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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJune 19 - June 25, 2019

Remembering Kenneth Ray Davis, Pt. 2

Cover Shot 2 40763By Randall C. Resch

Original Chico Record Newspaper Oct. 6, 1934. Photos and original 1934 newspaper provided by Cindy Davis Wolff.

On Oct. 6, 1934, 29-year-old wrecker operator, Kenneth Ray Davis and California Highway Patrol Officer William Riley McDaniel were ambushed and killed near the rural cemetery in Chico, California.

In February I uncovered perhaps the oldest, confirmed, recorded line-of-duty death of a tow operator known to the industry. While researching tow operator fatalities, two words of an Internet story, "garage mechanic," caught my attention describing a tow operator's death occurring in 1934. Towers were called "garage mechanics" at that time because a garage mechanic's function was to gas and service automobiles; the duties of wrecker operator were secondary.

Setting the Stage

In 1934, Davis worked at the Oaks Hotel in Chico's downtown district. It included an automobile service garage, gas station, even hair salons and spas. The Oaks was noted to be a, "whites only," establishment said to harbor negative attitudes against the Chinese.

On Oct. 6, Davis accepted a tow request to an area known as the "Chinese Section" at Chico's graveyard. Sometime after midnight, shots rang out and responding officers discovered Davis lying in the dirt, dead near his wrecker, his flashlight still burning. A police account noted Davis and McDaniel were ambushed from the nearby groves based on markings of a struggle observed at the scene.

The shooter, ex-con Nick Turchinetz, fired upon McDaniel who returned fire but died next to his police motorcycle, its headlights still burning. Turchnietz fled the scene, but, within a short time, a sheriff's posse tracked Turchinetz down and killed him with a single rifle shot.

Hunting for Answers

After weeks of investigative work, I narrowed a list to six individuals to possibly be Davis' descendants and mailed detailed letters. Only one woman responded, identifying herself as Mrs. Cindy Davis Wolff, a resident of Chico, claiming she and her brother, John Brattan, were the children of Davis' daughter Marlene; the three-year-old mentioned in original news accounts.

On June 10, 2018, I met with Wolff and she eagerly produced a wooden box containing old photographs and an original newspaper dated Oct. 6, 1934. We talked for hours before heading to Chico's Cemetery. The fatal shooting occurred not more than approximately 1,000' from where Davis was buried.

McDaniel was buried amongst military personnel while Turchinetz was buried unmarked in a pauper's area bordering the cemetery.

Times Were Hard

Davis was killed during the middle of the Great Depression. Wolff told me that her mother commented, "We were desperately poor for a number of years." Putting that into context, on Feb. 21, 1935, a letter from California's Industrial Accident Commission stated, "Award is made in favor of Eula Mable Davis and Marlene Antoinette Davis, applicants, against Employer's Liability Assurance Corporation, defendants, of a death benefit and burial expenses in the total sum of $3,689.25, payable as follows: To Eula M. Davis, the sum of $14.75 weekly, beginning October 7, 1934, until the whole of this award shall have been paid, less $100 payable to F. J. Rose as attorney's fees."

Do the math: that's a whopping total of $59 a month.

In the months to come, I'll re-approach Chico's History Museum requesting to add Davis' story to the museum's law enforcement displays. Best of all, the Towing and Recovery Museum's Wall of the Fallen Committee unanimously voted to add Davis to the memorial wall in September in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The WOF Memorial takes place Saturday, Sept. 15, where Christine and I will join Cindy Davis Wolff and her family to be present for the unveiling of her grandfather's name being added on the Wall.

This project was near and dear to my heart. The tragic and violent end of Davis' and McDaniel's lives will not be forgotten. I'm honored to have been able to bring this to your attention on behalf of Kenneth Ray Davis and his family. The full account of this story now appears in September's issue of American Towman.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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