Retired Bay police chief Fred Drenkhan celebrated by community
Thrush Avenue, Cleveland, Nov. 1, 1926. Thus began a life that would span 87 years (and counting), moving from Cleveland’s west side to the lakeshore community of Bay Village, and playing an integral part in law enforcement and the biggest murder case of the 1950s.
Fred F. Drenkhan spent his boyhood in Cleveland in the 1930s during the time of the infamous Torso Murders. He remembers venturing to the wrong side of town and getting lost in the stomping grounds of the Torso murderer. Seemingly out of nowhere, a man appeared, took him by the hand and led him through the valley while warning him about the dangers of straying so far from home. In later years, he liked to tell the story to his children, sending shivers up their spines.
On Dec. 7, 1941, as bombs fell and triggered World War II, the Drenkhan family moved to the beach community of Bay Village. At 15, Fred had a paper route that included the Lawrence Mansion on Lake Road. He recalls it as being spooky and beginning to fall into disrepair. Twelve years later, the mansion would reenter his life in a grimmer context as Sam Sheppard’s Bay View Hospital.
Fred entered Parkview High School (aka Bay High) and played tuba in the marching band. He worked at the West Side Market selling butter and cheese and handed out librettos to theatre goers at the Cleveland Opera House.
After graduating in 1944 at the age of 17, Fred enlisted in the Navy and was promptly put on a train to Chicago, then a naval supply ship where he landed the job of ship’s clerk, due to his typing abilities learned at Bay High. He remembers being furloughed in exotic Shanghai, China, and Japan.
After his military service ended, he returned home and was sworn in as a full-time Bay Village patrolman in 1949. On July 4, 1954, at the age of 28, as he was getting off night shift, he answered a distress call at the home of Sam and Marilyn Sheppard and thus began a saga that would follow him his entire law enforcement career and beyond. Fred was one of the first investigating officers on the scene at the Sheppards' Lake Road home, he filed the initial police report, handcuffed Sam Sheppard on the night of his arrest several weeks later and testified at the trial.
In 1965, he attended the FBI Academy in Washington, D.C., during the Hoover administration. He became Bay’s police chief Jan. 1, 1968, and served until his retirement in 1976. He went on to become the director of the Ohio Chiefs of Police and in 1992 received dual awards as Cuyahoga County Police Chief’s Man of the Year and Bay High Distinguished Alumni Award.
Fred was instrumental in establishing Crimestoppers and the Westshore Enforcement Bureau. As a member of the Blue Knights Police Motorcycle Club, he started the Teddy Bear Run, a yearly event that delivers teddy bears via motorcycles to area children’s hospitals. He also taught law enforcement classes at Lorain County Community College.
To this day, he stays true to his innate police persona, beginning conversations with “Anything you want to tell me?”
As his 87th birthday approaches, the Bay Village community is celebrating with him. Merchants around town will display signs made by his granddaughters. Bay Diner, one of Fred's favorite restaurants, plans to put his name on their Daily Specials board when he comes in for a birthday dinner of pancakes (Fred is known to say that he takes his pancakes very seriously). And Mayor Debbie Sutherland will present Fred with a proclamation in council chambers.
Happy 87th birthday, Fred! Job well done!