Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 6 years, 7 months, 11 days
Unit of Assignment / Detail: Traffic Division (TD) - Public Safety Education Bureau
District of Incident (Present Day): 012 - Near West
Cause of Death: Crash - Helicopter
Age at Time of Death: 33
Date of Birth: 15 Feb 1927
Date of Appointment: 21 Sep 1953
Date of Incident: 012 - Near West
End of Watch: 02 May 1960
Date of Interment: 06 May 1960
Cemetery: All Saints Catholic Cemetery - Des Plaines, Illinois
Grave Location: Grave 7, Lot 51, Block 84, Section 44
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # D-3
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 2
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 3, Line 6
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 36-E: 8
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: U.S. Navy
Incident & Biographic Details
Patrolman Leonard Frank Baldy, Star #1451, aged 33 years, was a 6 year, 7 month, 11 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to the Traffic Division (TD) – Public Safety Education Bureau.
On May 2, 1960, at 3:45 p.m., Officer Baldy checked in at the WGN newsroom in Tribune Tower and then went to Meigs Field, where his helicopter took off. Baldy was next heard at 4:20 p.m. when he checked into the WGN master control station by short wave radio. Speaking to the radio announcer calling the Cubs game who asked “Where are you, Len, I can hear your copter, but I can’t see you.“ “I’m right over the baseball field,“ Baldy replied. “I’m right over center field.“ That was the last words heard from Officer Baldy.
As Officer Baldy and the pilot, H. George Ferry, were airborne and Baldy was preparing his traffic report aboard the helicopter. Suddenly the helicopter threw a main rotor blade, tilted to one side and burst into flames. Witness reports also said that the helicopter also exploded in flight. The helicopter crashed on the Chicago and North Western railway right of way near Hubbard Street and Milwaukee Avenue. The craft struck the north parapet of the railway embankment, just west of the overpass which carries tracks over Union and Milwaukee Avenues. Fragments of the helicopter were scattered over an area a block square. Part of the fuselage remained on the tracks, but the remainder crashed into Hubbard Street and Union Avenue, miraculously missing automobiles in evening rush hour traffic. The tail section, which was blown off while the craft was in flight, landed in a yard located at 707 West Grand Avenue. The pilot was decapitated in the crash and thrown from the wreckage. Officer Baldy’s body was found still inside the plastic and aluminum cabin of the wreckage. Both men died instantly. Officer Baldy was transported to Henrotin Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival on May 2, 1960.
The Helicopter, a Bell 47H three-place copter, was owned by Helicopter Air Lift, a division of Sky Motive, Inc., based at O’Hare Field. The craft was worth $50,000 and carried $5,000 worth of equipment. Hal Connors General Manager of Air Lift, said that an investigation was being conducted jointly by the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Federal Aviation Agency, the company, and Bell Aircraft Corporation, manufacturer of the helicopter.
The investigation into the cause of the crash revealed that the copter’s two main lifting rotor wings broke away in flight, probably as a result of a part failure. An examination of the helicopter wreckage disclosed that the rotor blade section which broke away had been torn out at its roots. The hub of the blade still remained in the jaws of the rotating gimbal, which was at the top of the power mast. That confirmed opinions of experts that the rotor failure was secondary to an earlier breakage in the head. The blade itself was of a mixed type. The spar was a steel tube with wood lamination of spruce, balsa, and stainless steel. This type had been the most widely used, safety agents said, ruling out metal fatigue in the blade itself.
Patrolman Baldy was assigned to the department’s Traffic Division (TD), Public Safety Education Bureau, which provided citizens live traffic reports from a helicopter. His reports were a public service for which he received no remuneration. His salary of $10,000 per year for the broadcasts was instead paid to the Chicago Policemen’s Benevolent & Welfare Association. Under police department rules, Baldy could not receive money for a public service. Baldy would broadcast the news four times a day at 7:05 and 9:00 a.m. and again at 4:30 and 6:05 p.m. He advised Chicago motorists on how to avoid traffic tie-ups. He became one of the best known policemen in the city and was nicknamed the “copter copper.“
Officer Baldy was waked at a Funeral home located at 3834 West Irving Park Road. His funeral mass was held at St. Juliana Parish Church located at 7200 North Osceola Avenue. He was laid to rest on May 6, 1960 in All Saints Catholic Cemetery, 700 North River Road, Des Plaines, Illinois. His grave is located in Grave 7, Lot 51, Block 84, Section 44.
Patrolman Leonard Frank Baldy, born February 15, 1927, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on September 21, 1953. Officer Baldy was assigned to the Traffic Division (TD) after his recruit training and gained early recognition in his police career for being the first patrolman in the United States to experiment with and use the radar gun to detect the speed of vehicles in April of 1954. He also wrote the first ticket in the world for speeding using a radar device. As a patrolman in the mid 1950’s he appeared in a television commercial directing traffic. He became the most visible department spokesperson when he provided lectures and taught classes to civic groups, organizations, and educational institutions on the topic of traffic safety. He provided the first helicopter traffic report over WGN radio in November 1958.
Baldy also gained fame during the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire, in December 1958, when he broadcast his observations from his helicopter above the scene. He provided traffic instructions over the radio to fire and ambulance vehicles trying to reach the fire through Chicago’s congested streets. Both Baldy and WGN radio received public service awards from the National Transportation Safety Board for their efforts. After his death, he was elected to the American Police Hall of Fame. 46 years after his death a street was renamed “Leonard Baldy Way“ in his honor.
Officer Baldy served in the U.S. Navy for three years on the U.S.S. Markab mostly in the Pacific, was a veteran of World War II and was Honorably Discharged at the rank of Signalman. He was also a member of the Illinois Police Association and the St. Jude Police League. Officer Baldy was survived by his wife, Marguerite Anita (nee Easthope), age 32; children: Judith, Raymond and Timoth; father, Frank Ernest and sister: Cecilia. He was preceded in death by his mother, Bertha (nee Barczynski).
In January, 1961, Officer Baldy’s star was retired by Superintendent Orlando W. Wilson and enshrined in the Superintendent’s Honored Star Case, located in the 4th floor Office of the Superintendent at Chicago Police Headquarters, 1121 South State Street. The Honored Star Case was later relocated to the lobby of Chicago Police Headquarters, 1121 South State Street. In 2000, Chicago Police Headquarters moved to a new facility at 3510 South Michigan Avenue, Officer Baldy’s Star was re-encased in the new headquarters building lobby.