Michigan Conservation Officer Association
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FRANK S. WILSON
1854 – 1908
Sometime in September 1907 Frank S. Wilson received notice from the State of Michigan that he had been appointed a Deputy Game, Fish & Forestry Warden. Warden Wilson’s district was comprised of ten counties in northern Michigan and he resided with his family in Elk Rapids.
Warden Wilson was last seen alive during the night of Wednesday April 1, 1908 in Traverse City. His body was found on Friday, April 3, 1908 in a wooded area near Traverse City. Warden Wilson was found with two bullet wounds to his head.
Warden Wilson was laid to rest at the age of 55 in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Elk Rapids Township, Antrim County, Michigan. He was survived by his wife and seven children.
Mystery and speculation surround the details of this tragic event. He was found with an Iver Johnson revolver in his hand with his body face down covering the gun. The bullet wounds were to the head and speculation was that both were mortal.
JULIUS A. SALMONSON
1878 - 1908
On November 15, 1908 Deputy Game, Fish & Forestry Warden Julius Salmonson, his brother Martin Salmonson and Deputy Sheriff J. C. Hazeltine died on White Lake in Muskegon County while trying to apprehend violators netting fish illegally.
During the afternoon of November 14, 1908 Warden Salmonson and his brother found illegal nets near the mouth of a channel leading to Lake Michigan. Expecting trouble, they secured the assistance of Sheriff Deputy Hazeltine. Around midnight on November 15, the trio left their horses and lantern along the edge of the lake and proceeded out in a small flat bottom boat to apprehend the violators.
After hearing no word from them the following day, a search party was formed. Their bodies were located 600 feet from shore in about seven feet of water. The county coroner’s inquisition stated, “...came to their death from drowning in White Lake on the 15th day of November 1908 while endeavoring to secure nets placed in said lake contrary to law and apprehend party or parties placing said nets, and in trying to perform said duty were drowned in an unknown and mysterious manner.”
Sources questioned whether the men had met some type of resistance and were overpowered, as it was known certain violators had made threats that there would be serious consequences if the officers did not cease their efforts to break up the illegal netting activity and leave them alone. The deaths were declared an accidental drowning after an investigation by Deputy State Game Wardens Tom J. G. Bolt of Moorland, C. K. Hoyt of Grand Haven and Deputy Sheriff Dan James could find no evidence of any violence towards the officers.
1896 – 1926
Conservation Officers Arvid Erickson and Emil Skoglund were working together September 29, 1926 in the Sands Plains area of Marquette County when they encountered an unlicensed hunter identified as Roy Nunn.
During the course of the arrest, Nunn pulled a hidden .22 caliber revolver and killed Conservation Officer Erickson with two shots to the back of the head. When Conservation Officer Skoglund came running to assist, he was killed with two shots to the face. When the officers failed to return home and their abandoned car was found, a massive investigation and search was launched. The evidence eventually led to Nunn who confessed to the crime. The
officers’ bodies were recovered, having been weighted down with bricks and dumped into Lake Superior from a pier in the city of Marquette.
Nunn was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Conservation Officer Arvid Erickson was laid to rest at the age of 30 and left behind a wife and two children.
Conservation Officer Arvid Erickson is recognized as a fallen officer on a plaque outside the District 1 office in Marquette, Michigan.
EMIL W. SKOGLUND
1890 - 1926
Conservation Officers Arvid Erickson and Emil Skoglund were working together September 29, 1926 in the Sands Plains area of Marquette County, when they encountered an unlicensed hunter identified as Roy Nunn.
During the course of the arrest, Nunn pulled a hidden .22 caliber revolver and killed Conservation Officer Erickson with two shots to the back of the head. When Conservation Officer Skoglund came running to assist, he was killed with two shots to the face. When the officers failed to return home and their abandoned car was found, a massive investigation and search was launched. The evidence eventually led to Nunn who confessed to the crime. The officers’ bodies were recovered, having been weighted down with bricks and dumped into Lake Superior from a pier in the city of Marquette.
Nunn was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Emil Skoglund was laid to rest at the age of 36, he was unmarried at the time of his death. He is recognized as a fallen officer at the District 1 office in Marquette, Michigan.
THERON A. CRAW
1900 – 1928
Theron A. Craw was born April 9, 1900 at the family farm near Long Lake in Grand Traverse County, Michigan. He was the son of Michigan Conservation Officer and District Law Supervisor Mark A. Craw and his wife Clara. After serving as an infantryman in WWI, Theron Craw was hired as a Michigan Conservation Officer on January 2, 1928.
