The sniper aimed for a uniform.
And on that October night in 1971 outside the Electric Circus Club, his bullet found Edward “Eddy” Belcher.
Belcher was a 24-year-old patrol officer with three years on the force.
He’d been married just over two years when he was killed.
After his death, the department would present his family with a framed set of keepsakes: The badge — No. 794 — that Belcher wore that night. And the Officer’s Cross and Officer’s Medal of Honor awarded to Belcher posthumously.
For years, the set of medals hung in the entryway of the home of Belcher’s mother, Irmgard Belcher. But a year after their mother’s 2008 death, Belcher’s sisters, Becky Schraeder and Patricia Girolamo, decided to give the display to Fort Worth police.
“To honor our brother, we thought it would be nice if the police department had it,” Schraeder said.
But after years on display in former Chief Jeff Halstead’s office at the former police headquarters in downtown Fort Worth, the framed set was recently discovered to be missing.
“I thought this badge was so important with the Medal of Honor and Police Cross that it should be displayed prominently in the chief’s office,” said Kevin Foster, a police historian and now retired Fort Worth police sergeant. “Now, I realize that was a mistake.”
On Friday, Foster filed a theft report with the department.
“It’s somewhat infuriating that someone would steal an item that was intended to honor that officer so they could keep it or display it somewhere else,” Foster said. “You can’t honor someone by stealing their memory.”
Killed in the line of duty
Belcher was among dozens of officers who responded to a disturbance that night at the club, located in a shopping strip at South Riverside Drive and East Berry Street, when he was shot in the head.
Two other people, including another officer, were wounded.
Belcher was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Several hundred mourners — many of them officers — would later attend his funeral.
David Lee Nelson, 18, was arrested in the case but insisted he was innocent. He was found guilty in 1973 by a jury and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled after serving 10 years.
Schraeder, in college at the University of Texas in Austin when Belcher was killed, said she’d last seen her brother five months earlier at her wedding. He’d served as an attendant.
Though almost 47 years have now passed, she still fights back tears talking about her big brother, whom the family called “Hase” — a German term of endearment meaning bunny.
“When someone passes away, you feel like you wish you could have said something more or let them know what they meant to you,” she said. “You take your siblings for granted when they’re there.”
She remembers his big heart, even as a teenager. The time he caught her reading a fashion magazine on the floor of her bedroom and remarked, “You’re just as pretty as those girls in those magazines.”
“I’ll never forget that,” she said. “Such a kindhearted person and for something so senseless (to happen to him), it doesn’t make sense.”
She said she’d never worried about him becoming a police officer.
“Back then, things didn’t happen like they do in today’s world with so much violence going on,” she said.
“I just want it back”
When the family decided to donate the framed set of medals, Foster, the police historian and now-retired sergeant, accepted the gift on behalf of the department.
In turn, he loaned it to the department to put on display in then Chief Halstead’s office.
Foster said he recently decided to check on the keepsakes.
He started with Halstead, who told him he’d left the framed set still on display in a shelf in the chief’s office in the former police headquarters at 350 W. Belknap St. downtown when he left in January 2015.
Police administrators have since relocated to the Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex on West Felix Street in south Fort Worth.
“Week before last, I just decided to call down there and make sure it was still on display,” Foster said. “Most of them didn’t even know what I was talking about until I sent them a picture. They said, ‘Oh yeah, we haven’t seen that in awhile.’”
Foster said storage areas and boxes have since been searched by department staff and the Fort Worth Police Historical Association. He said even former interim Chief Rhonda Robertson checked through her belongings but to no avail.
“Basically it’s my understanding they have checked everywhere that it should have been,” Foster said. “If it’s not where it should have been, that means someone’s taken it. If they didn’t, they just flat out lost it.”
Sgt. Chris Britt, a police spokesman, said the search is continuing.
“I think more than likely it got lost in the shuffle or misplaced, but at this time they’re still looking,” Britt said. “There’s a lot of stuff to look through.”
On the police report, Foster estimated the value of the set at $5,000 — a price he believes a collector would likely pay. But in reality, he says, the irreplaceable medals are priceless.
“It’s something that should be displayed with honor and kept for future generations of police to see,” Foster said.
Foster said he’s not interested in prosecution, “I just want it back.”
Schraeder said she’s heartbroken.
“It’s just like another senseless act — to take something that’s so meaningful to other people and to us as the family,” she said.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the medals is asked to call Foster at the TCU Police Department at 817-257-8400 or the Fort Worth police’s non-emergency number at 817-392-4222.