From Patrolman to Chief in 30 Years – a tribute to Claude Vance

1963, Tennessee FOP Magazine

By R.A. Mallory

Murfreesboro and the Rutherford County area will long remember their beloved Chief of Police, Claude Vance, not only as a police officer but as a devoted friend. ‘Mr. Claude’, as he was affectionately known, pass on December 17, 1961. He left behind a lot of fond memories and a colorful career as an officer and Chief.

‘Mr. Claude’ came to Rutherford County in Murfreesboro as an employee of the Standard Oil Company. Soon afterward he went to work as a water meter reader and bill collector for the water department. At that time the average residential water bill was about 90 cents a month (good old days!). Some six months later ‘Mr. Claude’ became a patrolman, on the Murfreesboro Police Department, which, at the time consisted of a force of six men. He became the driver of the new Buick touring car which at that time was the pride of the department.

The Murfreesboro Police Department, now as modern as proven police methods and facilities can make it with radio connections to all points in the state and including some FBI-trained personnel, hasn’t always been so modern as it is now. At the time ‘Mr. Claude’ began his police career, burglar alarms, telephones and present-day methods were practically non-existent. When you needed a policeman you sounded an old Klaxon auto horn fastened to a tree i the Court House yard. At night, if the man on night duty was to be summoned to the station, a light was turned on in the Court House belfry. Today of course, a patrol car or any member of the department can be summoned in a matter of seconds through the facilities through the facilities of a modern radio network.

Back in the days when Patrolman Vance was learning the ropes, every policeman had to meet the problems of the day in crime prevention and detection with whatever was at hand. ‘Mr. Vance’ and George Robinson usually worked together and the former was the office driver of the old Buick patrol car for close to eleven years. There are a few still around Murfreesboro who can remember Chief McNabb, Joe Baxter, George Robinson, Claude Vance and a few others who used to give the liquor runners of those days a hard time. That was true of the big jobs of those days, thanks to prohibition. The rum runners often had to a surprise up their exhaust pipe for the police car which they would use to try and save their precious ‘white gold’ or moonshine. Whenever a police car gave them chase, the rum runners would set off a smoke bomb through the exhaust of their car that clouded the escape path and made it impossible for the police car to out-run the runner. ‘Mr. Claude’ was fond of telling about the one time when a rum runner car didn’t quite make it. This time they surprised the man and caught him with a load of 135 gallons of ‘white mule’. To this very day that was the largest single car haul of the stuff ever made by the department.

Back in those days, as some will remember, Murfreesboro had the nickname ‘Little Chicago’, and for very good reason, too. The sale of illegal liquor and narcotics was a flourishing underworld business in the Murfreesboro area and even some of the ‘big’boys’ in crime showed up ever now and then. You can find the name of John Dillinger, a one time Public Enemy Number One, recorded in the books a tthe Court House. Dillinger, on his rise to ‘fame’, stopped by in the 1930’s to buy license tags for his car. in those days the tags were not hard to get.

Chief Vance, who succeeded Chief N.W. (Wash) Powers, often reminisced about some of the close calls that he had during his 30 years with the department, but the one that he talked about most was the time a burglar shot him point blank – and missed. ‘Mr. Claude’ had answered a call to Bond’s Grocery Store, which at the time was where Broad and South Maney now intersect. He surprised the burglar in the act of rifling through the cash register and called on him to put up his hands. The man, obviously surprised, came toward ‘Mr. Claude’ as though he was going to obey the command, but suddently he dropped to the floor and fired twice at pint blank range. ‘Mr. Claude’ was heard to remark often, “I could feel the breeze as those bullets just misse dmy cap.”

Another incident ‘Mr. Claude’ often talked about was the big robbery at the Court House, of all places. The safe in the Trustee’s Office was tapped and the burglars got away with about $700.

However, Murfreesboro can be thankful that there has never been a bank holdup in the modern and flourishing little community in the heart of Tennessee.

In the days when Chief Vance was beginning his career the town had a population of about 5,000 and there were only six officers. Today (ed. note 1963) with a population of more than 22,000 there is a force of 28 regular policemen, in addition to a ‘Mothers Patrol’ who work under Chief Bobby Lynch.

Shortly before his death, ‘Mr. Claude’ was to comment: “I have enjoyed all of the 30 years and wish I had 30 more to go.” Then he added: “I can;t get over the folks who ask a 69-year-old man if I feel as good as I ever did. My answer, naturally is no, but it has been an interesting experience which I would not trade for anything in the world.”

‘Mr. Claude’ will long be remembered with great affection by the residents and members of the present police force of the modern little city of Murfreesboro.

Claude Vance was born June 1, 1892 and died December 16, 1961, a the age of 69. He served as Chief since 1958 and was succeeded by Bobby Lynch ,present Chief. In 196, he was married to the former Flora Hoover in Jackson County (Tennessee). ‘Mr. Claude’ was survived by three sons, two daughters and ten grandchildren. The sons are Claude, Jr. of Garden Grove, California, Joe of Huntsville, Alabama, and Ralph of Murfreesboro. The daughters are Mrs. Jean Alsup and Mrs. Ruth Wood, both of Murfreesboro.

He was a native of Cannon County and came to Murfreesboro in 1919. ‘Mr. Claude’ was a member of the Church of Christ.

He will long be remembered as a devoted police officer, an understanding father and a pillar of his community.

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