On September 22, 1960, Menlo Park Police Officer John W. Lyle died in the line of duty. Menlo Park Police Department’s first and only officer to have died in the line of duty. Lyle, 29, had served as a Menlo Park officer for the past 8 years.
On that September day Lyle followed an occupied stolen car into a downtown Menlo Park parking lot. He blocked the vehicle when it attempted to leave, and he contacted the driver. The 22-year-old car thief, Roy Henry (‘Hook’) Lane, Jr. from Stockton, exchanged gunfire with Lyle killing him in the gunfight. The shooter then fled on foot and was captured near the scene where the he admitted to the murder.
Witnesses said after Lyle fell face down on the pavement during the shoot out, Lane stepped from the car and, standing over him, fired directly into the body. One of the four bullets which struck Lyle entered the back of his head and passed through his brain, according to the San Mateo County Coroner’s office. Besides the bullet in Lyle’s head, another was found in his solar plexus, and two more waist high. Either of the first two shots would have been fatal, according to the coroner’s office. Lyle died at the scene.
Lane was well known to Stockton officers. He had an extensive criminal past beginning when he was a juvenile, including thefts and carrying concealed weapons. The Stockton Chief described Lane as, “mean by nature.” Lane was convicted of the murder of Officer John Lyle and sentenced to death. He was executed in November 1962, at San Quentin state prison.
Lyle, known to family and friends as “Jack,” is remembered as a generous man, full of humor, a devoted husband and father who, according to his wife Norma, wanted a “houseful of children.” He was born in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Oak Park.
He was 18 when his family moved to Menlo Park in 1949 where he met Norma, the girl next door, on the day he moved in. They began a courtship speaking to each other over their backyard fence and were married in September 1950.
Mrs. Lyle remembers Jack’s initial disappointment at leaving the Midwest. He was active in his church and considered becoming a minister. He was also an avid ice hockey and soccer player, but Jack discovered he loved Menlo Park. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, he decided he would settle there and raise his family. He later found new sports in sailing and target shooting becoming an expert marksman. His marksmanship was a skill his children and grandchildren would later acquire. He also enjoyed journalism. Despite the fact he enjoyed writing, his wife said she still typed all his college homework.
Lyle’s generous and caring nature was evident when working and taking college courses. Mrs. Lyle remembers that he would bring students home for supper after his classes. These were students who had no family in the area and surviving on very little while in college. Mrs. Lyle said she had a lot of spaghetti feeds and at times she would scramble to accommodate the extra guests that he invited along.
Police work just seemed a natural outlet for Lyle’s personality and many talents. He first joined the Menlo Park Police Department as a Reserve Police Officer. He attended San Jose State College police academy to qualify as a regular officer and was sworn in June 9, 1952.
In March 1960, Lyle received a letter of commendation from Menlo Park Police Chief George Potter for his part in rescuing children from a burning house in the Belle Haven neighborhood. Officers Ed Schild and Lyle spotted smoke coming from a house, called the fire department and kicked the front door open to rescue the Joseph Singh family. Lyle and Schild carried three youngsters, ages 7, 2 and 16 months, to their patrol car and turned on the heater to keep them warm. Due to their fast action, no one was injured.
In June 1960, Officer Lyle saved the life of a woman at a domestic violence call. The woman called police reporting her husband was stabbing the furniture and threatening to kill her with a knife. Lyle confronted the man, still wielding a large butcher knife at his wife, and threatening him too. The man refused all orders and warnings and when the man advanced on them he was shot and killed by Lyle, saving the woman. Lyle was exonerated and the shooting ruled justified, but he was left shaken by the whole experience. Four months later he was killed in the line of duty.
More than 700 officers and attendees honored the life of John W. Lyle at his funeral service on September 26, at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Officers marched in formation, escorting the hearse from the mortuary to the church. The funeral procession included all 40 members of the Menlo Park Police Department. Over 600 police and other law enforcement officers representing agencies from all over Northern California and the San Francisco peninsula joined over 100 family, friends and members of the community at the services. The Lyle children were 2, 4, 6 and 9 years old at the time.
Following the services, a procession followed Lyle’s hearse to Alta Mesa Cemetery in Palo Alto for internment.
Lyle was survived by his wife Norma, and their four children, daughters, Karen, Susan, Donna; and son, John W. Lyle, Jr.; and six grandchildren.
Lyle’s badge, number 3, was permanently retired from service in this honor.