Gail Cobb

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Gail A. Cobb
Gail A. Cobb MPDC 1.png
Native name Gail Adrienne Cobb
Born (1950-08-17)August 17, 1950
Washington, D.C., U.S.[1]
Died September 20, 1974(1974-09-20) (aged 24)
Washington, D.C., U.S.[1]
Resting place Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland, U.S.[1]
38°51′23″N 76°56′55″W / 38.856275°N 76.948486°W / 38.856275; -76.948486 (Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland)Coordinates: 38°51′23″N 76°56′55″W / 38.856275°N 76.948486°W / 38.856275; -76.948486 (Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland)
Alma mater St. Cecilia's Academy[2]
Relatives Damon Demetrius Cobb (son)[2]
Denise Cobb Jackson (sister)[3][1]
Teresa Cobb (sister)[1]
Donald Cobb (brother)[1]
Clinton Cobb, Jr. (brother)[1]
Clinton Cobb (father)[3]
Gloria Cobb (mother)[3]
Police career
Department Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia
Badge number 321
Allegiance  District of Columbia
Country  United States of America
Years of service October 1973 – September 1974[1]
Rank Officer[4]

Gail Adrienne Cobb (August 17, 1950 – September 20, 1974) was an American police officer from Washington, D.C., who was the first female police officer in the United States shot and killed while patrolling in the line of duty. She was also the first sworn female officer of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) to have been killed in the line of duty.[1][4][2][5]

Early life and education[edit]


Cobb was born in Washington, D.C., on August 17, 1950, the second of five children, and grew up at a row house near the intersection of 14th and D Streets in Northeast, Washington, D.C.[1] Cobb's family moved to Washington, D.C., in the 1930s. Her father was Clinton Cobb, a correctional officer for the District of Columbia who tried to apply to the MPDC in 1953, but was rejected due to being shorter than five feet and eight inches tall. Cobb's mother was Gloria Cobb, a crossing guard at Kingsman Elementary School, who met Cobb's father at Cardoza High School. Cobb's sister, Denise, ultimately went on to become a schoolteacher.[1]

As a child, Cobb attended Catholic schools and was described as an average, but creative and energetic student. She attended Elliot Jr. High School, Eastern High School, and the now-defunct St. Cecilia's Academy.[1] Upon graduating St. Cecila's Academy in 1969, Cobb wanted to become a successful fashion designer. However, she had little means and knowledge on how to go about doing so and ended up becoming a long-distance operator at the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Cobb, a single mother, gave birth to a son, Damon Demetrius Cobb, on February 26, 1970. Her son's father, whom Cobb had met in high school, took no responsibility for his son, and Cobb ended up trying to raise him on her own. Cobb's son is currently serving a life sentence in prison at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, after being found guilty of first-degree murder in a 1992 killing. Cobb's parents stated in 1996 that they believed that her untimely murder influenced her son's current legal predicament at the time.[1][2][3][6]


In October 1973, Cobb applied to become an officer with the MPDC, much to the surprise of her family and friends, after the Washington, D.C., government lowered the height requirements for police recruits to five feet.[1] Cobb herself was five feet tall, and graduated from her 34-member police academy class in April 1974, of which 13 members were female. She was well-liked by her trainers, who noted that she was hard-working. She spent most of her patrol work on foot and signed up for training to get a scooter license and was taking a night class to learn sign language.[2][1]


Murder of Gail Cobb
Location Vanguard Building (parking garage)
20th and L Streets, Northwest
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Coordinates 38°54′14″N 77°2′42″W / 38.90389°N 77.04500°W / 38.90389; -77.04500
Date September 20, 1974 (1974-09-20)
10:30 a.m. (ET)
Target Eastern Liberty Federal Savings & Loan
1170 21st Street, Northwest

Washington, D.C., U.S.
Attack type
Weapon Handgun
Deaths Gail Cobb
Perpetrators John William Bryant (shooter)
John Curtis Dortch (accomplice)
Motive Bank robbery

Late in the morning of Friday, September 20, 1974, around 10:30 am, two men, John Curtis Dortch, a 29-year-old Howard University graduate and former U.S. Army soldier from Silver Spring, Maryland,[1] and John William Bryant, a 24-year-old man from Washington, D.C.,[1] began making their way to the Eastern Liberty Federal Savings and Loan bank at 21st and L Streets NW, disguised as construction workers, and each carrying a loaded sawed-off shotgun and handgun. They intended to rob the bank.[1][2][7]

Two plainclothes police officers were alerted of the robbery in advance, and saw the two men on the street. The officers stopped them and asked them for identification, before the would-be robbers could even get inside the bank. The two men ran off in separate directions. Cobb was still on probationary duty six months out of the academy and was assigned to foot patrol duty downtown, a block away from the bank. Cobb, who was writing a traffic ticket at the time, was told by a citizen that they saw an armed man run into a garage. Cobb followed the suspect and confronted him inside the garage as he was in the process of changing out of his disguise. Cobb ordered the man to place his hands on the wall. As she called for assistance over her radio, the suspect spun around and fired a single gunshot at Cobb at close range. The bullet went through Cobb's wrist, shattering a wristwatch that was given to her by her mother as a birthday present, then through her police radio, where it then penetrated her heart. Cobb died at the scene at 20th Street and L Street, NW, and responding officers arrested the suspect at the scene.[4][2][5][1][7]

