It was around midnight on September 16, 1946 when the call came in to the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. Special Deputies Howard H. Smith, Robert Johnson, and Gust Lindstrom were sent to investigate the claims that someone was seen climbing through a window at the Pleasure Inn Tavern at 3201 11th Street.
According to the testimony of Ella Mae Bissman, she was walking to her home when she passed the darkened tavern. She was startled by noises coming from the tavern and when she looked to see where the noise originated, she saw a darkened figure jump from the window and land near another figure already on the ground. Both shadows ran away into the night.
Deputy Smith decided to enter the building to determine if anyone was still inside. He chose a window at the rear of the building and climbed through what he believed to be a window to the first floor. Unfortunately, the window actually led to a staircase and when Deputy Smith dropped from the window, he fell fourteen feet to the ground below. As he fell he struck a corner of the foundation.
The other two deputies heard the horrible sound that Smith’s body made when it hit the ground. Their cries went unanswered and they made the decision to break into the tavern. Johnson radioed for an ambulance as Lindstrom and some of the neighbors who had gathered at the scene, helped bring Smith from the tavern.
Smith was rushed to St. Anthony’s Hospital where the doctors were unable to do anything to save the thirty four year old officer. Smith held on for thirteen hours before he passed away. Coroner David L. Klontz discovered during the autopsy that Howard Smith had a basal skull fracture caused by the fall to the cement floor.
Howard H. Smith was born in Rockford on July 4, 1912 to parents, George and Constance. He left behind his wife, Mary and a ten year old daughter, Mary Ann when he died.
During the investigation into Howard’s death and the burglary that led to the accident, authorities found that nothing had been stolen. They theorized that the would-be robbers had been frightened off before they could steal anything.
Howard was described by all who knew him as dependable, loyal, and dedicated to his family and the people of Rockford. Howard also worked for the state highway department as a supervisor and was a Republican precinct committeeman.
Many friends and fellow officers joined the family as Howard was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery.
Howard H. Smith is one of the officers that will be honored by the 911 First Responders Memorial at West State Street and Kilbourn Avenue. This memorial will contain some of the steel girders provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from the World Trade Center. Other officers that will be honored include fallen officers from the Winnebago County Sheriff Department, Rockford Police Department, and Rockford Fire Department, and the lost members of the 2012 REACT Helicopter Crew.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events