Police Officer’s Notepad Gives Glimpse Into City’s Crime in 1950s

Joann Cress sent me a letter and a photograph pertaining to the career of her father, Wendell D. Snapp, who once worked for the Johnson City Police Department.

According to Joann: “Dad was born in Limestone, Tennessee in 1929 near the banks of the Nolichuckey River. After farming for several years, in 1949 he headed out for Johnson City looking for work. He was employed about seven months as a fireman before taking a job with the Police Department.”

Joann indicated her dad was ideal for police work because he was easygoing and was good at jumping in and diffusing a potentially dangerous situation. In 1950, the department had but two police cruisers – one for the chief and the other one usually in the shop for repairs. That meant the 10-12 city police officers had to patrol on foot.

Ms. Cress remembered one route that her father traversed twice each shift. He began at Boone and Main at the old Tennessee Theatre and made his way east toward Fountain Square and the Windsor Hotel area. His job required that he stop and meander through the many shops, cafes and other businesses along Main Street, conversing with citizens and storeowners. Over time, he became so familiar with people that he began calling them by their first name.

Wendell enjoyed stopping by John Buda’s “hole in the wall” eatery on Buffalo across from the City Bus Station and chatting with him. He then made his way up E. Main, crossed Roan at King’s Department Store and on to the old Post Office (now WJHL-TV) where he took a short break on the steps.

The officer continued his beat by going east on Main Street, passing Nance Lanes, the Spot Steakhouse and the Dixie Drive-In. Those restaurants were the real “hot spots” in Johnson City. Patrons usually had to wait for a table or booth but it was well worth it. After a walk through one of the restaurants and circling both parking areas, he headed to Legion Street, the halfway point on his beat. Snapp next circled back to his point of origin by walking west on Market, passing St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Munsey Memorial Church, John Sevier Hotel and Fountain Square before ending back on Boone. Again, he circulated his personality frequently.

Joann recently came across some old notepads that were used to jot down shift information and later transfer to the main police journal. They are dated 1949 to 1953. A sampling of the entries is as follows: “White male, age 21, theft of a radio and an electric iron from London’s Hardware (106 W. Market), breaking and entering at Williams’ Restaurant (“Y” section), two men arrested at the Franklin Apartments (360 E. Main) for possession of 16 quarts of white whiskey, theft of three suits of clothing from Woods’ Second Hand Store  (Market), report of a break-in at Cochran’s Jewelry Store (109.5 W. Market), white male arrested at Curtis Beer Parlor (308 W. Market) for being drunk and disorderly, two males arrested for shoplifting at Hopkins’ Store (1500 Buffalo), theft of a bolt of cloth from Parks Belk (207 E. Main, valued at $18.62), female assaulted at railroad tracks near the brickyard and drunk and disorderly conduct at M & L Café  (109 W. Main) and at Earl’s Grill (907 W. Market) and White male, age 23, charged with highway robbery near Walnut and Buffalo on June 12, 1951.”

Joann explained that “highway robbery” was a term meaning a mugging that took place outside in a public place such as on a sidewalk, street or parking lot. 

Joann concluded her letter to me by saying, “It was a different world back then but one that Dad thrived in and survived for 32 wonderful years. Dad passed away in 1993.”