In the Line of Fire, Part 2: The Manhunt for Merle William Martin

After the death of Willard Carver, the first officer killed in the line of duty on record in Johnson County, Kansas, police immediately started looking for the suspects. On June 24, 1952, the day after the murder, Charles Isgrigg surrendered to authorities. It would take more effort to capture suspect Merle William Martin.

After almost two months on the run, Martin along with his “statuesque blond” companion, Roberta Rae Carter, was spotted on August 17, 1952, in Utah. Police roadblocks were put in place, and a mother and 13-year-old daughter were injured when an officer mistakenly shot. Throughout the next few days Martin was spotted in Colorado and California, with one report stating that he was carrying a sub-machine gun.


Roberta Rae Carter, Martin’s companion while on the run

It was not until Carter was captured while sleeping in a stolen car that officers began to believe they were getting close. Then on August 27, Martin was sighted driving along a St. Louis highway and forced into a ditch. Jumping from the car he fled to a nearby cornfield. Troopers and FBI agents searched for him, and three bloodhounds were added to the hunt. The troopers and agents searched all night, but at daybreak with no sight of Martin, a spotter plane was called in. When there was no luck and the bloodhounds lost the scent, the agencies were forced to give up. They believed a man could hide for days in the rough terrain.


Removing handcuffs from Merle William Martin

Their luck turned on August 30 when two motorcycle policemen spotted Martin driving down a St. Louis street, and they pulled their revolvers. They raced alongside Martin, and then two other policemen joined the chase and rammed Martin’s car into a curb, thus ending the hunt for one of FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. Tired, hungry, disheveled, cut and bruised, Martin was finally apprehended. His pants were torn at the knees and he was covered in mud. The apprehending officers described Martin as a “whipped dog.”


Merle William Martin captured in South Saint Louis

Stay tuned for part three of this series that will cover the trials of Merle William Martin and Charles Isgrigg.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library


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