Monday, October 10, 2011

City to honor police officer slain decades ago

The new Fred Earl Babb, Jr., Police/Fire Station

At the behest of Mayor Van Johnson, the Apalachicola city commission unanimously moved at their regular scheduled October 4, meeting to name the new police/fire station located on the corner of U.S. 98 & 10th Street after slain Apalachicola Police Officer Fred Earl Babb, Jr.

Almost 44-years ago, on December 1, 1967, Babb’s was fatally shot during a gun battle with David Edward Barlow, 29, at the time after Barlow had escaped custody from the Franklin County Jail located behind the present day courthouse in Apalachicola.

Barlow had just been released from an Arcadia work camp where he later returned and helped prisoner Francis C. Jacobs, 22, at the time escape. The pair rode stolen cars all the way to Tallahassee where they robbed a woman of $100 and fled in her car.

When they ran out of gas, a State Conservation Officer gave them a ride. The officer observed a pistol in Barlow’s pocket and drove the two men to the county jail. Upon their arrival, Barlow fled the jail in a deputy’s car taken at gunpoint while his partner Jacobs was being placed into custody.

It was at that time that a high-speed automobile chase ensued through the streets of Apalachicola with Babb’s in hot pursuit of Barlow. The chase led to the then Jr. Food Store on the western edge of town where Barlow and Babb’s exchanged a barrage of gunfire as the officer attempted to arrest the fugitive. In the exchange, Barlow hit Babb’s in the head, hand, and abdomen with a .357 Magnum, leaving the mortally wounded officer on the ground.

Barlow then roared out of town in Babb's patrol car, going west to the City of Port St. Joe after breaking through a roadblock in a hail of bullets. While in Port St. Joe with officers closing in, Barlow wrecked his car and sought refuge underneath a nearby house. After realizing his chances of ultimate escape had dwindled, he threw out his pistol and surrendered himself without further incident to the waiting officers.

Barlow was arrested and returned to Apalachicola where he was later whisked out of town for his own safety. At trial, he was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Officer Babb’s and accordingly sentenced to death by electrocution as provided by statute.

In 1970, being represented by local attorney Alfred O. Shuler, Barlow asked the Florida Supreme Court to vacate his death sentence and reduce it to life imprisonment. His appeal was denied.

Babb’s was 37-years-old at the time of his death and is believed to be the only officer in the history of Apalachicola to be killed in the line of duty.