There was no television. There wasn’t even radio. Telephones were rare. Airplanes and automobiles were almost unheard of and Kaiser Wilhelm II was on the throne. It was into this world that Hugo Stockburger was born on December 28, 1906 in Heutingsheim, a small village in the state of Württemberg in southern Germany to Karl and Emilie Stockburger.
When the world went to war in 1914, Stockburger was just seven years old. The soldiers leaving to fight in the “war to end all wars” were sent off with brass bands and cheers. The martial spirit ran strong in Europe.
Stockburger remembers when the soldiers would come through his village on horseback. “The soldiers would ride through the village and they would pick up the kids along the way and let us ride on the horses with them until they reached the edge of town.” Like children today, who put their ears to railroad tracks to listen for on-coming trains, Stockburger would put his ear to the tracks, too. But instead of he rumble of steam engines, he would hear the percussion of the massive rail guns being fired at the Western Front.
Unfortunately, there were more ominous and tragic memories of this, the first of the World Wars. Although his father went off to fight in the war, the government did not provide the soldiers' wives with any money, so Stockburger’s mother had to go to work to support him and his sister, Hedwig. “We had ration cards. Many a night I remember my mother out in the kitchen making herself busy while my sister and I were eating. I would holler, ‘Mom, aren’t you hungry?’ and she would always say, ‘No, I’m not hungry.’ But the truth was that there wasn’t enough food.”
The war ended with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Germany was devastated by its loss. Its economy was in shambles. Unemployment and inflation were rampant. The brass bands and cheers were silent. It was because of these conditions that Stockburger found himself aboard the SS Sierra Ventana sailing from Bremen for the United States. He arrived at Ellis Island on November 26, 1923 with just $25 in his pocket.
Hugo Stockburger’s aunt, Friederike Lang, had paid for his passage and it was with her that he lived at 21 Sheridan Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey. While living with his aunt, he worked at the Scammell Pottery on 3rd Street in Trenton as a kiln man. Beginning in 1924 one of his jobs was to carry pottery around on his head in heavy clay boxes. “It really pressed into your scalp. That’s how I started losing my hair.”
Work at the pottery was not steady, though. Often, there were periods when the workers were laid off, then recalled only to be laid off once again. In 1927 he saw an advertisement in the Trenton Times. The State Police needed a cook in their mess hall.
Stockburger worked in the kitchen at the State Police Training School Mess Hall in what would become West Trenton. Mrs. Grace Mulvey was the head cook at the time and when she took a day off, Stockburger would do the cooking. To get to work, he would take the bus from the intersection of State and Broad Streets in downtown Trenton to the Training School. A couple of times he missed it and he would walk the six miles to work. “I was in good shape!”
At this time, the Department Headquarters building of the State Police was located on West State Street, across from the State House. Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the Superintendent, insisted that it be staffed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He believed that the public should be able to call on the State Police at any time of day or night. On the weekends, Stockburger would have to prepare meals for the lone Trooper on duty. He would also have to help cater the Colonel’s staff meetings. “Colonel Schwarzkopf would hold his staff meetings at the Training School in the mess hall. They would have their dinner first and then the staff meeting would be held afterwards.”
Eventually, in June 1929, Stockburger decided to take the State Police entrance exam. Although rumor has it that Schwarzkopf personally asked Stockburger to take the test, this is not true. “I never spoke to the man when I worked in the kitchen and he only shook my hand when I graduated. That was it until much later in my career.”
Having passed the test, Stockburger entered the State Police Academy on October 1, 1929 with the 21st Class. It was a fairly large class because the authorized strength of the Department had just been doubled to 480 men. “There wasn’t enough room for all of us…so we pitched tents in back of the garage. Where the gymnasium is now was a one-story building that used to store beds – mattresses – because the State had to supply the beds when we were living in the stations. There was a men’s room there. So we had to go from the tents to that building to the men’s room. At 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning in October and November, that’s kind of chilly.”
