On patrol in the east Oakland hills on Independence Day, 1931, Officer William T. Kohler was waved down by two utility workers. They reported several damaged slot machines lying on the ground some distance away. He drove over to the area and came upon two young men shooting at tin cans. Upon seeing the officer, the pair climbed inside their gray roadster and prepared to leave, but Kohler motioned for them to stop for questioning.
When Kohler neared the vehicle, one of the subjects called out, “Stick ’em up.” As he began to draw his own weapon the two fired on Kohler, striking him in the cheek and the chest, and felling him. As he laid on the ground, the suspects started up the roadster and drove over him. (This was confirmed by an eyewitness and marks on the officer’s clothing.) The eyewitness called for assistance for the downed officer. The duo made good their escape.
Kohler, 50, died of his wounds at the hospital. A veteran of 25 years of service with the Oakland Police Department, his death was mourned by his fellow officers, city officials, and the public.
Investigators discovered that one of the weapons used against Kohler had been stolen from an Alameda officer a week earlier. That officer had also been shot, but his badge stopped the round. He was knocked unconscious and the assailants stole his weapon and baton.
After an intensive investigation and issuance of an all points bulletin, Kohler’s assailants were apprehended in Utah.