Our Local History: The Murder of Officer Stang, Part 1

By Patti F. Smith / WLAA

There is no doubt that the 1935 murder of Officer Clifford “Sid” Stang is tragic and heartbreaking. While the facts of this crime are straightforward, the capture, trial and sentence of his convicted killer are unusual.

In March 1935, Officer Stang began his 3 p.m. shift. Stang had joined the force six years earlier serving as a motorcycle and scout car officer before being reassigned to walk a beat in downtown Ann Arbor during the winter months. A few minutes after clocking in, Stang told his coworkers that he would “be right back” and headed to the Conlin and Wetherbee men’s store at 118 E. Washington Avenue to purchase a new tie clasp for his uniform.

The officer was well known to the business owners on his beat; everyone liked him. So when he walked into the men’s store and Wetherbee hollered, “Sid look out—this is a stick up!”, Stang thought his friend was playing around. Stang replied in a joking manner; however, he quickly realized things were extremely serious.

Three men witnessed the murder: William Conlin, Herbert Wetherbee, and a student named James Akers. They later recounted that two armed men were robbing the store—a taller one and a shorter one. Newspaper accounts reported that the taller of the two men grabbed Stang’s gun, scuffled with the officer, and then shot him in the abdomen. The criminals raced out the backdoor into a waiting car.

Police officers arrived almost immediately after: Officer Albert Heusel received the call of a robbery and raced to the store, Officer Marz arrived after a person on the street reported gun shots. Officer Stang never spoke a word after being shot and died at the scene.

Police searched frantically to find the men responsible for the murder of their brother officer. Their pursuit took them to Detroit, to Jackson, to Ohio, to West Virginia and ultimately to Los Angeles where police had arrested a man named William Padgett (aka William Hayden) while he was breaking into a house.

The partial license plate proved to be a key clue in the search as it showed that the car was “a Detroit machine”, leading police to head east to try to track down the car. Given the eyewitnesses descriptions police believed the gunmen to be “dope addicts” and thus likely to try to rob more businesses or homes.

Tips and clues led nowhere but eventually police started to suspect an ex-convict believed to have stolen a car with “plates similar to the ones” on the getaway car used in the murder of Officer Stang. They traveled to Jackson to research the man’s record; they then traveled to Ohio and West Virginia to speak to people believed to be friends of the suspect.

Police showed pictures of recently released convicts to Mr. Conlin, Mr. Wetherbee, and James Akers; all three tentatively identified a 34 year old man named William Hayden. A native of Southern California, Hayden (who also went by the name William Padgett) served time in Michigan for armed robbery before being paroled.

Los Angeles police arrested Padgett in March of 1936 as he attempted to burglarize a home. Local police were contacted after an identification was made and local prosecutors immediately moved to extradite the suspect. Hayden’s attempts to fight extradition proved unsuccessful and he was moved to Michigan later that month.

Before the arraignment, Wetherbee and Conlin saw the suspect in the jail and positively identified the 5’2”, 120 pound Padgett (nicknamed “Shorty”) as being involved in the shooting.

While some facts of the case are murky, one thing is very clear: Padgett consistently denied involvement in the robbery and denied ever being in Ann Arbor.

During arraignment, the eyewitnesses said that they did not actually see who shot Officer Stang but presiding Judge Payne found this “immaterial”, saying that any party to a crime is responsible for any lawful acts that occur. The judge said it was a “clear and easy” decision to bind Padgett over for trial.

The jury was seated at the end of June. Judge Sample presided over the case, Albert Rapp prosecuted, and Arthur Lehman defended. James Akers appeared as the identifying witness; his testimony floundered a bit when he admitted under cross examination that his identification rested largely on the “recognition of a Southern drawl” in Hayden’s voice. While giving jury instructions, Judge Sample opined, “I don’t believe a word the defendant testified” and lauded praise on the eyewitness testimony saying that they were “truthful and without doubt or prejudice.” The jury convicted Hayden of first degree murder and the judge sentenced him to life in prison in Marquette.

For most criminal defendants the story ends there; however, Padgett still had miles to go.

The next installment of this unusual case will appear next week. Until then, can anyone identify a key discrepancy in the case?

WeLoveAnnArbor.com writer Patti Smith’s new series “Our Local History” will be a look back at some interesting and important events in Ann Arbor. We welcome your input and suggestions – after all it’s your history. Contact Patti at teacherpatti@fastmail.net