WEST STEWARTSTOWN -- Thanks to a great-granddaughter he never knew, former Colebrook police chief Frederick Thomas Towle's name will soon be entered on a national roster of law-enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.
Echo Noelle Towle, 16, said she was inspired to honor her relative after seeing news reports about Greenland Police Chief Michael Maloney, whose name was included on a National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial after he was shot and killed on April 12, 2012, during a drug raid.
Echo said she also pursued having Towle's name added to the memorial in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the police chief's children, especially her grandfather, Charlie, who died in 2009.
"My only regret," Echo said in an e-mail, "is that my grandfather is not alive today, because I know how much he would have loved this. I miss him so much, and doing this has brought me more comfort than I can describe."
Born in Pittsburg on May 2, 1905, Frederick Thomas Towle — apart from service in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a border inspector with the then U.S. Bureau of Animal Husbandry — was a lifelong police officer. He began his career as town constable in Pittsburg and served there for 17 years before accepting the position of night officer in Colebrook in 1943. Towle became chief in 1947.
On the night of June 17, 1956, while walking his daughter, Sheila, home from her job at the Jax Theater where she operated the popcorn concession, Towle observed a passenger in a car whom he thought was intoxicated. Towle stopped the car and attempted to arrest the man, who resisted and later fled. In the course of trying to take the man into custody, Towle suffered a heart attack and died.
As she collected information about Towle for the memorial, Echo, a sophomore at Canaan High School in Vermont, said she learned about her extensive family and the man who died a year before her own father was born.
"Frederick had a lot of brothers and sisters" who in turn had children of their own, she said, "and I tracked down some of them," including Towle's two surviving sons, Ernest of Georgia and Ronald of Franklin, N.H., and daughter, Sheila Towle Douglas, who now lives near Williamsburg, Va.
"I'm ecstatic. I couldn't be happier that my great-grandfather is getting the long-overdue recognition. In talking to my great aunt, I found out that she was just getting to know him as a person. The sacrifice he made was unbelievable and it's a shame that it's gone unrecognized for so long," said Echo, daughter of Shannon and Mark Towle.
Sheila Towle Douglas said in a telephone interview that she's very proud of both her father and of Echo, adding she still vividly remembers the events of the night of June 17, 1956, which, as Echo pointed out, was Father's Day.
"We were on the way home, and had just got to the Farmers and Traders Bank and dad said 'Stay right here a minute,' and he was watching a car that was just down the street and I was looking around and I didn't pay too much attention," said Towle Douglas, who was 16 at the time.
She said she heard her father and a man in the car talking and remembers her father telling him "'I said you're under arrest' and I could see them struggling and I panicked and I didn't know what to do or how I could help and the next thing I know, I saw daddy fall and this guy takes off and runs down the street. I rushed over and he was laying there ... I remember I had a gray jacket on and I put that under his head and it seemed like there were people coming out from everywhere and I was crying non-stop."
She added: "His death changed all our lives. It was like the center pole of a tepee was gone; everything changed."
An editorial that appeared in the June 21, 1956, issue of the News and Sentinel in Colebrook described Frederick Thomas Towle as "a handsome, quiet, soft-spoken man, slow to anger but terrible in wrath, disliking ever to make an arrest if gentler methods would suffice, devoted to his family and to the outdoor pursuits so much a part of this country ..."
None other than Towle, Frederick Harrigan continued, knew better "the many humiliations and indignities a good cop has to suffer just because he is a cop, and through many years of all of them he remained sincerely devoted to the concept of duty which is becoming, regrettably, more and more rare in this America of ours as the years go on."