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Tome chronicles St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department history

Sheriffs bookSt. Charles County officials have published a new book that chronicles the history of the county Sheriff’s Department from the Louisiana Purchase to the 21st century.

“The Star Between the River: A History of the St. Charles County’s Sheriff’s Department, 1805-2015” is a 206-page, coffee-table book, replete with historical photographs and maps.

The book, released last week, touches on much of the county’s history, from its emergence in the 19th century through its modernization today. Highlights – or perhaps lowlights – include an account of the hanging of John Blan for the murder of one Elijah Warren before 10,000 spectators in St. Charles and the hanging of William Jefferies for the murder of William Wussler “in the yard of the county jail, while the townspeople looked on.”  Sheriff Joseph Ruenzi presided over Blan’s hanging in 1879, while Sheriff Waldo Hines presided over Jeffries’ hanging in April 1908.

In 1916, early violence reached a peak when Lafayette Chandler shot and killed Sheriff John H. Dierker, the only sheriff killed in the line of duty in the department’s history.

“Things were different but some of the problems were the same as it is now,” said Tom Neer, a long-time county sheriff, who proposed the 2010 charter amendment that created the St. Charles County Police Department.

By the 1920s, the rise of the automobile and new highways brought more commerce and more criminals to the county. The book notes that banks in St. Charles County were robbed 12 times between May 1930 and December 1933, resulting in a loss of almost $100,000.

The county’s growth following World War II included a gradual growth in the sheriff’s department, which had a 13-man staff in 1965. Growing pains within the county also meant growing pains within the department, including a case of “blue flu” in 1979 when more than 50 deputies called in sick over pay, and arguments with county municipalities over response times to emergency calls. The election of Edward Uebinger in 1980 ushered in new training standards and a new era in maintaining the peace.

“He took us out of cowboy boots and put us on computers,” Neer states in the book.

By 2012, the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department was the largest in Missouri with more than 200 employees, and Neer suggested the charter amendment to assure its professionalism and reduce politics. Voters narrowly approved the amendment and Captain David Todd, a 35-year Sheriff’s Department veteran, was named the first chief of the county police department.

Neer retired, and in November 2014, voters elected Scott Lewis, the former Cottleville police chief, as sheriff of a department that now provides courthouse security, transports prisoners and serves court documents.

The book was a committee effort suggested by county Police Officer Dave Fournell after he saw a similar book at a sheriff’s department in another state. Neer, Todd, County Executive Steve Ehlmann, former Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis photographer Roy Sykes, county police captains David Kaiser and Jim Hudson, former county detective Marsha Corley, county Director of Administration Joann Leykam and county Public Affairs Coordinator Colene McEntee were members of the committee.

The book, which has an initial 500-copy press run, is funded through the county Public Information Department budget. It can be purchased for $20 (plus a $1.25 handling fee for credit card purchases) at the county finance department, 201 N. 2nd Street in St. Charles, the county police department at 101 Sheriff Dierker Court in O’Fallon and the County Heritage Museum at 1730 Heritage Landing in St. Peters.

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