The class graduated on December 31, 1929. Four or five recruits, including Stockburger, were taken to Morristown, which was Troop B Headquarters, and from there a Trooper took Stockburger to his first station assignment: Ramsey Station. It was here where he was assigned for two years. While stationed here in 1930, he was sent to escort Senator Dwight Morrow to a speech he was giving. “I picked him up in Englewood and I took him over to Paterson. It was a rainy day and on the way I hit a trolley track with my motorcycle and I went down. Mr. Morrow told his chauffeur to ‘tell that Trooper to ride with us!’ but I declined, stating that ‘I brought the motorcycle here, I’m going to go back with it.’ Mr. Morrow later gave me five dollars and said to ‘buy some shoes for the kids!’”
In the 1930s, when the Troopers would pull over someone for speeding, they had to take them to the local Justice of the Peace to pay their fine. Stockburger would tell them to follow him and he would lead them on his motorcycle. “I never had a problem. Everyone always followed me. If we did that today they’d run you over.”
One morning while on motorcycle patrol he pulled over a couple from Pennsylvania for speeding. He led them to Louis Shepard, the Justice of the peace in New Brunswick who fined them $10 plus court costs. Stockburger left and when he returned later in the day the couple was still there! The young man, Fred Whal, called Stockburger over and told him that after he left they went out and got a marriage license. They asked the judge to marry them and the judge’s wife was going to be a witness. “Would you be my best man?” Caught off guard, Stockburger said, “Why not?” shook his hand and stood in as best man at the impromptu wedding.
Hugo Stockburger worked for many people over his long career, rarely ever having a problem or run-in. “I worked for some good noncoms. I worked for some strict ones. I never had a problem because I did my job. Except one time.” A promotion had been announced and Stockburger did not get it. In fact, he could not figure out how the person who got the promotion ever got it and he blamed his sergeant. “I went out on a job and the sergeant called me on the radio and I wouldn’t answer him. He called me three times and I wouldn’t answer. I was so mad! When I came back to the station he was waiting for me. He took me into the back room and said, ‘Look, I know how you feel. But it isn’t my fault. I had nothing to do with it. And suppose some Trooper needed some help and you don’t answer.’ I said, ‘Sarge, you’re right. I was wrong.’ But I sure did get some satisfaction!”
In the early days of State Police, before the implementation of two-way radios, if a station commander needed to contact a Trooper on patrol, a red flag would be displayed during the day (or a special light turned on at night) at gas stations along a Trooper’s patrol route. The Trooper then knew to stop and call the station.
On March 1, 1932, Stockburger was on patrol on Route 1 in North Brunswick when he pulled into the Triangle Garage on the corner of Livingston Avenue. The light was on signaling that his station commander needed to speak with him. Charles Lindbergh’s baby had just been kidnapped in Hopewell. “My job was to stop all northbound traffic and to see if there was anything unusual.”
It would be nearly two-and-a-half years before Bruno Richard Hauptmann would be arrested for the crime. In October 1934 the German immigrant carpenter from the Bronx was extradited to Flemington, New Jersey where he was to stand trial for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh Baby. Hugo Stockburger was assigned to be one of his guards, watching him from noon until 6:00 in the evening.
"My job was to keep him from committing suicide. I sat on one end of the bullpen opposite the outer cell door. Hauptmann would come out of his cell and walk the length of the bullpen. He would walk for hours! I was there to make sure he didn't commit suicide. I didn't wear a tie and I kept my eyes on him at all times so he wouldn't suddenly ram his head into the wall. Hauptmann would never meet me eye to eye. Never! I used to look at him and think to myself, 'You son-of-a-bitch, how can you kill an innocent baby?' How can anyone do that?"
One of the reasons Stockburger was given this assignment was because he was fluent in German. It was expected that any time Hauptmann spoke in German, Stockburger would translate the conversation. This simple assignment has grown into an urban legend that Stockburger would speak to Hauptmann directly in German and hopefully get his confession. “Not true,” claims Stockburger. “We rarely spoke. Once in a while he wanted to know what the weather was like outside or about ballgames. But he had to start the conversation. I never started it.”
Stockburger also sat with Hauptmann at the defense table during the afternoon sessions of the trial:
"I'll never forget the day he jumped up in court. [Special Agent Sisk] was on the witness stand and Hauptmann jumped up, shouting 'That's not true! That's not true!' He surprised me! I was in full uniform. I had a gun on. When I jumped up to grab his shoulder the handle of the gun got caught in the rungs of the chair and it came up and fell over with a crash. Everybody in the courtroom jumped up to see what was going on. It caused a big ruckus. I got him to sit down and told him, 'Look, Richard, that won't help you!'"
