A life-long resident of Clinton, Officer Johannes F. “Fred” Koch joined the Clinton Police Department on Dec. 1, 1922, after a short stint in the U.S. Army.
By August 1926, his foot beat was in the area of South Second Street. During those years, before the introduction of police two-way radio, officers were summoned for calls by the desk sergeant going outside the office in the 400 block South Second Street and pulling a cord to turn on a light atop the present-day Van Allen apartment building, or by activating a light on police call boxes scattered around the city.
Officers on patrol, like Officer Koch was that night, would then have to frequently watch to see if the light was on, and if so, proceed to the nearest police call box to phone into the office to obtain their assignment.
Late in the evening of Aug. 3, 1926, Officer Koch received such an assignment to wait at the call box, which he had phoned in on, for Officer Charles Funnell to pick him up in the police car to conduct surveillance on a parked car, for which the duty captain had earlier that evening received a tip that the vehicle belonged to a wanted person, Eugene Moore. They were joined in their surveillance by Motorcycle Officer James Lehman.
Aug. 3, 1926, was a typical Iowa summer day. The hot sun and humidity were the perfect mix for making the corn grow tall, which was already as high as a grown man in the fields on the outskirts of Clinton near present-day South 14th Street. Automobiles of this vintage had no air conditioning, so if an officer was on surveillance, it meant roll down the windows and sweat it out. This was also the era of Prohibition, so stories of “Speakeasies”, bath tub gin, corn whiskey stills, the antics of bootleggers, and the law enforcement officers who chased them were all the rage.
Eugene Moore was a wanted man – a notorious bootlegger, an accused car thief, and all-around ruffian. There were warrants for his arrest in several jurisdictions in the Midwest. The Omaha Office of the FBI had sent a teletype to Clinton Police asking that Eugene Moore be arrested on federal warrants if he was found to be in the city. Moore had recently vowed that he would not be taken alive, and had even made a man dance by firing his .45-caliber revolver at the man’s feet. Officer Koch had often spoken with his father before the night he was killed, and said that he feared trouble with the outlaw Eugene Moore, but if the time ever came when it was his duty to arrest Moore, he would not hesitate to perform that duty.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 1926, Officers Fred Lehmann, Charles Funnell, and Johannes “Fred” Koch proceeded to conduct surveillance on a Buick automobile said to be owned by Eugene Moore, and parked in what is now the 1200 block of Camanche Avenue. Parking their 1922 Dodge Runabout police car and Harley Davidson police motorcycle about 75 feet away, the officers sat in the warm, humid early morning hours of Aug. 4, watching and waiting to see if it was Eugene Moore who came to the parked Buick.
Approximately 2 a.m., the officers identified Moore and his wife getting into the Buick. The officers quickly surrounded the car, pulled open the doors, and as was practice at the time said, “Stick ‘em up, Moore!” It is said that Moore responded by raising a revolver, which Officer Koch grabbed and for just a few seconds held on to, but Moore was able to wrest his gun away. Screaming and gun shots followed. Historical records indicate the investigation never determined who fired the first shot; however, it is known that when it was all over a total of 13 shots had pierced the quiet of that night. Moore had fired all six shots from his .45-caliber revolver; Officer Lehmann had fired five shots, and Officer Koch had fired two shots from his service revolver before he fell dead on the street.
Officer Charles Funnell never fired a shot. He abandoned the police car and ran on foot all the way back to the Police Station in the 400 block of South Second Street, where he told the Desk Sergeant he feared Officer Koch was lying on the street, dead. After a thorough investigation by Police Chief Peter Oster, approximately two weeks later Officer Funnell was fired.
Eugene Moore was struck by four of the bullets fired by the officers, but managed to run from the scene and hide in the bushes of a nearby house for almost two hours before his capture. Moore eventually recovered from his wounds. One of the bullets had struck Mrs. Moore in the back, but she quickly recovered from her wounds.
Officer Johannes Koch was struck by four of the bullets fired at close range from Moore’s powerful .45-caliber revolver. All four bullets are said to have passed completely through Officer Koch’s body, with one of them piercing his heart. Officer Koch’s body laid on Camanche Avenue until Police Chief Peter Oster could be called in to take command of the case and order it removed.
Eugene Moore was charged with first-degree murder and went to trial in Clinton County District Court in November 1926. The County Attorney sought to prove a death penalty case. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, for which Moore served just over 5 years of an 8-year sentence.
Officer Johannes Koch was just 29 years old when he died. He had served the citizens of Clinton for almost 4 years at the time of his death. His funeral was conducted by Rev. J. S. Leamer of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. An Honor Guard leading a horse-drawn caisson took his body with all due ceremony to his final resting place at Springdale Cemetery.
Officer Koch was survived by his wife Florence, and a 2-year old son, Robert. A fund of just over $1,200 had been collected from the grateful citizens of the community and was given to his widow. In addition, his family received a survivor’s benefit of $15 per week for 300 weeks.