Curtis D. Sowers was born July 18, 1895.
Sowers was a World War I veteran, serving with the artillery of the Sixth Division of the U.S. Army. He was married, had no children, and lived on Dewey Avenue in North York.
Sowers was a motorcycle officer in North York Borough, appointed on June 24, 1927, earning a salary of $30 a week. Sowers moonlighted as a sheriff’s deputy, assisting constables in the performance of their duties.
On December 26, 1928, two of Albert Toomey’s calves went missing from his Newberry Township farm. Toomey went to the justice of the peace in Emigsville and swore out a complaint against the three men he suspected of stealing his calves. One of the men was Jacob Troup, an illiterate 30-year-old farm hand from Bald Hills in Newberry Township.
Police tried to arrest Troup in February. Constable Caleb Altland and Sowers went to arrest Troup at the home of a neighbor. Troup saw the officers coming and fled out the back door, disappearing into the hills.
Troup remained on the lam for three months. In mid-May, he and a friend named Norman Wire went to Virginia, where Troup had previously worked at a mill. Troup told Wire that the police were after him, and he had to get out of town. He told Wire that he would “blow” the first officer who tried to arrest him.
On Monday, May 20, 1929, they returned to York County and the home of Troup’s father in Bald Hills.
On Tuesday, May 21, 1929, the cops came looking for him again. Altland had received a tip that Troup was at his father’s house and made plans to arrest him. This time, Troup wouldn’t be running out the back door as police approached the front.
Altland enlisted Sowers’ help again. He recruited two other men, North York Constable B.F. Emenheiser and a civilian named Ray Bentzel. They approached the Troup home after dark, at about 9:15 p.m. A light shone from the front window, the only light in the area on that dark night. Altland and Emenheiser went to the front door. Sowers and Bentzel went to the back.
Inside, Troup was playing cards with Wire and two of his sisters when they heard the dogs barking outside. Moments later, there was a knock on the door, and Altland asked whether Sam (Sam Troup, Jacob Troup’s father) was home. Wire told Altland that Sam had gone to York. Altland pushed his way into the front room.
Jacob Troup, at the sound of the knock on the door, had grabbed his shotgun and ran to the back of the house. Sowers yelled to Troup: “Come on out; it’s no use hiding in there.” There was more shouting. Witnesses heard voices shouting, “I’ll riddle you through of holes,” and “Don’t shoot.” Bentzel said he heard Troup yell, “I’m not going to shoot.” A moment later, the shotgun roared. Bentzel saw Sowers fall backwards. Bentzel turned and ran. Out front, Altland said to Emenheiser, “I wonder what that shot was.”
Altland, Emenheiser and Bentzel left to seek help. They called state police and returned to the Troup house about an hour and fifteen minutes later. Sowers’ body lay at the back door, his revolver in his right hand, a blackjack in his left. The shotgun blast entered his face, shattered the roof of his mouth and his nose and obliterated a portion of his spinal column.
Jacob Troup remained on the lam for five days, hiding out in the hills of northern York County. He was arrested May 26 when he returned to his father’s house to get something to eat and encountered a phalanx of state police who had been looking for him. Following a three-day trial, Troup was convicted of first-degree murder on Aug. 28, 1929. The jury deliberated for a little more than two hours. Troup was sentenced to life in Eastern Penitentiary “at hard labor in the cells and workhouse yards of said penitentiary.” He was also fined $1. Troup was released from prison in 1940.
Sowers was buried May 25, 1929. At his funeral, the preacher, the Rev. Harry W. Zuse, of Fifth United Brethren Church, said, “Life is like a story. It may be good; it may be bad. The good story is remembered by the impression it makes upon our hearts, while the bad and indifferent tales are tossed aside with but little afterthought.”
The details of the death of Officer Sowers had been lost to history until unearthed by borough resident and Police Heritage Museum Chairman John Stine. Stine was browsing through old Fraternal Order of Police dance programs when he discovered a page dedicated to the slain officer. Although newspapers at the time wrote of the case and Officer Sowers, and North York Borough made a public recognition in a proclamation, beyond this no permanent recognition could be found.
Realizing this, the Police Heritage Museum set about establishing a memorial for the officer. Several meetings with the North York Borough Council resulted in a commitment to name the borough building for Officer Sowers.
On September 20, 2003, a dedication and memorial service was held in front of the North York Borough building, named in honor of Officer Sowers, with the presentation of a bronze plaque, followed by a reception.
In May of 2004, the name of slain Police Officer Curtis D. Sowers was added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall during their annual memorial ceremony.