Hauptmann was found guilty on February 13, 1935 and was sentenced to die in the electric chair. The next day, when he was transferred to the State Prison in Trenton, Stockburger’s assignment came to an end.
1935 was a big year for Stockburger. On March 13th, in accordance with the Rules and Regulations of the State Police, he submitted his official request to the Superintendent for permission to marry Miss Elizabeth Balough of Mawah, New Jersey. Permission, of course, was granted and on April 8, 1935 they were married. Their son, James, would be born two years later on May 23, 1937.
The following month he received his first promotion when was promoted to rank of Detective. At the end of the month, on May 31st at 11:30 in the morning, Stockburger arrested three men from Belmont, North Carolina, “who had in their possession a Chevrolet coach, which they had stolen on May 30th from the Railroad yards in Charlotte, North Carolina.” Then, on June 7th, he arrested two men from New Orleans who had in their possession a .38 caliber revolver and 9 shells. Because of these two arrests, Special Order Number 378 was issued on June 15, 1935 awarding him a “citation for displaying exceptional diligence and observation on the dates of May 31st and June 7th, 1935 in apprehending persons guilty of grand larceny and carrying concealed deadly weapons.” By order of the superintendent, he was granted “one day leave of absence in addition to his regular leave.”
While the Hauptmann Trial would prove to be the most famous case Stockburger was assigned to, one of the most important and personal cases came about in November 1935. At this time, the Stockburgers were living next door to his good friend, Trooper Warren Yenser and his wife, on Upper Ferry Road in Ewing Township. Sergeant Saltz called Stockburger in the early hours of November 9th, waking him to ask if he was a friend of Trooper Yenser’s. He told him he was. “I need you to tell his wife that he just got shot and killed.” Stockburger was stunned. He declined to do it and it was the only order he ever questioned.
At 4:45 that morning, Trooper Yenser was on patrol with Trooper J. Matey. They were in pursuit of a stolen Chevrolet Coup in Woodbridge Township. As the troop car pulled along side the stolen car, Trooper Yenser leaned out the passenger side window to blow his whistle. As he did, Edward Metelski shot him point blank in the face with a sawed off shotgun. Trooper Yenser died instantly.
Within two hours of the shooting, Metelski was arrested in Elizabeth, New Jersey and Stockburger escorted him to the jail in New Brunswick. Metelski’s girlfriend was later able to slip a gun to him and he escaped from Middlesex County Prison with fellow prisoner Paul Semenkewitz. She was arrested and a massive manhunt for Metelski ensued.
Captain John J. Lamb of the State Police was in charge of the detail to recapture them. According to Stockburger, “we were holding Metelski’s girlfriend as a material witness so we arranged a false report that she had been released. Then, we rented a room at Halsey and King Streets in Newark with a good view of the diner where she used to work and we waited.” Detectives Long and Stockburger were detailed to the train station in Newark where they were to watch people coming in on trains and buses. Two Newark detectives were supposed to assist Captain Lamb in the apartment across from the diner. For some reason they were unable to make it there so Stockburger and Long were sent instead. “We were there a half hour and I kept looking out the window. I saw two guys coming down the street. It was Metelski and the guy who broke out of prison with him, wearing clothes they had stolen. I knew it was him because I was handcuffed to him when we brought him back from Elizabeth to jail the first time.”
As Paul Semenkewitz entered the diner, Metelski continued down the street and around the corner.
"I went after him and he had his back to me. I yelled, 'Hey Eddie!' and he turned around. He tried to pull his gun, but it got caught in the pocket of his oversized coat. Before he could get it out, I hit him and we both hit the sidewalk. He immediately surrendered, shouting 'please don't shoot!' A Newark cop and Trooper Long stayed with him while I went after the other guy. I didn't know the other guy except I was told he had a mole on the side of his face. When I went into the diner I saw him sitting there gobbling down a hamburger. He was hungry, I guess. The diner was like a hole-in-the-wall with a long counter and round stools. There were no tables and there were about 8 or 10 people inside. When I saw Semenkewitz, I walked up to him and put my gun into his ribs (none to gently) and said, 'if you make a move, I'll pull the trigger!' He surrendered. As escorted him out of the diner, the women behind the counter ran after us, grabbing my arm and shouting 'who's gonna pay for the hamburger??' When she saw the gun, she got quiet and backed away."