Cobb had served with the MPDC for one year and was the first female MPDC officer to be killed in the line of duty, as well as the first African American female law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty in the United States.[1] She is survived by her son, Damon Demetrius Cobb, and is buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland, near the border between Washington, D.C., and Prince George's County, Maryland.[1][2][5][8]


Cobb's casket being carried by pallbearers at her funeral in 1974

Cobb's funeral was ornate and large, even by Washington, D.C.'s standards. The streets leading to Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Southeast, Washington, D.C., were lined with hundreds of police officers, some coming all the way from Hawaii, all standing at attention. A police honor guard made several passes along East Capitol Street before entering the church.[2]

Delegations of uniformed officers filed past Cobb's open casket. Cobb was not buried in uniform; instead, she was wearing a green suit. Her best friend had styled her hair, applied her favorite makeup, and finished with gold hoop earrings that would have been strictly forbidden by uniform regulations for a police officer on duty.[2]

The Mayor of the District of Columbia, Walter Washington, and FBI Director Clarence Kelley were among the many U.S. government officials who attended the crowded service on Tuesday, September 24, 1974. At the hour of the funeral, U.S. President Gerald R. Ford called for a moment of silence as he addressed an International Association of Police Chiefs conference being held across town.[2]


Several weeks after Cobb's funeral, her parents purchased a glass curio cabinet in which to house memorabilia regarding their daughter. They displayed a photograph of Cobb in her MPDC uniform, her police badge, along with a 45 rpm copy of her favorite song, "Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need", by Eddie Kendricks and the Young Senators, which had been sung at her funeral, along with proclamations and letters from government officials, and the uniform boots that Cobb had been wearing when she died. Given an entire section all to its own was a letter from U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, saying that Cobb "has our lasting admiration for the cause of law enforcement and the well-being of our society, a cause for which she made the highest sacrifice."[2]

In 1975, John William Bryant was sentenced to 15 years to life imprisonment after being found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder. He was released on parole in 1992. The following year, in November 1993, he was arrested in Washington, D.C., for possessing crack cocaine and three bags of marijuana. However, a court ruled the cocaine and marijuana impermissible in court as the arresting officers did not have probable cause to believe that Bryant was committing a crime when they discovered them. In July 1997, the D.C. Parole Board revoked Bryant's parole for his possessing marijuana and cocaine, as well as testing positive for marijuana use. Bryant denied ever using marijuana. The D.C. Parole Board decided not to send Bryant back to prison, but rather to send him to an inpatient program for alcoholism treatment, much to the dismay of Cobb's relatives.[1]

In 1996, John Curtis Dortch (born July 19, 1945), who was one of the key architects of the robbery that left Cobb dead, attempted to become a lawyer in West Virginia and Washington, D.C., after finishing a 15-year prison term for his being convicted of second-degree murder on July 30, 1975. After being released from prison on parole in 1989 for "good behavior",[1] Dortch became active in church, helped out an AIDS patient, began tutoring and mentoring children, and started attending law school. Dortch, a graduate of Howard University and a former U.S. Army officer who served in the Vietnam War, was not the triggerman who shot Cobb, however, he attempted to appeal to the courts to allow him to become a lawyer, much to the dismay of Cobb's family and friends. In 1997, the West Virginia Supreme Court denied Dortch permission to practice law in the state in a unanimous 4-0 decision, to the praise of Cobb's surviving family members and friends. Dortch has since written an autobiography of his life, Memoirs of the Prodigal Son: the Road to Redemption, Fifteen Years in Prison and Beyond, released in September 2008.[3][9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Wilbanks, William (2000). True Heroines: Police Women Killed in the Line of Duty Throughout the United States. Paducah, Kentucky: Turner Publishing Company. pp. 29–31. ISBN 1-56311-523-9. LCCN 00-102578. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l McElroy, Jackie. "Officer Gail Cobb - McJackie". Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e O'Brien, Dennis (November 12, 1996). "Ex-inmate's bid to be lawyer angers slain officer's family Dortch planned fatal robbery - friends call new life a model". The Baltimore Sun. Maryland. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. "Memorial to Gail A. Cobb - MPDC". Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. District of Columbia. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Officer Down Memorial Page. "Police Officer Gail A. Cobb". ODMP Remembers. Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. Retrieved May 15, 2014. While walking her beat, she was tipped off that a suspected bank robber had just fled into a nearby garage. Officer Cobb located the man and instructed him to place his hands on the wall. As she radioed for assistance, the suspect spun around and fired a single shot at point-blank range. The bullet went through her wrist and her police radio and then penetrated her heart. She died at the scene. 
  6. ^ "Damon Demetrius Cobb - Maryland DOC Inmate Locator". Maryland Department of Corrections. State of Maryland. March 8, 2013. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Snow, Robert L. (2010). Policewomen Who Made History: Breaking through the Ranks. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. pp. 113–115. ISBN 978-1-4422-0033-3. OCLC 473120367. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Slain Policewoman Honored in Capital By 2,000 Officers". New York Times. New York: The New York Times Company. September 25, 1974. Retrieved 2009-08-04. More than 2,000 police officers from throughout the country paid tribute here today to Police Officer Gail A. Cobb, believed to be the first policewoman in the United States to be killed in the line of duty. 
  9. ^ Dortch, John Curtis (September 10, 2008). Memoirs of the Prodigal Son: the Road to Redemption, Fifteen Years in Prison and Beyond (1 ed.). Disciple Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0615237633. Retrieved December 20, 2012. 
  10. ^ O'Brien, Dennis (April 15, 1997). "W.Va. court denies man convicted of murder permission to practice law". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 

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