Col. William L. Rawlings, a highly decorated career police officer who rose from a beat cop to head the Baltimore Police Department's Internal Investigation Division, died Sunday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The 78-year-old Mays Chapel resident died of a head injury he suffered before his admission to the center.
Colonel Rawlings was born in Baltimore and raised in South Baltimore. He attended Southern High School until the 10th grade and then took a factory job until he was old enough to join the police force.
"From the time he was 3 years old, he wanted to be a police officer and a good one," said his wife of 23 years, the former Suzanne Wallace. "He was very straight. With him, there were never any gray areas."
After joining the city Police Department in 1951, he began his career as a beat officer assigned to Pennsylvania Avenue. He later joined the Criminal Investigation Division and was promoted to sergeant in 1961.
In 1964, Colonel Rawlings was named the Sunpapers' Policeman of the Year, after clearing 107 arson cases as an arson squad detective sergeant.
In a letter to the newspaper at the time, Louis J. Grasmick, owner of a Baltimore lumberyard, praised Colonel Rawlings and Capt. Elmer Katzenberger for solving a series of fires at his business.
"During the course of many weeks of thorough investigation, which included a substantial amount of 'off duty hours,' both men showed an almost unbelievable devotion to their work. ... The determination and dedication was unparalleled and eventually led to success," Mr. Grasmick wrote.
It was Colonel Rawlings who solved the highly publicized 1964 disappearance of 10-year-old Mary Ott, who had been missing from her Hamburg Street home for 77 days.
The body of the girl, who had been fatally stabbed by next-door neighbor Ellsworth C. Cramblitt, was found in a shallow grave in the cellar of his home at 1166 W. Hamburg St.
"It's a most unfortunate thing but the mystery has been removed. We had hoped that she would have been found alive," the police officer told The Evening Sun at the time.
"We were very happy we were able to do the job for the sake of Mary's family, our superiors and the city of Baltimore." But, he added, "At times like this you wish you weren't a policeman."
He was promoted to lieutenant in 1967, to major six years later, and finally to colonel in 1981.
In 1973, he was promoted to head the department's Internal Investigation Division, a position he held until retiring a decade later.
"He was one dedicated police officer who lived police work. He was the kind of man who would pick up the phone in the middle of the night or even when he was off on a Saturday or a Sunday," said Bernard F. Norton Sr., a former FBI special agent and field supervisor who was appointed head of the city Police Department's Inspectional Services Division in 1968.
"He was in a position that was not very popular with his fellow officers because he was responsible for their character. It was a thankless job, but he conducted himself beautifully, objectively and honestly," Mr. Norton said.
"He was a loyal leader and never complained about his job. I could trust him, and he was an ideal cop," said Mr. Norton, who retired in 1980.
Former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III described Colonel Rawlings yesterday as a "serious but friendly man" who was a "great police officer."
Colonel Rawlings earned 32 official departmental commendations during his career, including five commendatory letters, four Bronze Stars and two special commendations.
"He certainly added to a superb Police Department during his time there. He was a good leader, followed the law, and people in the community were supportive of him," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.
In addition to teaching at the police academy, Colonel Rawlings established and taught a law enforcement course at Northwestern University near Chicago.
"He was proud that he never had to fire a bullet at another human being but could wield his nightstick like a Scottish highlander," Mrs. Rawlings said.
He enjoyed traveling and dancing.
Colonel Rawlings was a Mason and a member of the Knights Templar, the Scottish Rite, the Moroccan Shrine Temple and the St. Andrew's Society.
At Colonel Rawlings' request, there will be no services.
Also surviving is a stepson, Alex Windisch of Cincinnati. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.