I had intended to incorporate the material in this post into “The Great Ardmore Scandal of 1925…part two”, but that has grown, due to the nature of the story, into a massive and unruly mess. Since three Winston-Salem Police Department detectives were fired during that mess for “conduct unbecoming an officer”, yet we were never told what that conduct might have been, I thought that our readers should know something about those three men beforehand. So, The Great Ardmore Scandal of 1925…part oneA…

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Detective Ronda Gregory. Ronda Gregory left Wilkes County to serve in the 40th Infantry Division during the Great War. He later came to Winston-Salem, where he served as a patrol officer in the WSPD before becoming a plain clothes man. He and his wife Charlotte had a son and a daughter.

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Winston-Salem Journal, May 19, 1921. B.S. Womble was one of the first graduates of the Trinity College Law School, later Duke University. He was a founding partner of the law firm Womble, Carlisle, Sandridge & Rice. The reverend Hiatt was the minister of the Burkehead Methodist Church on North Liberty Street, one of the oldest in the city.

Ronda Gregory later worked for the Office of Flying Safety, an important federal agency headquartered in the Nissen Building on Fourth Street during World War II. After the war he worked for Piedmont Aviation until his retirement in 1960. He was a Mason and a member of the Scottish Rites fraternal organization. He died in 1962 and is buried in the Macedonia Moravian Church Cemetery.

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Detective Benjamin T. Phelps. Ben Phelps was born in Forsyth County and lived his entire life here. His first wife, Ada Collins Phelps, died in 1918, not long after they were married. He had five sons and five daughters with his second wife, Lois Timmons Phelps. After his dismissal in 1925, he went to work for the Hanes Knitting Company, from which he retired in 1950. He died in 1963. He was a member of Christ Moravian Church.

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In October, 1923, four men awaiting sentencing in the Forsyth County Jail sawed through the bars of their cell and escaped. A few days later, someone reported that one of the escapees, Ed Rice, 25 and with a long rap sheet, was at a house on East Seventeenth Street. Detective Phelps, along with detective H.H. Tucker, both under the command of Detective Sergeant Bill Cofer, were dispatched to bring him in. Some people just don’t like being in jail. Despite the fact that the charges against him were minor, Ed Rice decided that he was not going back to jail. He isolated Ben Phelps and attacked him with a knife, slashing his jacket to ribbons. The two men grappled and fell down a bank. Rice, a much bigger and stronger man, came out on top. As he wrenched his knife hand free, Ben Phelps, now fighting for his life, drew his pistol and fired two shots. Dr. D. N. Dalton’s coroner’s jury found that the shooting was justified in self defense.

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Detective Sergeant William M. Cofer.  A lifelong resident of Forsyth County, Bill Cofer, born in 1884, married Carry I. Grindstaff . They lived in the City View area of Winston-Salem and had four daughters and three sons. During the early part of their marriage, Bill worked as a ground conductor (yard detective) for the railroad. In 1920 he joined the WSPD as a patrol officer and was quickly promoted to detective, then detective sergeant. After his dismissal in 1925, he worked as a special officer for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company until his death in 1942.

Around midnight on Saturday, April 8, 1922, Bill Cofer and his partner, detective sergeant Robert L. Hatcher, were directed to find a gambling den on White Street, near Liberty, in north Winston-Salem. Around 1:00 AM, zeroing in, they turned off White into a dark alley. At that point, a man, later identified as Tom Wilkes, stepped out of an alley door. When he saw the officers, he began cursing loudly. As the officers walked toward him, Wilkes produced a pistol and fired.

“Sergeant, I am shot,” Cofer said, toppling over backward. Hatcher grabbed Wilkes and placed him under arrest. But at that moment, the other gamblers poured into the alley and surrounded the detectives. Hatcher pointed his pistol at them and held them off while managing to call for assistance and an ambulance. Wilkes was taken downtown for booking. Cofer was taken to City Memorial Hospital, where doctors determined that a single steel jacketed round had struck him just above the ankle, shattering both bones in his lower leg and damaging others in his foot.

It was many months before Detective Sergeant Cofer was able to even walk, much less return to active duty. But he was able to testify at the trial of Tom Wilkes in August. Wilkes was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary for carrying a concealed firearm and assault with a deadly weapon. Both detectives were cited by the WSPD for performing above and beyond the call of duty.

I present all this, because as you will see, during the run of the Great Ardmore Scandal, all people involved, from the complainants to the alleged perpetrators, were treated simply as objects to an end by those with certain motives. But the fact is that they were real people, thus all victims in one way or another, and in the end, far better people than those who were out to victimize them.

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