The effective detective: Pat Patterson

Malcolm Shell
Features columnist

An intricate part of any community is local law enforcement. The Concord/Farragut communities had the best of the best in Constable W.O. “Pat” Patterson.

I talked to his son Bud recently, and the conversation eventually got around to his father. Bud was a classmate at Farragut High and enjoyed a long career with Delta Airlines. After retirement, he compiled a family history that could easily be turned into a novel about the legendary law-enforcement officer who had a reputation of being “untouchable” in dealing with crime in Knox County. Bud lent me the book only on condition that I would guard it with my life.

I knew Pat Patterson as someone who always attended Farragut sporting events and was at ease talking to a teenager who just wanted to get a better view of his revolver. During Pat’s long career, he served as a U.S. marshal, a county detective in several administrations and as a constable duly elected by the people.

In the early 1950s, modern crime-detection techniques, such as examining DNA and browsing extensive computer databases, were still decades into the future. The effective detective had to rely on observation skills and the ability to establish and maintain a large network of informants to feed credible information. Pat Patterson excelled in both areas. While he was dealing with people whom society might not consider model citizens, he always treated everyone – even convicted felons – with respect and dignity.

Many of the cases Pat handled involved serious felonies, including homicides, armed robbery and auto-theft rings. Other cases were not so serious. Those I found to be amusing and even almost comical.

One involved a bootlegger who built a modern-style home without any interior walls and had installed several stills heated by propane gas. Casually driving through the neighborhood, Pat wondered why a new house would have heat waves wafting out the chimney in midsummer. A closer inspection revealed the true purpose of the new home.

Another crime involved the rustling of a family milk cow, which the young rustler planned to sell to get “spending money.” Slick detective work turned up the rustler with the stolen merchandise in tow. Bessie was returned to her owner.

Perhaps one of the most unusual cases involved a young, soon-to-be-married groom who lacked the essentials needed to set up housekeeping. Now, in most cases, the bride is thrown several showers to acquire basic household needs. In the absence of such events, the groom decided to take matters into his own hands. He itemized everything needed to set up housekeeping and burglarized several homes, taking only the essential items.

But he did get one break. He was let out of jail long enough to get married, but he was unable to talk the authorities into extending his freedom long enough to include a honeymoon. He had to wait several months for that.

Another case was the artificial flowers purloined from a local cemetery. Pat cracked this case rather quickly. The flowers were returned to their gravesites. It was not clear what the thieves planned to do with the stolen merchandise, nor was there much information on the outcome of the case or their punishment. Perhaps they just had to agree to maintain the cemetery for a time.

The true genius of Pat’s record became known for the first time when he retired. Hal Clement, who was Knox County Attorney General in the 1940s and 1950s, said Pat solved more criminal cases during his career than the rest of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office combined. Former Knox County Sheriff Archie Weaver said Pat’s fine work was the primary reason there were no unsolved homicides during his administration.

Forty years after his retirement, Pat’s name is still known in law-enforcement circles. Pat’s grandson, TBI agent Mark Irwin, noted that as late as 2010, Pat’s record for number of crimes solved was only recently broken.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mythical sleuth Sherlock Holmes used logic and meticulous observation to solve crimes. But Pat Patterson, our beloved constable, was no myth. He was a modern-day Sherlock who used the same methods to solve crimes without the benefit of today’s modern crime-detection technology.

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