In The Spotlight
Interrogating longtime local lawman Tom Williams By Jo-Ann Greene, Staff Writer email@example.com
Already known for its long arm, the law in these parts also has a long memory -- thanks to Tom Williams, 95.
The 25-year veteran of the Lancaster City Bureau of Police retired as captain of detectives in 1972. He immediately went to work for the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, finally retiring from law enforcement in 1987, after two terms as sheriff.
A dedicated newspaper reader, Williams is also on top of the issues that currently concern his successors and society at large, from expanding the power of the state's county sheriff's offices to restricting gun ownership.
On gun control, "I don't see any use of assault weapons for private citizens. I don't see any use of long magazines," he says.
"When I was sheriff, it was pretty tough to get a permit" to carry a concealed weapon. The sheriff's office investigated to confirm that the applicant needed to carry a gun for personal protection, he says.
The Lancaster Township resident can remember a time when the most commonly carried concealed weapons local police had to worry about were large black umbrellas with sharpened tips.
Carrying a gun is "the easiest way to get in trouble," he says.
Personally, "I never wanted to shoot anyone," he adds. And he never did -- in 40 years of police work. He removed his gun on the last day of work and never wore it again, he says.
"I was never a tough guy. I've run into people I put in jail, and they're all real cordial. I never believed in being rough with prisoners."
The consideration he showed them wasn't always appreciated, though.
Williams recalls transporting Bruce Johnston Sr., the late head of the notorious Johnston Gang responsible for numerous burglaries and murders. [Son Bruce Jr. was brought up on drug charges here recently.]
On the way from Chester County back to Lancaster, Williams -- a teetotaler and a nonsmoker who banned smoking among sheriff's deputies while on duty -- "let Johnston have a cigarette to keep him happy, calm him down, instead of having him rattling the cage" in the cruiser.
Well, didn't Johnston go and stub out the cigarette on the back-seat upholstery of what was "practically a new car," Williams recalls with a shake of his head.
Family: Wife of 46 years, Faye; five daughters; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Birthplace: Philadelphia. I was sent to Lancaster when I was 6 to live in a foster home on Pearl Street that had 12 children.
At 16, I was out on the street. I was lucky to be able to live with my older brother by then. He went to Stevens Trade School.
Education: Pearl Street School, West Junior [Reynolds Middle School] and Boys High. I quit, but I got a GED.
Growing up, I wanted to be: I had no goals. I was living from day to day.
Career path: I was a paperboy. I worked in a grocery store. And starting at 19, I worked at Armstrong (Cork Co.).
After I was there 10 years, at the top level inspecting materials, I asked myself, "Am I going to stand here 35 more years and watch these materials go past?"
That's when I took the test to join the city police. I was 29, and the age deadline for new recruits was 30. I liked the work from the beginning.
A famous lawman I'd like to meet: Well, I did meet Joseph Wambaugh when I went to California to pick up a prisoner. The LAPD detective wrote "The Onion Field" [a true crime book about the kidnappings and murder of fellow officers].
My first car: A 1929 Model A Ford roadster. I think I paid $80 for it.
The car I drive now: A Toyota Camry sedan. It's got everything in it but a bathroom.
Pet peeve: I really miss working on cars. [Until his mid-80s, Williams, who has a mechanical bent, spent a lot of time with vehicles at the former Angelini and Groff garage. He had to quit when it became too difficult to use the creeper to go under the cars. He now uses a cane or a Rollator to get around.]
Favorite pastime: Reading. I read a book a day. [Novels by Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy rest beside his easy chair.]
A book I'd recommend: Richard Gehman's "A Murder in Paradise" [about Edward Gibbs' murder of Franklin & Marshall College secretary Marian Baker in 1950].
Favorite TV show: If I had enough books, I wouldn't need TV. One of the shows we watch is "Castle" [a crime drama about a mystery novelist working with an NYPD detective].
Favorite restaurant: Texas Roadhouse, because it has such good steaks.
Favorite sports: I follow the Phillies, football, golf and NASCAR. We used to go down to Clearwater, Fla., for Phillies spring training. I wish I could do that now.n