After 80 years, the story of the first Plano police officer killed in the line of duty was uncovered
Early in the morning of February 28, 1920, Green Wesley Rye patrolled the darkened streets of downtown Plano on foot. A solitary figure, he carried a lantern, a key and the responsibility for keeping Plano’s citizens safe as they slept.
Just after he clocked in at the Plano National Bank at 4:45 a.m., Officer Rye was surprised by robbers escaping with some $140,000 in cash and valuables from the bank’s vault. Shots rang out.
Officer Rye was hit once in the abdomen, returned fire, then collapsed. He was taken to the nearby home of J.J. Vavra, but by the time his wife and three children arrived, it was too late. Rye’s last words: “My poor wife, my poor children.”
And then, Plano promptly forgot about Deputy City Marshal Green Wesley Rye.
For decades, Plano Police officers believed that no one in their ranks had died in the line of duty. There was no memorial plaque for a fallen officer in Plano Police headquarters, no Plano officer’s name inscribed on the Texas Peace Officers Memorial in Austin or in the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
Then a short blurb about Rye in a Plano history book caught the eye of Detective Luke Grant. A history and genealogy buff, Grant decided to do a little detective work. He visited libraries in Plano, McKinney and Dallas, poring through old newspapers. To his surprise, one article described Officer Rye, 52, as a sworn officer with a badge, a gun and full arrest powers.
That was an important discovery.
“Because most accounts referred to Rye as a night watchman, everyone had assumed he was a security guard,” said Grant. But if he was a sworn officer, that would make Rye a “brother in blue”—an officer killed in the line of duty, whose memory merits honor from fellow officers in Plano and beyond.
Grant soon learned why Officer Rye’s death was so quickly forgotten. First, Rye was one of just two lawmen in Plano, then a small town. The other resigned within a year after the shooting. Also, Rye’s widow and children left Plano immediately after his death, burying him in San Saba, Texas, where they remained.
But Grant needed more proof to add Officer Rye’s name to memorials for fallen officers. He tracked down Rye’s granddaughter Molly Lane, in Austin. She told Grant she had inherited her grandfather’s tin badge. Grant asked her to read the inscription on the badge.
“Police, Plano, Texas,” Molly said. That was the missing piece of evidence proving Rye was a lawman.
With her voice breaking, Molly shared how her grandfather’s death had traumatized the family. Her mother, who was ten when her father was killed, relived that fateful morning from time to time until her death at age 91 in 2000.
Grant and Police Chief Greg Rushin traveled to Austin to visit the family. Molly donated the badge to Plano Police, and another family member donated Rye’s pistol.
When he started his research, Grant initially began looking through newspapers in 1921, because he’d simply written down the wrong year. He calls that mistake a “God moment”—a bit of divine intervention that helped him uncover more overlooked information.
Newspaper articles in March 1921 said Dallas’s chief of detectives and the Collin County sheriff had traveled to Durant, Oklahoma, to question a prisoner named Alfred Gonia.
Now Grant was presented with a tantalizing possibility. Could he solve the cold case of who murdered Green Wesley Rye?
Prison records and stories in the Durant newspaper said that Gonia, a career criminal, had confessed to robbing the bank, along with three other men and a woman, but claimed he was just the lookout. However, during a break from questioning, Gonia attempted to kill himself, and refused to discuss the incident further. Gonia was released from prison in 1934. And then the trail goes cold.
Although we’ll likely never know for certain who pulled the trigger, Grant says, “I believe in my heart that Gonia was the shooter.”
In 2003, the Dallas Morning News ran story about Grant’s detective work, with a plea for anyone with information to call.
To Grant’s surprise, someone did call: an elderly woman named Anna May Shaw, 88.
“I guess you didn’t figure you’d hear from an eyewitness,” she said.
Anna May was the daughter of J.J. Vavra, the baker; she was just four when Rye was killed and saw Rye’s body carried into the bedroom in her parent’s house.
“I can still remember that scene as if it happened yesterday,” she told Grant.
In the Line of Duty
Rye remained the only Plano officer lost in the line of duty until 2007, when Traffic Officer Dayle Weston (Wes) Hardy was killed in a traffic accident. Now, every year, Plano Police hold a ceremony honoring the two fallen officers: Hardy, and Deputy City Marshal Green Wesley Rye—one of recent memory, and the other almost one hundred years ago, whose story was almost lost.
Today, Green Wesley Rye is far from forgotten. A plaque commemorates him near the A.R. Schell Building on 15th Street—formerly the Plano National Bank. Every February 28, a dispatcher announces “End of Watch;” officers pause in silence to remember Rye. Each class of new Plano Police Department recruits completes the “Green Wesley Rye Memorial Run,” a two-mile trek past the spot. And if you visit the Plano Police department’s headquarters, you’ll see a portrait on the wall honoring Rye—the first Plano law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty.
This story is excerpted from “Haunted Plano, Texas” (2018, The History Press) written by Plano resident Mary Jacobs and now available at Amazon.com. All proceeds from sale of the book benefit the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation.Buy Haunted Plano on Amazon >