right through Arthur’s chest, cutting his aorta and exiting just under the right shoulder blade.

Police investigated, but could come up with no motive; there was nothing taken except for Arthur’s service revolver. They were led to believe this was a completely random act by strangers.

The police checked local hospitals and other doctors, and searched field after field looking for evidence of a recent burial, but they never found any sign of the men.

The police, Pearl, and Arthur’s family all thought it would just be a matter of time before someone talked or they found new evidence that would lead to the men who killed Arthur. But they were wrong. There were never any arrests made for the killing of Patrol Officer Arthur Bassett.

Kathi Kresol is a local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events. Through Haunted Rockford, Kathi gives paranormal and haunted history tours and sponsors other paranormal events in and around Rockford throughout the year. For more of Kathi’s history articles, and for information about upcoming paranormal events, visit www.hauntedrockford.com.

From the Jan. 14-20, 2015, issue

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