Once the men were in custody, Stockburger called the Newark Police captain to say he and Long had captured Metelski and his buddy. The captain, however, had forgotten to change their location assignment from the train station to the diner lookout, so he raced over to the train station. When he got there he found a Trooper and exclaimed, “Where are they? Where are they?” The Trooper had no idea what he was talking about. “Where is who?” It then dawned on him that he had made a mistake and he made his way to the diner.
When they got Metelski and Semenkewitz to the Newark Police Station, Stockburger escorted Metelski up the stairs into the station. As he did, he noticed that Metelski would jump every couple of steps. “I looked back and saw a Newark cop kicking him in the ass!” Finally reaching the top, someone suddenly shouted out “COP KILLER!” and it was all over. “I never saw anyone take such a beating.” Stockburger reminded the captain that he had to take the prisoners to court the next day. “I thought they were going to kill them!” When Stockburger did get them to court, Metelski’s lawyer showed him a picture and asked,
“Is that the man you arrested?”
“Did he look like that?”
“’No sir. He looked like he had a fully loaded gun in his pocket that he was trying to get out.’ The attorney never said another word to me.”
Edward Metelski was found guilty of the brutal slaying of Trooper Warren Yenser and was executed at Trenton State Prison on August 4, 1936.
A year later, on May 6, 1937 Stockburger was in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It was the day the Zeppelin LZ-129, better known as the Hindenburg, was due to arrive from Germany. “I was on duty there. Captain Woodgie sent me down there to help with traffic control.” The Hindenburg was the pride of Nazi Germany. Longer than three 747s placed end to end, the Zeppelin was a luxury airship filled with highly flammable hydrogen gas. It was originally supposed to be filled with the safer helium gas, but the United States had a military embargo on helium that prevented the Germans from obtaining it. The passengers were the industrial and social elite, as they were the only ones who could afford the $400 tickets during the Great Depression.
As the Hindenburg began to dock, it suddenly burst into flames. “I saw the Hindenburg explode. The back caught on fire first and it came crashing down. I saw many people jumping to the ground and trying to run away as it came down on top of them. After the explosion it took me 20 minutes to get to a phone. All of the reporters were on the phones calling in their stories. I finally got the call into headquarters. Lieutenant Danny Dunn was in charge then. He wouldn’t believe me that it had crashed!”
And crash it did.
Of 97 passengers and crew aboard, 36 died, including one of the members of the ground crew. Over in just 32 seconds, the Hindenburg disaster signaled the end of the era of luxury airships and is considered by many to be one of the first cracks in the foundation of Hitler’s “superior” Nazi Germany.
Stockburger worked on scores of additional cases throughout his career, some noteworthy and many that were routine and he spent most of his career doing detective work. One of his most satisfying cases was that of a series of burglaries in the Princeton, Somerville, Flemington, Hightstown and New Brunswick Station areas. On May 2, 1949 Captain Daniel Dunn, who was now commanding Region “B” (formerly known as “Troop B”) submitted a letter of commendation to the State Police Superintendent, Colonel Charles Schoeffel. It “respectfully invited” the Superintendent’s attention to the fact that “the persistent questioning and follow-up investigation by Corporal/Detective Stockburger brought about the admission of Stephen J. Shepherd of 17 safe burglaries.” One of the items stolen was a movie projector from a school in New Brunswick. The school’s PTA and student body had raised the money to buy the projector through bake sales. After Stockburger broke the case, he called the teachers to tell them he had recovered the projector. “I’ll never forget the day I called…the teachers nearly flipped with joy! And the children all treated me like a hero.” Captain Dunn went a step further and recommended, “that he be granted an extra three days pass.”
Stockburger was assigned to many stations during his career. His first assignment, as stated earlier, was the Ramsey Station. From there he was sent in March 1931 to Keyport for three months. In June 1931 he was transferred to the New Brunswick Station where he remained until March 1933. From April 1934 through May 1935 he was assigned to the Princeton Station. This was originally in Penns Neck, just north of Princeton.
