Lester Parmenter died last week, closing the book on an event that held the attention of Jacksonville residents for a week in October 1961.
Parmenter was a retired policeman. In 1961 he was a Duval County deputy sheriff, patrolling on the westside.
He came upon two men parked in a car and decided to check them out. When he did, one pulled a gun, disarmed Parmenter and tied him to a tree.
After they left, he managed to get his key and free himself. He got in his car, radioed for assistance, and gave chase. The two abandoned the car in the area of Yellow Water Road.
As a police reporter, I had rushed to the scene and was interviewing Parmenter when his boss, County Patrol Chief Bill Johnston, barked at us to knock it off so they could resume the chase.
This led to a search of the area, using dogs. One of those participating was Florida Highway Patrolman Eddie Gasque, a former minor league baseball player who once roomed with Roger Maris.
When dogs pointed to a clump of palmetto, Gasque aimed his shotgun and ordered the two to come out.
One of them, a petty criminal named Dewitt Addison, shot Gasque dead with a rifle.
This sparked a huge manhunt lasting 3-4 days. I was there most of the time.
At one point, we heard a shot fired. Everyone, including me, hit the deck.
It turned out that a prison trustee, leading a dog, had been mistaken for one of the killers by a deputy who had fired, hitting the trustee in the chest. I could see that it was potentially fatal and it took some time for an ambulance to arrive. But the man lived and the deputy who shot him visited the prisoner in the hospital and apologized.
Somehow Addison and his accomplice slipped out of the trap and fled. Addison was arrested a short time later in Georgia and sent to prison.
Addison was released eventually but arrested again and died in 2012 in prison, at the age of 84. His partner also died in prison.
Gasque’s family was marked for tragedy. His mother had been killed in a traffic accident on the way to the hospital to see Gasque’s first child, who had just been born. In 2002, his son – who, his widow said never got over his father’s death – took his own life.
Parmenter later became an outstanding detective with the consolidated sheriff’s office. Now that he has died, most of the participants in that wild series of events are gone but it will remain a tragic and memorable part of the city’s history.