1967 : Algiers Hotel Murders During Detroit Race Riot

July 26, 2018 all-day

The Algiers Motel as seen from Woodward Avenue with the three story annex in the background.

Three unarmed black teens were murdered/found dead on the floor inside a transient motel annex north of downtown Detroit on July 26, 1967, several days after racial rioting had overwhelmed the city.

The incident would later featured in a best selling book by John Hersey, “The Algiers Motel Incident,” published in 1968  and later dramatized in the  movie Detroit in 2017.

When the riot started a number of individuals, desperate to get off the street and thus out of harms way, took up residence in the annex of the Algiers. All total there were nine people, seven black males and two white females. As the riotous night of July 25 turned into the morning of the 26th, 17-year old Carl Cooper was out on the back porch with friends firing a starters pistol loaded with blanks into the air, a foolish thing to do at the height of a riot but boys will be boys and subsequently they thought nothing of it.

Unbeknown to the boys, their merrymaking had caught the attention of the National Guardsmen who had secured a large building 200 ft away. Upon hearing the shots, the Guardsmen believed they were the target of a sniper from the direction of Virginia Park. The Guardsmen commander, Warrant Officer Theodore Thomas, telephoned the Detroit police dispatcher who may have over emphasized the situation, “Army under heavy fire at Woodward and Euclid,” echoed through Detroit police cruisers. Thomas was amazed to see Detroit police show up immediately, with additional Guardsmen and state police in tow.

One of the suspects, Roderick Davis, was pulled off the line and brought into the room directly behind the line up. The door closed behind them. The officer instructed Davis to spread eagle on the floor and remain quiet and then shot into the floor. Back out in the hallway the remaining suspects believed a shooting had occurred. It was actually a death game, an attempt to extract a confession regarding who the sniper was by instilling additional fear. Unfortunately either no one still in the line-up had any knowledge of Carl Cooper firing off the starter pistol earlier or were too scared to mention it, thus no confessions were forthcoming and so the game continued.

Another suspect, Michael Clark, was brought into another room, spread eagle on the floor and another errant shot fired into the floor. Still no confessions. This time it would be Aubrey Pollard’s turn. Pollard was brought into the back room where the dead or dying Fred Temple still lay. The possibility exists that this officer may himself have been unaware that this was only a game to extract a confession. Pollard was shot shortly after he entered the room. According to the officer, the terrified Pollard reached for his shot gun twice believing he was going to be shot, presumably like the others, and only then did the officer fire.

It was now apparent that the death game that had started simply as a scare tactic to extract confessions had now gotten completely out of hand. The Guardsmen, following the lead of the state police who had left earlier after sensing the gravity of the situation, quickly left the building, telling the police that this was “strictly their business.” They were followed in short order by the remaining Detroit police who left to address reports of more shootings nearby, leaving the terrified civilians behind.

A week after the riot it was clear that Detroit police were complicit in the killings. Three officers and a private guard were arraigned on a variety of charges. Owing to the publicity generated by the best selling book by John Hersey, “The Algiers Motel Incident,” published in 1968, the defense asked for the trials to be moved out of Detroit. Their petitions were granted. Trials were held in Lansing, Ann Arbor and Mason. In the end all were acquitted and the rage in black Detroit ratcheted up even further.

The police, it appeared, had initially hoped the killings would be lost in the fog of war or be viewed as the work of a rogue and elusive sniper. But the witnesses and evidence they left behind indicated otherwise. All the autopsies indicated the youths were killed inside the house at close range by a shotgun using double “O” buckshot, the same kind used by the Detroit police department for riot control.

The riot’s four-day lifespan reaped a death count of 43 people, in addition to more than 1,100 injuries and 7,000 arrests.

Anarchy at the Algiers website.

Sharon D. Lewis, “Algiers Motel deaths stirred racial tension of ’67“, Detroit News, July 24, 2017.

Detroit Police killed their sons at the Algiers Motel. No one ever said sorry.”, Bridge, July 25, 2017.

Detroit (Movie) wikipedia entry.  Note:  Available in the MSU Main Library Digital and Multimedia Center.

Leave a Reply