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Former sheriff honored for work

By Signal Staff

By Signal Staff

A former Fillmore County law man was recently given high praise for his detective work, which helped solve an 80-year old cold case from 1937.
On October 3, The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office determined a Resolution to the Smoyer-Wathen Homicides. In the early-morning hours of June 17, 1937, Boone County Sheriff Lawrence I. Smoyer and Boone County Constable William Henry Wathen were shot while investigating a suspicious vehicle and trespassing complaint reported by a local rancher in a cattle pasture 25 miles northwest of Albion.  The officers were shot by two well-dressed men driving a black 1937 Ford Coupe with Colorado license plates.  The vehicle had been reported stolen in Denver and had been in the Albion area for several days.  Sheriff Smoyer died at the scene and Constable Wathen survived for 108 days before finally succumbing to his wound.
Then, Fillmore County Sheriff Frank Steinacher was one of several area law enforcement officials who were summoned to work on the case. The complete agency list included: the Office of the Nebraska State Sheriff and State Sheriff William F. Flake, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Louis “Scout” Smoyer, the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Frank Steinacher, the Nebraska State Sheriff’s Association and Sheriff John Harr and the Clay County Sheriff’s Department. The Boulder County, Colo., Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff George Rickart and the Laramie County, Wyo., Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff George Carroll also contributed to the original investigation.
Steinacher was sheriff in Fillmore County from 1930-1942.  
Colorado residents Charles Orville Doody and Marion Armstrong Cooley were named in a Colorado arrest warrant for the theft of the 1937 Ford Coupe.  The pair were also career criminals at the time of the murders, each having served two terms in the Colorado State Penitentiary System for crimes including armed robbery, auto theft, business burglary, forgery and armed assault on officers.
Investigators fingered the pair within three days of the murders, but it would take another year to have enough evidence to issue arrest warrants.  By this time, Cooley was serving a third term for armed robbery in Colorado, and according to laws at that time, Nebraska officials would have to wait until he was paroled 10 years later.  Doody’s whereabouts were never determined.
Smoyer was 41 when he was killed in the line of duty and he was a World War I veteran.  He had a wife and six children and was from Syracuse. Wathan was 53 at the time of his death and was from Millville, Iowa.  Cooley died in 1965 and Doody died in 1995.  They were 41 and 35 when they committed the murders.  Doody had escaped from the Brighton, Colo., Jail shortly before the murders.
Fillmore County Sheriff Bill Burgess recently had Steinacher honored by induction into the Nebraska Sheriff’s Association Hall of Fame at the annual Nebraska Sheriff and Peace Officers Association Convention in Kearney.  Burgess was able to find and contact Steinacher’s daughter, Janice Kolb, 82, of Lincoln, who accepted the award for her father.
Exerpts from the presentation follow and Sheriff George Rickart and the Laramie County, Wyo., Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff George Carroll also contributed to the original investigation.
Steinacher was a three-term sheriff in Fillmore County from 1930-1942.  
Colorado residents Charles Orville Doody and Marion Armstrong Cooley were named in a Colorado arrest warrant for the theft of the 1937 Ford Coupe.  The pair were also career criminals at the time of the murders, each having served two terms in the Colorado State Penitentiary System for crimes including armed robbery, auto theft, business burglary, forgery and armed assault on officers.
Investigators fingered the pair within three days of the murders, but it would take another year to have enough evidence to issue arrest warrants.  By this time, Cooley was serving a third term for armed robbery in Colorado, and according to laws at that time, Nebraska officials would have to wait until he was paroled 10 years later.  Doody’s whereabouts were never determined.
Smoyer was 41 when he was killed in the line of duty and he was a World War I veteran.  He had a wife and six children and was from Syracuse. Wathen was 53 at the time of his death and was from Millville, Iowa.  Cooley died in 1965 and Doody died in 1995.  They were 41 and 35 when they committed the murders.  Doody had escaped from the Brighton, Colo., Jail shortly before the murders.
Fillmore County Sheriff Bill Burgess recently had Steinacher honored by induction into the Nebraska Sheriff’s Association Hall of Fame at the annual Nebraska Sheriff and Peace Officers Association Convention in Kearney.  Burgess was able to find and contact Steinacher’s daughter, Janice Kolb, 82, of Lincoln, who accepted the award for her father.
Excerpts from the official presentation follow.
The Nebraska Sheriff's Association is honored to induct Sheriff Frank A. Steinacher of Fillmore County into the Sheriffs' Hall of Fame. The Sheriff's Hall of Fame award is presented tonight to Mrs. Janice Kolb, Sheriff Steinacher's daughter (accompanying her is Fillmore County Sheriff Bill Burgess).
Frank A. Steinacher was born on April 24, 1899. He grew up in Fillmore County and was elected to the Office of Sheriff in 1930. He served the citizens of Fillmore County as their sheriff until leaving office in 1942. Steinacher later served as a Lancaster County deputy sheriff for 22 years. During his tenure as Fillmore County Sheriff, Steinacher investigated, tracked down and arrested criminals throughout the United States who were responsible for a variety of serious offenses in Fillmore County. He also assisted other Nebraska law enforcement officials in seeking fugitives wanted in connection with homicides, armed robberies, assaults, burglaries, bootlegging, check forgeries and fraud.
In September of 1934, Sheriff Steinacher along with state and federal officers uncovered the largest, up-to-date alcohol distilling plant ever seized in the State of Nebraska. During the seizure, 24,000 gallons of mash, 3,000 gallons of syrup and 400 gallons of distilled alcohol were confiscated and later destroyed.
Sheriff Steinacher was considered one of the best investigators in the Midwest and was known for his dogged determination in finding criminals wherever they fled to avoid capture. He was selected by the Nebraska Sheriff's Association in June of 1937 with assisting Boone County authorities and the Nebraska State Sheriff's Office in their investigation of the murder of Boone County Sheriff Lawrence Smoyer and the mortal wounding of Albion Constable William Wathen.
Sheriff Steinacher's expenses during this investigation were paid in full by the Nebraska Sheriff's and Peace Officers' Association and he was instrumental in identifying two suspects in connection with the murders of Smoyer and Wathen. By July  of 1938, Sheriff Steinacher, Boone County Sheriff Louis "Scout" Smoyer, along with Sheriff Carroll of Cheyenne, Wyo., identified a suspect in a Louisville, Colo., bank robbery as Marion A. Cooley.
When Cooley was arrested and extradited from California, Sheriff Steinacher, Sheriff Scout Smoyer and County Attorney Bill Keeshan went to Boulder, Colo., along with witnesses from the Albion area who positively identified Cooley as one of two men wanted in connection with Boone County murders. A warrant charging Cooley with first degree murder was obtained by County Attorney Keeshan but Cooley had already been sentenced to serve a prison term for the bank robbery.
Without the persistence and determination of Fillmore County Sheriff Frank Steinacher, Marion Cooley may never have been identified as the primary suspect in this case. Earlier today, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson officially closed this case with the identification of Marion Cooley and Charles Doody as the individuals responsible for the murders of Sheriff Smoyer and Constable Wathen.
Steinacher was an invaluable asset to the investigation into the senseless murders of Sheriff Smoyer and Albion Constable Wathen. His dedication and devotion to duty should be recognized statewide and remembered by future generations as an exemplary record of being the peoples' Sheriff, a Sheriff who worked tirelessly to bring justice to the families of the murdered lawmen.