Nov. 26-HIGH POINT - When Southern Railway officer Lt. Bill Butler spotted three young men walking toward him at the High Point railyard just after midnight, he didn't know what they were up to.
Considering the late hour, though - and considering the recent string of boxcar robberies that had taken place at the railyard - Butler suspected they were up to no good.
Sadly for the veteran officer, he couldn't have been more right.
The year was 1932, and the railyard on the Thomasville Road had been the site of several boxcar robberies that summer. Butler, a former police detective who had become a special officer for Southern Railway, had been called in to investigate.
He had nabbed a number of suspects, but the robberies continued.
In the wee morning hours of Aug. 19, Butler had staked his position alongside the old Kool Pool, a nearby public swimming pool that afforded him a good view of the tracks and the railyard. When he spotted three young men walking toward him, he recognized one of them as Paul Edwards, whom he had recently arrested in connection with the robberies.
"Kinda late for you boys to be out here, isn't it?" the officer asked, directing the question to Edwards.
Before Edwards could even answer, though, his two companions each pulled a gun and aimed at Butler.
"Stick 'em up!" one of them growled.
Butler instinctively reached for his own weapon, prompting one of the gunmen to pull the trigger, firing a bullet into the officer's chest. He then fired three more shots, one of which knocked Butler's gun from his hand and another of which pierced his right thigh.
As the shots rang out, Butler's partner came running from more than a hundred yards away, but the suspects were gone by the time he reached the scene. Butler, who lay bleeding on a crosstie in danger of dying, was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery. Nearly a dozen High Point police officers donated blood for Butler, and while he wasn't out of the woods just yet, it appeared the blood transfusion would save his life.
Meanwhile, an exhaustive manhunt for the three suspects ensued. Two of them - Paul Edwards and Victor Fowler, both 19 - were nabbed pretty quickly, but the alleged shooter, 20-year-old Roy Freeman, was nowhere to be found. For nearly two weeks, he remained at large, a fugitive thought to be on the lam somewhere between High Point and Chester, South Carolina.
At one point, Freeman's doppelganger - apparently a dead ringer for the alleged gunman - was picked up by police in Winston-Salem, but he was released when he was able to prove his true identity.
Finally, on Sept. 1, an officer nabbed the young desperado in a sting at Shoaf's filling station, on the corner of Ward and Prospect streets. Police had gotten a tip that stolen cigarettes - supposedly snatched from a boxcar near where Butler had been shot - were going to be offered for sale at Shoaf's, so an officer was dispatched to the scene.
Sure enough, the officer hadn't been there long when Freeman showed up ... driving a stolen car. He was arrested and charged not only with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, but also with larceny of an automobile.
Seven weeks later, a dramatic scene unfolded in a Greensboro courtroom as Butler, walking on crutches, faced his assailant for the first time. After the officer testified about the night of the shooting, Freeman took the stand and calmly admitted to firing four shots at Butler. He also confessed to stealing the car he was driving the night he was arrested.
The judge sentenced Freeman to 10 years in the state penitentiary.
Following the trial, Butler had one final order of business to take care of - thanking the members of the High Point Police Department, not only for capturing the man who shot him, but for donating blood when he was going into surgery.
"The finest bunch of fellows in the world is what I think of them," he said during a visit to the police department a few days after the trial. "And it goes for every one of them."