A state police troop in the early '20s.
Trooper Gladys, the state police's first casualty in Mercer County.
An early motorcycle trooper.
|1928: Patrolling on horse and Harley
|By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian
|Peter Gladys was a 22-year-old state police rookie who made a rookie’s mistake.
For six months, the kid from New Jersey's Allamuchy Mountains had been patrolling the dirt roads around Hightstown. The afternoon of Dec. 28, 1928, he had an assignment that amounted to typical trooper drudgery: to round up a wife beater and haul him into court.
The suspect, a hulking Bahamas born laborer, acted willing enough to be arraigned without a hassle. So, without a cuffing or a frisking, he went right into the back of the troop car.
Gladys did not know, however, that this particular captive carried a barber's straight razor in his pocket. Once, twice, he slashed it across the young trooper's throat, leaving him dead at the wheel on Robbinsville-Windsor Road, turning him into the first casualty ever lost by the state police's Troop C.
The troopers of the '20s, the first decade of the New Jersey State Police, were young, rawboned hard-chargers. Some, like Peter Gladys, paid for their rawness with their lives. But they were also the first force for law and order in many remote sections of the Garden State, patrolling the rural roads on horseback and Harley-Davidson.
These were the "trial-and-error years" for the state police, said their historian, Lt. Thomas DeFeo.
“But you know what?” DeFeo said. “The basic organizing principles we adopted in the ’20s and ’30s are the basics we work with today. Not only our uniform, but our patrol practices, our disciplinary procedures, the military bearing that’s expected of you.”
And the controversies remain, too. In the troopers' early years, they were often criticized as being too militaristic and trigger-happy, while not being scientific enough in solving crimes — criticism that persists in today’s complaints about racial profiling.
Before there was a state police, professional cops were hired only in cities like Trenton. In the country, posses and mutual protection societies could take care of troublemakers.
But the old ways were shaken in the 1910s, when a rural crime wave rocked, Jersey from the Sourland Mountains to the Pinelands. Country bandits would steal horses, burn barns and shoot up the homes of their enemies, then flee with impunity. They were scenes right out of the Wild West, happening right on the East Coast.
Meanwhile, a new invention — the automobile — gave robbers a speedy way to get to and from stickups. A Chamber of Commerce sur vey in 1917 found that crime had risen as much as 50 percent over the last five years.
And who could stop it? Sheriff's deputies were all too often hacks hired for political patronage. Township constables, especially in Burlington County, were "almost useless," the Chamber's survey found.
An effort to create a "state constabulary" was shot down by the Legislature in 1917, thanks to turf-sensitive local politicians. But state police forces were earning kudos in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York. Their success augured well for a New Jersey State Police, which finally came about by a bill in March 1921.
Gov. Edward Edwards got to make history by naming the first superintendent of the state police. His choice was a stunner: a 25-year-old Army captain from Newark named H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Schwarzkopf had never voted, and he had spent most of the last decade out of New Jersey, attending West Point and fighting World War I. But that was the whole point: Edwards saw him as a non political, professional soldier. He was given the rank of colonel of the state police and given full control to shape the force in his image.
More than 1,600 people, most of them war veterans, tried out for the privilege of becoming the first class of New Jersey troopers. Only 76 would make it.
Schwarzkopf wanted the state police trained by the book — the Army's Non-Commissioned Officers Manual, to be specific.
The state police application was a simple test of math, intelligence and reasoning. "In a few words," read one question, "describe what constitutes a mollycoddle; a hero; a coward."
Recruits were held to a two-year enlistment, and prosecuted for desertion if they left their $1,000-a-year job. They could not marry without the permission of Schwarzkopf himself.
Training was held boot camp-style, on a National Guard base in Sea Girt. Reveille was sounded at 6 a.m. The day was filled with calisthenics, drill and classes.
On Dec. 5, 1921, the first unit of state troopers chugged their way from the Shore to the State House on a fleet of 20 Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It was an inauspicious start. Once they reached Trenton, city police flagged them down and gave them a warning for riding with their headlights off in a snowstorm.
From headquarters on West State Street, Trenton, Schwarzkopf put his plan of operations into effect. The state police would be divided into two troops: Troop A, based in Netcong, covering North Jersey; and Troop B, based in Hammonton, covering South Jersey.
