Retired Wis. officer's new book tells tales of LEO legends, unsung heroes
Law enforcement veteran Dan Marcou first started the story to his new book on PoliceOne
By Randy Erickson
HOLMEN, Wis. — After Dan Marcou retired from the La Crosse Police Department in 2006, he could have retreated to his home in Holmen and taken up relaxing, leisurely pursuits, like woodworking or fishing. Instead, he got seriously into writing, and he’s just released a book that could put him on the national map.
“Writers have got to write,” said Marcou, a decorated veteran of law enforcement who retired as a lieutenant after 33 years of service. “I didn’t find out until after I didn’t have any more police reports to write that I had to write something.”
Marcou has been fairly prolific in his writing. He’s written four novels immersed in the world of law enforcement, including a trilogy set in a community that greatly resembles La Crosse. He’s also written two history books for the La Crosse Police Department and is a regular columnist for PoliceOne.com, for which he has written more than 300 pieces.
His new book, “Law Dogs: Great Cops in American History,” actually got its start with a story for PoliceOne.com about Frank Hamer, a legendary Texas Ranger who was credited with bringing Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree to an abrupt and bloody end on a rural Louisiana road. The story generated a tremendous number of “hits” for the website, and they asked him to write more about historical figures in law enforcement.
As the number of online articles grew, he started thinking he might have a book. He had always been interested in lawmen through the ages, and he started writing chapters, expanded versions of the profiles he was writing for the website. It struck Marcou that people have always had derogatory terms for police officers. In his time as an officer, the main one was “pigs,” but he found in his research that in the old west, officers were called “law dogs.”
“When you have a title like that, you just have to do a book,” Marcou said.
His publisher, Thunder Bay Press, apparently thought so, too. When he was about 16,000 words into the “Law Dogs” book, he pitched the book to his publisher, and received a prompt and unequivocal response. “They gave me a deadline and sent me a contract,” Marcou said.
The nearly 300-page book has 30 chapters profiling people Marcou considers the most remarkable in the annals of American law enforcement, starting with well-known Old West legends like Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp and his brothers and progressing through the officers who battled Depression-era criminal legends (such as John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd) up to modern-day police heroes. The thing that ties them all together is they were exemplary in some way, whether for bravery, cunning, ethics, investigative techniques, determination or marksmanship.
Marcou didn’t just settle for writing about law enforcement legends. He dug deep to find largely unsung heroes, too. “There’s no end to what you can write if you’re writing about the history of law enforcement. A lot of these stories have never been told on a national level,” he said.
One chapter centers on a remarkable instance of marksmanship that happened after a La Crosse jailbreak on July 20, 1935. Two men broke out of the county jail and stole a taxi sitting unattended outside. It was their bad luck to have the taxi’s speed restricted to 35 mph by a “governor” and to have a witness to their escape who gave police a description of the getaway vehicle.
The police quickly caught up to the taxi, with officer Clarence Koblitz clinging to the outside of the squad car, standing on the running board and armed with a lever-action rifle. His first shot hit the driver in the shoulder, with the intention of serving as a warning shot, Koblitz explained afterward. When the driver kept going, Koblitz took him out with a fatal shot, but the chase wasn’t over yet.
The other escapee, who had been shooting at the pursuing police while the other man drove, took the wheel of the taxi and continued his flight toward the bridge over the Mississippi River toward presumed safety in Minnesota. As he drove, he continued to fire at Koblitz and the pursuing squad car. Again, Koblitz hit the driver in the shoulder as a warning before ending the chase with a fatal shot.
In researching the book, Marcou came across one La Crosse connection he didn’t expect. He discovered that Thomas Vought, who shot Cole Younger as a member of the posse pursuing the James-Younger Gang after the disastrous 1876 bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, is buried in La Crosse’s Oak Grove Cemetery. Marcou started looking into Vought because one historical source said Vought had been a corporal in the Civil War while another said he was a colonel.
Vought lived out his days on La Crosse’s North Side on Loomis Street, Marcou learned through his research. Neighborhood kids used to gather on Vought’s porch, Marcou said, because the former corporal never ran out of stories or candy.
“I really put a lot of work into this book,” Marcou said. “Each one of these stories is meticulously researched.”
Still, he added, “I call it an imperfect telling of history because you can’t tell history perfectly.”
While people might pick up the book because the familiar faces of Hickok and Wyatt Earp grace its cover, Marcou takes delight in offering the stories of more obscure figures, like Bass Reeves and Grant Johnson, both former slaves who served as deputy U.S. marshals. Some say the Lone Ranger character was based on Reeves.
Marcou also tells the story of Henry “Heck” Thomas, a deputy U.S. marshal whose served as the basis for John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn character, but for every Old West character Marcou writes about, there also are chapters on modern-day exemplary officers like Marcus Young, Brian Murphy, Sam Lenda, Justin Garner, John Dodson, Brian Terry and Katie Conway.
“It’s an interesting read, but not because I’m a great writer. These are great stories,” Marcou said. “I think this book is going to catch on. It’s got a wide appeal. I think this book is going to be my legacy as a writer.
Reprinted with permission from The Courier Life News.