Nearly 80 years after he died in the line of duty, a bust in honor of Sheriff Leland Fry has been unveiled and will remain on display inside the Benton County Courthouse until being place outside on a pedastal later this year.

The bust will become part of a lasting memorial to the slain sheriff that will be set up inside the courthouse.

Benton County Attorney Dave Thompson, who has led the effort to raise funds for the memorial, spoke briefly during a noon ceremony. Rick Poldberg, the artist who spent 100 hours creating the clay sculpture used by the foundry to make the bronze bust, uncovered it as cameras clicked.

Work continues on the monument, which will include a variety of items from Fry’s life and his time as Sheriff.

Fry was just about to face election for his second term in office in November, 1938, when he went to a house where a man who had fled from his office was reportedly hiding. That man, Leak Crowe, had stolen boots and a fishing pole from a vehicle. He was brought to the sheriff’s office at the courthouse for questioning, then fled out a window.

Vinton police Captain Eric Dickinson, summarized what happened next in an article published in Vinton Today in May of 2010.

It was cold on November 4, 1938 when the Benton County Sheriff, Leland A. “Sam” Fry, and two other law enforcement officers went to the home of John McLennan in Garrison in search of an escaped prisoner named Leak C. Crowe.

Area officers including Vinton Police Chief Ted Paxton, Urbana Police Chief Jerry Michael and Benton Co. Sheriff Ron Tippett pose near the bust of Sheriff Fry.

Crowe had been arrested on October 15, 1938 for questioning after he had been suspected of stealing about $50.00 worth of items from a car in Vinton, and later escaped from the Benton County Jail.

Artist Rick Poldberg inspects the Fry bust after unveiling it. He spent 100 hours creating the clay model but was seeing the bronze bust for the very first time.

At approximately 1:30 p.m. that day, Sheriff Fry, acting on a tip, entered the McLennan house unarmed to confront Crowe, who responded by shooting Sheriff Fry in the abdomen with a Colt .45 automatic.

Fry died the next morning, leaving behind his wife, Hazel, and two children. A few days later, county residents honored Fry by electing Hazel to his former position.

Hazel could have served as sheriff, says Benton County Attorney Dave Thompson, who is working with the Fry committee. Instead, she chose to work in the auditor’s office as she raised her sons.

Hazel kept virtually everything she read from that awful era of her life. Her scrapbook contains scores of cards, telegrams, photos and letters from area residents.

Working with Thompson and the Fry family, as well as residents who still remember that 1938 event, the committee is working on a three-part memorial to Sheriff Fry. Along with 7-foot-tall (counting the pedastal, which Brian Parr will create) bust of Fry, they are working as well on an indoor display of photos and other items from Fry’s life and career. The group also hopes to digitally preserve all of the items in the scrapbook for display via CD-ROM or some electronic method that will be available for purchase.

For more information, visit the Sheriff Fry page on Facebook.