Officially add another fallen officer to the memorial honoring those killed in the line of duty.
will be engraving the name of Chief Deputy B.C. Wilcox on the granite memorial in
Wilcox's death came on July 4, 1919, when being a law-enforcement officer carried far less prestige than today, and when his death meant only that a family was destined to struggle for survival.
The story of how Wilcox was shot as he tried to arrest a suspect wanted in the attempted rape of his sister-in-law was detailed in a recent column. Court records showed that the chief deputy took a single bullet to the heart and cried out, "Oh, Sheriff, he has got me."
He died within a minute in the side yard of a south Lake homestead, amid a small grove of peach, grapefruit, pear and lime trees. The suspect, Luther Wilson, fled into a swamp but later was captured, tried and convicted of second-degree murder.
Wilcox, who was in his late 50s at the time, left a young wife of 28 and four children, along with his wife's brother and sister, ages 22 and 16. The chief deputy was buried in the Sorrento Cemetery, not far from his wife, Mollie, who remarried a man named Knight and was quickly left a widow a second time.
Wilcox's tombstone is of the old, hand-carved variety and is fading. Sheriff Gary Borders said this week that he'll be raising money to place a new gravestone at the site, commemorating Wilcox's death. Let's hope the original one stays, too. It's a reminder of the sacrifice that not only the officer, but his whole family, made in the interest of keeping peace in what was a rural and rather rough community.
A variety of Census and other records outlined how the family split apart after Wilcox died, but now relatives have stepped forward to fill in the blanks of the pioneer family's story.
After Wilcox's death, his wife rented out three rooms in the upstairs part of the family's house in Sorrento. When that didn't cover the bills, she opened a business to make ends meet.
"It was Mollie Knight's Drugstore when it started out," said Earl Godwin, 83, of Plant City, who is one of Mollie's grandchildren and is a step-grandson to B.C. "Then it turned into a rural juke joint that sold beer, wine, bread and a few staples. I remember helping bottle home brew in the kitchen.
"When I was a kid, it would have been called a speakeasy."
Godwin said his grandmother made him sit down once a week and read aloud to her from a newspaper called Grit that arrived by train in Sorrento.
"She wanted to make sure that I learned to read and write."
Mollie's place was one property east of the current intersection of State Road 46 and County Road 437 from the south. It was just a couple of doors from what was the R.G. Battle Lumber Co., where her youngest son, Osceola, worked.
Osceola was only 3 when his father was fatally shot. He stayed with Mollie until he married and raised a family of his own in Sanford. His son Joseph — B.C.'s grandson — is now 72 and living in
Joseph Wilcox said in an interview from
that he knew only that his grandfather had been killed trying to capture a suspect. Families didn't talk about such things much in those days, he said.
He also did not know much about his own father — Osceola was a state beverage inspector who was shot to death when Joseph was only 16.
"We were told he committed suicide, but my brother looked into it and found a different story. Somebody actually shot him but made it look like suicide," he said. "I think my dad was in the criminal world. My brother just told me to keep out of it."
Coincidentally, another of Mollie and B.C.'s sons, Robert, became a Sanford police officer. He, too, was killed in the line of duty, Godwin said.
Robert was on a motorcycle chasing a suspect when he wrecked and broke his leg. Later, he developed blood clots that caused his death, and doctors attributed the clots to injuries from the crash.
A few of B.C. Wilcox's descendants still live in the
area, so one of them could be the mystery person who left white flowers on Wilcox's grave. Sheriff's officials are hoping descendants will come forward before next year's annual ceremony marking the deaths of law-enforcement officers.