On October 31, 1928 Officer Craw was working a detail with Conservation Officer Howard Yunker at Acme Creek in Grand Traverse County. The two officers were assigned to work trappers and chase off merganser ducks from fish which had been recently stocked in the creek. During the course of their duties, Officer Craw was accidently shot by Officer Yunker. Officer Craw sustained a 12 gauge gunshot wound to his back, with the pellets reaching into his left lung and liver, as well as other organs. He was taken to Munson Hospital for treatment, and two days later began to develop Peritonitis. Officer Craw soon died thereafter on November 5, 1928.
During his stay at the hospital Officer Craw pleaded with officials not to blame Officer Yunker for the incident. Officer Craw stated Officer Yunker was not at fault for the accident, and that he had jumped up in front of Officer Yunker as he was shooting.
He was buried at the Oakwood Cemetery in Traverse City with full military honors by the Bowen – Holliday American Legion Post. The body was escorted by an honor guard comprised of four Michigan Conservation Officers. Conservation Department Director George Hogarth made it clear that Officer Craw, “was shot in the line of duty, and so compensation is doubtless forthcoming.” At the time though, the incident was classified as a hunting accident in order to protect the wishes of Officer Craw.
Officer Craw’s father, District Supervisor Mark Craw served as a Michigan Conservation Officer from 1900 until his retirement in 1947.
1890 - 1936
Conservation Officer Andrew Schmeltz died on October 20th, 1936 near the Carp River in Marquette County.
Officer Schmeltz was killed on a wooded trail leading along a ridge between Picket Lake and the Carp River. Parts of his body were found by searchers on October 21. The body had been dragged to the edge of a swamp where it had been dismembered by charges of dynamite.
On October 23, the Michigan State Police took Raymond Kivela, age 27, into custody. Kivela soon confessed, stating he killed Officer Schmeltz on the morning of October 20, with two shots from a .22 caliber rifle. Kivela then moved the body to the edge of a swamp and left the area. That night, he returned to the scene with several sticks of dynamite and detonated them on Officer Schmeltz’s body in an effort to destroy the remains.
Officer Schmeltz had been investigating a report of illegal trapping, and met Kivela along a trail carrying a .22 rifle. Kivela admitted he had no permit to carry the gun. When Officer Schmeltz said he would have to take his gun, Kivela responded by striking the officer and firing two shots into his chest.
Kivela was sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder on December 14, 1936.
MAURICE C. LUCK
1908 - 1938
Conservation Officer Maurice Luck was accidentally shot in the abdomen in Sandusky, Michigan on March 15, 1938. His service revolver fell out of his shoulder holster and discharged when he leaned over while working on his patrol car at a service station. Officer Maurice Luck died on March 16, 1938 at 4:45 a.m. at a local hospital.
Officer Luck was laid to rest on March 19, 1938 in St Johns, Michigan. Officer Luck was 29 at the time of his death and was survived by his mother and father, Earl and Mattie Luck, a sister, Miss Lois Luck and fiancé Vera Frederick.
Before joining the department, Officer Luck served with the Ingham County Izaak Walton League as a special deputy. After taking the officer's examination in June of 1936, he was appointed a conservation officer the following November. He was regarded as one of the most promising of the younger officers.
CARLYLE B. SMITH
1895 - 1943
Conservation Officer Carlyle B. Smith was patrolling the Maple River checking for set lines in Gratiot County April 17, 1943.
It is believed his patrol boat capsized into the cold water of the Maple River. He was able to retrieve the boat, motor and some equipment and drag them to shore. Officer Smith then began a three-mile walk back to Bridgeville to where his vehicle was parked.
When Officer Smith did not return from the patrol, a massive search was initiated. Officer Smith’s body was found May 11, 1943 south of the Maple River between where he began his patrol and where his boat, motor and patrol equipment were found.
The coroner’s jury concluded he died of “Over Exertion and Exposure.”
THOMAS J. MELLON
1901 – 1947
On Thursday October 23, 1947 Conservation Officer Thomas Mellon and five others headed out to fight a fire raging along the Manistique River in Schoolcraft County.
The men with Officer Mellon included: Oliver Johnson, Lawrence Berrell, Clarence Taylor, Joe Burton and Conrad Oberg. The men launched a wooden boat on the Manistique River from the Sturgeon Hole Slough. Officer Mellon was seated in the rear of the boat operating the outboard motor.
About one half mile up stream the boat hit a submerged deadhead in the river. The river was approximately 12 feet deep and about 160 feet wide with a strong current. As the boat struck the obstacle, it ripped open the bottom, stopping it immediately. The boat then started taking on water and began to sink.
