Howard Wilpitz

Background

On the evening of February 21, 1942, 32-year-old Howard Wilpitz was joyously celebrating the last Saturday that he would share with his family and friends prior to reporting for duty with the Army. Constable Fred “Fritz” Abel charged Wilpitz with disturbing the peace and ordered him to leave town immediately. Wilpitz, however, refused to leave Brookshire. Constable Abel, joined by night watchmen Hope Cooper, then beat Wilpitz with a pistol. When Wilpitz ran away Constable Abel shot him in the leg. Wilpitz returned gunfire and shot the constable’s pistol from his hand.

Wilpitz ran two blocks away and took refuge in the outside toilet of the Negro Odd Fellow’s Hall. Constable Abel, Night Watchman Cooper, and a posse of 25-30 men armed with high-powered rifles quickly assembled to capture and kill Wilpitz. Wilpitz was located shortly thereafter. The mob surrounded Wilpitz and began shooting him even after his body fell lifeless onto the ground.

With a bullet hole through his head and stomach, Wilpitz fell forward outside of the toilet. An unidentified woman described his Wilpitz’ body as riddled with bullet holes, and his stomach was tied in order to prevent wasting on the ground where he fell, mortally wounded. A white undertaker, A. H. Muske, took his body and held it for a week until a secret burial took place. Colored citizens were not allowed to view the body during that week. Members of the mob bundled Wilpitz’ body in a sack containing lime and acid, then buried him in the outskirts of Brookshire without any formal burial rights.

Members of the mob, who walked from house to house threatening colored residents that if they talked about the incident they would face a similar fate, suppressed the details of this tragic event for three weeks. Ms. Olivia Jacobs, Wilpitz’ common law wife, was deeply grieved by the incident, but she refused to comment to media sources because of fear and intimidation.

The NAACP investigated the case, but Thurgood Marshall concluded that the facts suggested an “exchange of gunfire” rather than a “posse killing,” and the Association took no action.

Legal Status

The Wilpitz murder was presented to a grand jury. However, no indictments were returned.