Remembering Fallen San Jose Police Sergeant Morris Van Dyck Hubbard

During the month of July, we remember fallen San Jose Police Sergeant Morris Van Dyck Hubbard. On July 12, 1924, 29-year-old Hubbard became of first San Jose police officer to fall in the line-of-duty. Below is the department’s official account of his story.

By Dwight Messimer

Sergeant Morris "Van" Hubbard and Officer John Murphy were responding to a disturbance call at 278 East Julian. The details were sketchy; a man reportedly armed with a gun had taken an adult female from her house, threatening to kill her. There was no updated information because there was no radio in the police car, a 1924 Nash open sedan. It was, in fact, the only police car owned by the City of San Jose at the time. It also meant there was no back-up car headed toward the scene. Hubbard and Murphy were on their own.

The absence of a radio, the knowledge that there would be no "fill-car" and the meagerness of the information did not bother the two officers. In 1924 those conditions were simply the way things were, and you had to work around them. At about 6:20 p.m. on July 12 of that year, Sergeant Hubbard was headed toward a situation he would not be able to "work around." Even if Hubbard benefited from modern communications and a second car, it is doubtful he would have avoided becoming the first San Jose police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

"Van" Hubbard was 29 years old and had been with the department for seven years when he and Officer John Murphy responded to the call. Hubbard was one of several officers on the 37-man department who enjoyed a special rapport with the public, and whose name was something of a household word in the community of 48,000 residents. The regard for Hubbard was demonstrated by the public's reaction to his death.

The events leading up to Hubbard's death started to unfold late Saturday afternoon with a disturbance at 148 South @ 2nd Street, where Ed Mays fought with Cular Robinson and Agnes Young. Little is known about Mays except that he had come to San Jose from Texas in the. summer of 1923. He was apparently living With Robinson and Young at the South 2nd Street address, and his brawl with them may have been related to the subsequent events.

Armed with a pistol, Mays walked north on 2nd Street, toward the home of Art and Mattie Talley at 278 East Julian. Exactly what Mays' specific intentions were is not known, and he may not have been entirely certain himself. The Talleys had not been married very long, and Mays reportedly had known Mattie Talley before she married Art. There is some indication that Mays was 'insanely jealous' and was headed toward the Talley residence to kill Art Talley. If that was the case, Mays' resolve must have been something less than firm.

When Mays arrived at the Talley house, he found Art Talley working in the garage. Talley's reaction was hardly what would be expected from a man who was suddenly faced by his killer. But Talley may not have known about Mays' real or imagined relationship with his wife, and probably was unaware that Mays wanted to kill him. In any event, "because of a pleasant greeting spoken by Talley, (Mays) went into the Talley house instead."

Mattie Talley was doing her laundry on the back porch when Mays confronted her and demanded that she go with him. Mattie refused, and an argument, punctuated by threats from Mays, followed. Standing in the kitchen doorway just a few feet away was the Talleys' roomer, Eugene Brooks. After watching and listening for a short time, Brooks decided to intervene and throw Mays out. But before Brooks made a move, Mays suddenly pulled a gun and pointed it at Mattie Talley. Brooks changed his mind about throwing Mays out and ran to call the police. Telephones were few and far between in 1924, and Brooks ran out of the house to find one. In the meantime, Mays forced Mattie Talley to leave the house with him and walk east on Julian.

Brooks finally located a phone and contacted police headquarters, then located on South Market Street at Park Avenue. Brooks told the desk sergeant that "Mays had a big gun and was marching Mrs. Talley down the street and threatening to kill her."

When the report came in, Sergeant Hubbard and Officer Murphy were at headquarters talking to C.E. Jennings of Army Intelligence. Jumping into the department's Nash, the three men headed for 278 East Julian. In the days before radio and motor patrols, the firehouse response method was the only practical way to dispatch officers to a hot call. The make-up of the crew that was sent resulted as much from happenstance as by design. It was simply a matter of whoever was available went. Thus, Hubbard, who was actually a detective in civilian clothes, and Murphy, a uniformed officer, teamed up to handle the call. The Army Intelligence officer, Jennings, went along as an unarmed spectator.

In the meantime, Mays and Mattie Talley had reached 11th Street, where Mays decided he would rather ride than walk and tried to flag down an approaching motorist. For a number of sound reasons the driver did not stop, an uncharitable act that prompted Mays to fire a round at the car's right rear tire. Thoroughly convinced that he had made the right decision the driver sped on. Mays continued walking east on Julian with the woman.