After the men abandoned the boat, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Johnson began to swim to shore. Officer Mellon and Mr. Oberg, unable to swim, struggled in the water. Mr. Johnson attempted to save them utilizing debris in the river. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in his attempts and both men disappeared under the water.
The bodies of Officer Mellon and Mr. Oberg were recovered later that night.
Officer Mellon was laid to rest at the age of 46.
1900 - 1957
On August 8, 1957 Conservation Officer Edward Starback was en route from Boyne City to Beaver Island by plane to pick up a Department of Conservation patrol boat. Officer Starback left this patrol boat at Beaver Island a few days prior due to rough weather conditions. The plane was piloted by a local insurance man by the name of Donald P. Watkins, 63. They were accompanied by Officer Starback’s two sons, Richard Starback, 35 and Carlton Starback, 28.
At approximately 1:20 p.m. August 8, 1957 the four men departed for Beaver Island from the Boyne City Airport. About thirty minutes later, a pilot returning from Beaver Island witnessed Watkins' Stinson Voyageur airplane in a tight downward spiral from an altitude of approximately 2,000 feet. All four men perished in the crash.
Officer Starback was laid to rest at the age of 56 in the Breedsville Cemetery in Breedsville, Michigan. Officer Starback was survived by his wife Bonnie.
Officer Starback is currently recognized as a fallen officer on the National Law Enforcement Memorial and on the Jurisdictional Plaque at the North American Game Warden Museum.
Peter J. VanValin
1916 - 1970
Peter J. VanValin was hired by the Department of Conservation in 1947 as a Conservation Officer. Officer VanValin was quickly promoted to pilot in 1948 at the Roscommon Regional Office. Officer VanValin remained in at the Roscommon Regional Office as a pilot and Conservation Officer for the next 22 years.
Officer VanValin served in World War II as a Captain and bomber pilot with the US Air Force.
On May 21, 1970 a tragic department plane crash in Oceana County took the life Officer VanValin, age 54, and three additional veteran Department of Conservation officials. Witnesses reported the State owned plane went into a shallow dive about a half mile south of the airport. The plane plummeted into an apple orchard, flipped over, and immediately caught fire. Also killed in the crash were: William Karl Kidder, age 57; Chester M. VanWeiren, age 45; and Robert A. Gouin, age 50.
GERALD F. WELLING
1918 - 1972
Conservation Officer Gerald Welling, 54, was killed at approximately 2:00 a.m. September 10, 1972 during a patrol for illegal bear hunting activity near the community of Hermansville.
Conservation Officers Gerald Welling and William Maycunich observed a vehicle shine a light in an attempt to locate a bear at a local garbage dump site. After conducting a stop, both officers approached the suspect vehicle.
As Officer Welling approached, the suspect vehicle suddenly sped forward and struck him. He then became entangled in the hydraulic snow plow assembly mounted on the front of the vehicle. He was dragged underneath for approximately 100 feet.
Officer Maycunich fired at the suspect vehicle and quickly apprehended the driver, Kenneth Viau, 24, of Bark River. The passenger, Gary E. Johnson, 30, of Hermansville, fled on foot. Officer Welling was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Both Viau and Johnson were initially charged with first degree murder. A jury trial resulted in Kenneth Viau being found guilty of a reduced charge of negligent homicide and sentenced to one year in prison. The charges against Johnson were ultimately dismissed.
1946 - 1986
On Thursday, October 23, 1980 Conservation Officer Scott Averill approached two men (father and son) spearing trout on the Acme Creek of Grand Traverse County. Officer Averill wrote the two for illegally spearing fish. On request of the men, Officer Averill turned his back to change the appearance date on the citations to a more convenient time for them. Without warning, the older man drew his .22 caliber revolver and began pistol whipping Officer Averill in the head while the son held him down.
The two men took Officer Averill’s service revolver, glasses and ticket book then fled the scene. With severe head injuries and damage to his brain, Officer Averill was able to crawl to his vehicle and drive to M-72 where he radioed for help. Officer Averill was able to relay information on the two suspects to the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department. The two men were later arrested.
The night of this incident, Officer Averill underwent surgery to relieve pressure on two skull depressions. Officer Averill later developed brain tumors in the injured area and passed away on February 1, 1986 at the age of 39.
Officer Averill was laid to rest on February 5, 1986 at the Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Lowell, Michigan. Officer Averill was survived by his wife Susan and two children Randy and Kristin.