In the Line of Fire, Part 1: First Officer Downed in Johnson County

Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 23, 1952, police were contacted about reports of a robbery at the home of Moss Davis and his wife. The home was located at 98th Street and Mission Road in Johnson County, Kansas. Deputy sheriff Willard Carver and patrolman Floyd Gaunt searched the northeast part of Johnson County for thieves. While out on the search, Carver and Gaunt were radioed to head over to a home near the Zarah community because of a possible stolen vehicle.


Willard Carver, circa 1950

On the way to Zarah, the officers located a car that resembled the stolen vehicle in a muddy ditch, uninhabited.  Previous heavy rains that week made the side roads muddy and the presumed stolen vehicle appeared stuck. Upon investigating the abandoned vehicle, the officers found a German Luger pistol in the front seat and various other items in the back. Making the assumption that the culprits would return, Carver and Gaunt decided to lay in wait.


Stolen vehicle Carver and Gaunt discovered stuck in the mud

The culprits did return and this time with a stolen truck to pull out the car. The officers started to walk to the car and decided to separate and approach from different directions. When they got near the car both yelled, “Come out with your hands up. Police.”   The culprits immediately started firing at the officers with the officers returning fire.  Gaunt found a telephone pole to use as cover but he heard Carver calling, “Gaunt, help.”  Gaunt got to his partner, but felt no pulse.  Later the coroner determined that the bullet entered from the right side, killing Carver within minutes. Carver was only 31 years old.

Evidence_from_Sgt_Carvers_murder_1952 (1)

Carver’s blood-stained uniform

On June 23, 1952, deputy sheriff Carver became the first downed officer on record from Johnson County. Carver was later honored and awarded the Medal of Valor by the National Police Officers Association.


Burial of Sergeant Willard Carver in 1952

The next day, June 24, 1952, suspect Charles Isgrigg surrendered and was charged with Carver’s murder.  Suspect Merle William Martin was later picked up in St. Louis. Martin was known as the “pillowcase burglar” because of his preferred method of carrying stolen loot.

mug shots

Mug shots of Martin (left) and Isgrigg (right)

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library



Filed under People, Research

8 responses to “In the Line of Fire, Part 1: First Officer Downed in Johnson County

  1. lynn crabtree

    interesting story….

  2. Pat Barth Benn

    My mother also called police and had to testify in their court hearing.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Pat. We will have more blogs about this incident coming soon.

  4. Hi Pat, we would love to hear the story of your mother’s testimony. Please call Terri Bostic at the Johnson County Library at 913-826-4600. She is at the Gardner location. Thank you!

  5. William Lytle

    I was 17 in 1952 and was in JCJ at the time Martin & Isgrigg were both there.
    Was AWOL and being held for navy. I met them both and talked ( I wasn’t going anywhere and neither were they.) :o) They both gave me very good advice. I am 80 now and chanchs of me getting to visit museum are not good. In the end they both got what they deserved, even though I did like them. Too bad justice isn’t that quick today ! I feel for Carver and family.
    Isgrigg had a flair for art & Martin told me how he got started as a kid.

  6. That is very interesting, William. Thank you for sharing!

  7. tuolomee

    Very interesting. My uncle was one of the police officers that captured him in St. Louis.

  8. Wow! Thanks for sharing, @tuolomee !

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