As families gathered to celebrate Christmas in the 1970s, Cecil County police officers continued their never-ending job, patrolling the roads and answering calls while others shared gifts, good company, and delicious meals. Although the demands placed on law enforcement can be high on holidays with the officers juggling calls, a glance at the police blotters will reveal that sometimes there is a lighter side of things.
Here are two of those accounts:
Back in the early 1970s, one patrol sergeant, Steve Landbeck, orchestrated his own little holiday tradition for a number of years. As people settled in with their families on Christmas Eve, things generally quieted down for first responders. But an urgent flash would break the silence of the night on the police radio. A Maryland State Trooper out of the North East Barrack was in a high-speed chase.
As the drama unfolded, the pursuit continuing up Route 40, a description was put out for other units rushing into position to back up the North East car. It went something like this. It was a shiny red vehicle moving fast. Moments later came the description of the driver, a heavy set man with a white beard in a red suit. Soon would follow something about hearing sleigh bells and ho-ho,ho. The radio broadcast would play out over several minutes as additional details eked out.
In time Sgt. Landbeck advised to 10-22 (disregard). The fleeing vehicle was only the jolly old fella and his sleigh coming into Cecil for his annual visit on a busy night with lots to do. The reindeer were there and the sleigh was loaded up with gifts for boys and girls around the county the state trooper reassuringly reported.
That became a Christmas Eve tradition for a number of years, as Steve orchestrated his little radio play and once the broadcast kicked off parents would have their children listen to the scanner. After the 10-22 was given out, children across the county knew that Santa was on his way. He was in the county and they had better hurry off to bed so they could wake up early on Christmas morning for gifts from Santa.
In the county seat, another case unfolded, on a Christmas Eve watch decades ago. Elkton Police Officer Marshall Purner was pulling the holiday shift when early on that quiet evening he received a call from dispatch that someone had broken into a vehicle at Cecil Lanes. The bowling alley was having a party for children and while all the merriment distracted everyone a perpetrator forced entry into a vehicle, taking some gifts.
Arriving on the scene, he started the investigation. A witnesses observed a suspicious person, a man in a Santa Claus outfit dashing through the dark parking lot. In some sort of real hurry, he was carrying stuff when he jumped into a vehicle and sped from the scene. Those details were dutifully recorded and with that information pointing to a primary suspect, Marshall was on the trail as he put out a “be on the lookout” broadcast for the getaway car and this red-suited suspect.
With all Cecil County prowl cars on the road Christmas Eve now keeping an eye out for the fleeing vehicle occupied by old St. Nick, they soon found it and the driver. It was a fellow officer, patrolmen Joseph Zurolo, playing Santa for a group of kids at the Bowling Alley. Having finished bringing joy to a group of Cecil County youngsters, the merriment and gift giving taken care of, Santa dashed off to make his holiday rounds. So he made a hasty departure from the party, rushing through the parking lot.
Of course, he had nothing to do with the incident but it made for a unique discussion back at the police station and a number of laughs on a Christmas Eve a long time ago in the early 1970s.