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Memorial to honor fallen OSP troopers

SALEM — Sue Tichenor's family moved frequently during her childhood because her father worked for the Oregon State Police. No matter what city they lived in or what school she attended, she could always count on coming home to a house full of uniformed officers.

Her father was Holly Holcomb, the first superintendent to rise from the ranks.

"One thing about my dad and his job is that he loved the men working under him," Tichenor said. "They were like members of our family.

"I loved to be able to sneak in and hear some of the stories, but I was usually ushered out of the room."

Those are the memories of his career that she clings to, not the way it was cut short 40 years ago.

Holcomb, shot and killed Nov. 25, 1975, by a disgruntled former state trooper, is one of 33 Oregon State Police officers lost in the line of duty, more than any other law enforcement agency in the state.

A Fallen Trooper Memorial for the 32 men and one woman will be installed next spring in front of the Public Safety Building, where the state police has its General Headquarters offices. The site was chosen despite the fact that those headquarters will be relocated to South Salem sometime in 2016.

"This is where they took their oath of office," said Art Bobrowitz, a retired state police officer and member of the committee that has helped raise $200,000 for the memorial.

The site is within feet of where arguably the most brazen killing in Oregon State Police history took place.

Holcomb was on his way to work on that morning four decades ago. He had hitched a ride with deputy superintendent and close friend Byron Hazelton, and they had just parked in front of the Public Service Building. That was back when East and West Summer streets were where the walkways of the Capitol Mall are today, and before the underground parking structures were built.

Holcomb and Hazelton were approached by Robert Wampler, who was fired by Oregon State Police in 1958 for insubordination and conduct unbecoming the agency. According to witness accounts published in local newspapers, Holcomb and Wampler shook hands and began talking while Hazelton continued toward the building.

The two men knew each other well. Holcomb, who became superintendent in 1966, helped bring disciplinary charges against Wampler back when he was a lieutenant in Milwaukie. Wampler fought the charges and his dismissal all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court. Their conversation that day, fueled by a 17-year grudge, eventually turned deadly. Wampler shot Holcomb twice in the chest and abdomen with a .38-caliber pistol.

"Holcomb must have said something that set him off, and I don't think we'll ever know," said Roger Rasmussen, a volunteer who has done research on the 33 fallen and teaches a two-hour history lesson to OSP recruiting classes.

Tichenor was living at Fort Hood, Texas, with her family at that time. Her husband, Cal, whose father also served for Oregon State Police, was stationed in the Army there. They had three young daughters.

Her sister called to break the news about the shooting. While Tichenor was packing to come home, she received a second phone call. Her father had died during surgery at Salem Hospital, less than two hours after being shot. One of the bullets had pierced his aorta.

The shooting shocked the community, particularly those who worked in and around the Capitol.

"These things always happen in New York or Chicago," one state employee was quoted as saying. "Not in Salem, on your doorstep."

"How many other people with grudges will take it from here?" asked another employee. "And to think it happened practically under the state police window."

Wampler was arrested within minutes of the shooting. He was charged with murder and pleaded "innocent by reason of mental defect." Family members were not allowed in the courtroom during the three-week trial, Tichenor said. A jury unanimously rejected the insanity defense and convicted Wampler. He was sentenced to life in prison but released in November 1983, after serving less than eight years.

"That has always been hard to know," said Tichenor, who lives in McMinnville. "As the years have gone by, I don't dwell on it as much as when I was younger. I've let that go."

The Fallen Trooper Memorial, with a wall made of Oregon basalt, will be erected near that tree in the grassy area south of the building entrance. The planning committee discussed putting it on the grounds of the future headquarters, but felt it was important that the memorial be accessible and visible to the public.

"We want it to be an education piece about the sacrifices these troopers made for the citizens of Oregon," said state police Sgt. Cari Boyd, president of the memorial committee. "Being in front of the Capitol ... it will not be forgotten."

Oregon State Police Superintendent Holly Holcomb was shot and killed in Nov. 25, 1975, by a disgruntled former trooper. Holcomb is one of the 33 OSP officers killed in the line of duty that will be honored in a memorial display. Statesman-Journal file photo