National Police Week 2011: Tribute to Tatman

Robert Lawrence TatmanChampaign, Illinois: On November 25, 1967, police found patrol officer Tatman lying on his back in front of his own squad car, the motor still running, it’s revolving lights still on, and the front door at the driver’s side open.

His flashlight was lying on his left side. His hat was on the ground near the curb. He had been shot at very close range with a .38 caliber revolver, on the right side of his chest, approx. 3 inches above the elbow.

The cause of death was severe hemorrhage due to a single bullet that went through both lungs resulting in shock. Tatman died within minutes after being shot. Judging from paraffin tests of Tatman’s hands, it seemed that his gun was taken from him and pushed into his ribs. He then obviously tried to grab the gun but it went off. The murder weapon was his own service revolver, found lying at his feet. Judging from the position in which the body was found, the absence of blood trails, the lack of wounds on Tatman’s back, clothes, shoes, and the back of his head, we conclude that his body had not been moved. Tatman died where he fell to the ground.

Many were puzzled that Tatman’s service revolver was the murder weapon. Two scenarios were considered. Someone was capable of taking the revolver out of either Tatman’s hands or his holster.

Taking the gun out of Tatman’s hands does not seem likely. It would mean that at some point he had his gun drawn. In that case, he would probably have mentioned the possibility of trouble, when he radioed this stop. In a scenario with Tatman resisting, I assume it is more likely that the person who shot Tatman is a man.

The other scenario, that the gun was taken out of his holster, suggests that somehow his gun was either not well secured in the holster or that the holster was defective. This presents the possibility that the person who shot Tatman could be a woman. A woman may have completely surprised Tatman, thus giving her, for a few seconds, the upper hand in the altercation. This could also explain why Tatman did not expect any trouble, and therefore did not ask for back up, when he radioed he was going to make a stop. More on Tatman’s case here.