Described to be of “thorough going” New York stock and a fearless lawman who “stood, four square,” Sheriff Ed. G. McMartin became a hero on August 20, 1921. On that day McMartin and Oxnard Township Constable W.E. Kelley were killed in the line of duty while attempting to arrest a murder suspect.
Ed McMartin was born to a New York family north of the border in Canada. His family eventually migrated to Mendocino County, California, where young Ed grew up. In 1880, as an adult, McMartin moved to the Oxnard Plains area of Ventura County and took up farming. He continued in that pursuit until 1902, when he was persuaded to run for Sheriff of the county. He was elected to that term and because his popularity was so great he was re-elected to five additional terms of office.
Among his many accomplishments, Sheriff Ed McMartin was known for bringing the first automobile, a 1906 Stevens Durea, to law enforcement in Ventura County.
In August of 1921, the Ventura County area underwent a rash of residential burglaries in the communities of Saticoy and Santa Paula. Sheriff McMartin was on the trail of the suspects. The Sheriff, who evidently had a premonition of things to come, had even remarked to a friend that there would unquestionably be a tragedy at the termination of this crime spree.
And sure enough, a series of tragedies did occur. On Sunday, August 14, 1921, two brothers were held up by two assailants while walking home from their jobs at a sugar factory. During this robbery, 19 year old Justo Garcia was shot and killed by the robbers.
The Friday after the murder, a young man by the name of Tony Rose approached Constable Kelley and informed him of the identity and whereabouts of the two men who had killed Justo. Kelley took Rose to the County Sheriff’s Office to discuss the information with Sheriff McMartin. Both the Sheriff and the Oxnard Constable determined that the story appeared to be reliable, so the next day, August 20th, the two officers and Rose started out for a location in the Owensmouth in nearby Los Angeles County.
The three men arrived at a dilapidated shack, and unbeknownst to them, a desperate fugitive by the name of Pedro Ramirez, who had already killed five men, was waiting for them inside. Ramirez watched through a knothole in the wall while Sheriff McMartin, Constable Kelley and Jose Rose walked to the front door. Just before McMartin knocked, Ramirez threw open the door and fired once, hitting the Sheriff in the heart, killing him instantly. Ramirez then continued firing, striking Kelley, who was standing directly behind the Sheriff, in the abdomen. A terrified Rose quickly ran from the porch and was not struck by the fusillade.
Other men from the nearby shacks witnessed the shooting, and one of them removed a rifle from his house with the intent of pursuing the gunman. However, he was successful in locating Patrolman Murray who was an officer working in Owensmouth assigned out of Hollywood. Murray approached the suspect, who was hiding in some brush, with rifle in hand, and demanded he surrender. Ramirez refused to obey, so Murray shot him once, striking Ramirez in the hip. The murderer went down and immediately after that Murray heard one gunshot come from the area where Ramirez was hiding.
By that time a “machine” full of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff’s arrived to lend their assistance. Not hearing anything from the brush where the suspect was, they fired numerous shots into the area before approaching. They located Ramirez, dead with a self-inflicted bullet through the heart and the “murderous weapon still in his hand.”
In the meantime, word spread rapidly to Ventura County that Sheriff McMartin had been injured and needed assistance. A posse was formed, and started for Owensmouth, however, the vehicle lost a bearing in Fillmore. At that point, a Packard was commandeered from a garage, and the posse continued its high-speed trip. However, this car also broke down, causing the group to Shanghai yet another car prior to arriving to their destination. However, they were obviously too late to render any assistance.
Constable Kelley was taken to a Los Angeles Hospital where he died on the operating table.
Ramirez’s crime partner, Joseph Duran, was not captured that day and eventually was killed in a fight in a dance hall.
Before a hushed community, and flags flown at half-staff, Sheriff McMartin and Constable Kelley were laid to rest on August 24, 1921.
Tributes in honor of Constable William E. Kelley
This was my grandfather, may he rest in peace. I am one of the 3 son’s and 1 daughter of Raymond A. Kelley, 1 son of Constable William E. Kelley.