Charles P. Thommen Sr.

World War II Navy veteran worked as a robbery and homicide investigator for the city Police Department.

August 25, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,

Charles Paul Thommen Sr., a World War II Navy veteran and retired homicide supervisor with the Baltimore Police Department, died of dementia Tuesday at his home in Glen Burnie. He was 86.

Mr. Thommen was the youngest of 12 children and grew up in South Baltimore, across the street from St. Mary Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church. His father forged silver for Samuel Kirk & Son, and his mother raised the large family.

He attended school in South Baltimore and joined the Navy in 1940. He was a gunner on the battleship USS New Jersey.

Mr. Thommen grew close to his shipmates, and they became lifelong friends.

"He lived and breathed the USS New Jersey," said a daughter, Mary Jane Thommen of Glen Burnie. "He went to all of their reunions. He remembered good times. He remembered how scared they were."

Recently, he gathered with other Navy veterans and his two nephews in Camden, N.J., where the ship - now a museum - is docked.

"He took us up to the gun mount," recalled his nephew and godson Charles Thommen of Navarre, Fla. "They never went to sleep anywhere. They just slept on the deck. They just had their life vests on and their steel helmets."

When the war ended, Mr. Thommen headed home. He was loitering one day in his Navy uniform, near a corner store in South Baltimore, when a nearby wedding party, which was missing its best man, asked him to fill that role, even though he didn't know the couple getting married.

"They pulled him off the street corner because he was in uniform," said his daughter Patricia Thommen of Glen Burnie.

There he met Mary Rose Trebes, who became his wife in September 1945. Of the timing of his marriage, he would often joke: "Out of one war and into another one," said Mary Jane Thommen.

About that time, Mr. Thommen joined the Baltimore Fire Department. But when he learned that police received better benefits, he left to become a patrol officer in Little Italy in 1946, said Mary Jane Thommen.

He moved up in the Police Department, becoming a robbery detective and solving a series of bank robberies before moving to homicide.

He rarely spoke about his work at home, but family members recalled that he investigated the high-profile death of a girl who was found buried in her neighbor's basement. "There were pictures of him carrying the body out of the neighbor's house," Mary Jane Thommen said.

He retired as a lieutenant after suffering a back injury on the firing range, Ms. Thommen said.

But he kept four scanners at home. "He would always listen," Ms. Thommen said. "He always wanted to know what was going on. Back then the Police Department was very much a family group."

After retiring from the Police Department, he worked briefly as a court commissioner in Anne Arundel County but disliked shift work.

Next he became a driving instructor at the Motor Vehicle Administration, where he taught drivers who had been ordered by a court to improve their road skills.

Charles Thommen recalled receiving important advice from Mr. Thommen during a family crisis. The nephew's sister was murdered, and he wanted to avenge that death. But his uncle talked him out of such a drastic action.

"He took care of things for me and guided me in the right direction," the nephew said.

"I miss him for what he stood for. He was a person you could sit down and talk to and get the best advice from. It was honest and true."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 8 at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 6405 Orchard Road in Linthicum Heights.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Thommen is survived by a son, Charles Thommen Jr. of Charlotte Hall in St. Mary's County; and a grandson.

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