For the Davises and Poseys of Avondale, the world changed on that fateful night of Nov. 15, 1972, when their beloved brother and father were murdered beside the police station in Kennett Square.
Borough police officers and firemen Richard Posey and Bill Davis were getting out of their police car early in the morning hours when a gunman, Ancell Hamm of East Marlborugh Township, shot and killed them both.
For Tom Davis, Bill’s younger brother, life changed for him and his family. To make matters worse, he said, when other family members die, it always seems to be around that same time of year.
“When we talk to each other, it’s still about that November. From that day on, November has never been the same for any of us,” he said.
Recently, he said he has become aware that many in the southern Chester County area aren’t aware of the event or are too young to have experienced the shock in the community -- and the region -- the following day.
His one hope now is that people don’t forget Bill and Richard or the murder that changed the lives of two families forever.
As Tom Davis tells it, he was cleaning up at Hugo’s restaurant where he worked an hour or so after closing on Nov. 15. When he got home at about 2:30 a.m., all the lights were on in the house.
He went inside and his parents and brothers and sisters were totally “broken down.”
“They could hardly tell me what happened,” he said.
“Nobody expects something like that to happen. We are still asking why. There still hasn’t been a good solid reason for it,” he added.
Tom Davis said he was amazed that the police were able to put together an investigation and arrest a suspect in such a short time -- two weeks, particularly since there did not seem to be a connection between Hamm and the victims. “None of us had even heard his name before,“ he said.
Former Kennett Square and current Kennett Township Police Chief Albert McCarthy said every time he goes to a funeral for a police office, the memory of the deaths of Davis and Posey come back to him and cause him pain.
He was there that night -- one of the first responders on the scene when the crime was discovered.
At that time he was the chief of Kennett’s ambulance crew and his account of the event is grim.
He said the county police dispatchers had recently recommended check-ins for officers at quarter after each hour at night. When they did the 2:15 a.m. check, there was no answer from Posey or Davis.
The county couldn’t immediately contact any other police in the area, so they called McCarthy, who was on call but at home.
McCarthy told them he would check the Kennett Café on State Street, a place the officers often stopped after their shifts. He did not find the two men there.
He headed back to the police station, and there he found the state police at the scene and the Kennett Square police car the two had been driving.
“The bodies were on the ground and they told me, ‘Don’t touch them.’ Being an ambulance attendant, I had to see if they were alive, and I had a stethoscope. It was cold and damp outside and steam was coming off their bodies. I thought I got a heartbeat in one of them, and we took them to Chester County Hospital.
“Posey was declared dead right away. They worked on Davis for about a half hour and then declared him dead,” McCarthy said.
In the days that followed, McCarthy had not yet been formally hired by the Kennett Square Police, but he was placed on duty at the desk to help the investigators who came in from afar to familiarize themselves with the area.
“There was an amazing response from law enforcement. They even had two guys from New York City. There were so many of them that some were sleeping on the floor of the borough meeting room. “Investigator Chalie Zagorski went out for food, even going to Delaware in the middle of the night to get food for them from all-night markets,” McCarthy said.
Then there was a massive search for the weapon.
“They had 200 police line up and search every inch of land between the crime scene and Hamm’s house (on Mill Road). They finally found the gun in a car that was in the weeds just off the bypass,” he said.
Looking back, McCarthy said he was a good friends with both men because they were all firemen and had worked many incidents together.
“I was on the ambulance crew, but had just that day applied to be a member of the Kennett Square police at (Posey’s) urging. He kept telling me, ‘You need to be here.’”
In fact, Posey waited around until after McCarthy had finished his job interview to find out how it went. “In less than five hours, he was dead,” McCarthy said.
For Russ Kilmer, the shooting meant the loss of two good friends in the Avondale Fire Company. Kilmer, who is the current president of the company and was recently honored for 50 years on the job, was a fellow firefighter with Davis and Posey. At the time, Posey was assistant chief and Davis as a member.
To this day in his family scrapbook, Kilmer still has pictures of himself and the pair engaged in fire company activities around Avondale.
In one picture, Kilmer is dressed as Sparky the fire safety dog, and Posey and Davis are beside him during an education session with a school group.
Kilmer, like many residents of the area, remembers exactly where he was when he found out about the shootings.
He was at work at DuPont at the Experimental Station in Wilmington. “Suddenly, people were talking about the shooting. I called the fire house and they confirmed it. I never heard why they were killed,” he said.
Kilmer also remembers the funeral for the two that stretched the length of Kennett Square and attracted first responders from miles away.
Russ Kilmer’s wife, Kathy, said she and her husband both went to Avon Grove High School with the Davises and knew them well.
“Nobody could figure out why it happened, but I heard they were involved in the investigation of some robberies,” she said.
Kathy Kilmer added that she used to do the hair of Davis’s mother, Mae Davis, in the beauty salon.
“When December rolled around and the Christmas music was playing, Mae would cry when they played “”I’ll be Home for Christmas,’ so we turned off the music,” she said.
Those who spoke about Posey and Davis remembered them fondly.
Russ Kilmer said, “Posey was a family-oriented man. Bill grew up in a police family. His father, Ernie, was police chief. Everyone know him and the family.”
McCarthy said, “I knew both of them because they were firemen. Bill was very funny. I knew Bill because I was also friends with his brother (longtime southern Chester County police office and chief) Gerry Davis.
“Both men were firemen in Avondale, fulltime officers for Kennett Square police and part time officers for New Garden.
“Posey was a community policeman before they coined the phrase. He believed in being involved with the community. He was also a good investigator,”