STATES & CITIES: Death in Detroit

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Last week Detroiters went to the polls and by a plurality of 30.956 voted to recall big, bluff Charles Bowles, their mayor. The returns were broadcast exultantly to the electorate from station WMBC in the LaSalle hotel by Announcer Gerald E. ("Jerry'') Buckley. About 1 a. m. he went downstairs, bought a late newspaper, sat in the hotel lobby to read more about the result in which he, for weeks a vigorous and vocal anti-Bowles partisan, had been largely instrumental.

Three men sauntered across the lobby toward Buckley. Shots were fired. Quickly the three men were gone. Buckley, pierced by eleven big-calibre bullets, was staggering, bleeding profusely. Police took him to a hospital where he died.

It was the eleventh murder in Detroit in 19 days. The killings had stood in the press beside excoriations of Mayor Bowles charging him with tolerance of. if not collusion with, gamblers & gangsters. After the tenth murder he had said that perhaps the best way to deal with gangsters was to let them kill each other off.

Over the Buckley murder, Detroit became turbulent, terrified. Governor Fred Warren Green flew from Holland to Detroit, started a general investigation, threatened martial law until the city's crime-wave abated.

Prime question of the week was: "Who could have wanted to kill Buckley?" Such was his popularity among hundreds of Detroiters for whom he obtained jobs during last winter's depression, and among an increasing radio audience, that his home was deluged with flowers, more than 100,000 viewed his coffin. His brother Paul, onetime assistant prosecuting attorney, declared roundly that the killing was simply brutal retaliation for Buckley's activities against the Bowles administration.

Police Commissioner Wilcox, a recent Bowles appointee, retorted that Announcer Buckley was a known extortionist and racketeer, killed by his kind. Investigation showed that the announcer kept three hotel apartments besides his home with his wife, and that his secretary had revealed Buckley's long fear of being ''put on the spot." He had carried a gun for weeks, guarded his movements, chosen his taxis with care.

Buckley's friends last week admitted he might have underworld dealings, but they insisted his record of recent years (investigator for Henry Ford in the Newberry case, special investigator on other cases for the U. S. Government, two years as a radio crusader, winter employment aid) demonstrated that he no longer trod dark paths, was trying to make a moral name for himself.

Charles Bowles, who remains Detroit's Mayor at least until the special election in September, called the killing "a terrible thing," braced himself for a campaign of vindication. He abolished his central vice squad in the police department, started a round of speakeasy raids. Meantime his Commissioner of Public Works, John Gillespie, director of earlier Bowles campaigns and co-defendant against most of the charges occasioning the recall, resigned from office.