When he was designated a Detective in 1935, he was assigned to Troop “C” Headquarters which was located in West Trenton. He went back to New Brunswick in January 1939 where he remained until July 1949
During his second assignment to New Brunswick, he was given two specific investigations. From 1945 to 1946 he was assigned exclusively to the Anthony Puglisi Murder Investigation. Then, from May 1948 to July 1948 he was assigned to a special gambling investigation in Burlington County.
In July 1949, he was promoted to Detective Sergeant and was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Section (CIS) at Division Headquarters in West Trenton. Two years later, on January 1, 1951 Hugo Stockburger was promoted to the rank of Detective First Class. He continued his investigations into such notable cases as the Allentown Bank Robbery (March through August 1951); the Sugarman Murder Investigation (August through October 1951) and the Waterfront Corruption Investigation (November 1951 through December 1952). It was during this last investigation that he was promoted to Lieutenant in September 1952.
It was shortly after being promoted that he worked on the Harold J. Adonis Investigation. This investigation lasted from November 1952 to March 1953. . Harold J. Adonis was the former executive clerk in the office of Governor Alfred E. Driscoll’s office from 1943 to 1949. He was under investigation in the state’s gambling probe that Stockburger was assigned to, and was one of several former state employees under investigation. He was accused of “…receiving $228,000 to be used in bribing public officials to protect [illegal] gambling” in New Jersey.
"I got the job to check on Adonis. I had to type my reports at home because it was a big secret and they didn't want anybody looking over my shoulder. I was on it two weeks. There was a small article in the Evening News that asked who the former state employee was that was being investigated by the State Police. Adonis read this and took off to Venezuela and from there to Holland. I got a call one afternoon from Captain Keaton. 'We gotta go to Holland tomorrow morning.' We spent two weeks in Holland trying to get Adonis extradited. The judges came in -- there were six or eight of them -- and they wore those white wigs like they did years ago. But we didn't have an agreement to extradite."
A practical man, Stockburger took advantage of his time in Europe. “We were in Holland for two months. Before I came home, I flew to Germany and saw my parents for the first time in thirty years!”
Stockburger was again promoted, on April 7, 1958, to the rank of Captain. The following year, on June 19, 1959, Captain Stockburger and Deputy Attorney General John J. Bergin led a raid on five establishments in Hoboken that were suspected of running illegal gambling operations. Seventeen men, including Hoboken’s Housing Authority chairman, were arrested and charged with various gambling offenses.
Another raid under the direct supervision of Stockburger was made in July of that year in North Bergen, New Jersey, resulting in the arrest of five more individuals on gambling charges in what was considered one of Hudson County’s biggest gambling raids. Two years later, in July 1961, a raid in Jersey City resulted in the arrest of fourteen men.
The Criminal Investigation Section head, Major D.C. Borchard, retired in 1959 and Stockburger was appointed as his successor and promoted to Major. He served two years in this position until December 28, 1961. It was his birthday and he had reached the compulsory retirement age – 55 years. He spent thirty-three years as a Trooper without ever taking a sick day.
Although is distinguished career with the New Jersey State Police had come to an end, his investigative work did not. In 1962, at the urging of the Attorney General, he accepted an appointment as the Deputy Director of the State Bureau of Alcohol Beverage Control. He retired from this position in 1970 and became Director of Police in his hometown of Milltown.
His final retirement came in 1974 at the age of 68. It was now time to relax with his wife and son, work in his garden and to fish at his shore home in Normandy Beach. He continues to live in the house he built in Milltown in 1939 after his transfer to the New Brunswick Station. Sadly, his wife Elizabeth passed away in 1993.
Reflecting back on his career in the State Police, Stockburger explains that “you have to have a lot of patience, a lot of friends, and a lot of common sense in police work” to be successful. And he is still very loyal to the Superintendent who eventually became his friend, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. “There is only one superintendent as far as I am concerned. Schwarzkopf!”
Major Hugo Stockburger is the oldest living New Jersey State Trooper and the first to ever reach the age of 100. “There is no outfit like the State Police. I’m a State Trooper at heart and I want everybody to know it.”
Major Stockburger passed away on June 21, 2007.