Several minutes later, Murphy and Hubbard crossed 11th Street on Julian, unaware of the shooting. Their progress along Julian had been slowed by the need to stop and question people along the way about Mays and his female hostage. At 6:30 p.m., they spotted the couple walking on the sidewalk just east of 15th Street.

Murphy whipped over to the curb near the pair as Hubbard bailed out on the passenger side and onto the sidewalk directly behind Mays and Mattie Talley. Mays had his gun pressed into the woman's left side. Hubbard was drawing his gun and ordering Mays to surrender when the gunman spun around and fired. Murphy was just coming out on the driver's side when he heard the first shot.

Mays' first shot had missed. He was still facing Hubbard with Murphy off to his right front, all within twenty feet of each other, when all three men fired simultaneously. Mays' bullet hit Hubbard in the abdomen, passing through his body. Hubbard's only shot struck Mays in the left wrist just as Murphy's single round slammed into the gunman's chest. Both Hubbard and Mays went down with wounds that would prove fatal.

The wounded men were taken to San Jose Hospital, and four prominent physicians were called in to operate on Sergeant Hubbard. Conscious until the anesthetic had been administered, Hubbard told his wife and friends who he wanted to act as his pallbearers. Among those named was John Guerin, grandfather of Pete Guerin, who is now a department member. (Ed. - This story was written in 1983; Pete retired from the Dept. in Jan. of '95 after 29 years of service.) Whether Hubbard knew he was dying or was just preparing for the worst, no one can really say. But regardless of the motive, the request was destined to be honored. At 8:30 p.m., Sergeant Hubbard died on the operating table. His assailant, Ed Mays, died shortly after 10:00 p.m. after having been transferred to the County Hospital.

Up to this point, the events surrounding Sergeant Hubbard's death were not substantially different from circumstances that occur today. The "mechanics" existing in 1924 - the absence of motor patrols and radios, as well as the "firehouse response" demonstrate only the technological differences that separate 1924 from 1983. In general, changing the date and introducing modern notification and response methods to the account would produce a 1983 scenario. There was, however, a major difference between those events in 1924 and what might happen in the 1980s. The difference was in the public's reaction to Sergeant Hubbard's death.

Both public officials and private citizens were outraged. The prevailing attitude was that an assault on the police was an assault on society in general and the community specifically. Hubbard's death became a matter of widespread community involvement. Hundreds of citizens called, wrote or went to police headquarters to express both their sorrow for Hubbard's family and their support for the police. Several hundred people went to Hubbard's home at 99 Balbach, where his body lay in an open casket, to pay their last respects. On the day of the funeral, court was adjourned, as was the evening session of the City Council. When the funeral procession made its way toward Oak Hill Cemetery, the route was lined with silent citizens. The San Jose Mercury Herald established the "Van Hubbard Fund" and accepted contributions from businesses and private citizens. Within a few days the fund totaled nearly $7,000, a figure that represented more than five years of Hubbard's pay. The money was given to his widow and two children.

The public reaction was in part a result of the people's attitude toward duty and responsibility and the pre-World War II concepts of morality. Those factors were reinforced by the feeling of public spirit that was commonly found in small town, rural America. But a large part of the public's reaction to Sergeant Hubbard's death resulted from the qualities of the man himself. Chief of Police John Newton Black stated:

"Shortly after coming to the police department, Hubbard had taken note of the awkwardness of the ordinary stretcher used in police and hospital ambulances. Working with his wife, he had invented a stretcher which is receiving considerable attention by the United States government and by hospital supply houses."

Sergeant Van Hubbard was further described as: "The Chief's first aid in solving police problems, and because of his ability, his faithfulness, dependability and integrity, he was entrusted with matters which in many cases were never made public."

A City Council resolution said, in part, that Hubbard was: "A faithful citizen and an example of bravery, honesty, ability, industry and fine conduct to the entire City of San Jose. His untimely death at the age of 29 years cuts short an exceptionally promising career."

But the most accurate measure of Hubbard's qualities is an account published in the July 16, 1924 edition of the San Jose Mercury Herald:

"A roughly dressed man, one of the first to bring his offering to the business office, laid a dollar on the counter. "I want to give this to the family of the -squarest man I ever knew," was his tribute. "He always did his duty as an officer, but he never forgot the other fellow's rights and feelings." And this sentiment, couched in various phrases, was expressed by all who visited the Mercury Herald office with contributions to the Van Hubbard Fund.'