Schwarzkopf personally designed the trooper's uniform, complete with Sam Browne belt and low-visored cap. With a few changes — the colors have gone from plain blue and khaki to brighter, “Jersey” blue and cavalry yellow — it's the same uniform worn today.
John Murnane of Bayonne was one of the original recruits who donned the uniform, hopped onto a Harley and headed from Trenton to Netcong. In his diary, he found "the population 50 percent for us, 50 percent against us." His barracks were "poor," he wrote: "Half of us sleep where we eat."
Actually, the barracks were just rooming houses where landladies cooked their meals. And there were no two way police radios in the '20s, so troopers had to look out every time they rode past the local general store or post office. If they saw a red flag, that meant one thing: call the station.
Patrols took the typical trooper on a 50 mile a day ride by motorcycle or a vehicle that was far more dependable on badly rutted country roads — the horse.
The jounces and bruises a trooper suffered from horse training stayed with him. Hugo Stockburger, a young German immigrant who lived in Trenton, was working as a state police cook when Schwarzkopf personally asked him to join the force in 1927. Now 92, Stockburger can still remember riding practice.
"We had saddles for two weeks and then it was no saddles, and the only thing you had to hold was the horse's belly,” said Stockburger, now of Milltown. "You'd gallop in a circle, jump on and off, your feet just brushing the ground. All the time, the drill instructor was shouting at you: 'You all look like a bunch of monkeys!' "
Stockburger ended up on motorcycle patrol in Middlesex County, chasing down speeders. Once he pulled over a couple roaring down the Brunswick Pike at 70 mph and brought them to a municipal justice to pay their fine. The pair already had a wedding license, so they told the judge he might as well marry them. Stockburger served as best man.
Stockburger's other assignment was a thankless one: to enforce Prohibition. Booze trucks could usually be spotted because they had escort cars following them closely from behind, he said.
But Prohibition patrol tempted countless cops to go on the take. Schwarzkopf, a man of unquestioned. personal integrity, did not put up with it. Violators were quietly told to resign.
Meanwhile, as New Jersey became crisscrossed with better and busier highways, the need for patrol cars in place of the more nimble but also unsafe motorcycles became clear. The first ones, in 1928, were open Buick roadsters.
The same year, a third troop — Troop C — was created to cover an area extending from Trenton to the Shore, and based in Freehold.
Trooper Gladys , the raw bachelor kid from Stanhope, Sussex County, went through his basic training in June 1928 and got assigned to a Troop C substation in Hightstown.
His assignment the night he died was to go to the home of Pansy Keaton in a Washington Township migrant labor camp and take her to a justice to sign a complaint against her common-law husband and abuser, David Ware. He never got there; his lifeless body was still behind the wheel when fellow troopers found him.
A two day manhunt — the first in New Jersey history to use airships in the search — ended when Ware, his shirt still soaked with blood, surrendered in Carteret. He was put to death in the electric chair five months later.
The state police forged on to develop new, crime solving procedures. In 1924, they began collecting the first state bank of fingerprint files. In 1930, they introduced teletype. Two-way radio finally arrived in the ’40s.
In 1932, New Jersey saw one of the most shocking crimes in American history — the kidnap-murder of the Lindbergh baby — and the state police found themselves on the spot. Fumbling amateurs, they were called, when they
didn't make an arrest. Then, when their evidence helped convict Bruno Hauptmann, they were accused of railroading the wrong man. Yet no evidence has ever emerged to blame anyone else.
In recent years, the state police have come in line for scathing attacks over the alleged practice of racial “profiling” or pulling over minority motorists because they supposedly fit the "profile" of a criminal. State police deny they do it.
H. Norman Schwarzkopf knew what it was like to be caught up in controversies. He retired in 1936, forced out by a governor, Harold Hoffman, who couldn't stand his prickliness and who fought him over his conduct in the Lindbergh case.
Schwarzkopf remained at the family home in Lawrenceville, narrated the radio drama "Gangbusters," and kept on good terms with his officers.
He also raised a family. His son, H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., would follow in his dad's footsteps by going to West Point — and then lead American armies to victory in the 1991 Persian GuIf War.
Dying of cancer in the '50s, Schwarzkopf Sr. liked to forget his pain by going on road trips with his son. When he saw the troopers, now riding in sleek new patrol cars instead of the old motorcycles and horses, he spoke up.
“Norm," he would tell his son, "that's my outfit!"