Edgar R. Moxley, 98, Howard County Police Department's first chief

February 16, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edgar Russell Moxley, whose more than 40-year career in law enforcement ranged from foot patrols as Ellicott City's night policeman to serving as first chief of the Howard County Police Department, died of cancer Saturday at his Ellicott City home. He was 98.

Mr. Moxley was born and raised in Ellicott City, the son of a farmer.

"I was born on June 30, 1906, in my father's house off of Jonestown Road, and I grew up as an ordinary country boy wearing knickers and overalls," Mr. Moxley wrote in an unpublished autobiographical sketch.

He left school after the seventh grade to work on his father's farm, leaving in his late teens and taking a job in a Baltimore sheet metal plant. He returned to Ellicott City, where he drove a coal truck and delivered ice.

After his 1924 marriage to the former Bessie G. Zimmerman, the couple settled in a log cabin that was illuminated by kerosene lamps and warmed by a wood stove.

"On Sept. 25, 1925, I got my first taste of law enforcement when Ellicott City Chief of Police, Julius Wosch, asked me to drive with him to Glenwood to arrest a desperado wanted for assault with intent to murder," Mr. Moxley wrote, noting that he was paid "a fabulous sum of one dollar" that included use of his Ford automobile. "But I kept going back."

During the early days of the Depression, Mr. Moxley worked for the old State Roads Commission and Doughnut Corporation of America while assisting Chief Wosch from 6 p.m. to midnight.

In 1935, Mr. Moxley was hired as night policeman for Ellicott City and given his badge by Chief Wosch. He was paid $100 a month but had to furnish his own uniform, equipment and car -- then a black, two-door Chevrolet coupe, family members said.

When Chief Wosch retired in 1937, Mr. Moxley succeeded him. His salary increased to $1,800 a year, but he still had to provide his own equipment -- including a snub-nose .38-caliber revolver. He was also required to live in an apartment over the police station on Main Street, for which he paid $18 a month rent, because the station had to be open from 6 p.m. to midnight.

"There were no radios, and his wife had to answer the phone. If he were out patrolling, she'd turn on the police light so he knew he had a call," said Howard police Officer Timothy P. Black, a friend and unofficial county police historian.

"In 1951, after being shot at by a police killer from Ohio, I was involved in one of the biggest manhunts in the county's history. I can still hear his bullets going over my head," Mr. Moxley wrote of his stumbling upon fugitive George Ross, who was sleeping in back of his car along U.S. 40.

"He said that when he dropped his flashlight, Ross fired at it, and that's what saved his life," said Allen Hafner, a retired Howard County officer and longtime friend. "Ross ran off into the woods and was later captured in Anne Arundel County."

Mr. Moxley was named chief of the Howard department at its founding in 1952.

"At that time, the population of Howard County was 20,000, and today it's grown to 260,000. He started with four officers and now the department has 400," Mr. Hafner said.

Mr. Moxley was not reappointed as chief in 1958 by the county commissioners. "He claimed their reasons were political, filed a suit for a year's severance pay, and won the case. In 1960, he returned to the force as a patrolman," according to an article in The Evening Sun at his 1971 retirement.

"He gave me lots of advice when I joined the Police Department in 1966," recalled James N. Robey, who eventually became police chief. "He said, `Keep your nose clean and make sure your family remains the most important thing. Don't let them get lost in the requirements of the job.'"

Mr. Robey -- now the Howard County executive -- added: "He played a large role in who I am and where I am today."

Mr. Moxley enjoyed attending department functions -- including its 50th anniversary celebration in 2002 -- and riding in a restored 1957 Chevrolet police car.

"He could tell stories that would make your hair curl, and he loved going to police gatherings so he could tell them," said a grandson, Charles R. Moxley.

He also enjoyed fishing and spending time with his wife at a second home they maintained in Fenwick Island, Del., until her death in 1996.

Mr. Moxley was a member of Rockland United Methodist Church, 8971 Chapel Ave. in Ellicott City, where services will be held at 10 a.m. today.

Survivors also include two other grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His son, Edgar Russell Moxley Jr., died in 1986.

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