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Henderson "Ben" Turpin

The first black Detroit police officer, Charles Wilson, was appointed in 1895, shortly followed by two more black officers, including George Carmichael. These men paved the way for Henderson "Ben" Turpin, born in either 1898 or 1899. Originally from Kentucky, Turpin worked as a shoeshine and train porter before joining the Detroit Police Department on August 1, 1927. Over the next 25 years, he carved out a colorful career.

Known as "Mr. Ben," Turpin was widely recognized and respected in the community. Opinion on him was divided - some in Black Bottom revered him as their advocate, while others accused him of brutality, alleging he mistreated young black men. Yet many saw him as a caring figure who went out of his way to assist law-abiding citizens. Turpin's bravery was evident; he once used a police wagon to rescue several blacks trapped by a violent white mob outside a black theater.

Turpin was armed with two pearl-handled .45 caliber revolvers and a makeshift "bullet-proof vest" crafted from heavy steel plates. Fearless and resourceful, he made headlines with his daring exploits. In one instance, he outwitted bootleggers by posing as an ice delivery man and apprehended a liquor seller in a clever sting operation.

However, Turpin's career was not without controversy. He was involved in altercations, including a fatal shooting of Louis "Kid" Bryant, a former prizefighter, during a raid. Turpin claimed self-defense, but witnesses contested his account. Despite facing trial for first-degree murder, he was acquitted based on the testimony of a fellow officer.

Turpin's career took various turns; he was eventually appointed as a detective on a segregated squad created to address black community issues. Known for his dedication to preventing juvenile delinquency, Turpin invested his own resources to support neighborhood children, sponsoring baseball teams and offering his home as a recreational space.

Former Mayor Coleman Young acknowledged Turpin's complex legacy, recognizing him as both a symbol of community policing and a controversial figure. Young remembered Turpin fondly for his dedication to maintaining order in the neighborhood.

Turpin retired on August 1, 1952, due to failing health from diabetes. Despite his retirement, he continued working as a hotel detective until his death in 1962. His widow, Margaret, attempted to sell his homemade bullet-proof vest after his passing, but it was stolen along with his pearl handled .45.

DPD George Carmichael 1895_edited.jpg

George Carmichael

Henderson "Ben" Turpin wearing his homemade bullet proof vest under his shirt.

May 20, 1939 - Detective Turpin is with Robert Willis who found three jars containing $821.25 in  a Black Bottom neighborhood.  


Chicago Defender - Detroit Policeman Held for Death of 'Kid' Bryant. November 23, 1929 - page 2.

Detroit Free Press - Acquits Officer in Slaying Case. November 30, 1929 - page 4.

Detroit Free Press - Highlights of the Struggle. February 24, 1999 - page 8B.

Detroit Free Press - Ice Man Puts Rum Suspect in Dry Cooler.  February 12, 1928 - page 5.

Detroit Free Press  - Mayor's Job is a Tough One, Young Learns in First Year. January 27, 1975 - page 8A.

Detroit Free Press - Officer Who Slew Pug Faces Trial. November 15, 1929 - page 4.

Detroit Free Press - Steals Officer's Raincoat; 30 Days.  August 1, 1928 - page 15.

Detroit Free Press - Tough Mr. Ben earned respect based on fear. December 7, 1980 - page 12A.

The Detroit Tribune  - Colored Detectives in Special Squad. September 11, 1937 - page 1.

The Detroit Tribune  - Jumpin' Jive. December 30, 1944 - page 13.

The Detroit Tribune  - Turpin, Pitts Get Promotions. January 28, 1939 - page1, 4, & 10.

The Detroit Tribune  - Uly Boykin's Digest. June 28, 1952 - page 7.

The Grand Rapids Press - Saves Detroit Officer. November 30, 1929 - page 11.

The Muskegon Chronicle - Officer Foils Bomb Plot at Negro Church.  August 2, 1929 - page 13.

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