A POLICE CHIEF RESIGNS – If the Walls Could Talk – Episode 4
(1954) The Feds were in Houston investigating local police for selling heroin to dope dealers. Detective M.A. Billnitzer, shot twice in the heart at the police station, was dead. It was ruled a suicide.
The Police Chief, L.D. Morrison, Sr., by his own admission, didn’t hear of the seizure of a large amount of heroin that occurred in August of 1953 until June of 1954, although he ordinarily was told of any narcotics seizure. Illegal narcotics trade was becoming a major police problem, but Morrison apparently didn’t learn of the scandal brewing in HPD until the Federal investigation was about to become public.
After the death of Detective Billnitzer, Morrison relieved Captain Melton of duty and fired Detective Sidney Smith. He seems to have discounted any scandal beyond the actions of Smith. Morrison later testified on behalf of Melton who was tried twice but not convicted. There will be more on Melton in future blogs.
In addition to the corruption that was taking place in his police department, Chief Morrison must have been uneasy when the Feds started snooping around for personal reasons. He had chronic back pain and had found a doctor, Julius McBride, who supplied him with codeine which the doctor recorded as going to a patient who had cancer. When McBride was indicted, the charge was that he supplied the dope to Chief Morrison for ‘non-medicinal’ purposes. Medical experts from Baylor University testified that Morrison was caught up in the grip of the drug habit and well on his way to becoming an ‘addict’ from the frequent administration of codeine.
Chief Morrison resigned as Chief when the narcotics scandal became public. His reputation with the police department, even with the revelation of his improper use of codeine, seems to have survived the scandal. The current Houston Police Academy building is named in his honor. In the book, Houston Blue, authors Tom Kennedy and Michael P. Roth write that “Morrison is known as the father of HPD academic training…” That honor was for his work prior to becoming police chief when he was a captain who initiated the first formal training in an academy class for Houston police. His son, L.D. Morrison, Jr., also became a Houston officer and retired as a captain.
In the next blog episode of If The Walls Could Talk you’ll learn more about officers W.C. Pool and Federal Agent George White. There’ll also be an interesting note about another Houston officer, J.O. Brannon who was subpoened to testify at the federal gran jury.
Coming later this year, my new novel, Dishonored and Forgotten, a fictional account of this scandal that begs the question, why isn’t Martin Billnitzer’s name on the memorial wall?