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Officer Walter Roy Kreps
(Aug. 29, 1887 – March 28, 1916)

Police departments in the United States started using motorcycles in the early 20th century, taking advantage of the vehicle's small size, speed and maneuverability. The LAPD was one of the first departments in the country with a motorcycle division when it launched its "speed squad" of motorcycle officers in 1909.

For the motorcycle officers, the job was especially dangerous, beyond the typical dangers of police work. At the time, automobile drivers weren't used to seeing or sharing the road with the smaller and faster vehicles, roads were often bumpy and uneven, and the officers on the "speed squad" didn't wear helmets or any special protective clothing. Instead of a protective helmet, early motorcycle officers typically wore a tweed cap.

In 1918, less than 10 years after the launch of the LAPD "speed squad," the Los Angeles Herald reported that the LAPD's motorcycle officers had "a 100 percent casualty list. The chance of being injured as a speed officer is greater than in any branch of the army or navy service. … Three of the squad have been killed, another had a limb amputated, and two are permanently retired because of severe injuries. All of the others have been injured."

The first member of the LAPD "speed squad" to be killed in the line of duty was 28-year-old Walter Roy Kreps.

Kreps was born on Aug. 29, 1887, in Ida Township, in southeastern Michigan, the third of nine children of Henry, a farmer, and Almina Kreps. While his parents and siblings remained in Michigan, Kreps moved west to Los Angeles, where he met and married Fanchon Eileen Holland, of Wyoming, in early 1909. The couple lived at 1225 W. 1st St., east of downtown, and a few blocks east of the Los Angeles River, while Kreps worked as a hoseman for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

On April 9, 1910, the couple's son, Kenneth, was born. Later that year, on Dec. 27, 1910, Kreps moved from the LAFD to the LAPD, where he worked as a foot patrol officer. In 1911, the Kreps family moved to 432 S. Eastlake Ave. in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Four years later, in 1915, the family moved to 2190 W. 28th St., in the Jefferson Park neighborhood.

Kreps was among the first officers to join the LAPD's "speed squad" of motorcycle officers, and was assigned to the East Side Station – the current location of the old Lincoln Heights Jail, on Avenue 19, south of the 110 Freeway and east of the Los Angeles River.

Kreps distinguished himself as a motorcycle officer, and his exploits were often mentioned in newspaper articles. In April 1914, Kreps was on duty at the East Side Station when two prisoners who were unloading potatoes at the entrance to the station's jail overpowered a guard and escaped. Once outside, the men split up, with one climbing over a 10-foot wall at the rear of the station - with Kreps close behind. The prisoner dropped off the wall onto the rocky banks of the Los Angeles River behind the police station. He crossed the river and entered Elysian Park, with Kreps shooting at him. Although his shots missed, Kreps was able to run down the prisoner in the park, put him in handcuffs, and return him to the jail. The other prisoner was caught as he attempted to jump onto a passing freight train.

In November 1914, Dr. Herbert Cox of 5600 York Blvd., called police after he heard a noise coming from the henhouse on his property, and saw a man running off with a large sack over his shoulder. Kreps arrived on his motorcycle, chased down the man, and recovered the doctor's valuable Plymouth Rock hens.

A year later, in October 1915, near the intersection of Pasadena Avenue and Avenue 45 in Highland Park, Kreps pulled over a car containing three men and an assortment of automobile parts, which Kreps suspected might have been stolen. One of the passengers in the car pulled a gun and fired at Kreps, and Kreps returned fire as the gunman jumped out of the car and ran off. All of the shots missed and, after the brief gun battle, Kreps arrested the other two occupants of the car.

Late on the afternoon of March 28, 1916, Kreps left the East Side Station on his Indian motorcycle to respond to a call in Highland Park. As with all members of the "speed squad," Kreps's protective equipment consisted of a tweed riding hat and coat, and leather gloves and boots.

As Kreps sped south on Avenue 20, a police car, driven by Arthur Gilbert Boycott, was heading north, returning to the station. Kreps attempted to pass a slow-moving street car, and collided head-on with Boycott's car. Kreps suffered a fractured skull and fractured hip in the collision, as well as lacerations to his face. He was taken to the Receiving Hospital at First and Spring streets, where he died that evening, leaving his 28-year-old widow and their 5-year-old son.

