On Thursday evening July 7, 1966, at 10 p.m., Sergeant Harry Oebels went to pick up his wife from work at Rathgeber's Pharmacy, located at 4221 Bayless in St. Louis County. Off duty and in civilian attire, the Sergeant was standing near the magazine rack when two armed robbers announced a holdup.
After taking money from the pharmacy, one of the robbers ordered Sergeant Oebels to step closer. Instead, Sergeant Oebels drew his service revolver and fired at the robber. The robber ran out the front door.
Moments later, the second robber ran toward the front and exchanged shots with Sergeant Oebels before making his escape. Oebels fired at the robbers. At that time it was unknown if Oebels' shots had hit either suspect, but the shots fired by the Sergeant would later prove to be most important.
Two bullets from a .45 caliber automatic pistol struck Sergeant Oebels. One bullet struck him in the upper left thigh, the second and more serious gunshot wound struck him in the left side of the jaw. He was pronounced dead at St. Louis County Hospital.
After learning of the shooting, Colonel Raymond Hensley, then Superintendent of the St. Louis County Police, requested the aid of the Major Case Squad. The Major Case Squad, composed of officers from various police departments in the area, immediately began work on the case. This was only the second time the newly formed squad was called into action.
Within days of Sergeant Oebels' murder, two men and a woman were taken into custody by the Major Case Squad for the crime. Following up on over 100 leads, the Major Case Squad made arrests on the basis of information gathered during the investigation.
Due to a lack of evidence, the subjects were released. However, the investigation into the murder of Sergeant Oebels was far from over. On August 3, 19566, thirty-eight year-old Richard Anderson was arrested for the robbery and murder of Sergeant Oebels. Anderson, who had a long arrest record, stood trial, but was acquitted of all charges in Circuit Court.
Twenty-nine year-old Duane G. Holmes was arrested and charged with murder after Anderson's acquittal. Holmes, whose physical description closely resembled Richard Anderson, pled guilty to Second Degree Murder and was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in the Peniterntiary.
An unusual turn of events then occurred which led to the arrest and conviction of the second robber, the man who killed the Sergeant. Forty-two year-old John Allen Scott was a prime suspect immediately after the murder, but sufficient evidence did not exist to warrant prosecution.
Scott was arrested and convicted for an unrelated burglary in Illinois. He was sentenced to twent years in the Illinois penitentiary. In December, 1966, while in the penitentiary, Scott complained of pain in his right buttock. A medical examination revealed a bullet. The slug was removed during surgery. prison officials realized Scott was a suspect in the murder of Sergeant Oebels and tha Oebels had fired at the robbers before they made their escape. A warrant was obtained for the bullet. The laboratory was prepared to determine if the recovered slug had been fired from the Sergeant's revolver.
Scott appealed to the courts on the grounds of illegal search and seizure to prevent the analysis of the recovered slug. After appeal, the court ruled the bullet had been properly seized and could be analyzed. A firearms identificatin test proved the slug taken from Scott's buttock came from Sergeant Oebels's revolver. In May 1968, almost two years after the murder, John Allen Scott was charged for the murder of Sergeant Harry Oebels. Despite his attempts to fight extradition, Scott was prosecuted for the murder. On May 14, 1969, he was conficted and sentenced to death. His execution date was set for November 12, 1969. After receiving his death sentence, Scott appealed his conviction. The court rejected his appeal, but he would excape the death penalty. After a June 1972, United States Supreme Court held the death penalty unconstitutional in most cases, the Missouri Supreme Court reduced Scott's sentence to life imprisonment.
Due to the various legal issues which were raised, the Oebels murder case received much attention. The main issue was whether a bullet removed from a suspect without his consent, was a violation of search and seisure. The other legal issues raised concerned a Speedy trial and lineup identifications.
Despite efforts by Scott to have the slug thrown out as evidence, the court ruled for th prosecution. Were it not for the shooting accuracy of Sergeant Oebels, Scott may have never been identified as the murderer.
Sergeant Oebels was forty-eight years-old at the time of his death. He joined the St. Louis Police Department in July 1948. Promoted to Sergeant in 1961, he was assigned to the Third District when he was killed. Oebels was known for being a no-nonsense type of police officer who strictly enforced the law. In the 1950's, Oebels earned the nickname of "Hardstick Harry" when he walked the beat of Grand and Easton. Sergeant Oebels was nearing completion of a Community College law enforcement course at the time of his death. He was known for always trying to keep up with changes in his profession. Unselfishly, he frequently shared his knowledge and experience with younger officers. Sergeant Oebels, who had no children, left a widow.