William H. Waggoner was born in Missouri in 1894. In 1929, at the age of 34, he became a Patrolman with the Long Beach Police Department. He quickly made headlines in prohibition area Long Beach participating in daring raids of offshore gambling vessels. During prohibition, the Long Beach Police Department patrolled the docks to dissuade people from taking water taxis to the gambling ships.
On December 21, 1930, Officer Waggoner and Officer Chester A. Jenks were fired upon while questioning men waiting in a Dodge Sedan to board a water taxi headed to the Rose Isle. As Jenks stumbled backwards, Waggoner ran into the line of fire to protect his fellow officer. During the gunfight, Officer Waggoner was struck by a bullet that lodged near his spine.
At the time of the shooting, the two officers had no idea the shooters were gangsters involved in the E.L. “Zeke” Caress disappearance. Caress was the Agua Caliente (tiquana) betting commissioner. Earlier that day, Caress, his wife, and houseboy had been kidnapped by alleged Chicago gangster Ralph Sheldon (a.k.a. James Sherman). The kidnappers made Caress write four checks totaling $50,000, which they planned to cash aboard the Rose Isle–except Officers Waggoner and Jenks foiled their plan.
The wounding of Officer Waggoner led to an all-out assault on organized crime in Southern California, starting with the raid of the Rose Isle and other gambling vessels. The investigation into the shooting led to a wealth of evidence against the mob, much of it from small-time gangster Jimmy Doolan who turned state witness in the kidnapping case in exchange for a lesser charge. The trial for Waggoner’s assailants and the subsequent Caress kidnapping trial were as salacious as any Chicago-area mob trial for the spectators who attended each day. It included taking the jury to the bedside of paralyzed Officer Waggoner and attempted bribery to buy Officer Jenks’ silence by a henchman of Ralph Sheldon. Initially, Waggoner’s shooters were acquitted by a jury, but new evidence presented by Doolan eventually led to a conviction.
Officer William Homer Waggoner lived 24 years as a paraplegic, eventually dying at the age of 61 in December 1954 . Seven years prior to his death, Waggoner had a kidney removed. Funeral services were held for him on the anniversary of the famous mob shooting: December 21, 1954.
Officer William Waggoner was survived by his wife Mary, a son, a daughter, three grandchildren, two sisters, and three brothers.