|Birth: ||Aug. 2, 1927|
|Death: ||Aug. 29, 1970|
Sergeant Frank R. Von Colln
Fairmount Park Police Department
End of Watch: Saturday, August 29, 1970
Tour of Duty: Not available
Badge Number: 12 (Fairmount Park Police)
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Date of Incident: Saturday, August 29, 1970
Weapon Used: Handgun
Suspect Info: Apprehended
The police said members of an offshoot of the Black Panthers called the "Black Unity Council and Revolutionaries," set out to blow up the 93rd District police substation in the Cobbs Creek guardhouse at 63rd and Catharine Streets on the night of Saturday, Aug. 29, 1970. They took up positions outside the substation but were interrupted at 8:30 p.m. by a police emergency wagon enroute to the guardhouse to refuel. As the wagon pulled into a driveway leading from the parkway to the guard house, one of the men flagged down the wagon. It looked like he needed help. He then jogged up to the passenger window, pulled a gun from his pants and fired one shot, striking Officer James Harrington, 39, in the jaw, shattering his teeth. The man ran as Harrington slumped. His partner Henry Kenner jumped from the wagon, opened fire and called for backup.
Sergeant Von Colln was alone in his office at the guardhouse and dispatched two of his officers to investigate the wounding of Harrington. A sergeant at League Island Guard House, 16th st. and Pattison av. heard the call and radioed Fairmount Park Police Sgt. Frank Von Colln, who was in the guardhouse. They wanted to know what the trouble was. "I'm not sure," said Von Colln, 42. The officer whom Von Colln was talking to on the phone said he had just told Von Colln, "Frank, get your gun before you go out," when he heard several shots and the phone went dead.
One of the actors, Richard Thomas, had entered the substation and shot unarmed Sergeant VonColln five times in the back as the officer sat at his desk talking on the phone, the police said. His service revolver was found in a filing cabinet.
One of the two actors were arrested in a street near the park. Police said he was carrying a fragmentation-type hand grenade and was placing a shaving kit, which contained a pistol and two ammunition clips, under a parked automobile. Five grenades were left in the area but none exploded.
Von Colln's widow later recalled that earlier, on Christmas Eve, a man entered the Cobb Creek Gaurdhouse and threatened, "We're going to blow this place up" but her husband did not take the threat seriously and did not tell his superiors.
The suspect arrested near the park implicated the five others and told police their plans. The assassins planned to attack and destroy police facilities and targeted the Cobbs Creek guard house because of its remote location. Two other officers were shot and wounded within the same 24-hour period. The suspects were all eventually apprehended.
Police Commissioner Rizzo disclosed that five children ranging in age from 10 to 15 were in an adjoining room at the guardhouse when Von Colln was shot. "We have established that one person shot Sgt. Von Colln. There were five children in the next office. They had witnessed the first shooting of Officer Harrington and went to the guardhouse to the tell the sergeant. They entered through a back entrance and saw a man in the operations room, through a doorway. When they saw the man draw a revolver, they closed the door and then heard shots," Rizzo said. He said the children did not see the actual shooting but "have been very helpful to us."
The next night, two Highway Patrol officers, John J. Nolen and Thomas J. Gibbons, Jr., were shot after stopping a stolen car in west Philadelphia while taking part in the hunt for the von Colln killers. Nolen and Gibbons survived the assault. Because of Gibbons' injuries, he was forced to leave the job and became a Philadelphia newspaper reporter covering the police beat. He is the son of former Police Commissioner Thomas J. Gibbons.
Five members of the Black Unity Council were convicted of first-degree murder in Von Colin's death and sentenced to life. All remain imprisoned. Their names are Hugh Sinclair Williams, Alvin Joyner, Robert Joyner, Russell Shoats and Frederick Burton. A sixth actor, Richard Thomas, fled and was at large for 26 years. He was arrested in suburban Chicago in March 1996.
On May 31, 1973, Frederick Burton was at Holmesburg Prison awaiting appeal on conviction for von Colln's murder. He and fellow inmate Joseph Bowen, convicted for Police Officer Joseph Kelly's murder, stabbed and killed Prison Warden Patrick Curran and Deputy Warden Robert F. Fromhold inside Holmesburg Prison.
Since Von Colln's murder, his son Kurt and daughter Barbara Grimes have both joined and retired from the police force. "My father was called the 'gentle giant,'" says Kurt Von Colln. "He kept his gun in a drawer. He played basketball with the neighborhood kids on his breaks. That's the man who was taken away."
In addition to his wife Barbara Jean, 42, Officer Von Colln was survived by his father Frank Von Colln, Sr., four children, Frank 3d, 22, Barbara, 20; Kurt, 19, and Karen, 12; and Kurt's wife, Jean was expecting a child.
February 2011 update: Find A Grave volunteer "Autistic Wonderboy" went to Glenwood cemetery looking for Officer Von Colln's grave. He reported, "A couple of months ago, I went to Glenwood Memorial Gardens with the intention of finding Sgt. von Colln. The person who supplied me this information mistakingly gave me the wrong Frank von Colln. The one he led me to had the middle initial A, not R, and had the years 1905-1972, not 1927-1970. Recently, I came to the theory that maybe this 2nd Frank von Colln must be, if not his father, than some relative. I went back to that section of the cemetery in the theory that this other Frank von Colln might be with this other Frank von Colln. As long and as hard as I searched this specific plot of the cemetery, if my theory is true, I did not come upon the Frank von Colln that this FAG request is sent out for." (Researcher note: Officer Von Colln was, in fact, a "Junior" and was survived by his father. Frank Von Colln, Sr.
1. The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. http://www.odmp.org/officer/13692-sergeant-frank-r.-von-colln
2. "US court upholds nine-year solitary confinement of Philadelphia man," By Tom Bishop, 3 June 2000 http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/jun2000/penn-j03.shtml
3. Cop Killings/History, November 3, 2007 http://malcolmxpark.org/?p=514
4. The Sixth Man; Could an alleged cop killer (not named Mumia) soon walk free? by Tom Namako, Published: Jun 6, 2007 http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2007/06/07/the-sixth-man
5. United States Court of Appeals,
Third Circuit hearings.
6. Dallas Morning News, August 31, 1970, Page A-5
7. Dallas Morning News, June 1, 1973, Page A-5
8. Philadelphia Bulletin.
Frank A. Von Colln (1905 - 1972)
Glenwood Memorial Gardens
Created by: Researcher
Record added: May 03, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 36671056
Added: Feb. 26, 2015