In a fascinating blog posted on Wednesday, the Bethlehem Police Department remembered the 85th anniversary of the shooting death of an officer in South Bethlehem, providing a glimpse at a colorful era in the city’s history.
Officer Charles Fenton was shot trying to apprehend robbery suspects on Columbia Street on Nov. 12, 1927. He died of his injuries at St. Luke’s Hospital two days later, leaving behind a wife and two sons.
The blog says there was a “lawless” atmosphere in the SouthSide of the Roaring '20s, “riddled with speakeasies, brothels and gambling houses.” The robbers who shot Fenton were fleeing from one of perhaps 35 brothels that existed in South Bethlehem at the time.
Excerpting from Lehigh University’s website “Beyond Steel: An Archive of Lehigh Valley Industry and Culture,” the blog goes on to explain how Fenton’s death led to a political movement to topple then Mayor James M. Yeakle.
Yeakle, who had been blamed for SouthSide lawlessness, was ousted in 1929 in favor of reform candidate Robert Pfeifle, who immediately began working on cleaning up the city.