In May 1917, the police department held a benefit for Kreps's widow, and also for the widow of LAPD Det. Sgt. James Edward Browning, who was shot to death in November 1915. The benefit, held at the Homestead Athletic Club, featured a boxing exhibition and a performance by the LAPD police band.

Kreps was the first, but not the last LAPD motorcycle officer to die in the line of duty. He was followed by Thomas J. Kronschnabel in December 1916, James Ellsworth in September 1917, Claude Wyatt in August 1918, Elijah Bradley in June 1920, Matthew P. McDonagh in January 1923, George Papst in July 1924, Ralph Moiver in April 1925, Andrew J. Davilla in September 1926, Charles Partin in January 1927, Henry Jackson in March 1931, William Anderson in October 1933, Alfred C. "Scotty" Madon in June 1935, Donald Tisdale in March 1937, Harry Emsley in January 1939, William Brown in September 1939, George Colvin in August 1941, Warren Chamberlain in December 1941, Isaac Lankford in October 1945, Frederick Wales in October 1947, Glenn Clark in July 1950, James Vose in October 1950, Thomas Kennedy in April 1951, Chester Gildehaus in September 1951, Lloyd Hassler in August 1952, John Dunphy in June 1954, Harry Miller in September 1956, Robert Sweet in December 1959, Martin Parker in September 1961, Leroy Wadsworth in November 1961, John Lawler in July 1973, Michael McDougal in January 1975, Jack Evans in October 1983, Randol Marshall in June 1987, Raymond Messerly in October 1992, David Schmid in December 1992, Clarence Dean in January 1994, Van Johnson in February 1997, and Christopher Cortijo in April 2014.

Of the 207 LAPD officers who have been killed in the line of duty, 39 were motorcycle officers.

Kreps was buried at Rosedale Cemetery (now Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery), with a police escort and full honors. But, for whatever reason, his grave wasn't marked. Nearly 100 years later, a distant family member, Timothy Tumbrink, was researching his family genealogy and discovered Kreps's unmarked resting place.

Tumbrink had a special relationship to Kreps. Not only was he a relative of Kreps, but he was also a retired officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and spent three years as a motorcycle officer.

Tumbrink made arrangements with the LAPD to have the fallen officer's grave marked and, on Nov. 21, 2014, nearly 100 years after his death, the LAPD gathered at Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery to unveil his grave marker, and honor the department's first motorcycle officer to die in the line of duty.

The Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation placed a red, white and blue wreath next to Kreps's grave, and more than 30 motorcycle officers, out of the department's 300 officers in the Traffic Safety Division, formed an honor guard next to the grave. The motorcycle officers all wore white helmets – which didn't exist during Kreps's time, and probably would have saved his life.

A second memorial, which included a replica of Kreps's Indian motorcycle, was displayed in his honor at LAPD headquarters.

Beginning in 2010, the LAPD has annually recognized one of the department's four traffic divisions for top achievement in motor training proficiency, by presenting the Walter R. Kreps Award, named in honor of the department's first motor officer to die in the line of duty.

In 1920, four years after his death, Kreps's widow, Fanchon, married Amos C. Williams, a firefighter with the LAFD. After Williams retired, the couple moved to San Bernardino, where Amos Williams died in 1970, and Fanchon Kreps Williams died in 1976.

Kreps's son, Kenneth, continued the family tradition of public service. Kenneth R. Kreps graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy from UCLA, and served in the U.S. Air Force for 30 years as a B-17 pilot. He also served as the pilot for Secretary of War and the first Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson. Col. Kenneth Kreps retired from military service in 1963, and died on Oct. 19, 2002, at the age of 92. He’s buried at Riverside National Cemetery.

The driver of the car that collided with Kreps's motorcycle, 27-year-old Arthur Boycott, was not seriously injured in the incident. He remained with the LAPD as a driver until 1922, when he left to join the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department - as a motorcycle officer. After 10 years with the Sheriff's Department, Boycott joined the California Highway Patrol as a motorcycle officer. He remained with the CHP until his death in March 1943, at the age of 54.

Kreps's sign is located at the southwest corner of San Fernando Road and Humboldt Street.

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