BUCKHANNON — On a dark April evening in 1940, a Buckhannon police officer received one of the most dangerous calls a law enforcement officer can get — he was summoned to a domestic incident on Camden Avenue.
Without hesitation, officer Wilbert “Webb” Grubb, 46, climbed in his police cruiser and responded to a call describing an incident unfolding in which the suspect, Byzantine Hartman, allegedly attempted to rape his mother. As Grubb headed toward the door of the residence, Hartman fired a shot through the door, which struck Grubb on the left shoulder and leveled him to the ground.
Still alive but badly wounded, Grubb could only lay there as Hartman ran outside, pointed the shotgun in the officer’s ear and fired at point-blank range.
Grubb was killed instantly, making him the only city police officer to ever die in the line of duty.
Seventy-seven years later, Buckhannon officials and Grubb’s descendants gathered at the city’s Public Safety Complex Wednesday afternoon to honor the life of the fallen officer, who was born on Feb. 19, 1894 in Buckhannon.
Grubb was a veteran who served in World War I before returning to his hometown to hold the post of commander at the Frank B. Bartlett American Legion Post 7. He commenced his service as a police officer with the Buckhannon Police Department in 1937, according to an informational pamphlet provided at Wednesday’s service.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley delivered opening remarks at Wednesday’s ceremony, describing the tribute as long overdue. He read Grubb’s story aloud, detailing how Grubb’s murderer, Hartman, had stolen Grubb’s police cruiser after shooting him. Hartman then wrecked the cruiser while turning from the Florida Street bridge onto Island Avenue. He fled on foot toward the county jail, where he demanded a gun and knife from the sole jailer, who happened to be Grubb’s wife, Grace Miller Grubb; Grace Grubb was unaware that Hartman had just killed her husband. Hartman was apprehended, tried, convicted of murder and ultimately executed at the Moundsville State Penitentiary on June 28, 1940, according to historical accounts.
“The story of Webb Grubb is a sad and somber one, but it is also a story that is in many respects compelling and fascinating and it represents a story that we’ve been aware of for decades, but again, not to the detail that we’ve come to realize in recent weeks as we were planning today’s tribute,” McCauley said. The mayor said he hoped Wednesday’s ceremony — which included the dedication of a street sign designating the L-shaped lane circling the Public Safety Complex as Wilbert H. Grubb Lane and the unveiling of a biographical placard detailing the major events of Grubb’s life — could serve as atonement for the city’s having taken so long to honor the officer.
A handful of Grubb’s descendants — including his granddaughters, nephews, nieces and even great-granddaughters — were on hand for the ceremony. They listened intently as city police chief Matt Gregory delivered remarks about the bravery involved in choosing law enforcement as a profession.
“The role of a police officer is not just a job, but a calling,” Gregory said. “When I first started this job, I was reminded over and over that not everybody can do this job as a police officer, that it takes a special person to wear the badge.”
The police chief quoted John 15:13 from the Bible.
“‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends,’” Gregory said. “I believe this perfectly describes the reasons for why we are gathered here today. From all accounts, Patrolman Grubb was loved tremendously by this community, the community that he served. When he gave the ultimate sacrifice, it appeared there were ripple effects from the loss that reverberated throughout this town.
“As we memorialize the sacrifice 77 years later, [the Bible passage] is just as resonant today as I’m sure it was then. Every time an officer lays down his life, I am most saddened for what he leaves behind, but I’m also reminded of the calling that brought them to this badge in the first place. There lies the legacy of a police officer. As we dedicate this lane and these memorials, let us not forget the sacrifices of those such as Patrolman Grubb who have answered the call.”
Wednesday’s ceremony also featured remarks from councilwoman and American Legion Post 7 commander Mary Albaugh and councilman CJ Rylands. Albaugh highlighted Grubb’s patriotic spirit, pointing to his service in World War I and leadership as post commander of American Legion Post 7.
“When he returned home, he had a great sense of will to serve his community of Upshur County,” Albaugh said. “He will always be known as a member of the greatest generation.”
Rylands then discussed the importance of a town telling its stories.
“When we started installing these plaques, our focus was on telling the stories of our historic downtown buildings, but I think the story of officer Grubb and of all the others that have gone before us are much more important,” Rylands said. “Learning the history of your town and its citizens, visiting the places they lived and the cemeteries where they rest, connects us all and the strength of any community is directly proportional to the strength of the connections between its citizens.”
Ceremony attendees subsequently headed outside to the Public Safety Complex parking lot for the unveiling of Grubb’s biographical placard and the street sign labeling the street circling the PSC “Wilbert H. ‘Webb’ Grubb Lane.” The Upshur County Combined Honor Guard under the direction of commander Larry Brown of VFW Post 3663 conducted a memorial ceremony to pay tribute to Grubb.
Donna Matthews, Grubb’s niece and the daughter of Cecil Grubb, said Wednesday’s ceremony was long-awaited but “beautiful.” Her father, Cecil, was sometimes willing to talk about his fallen brother, but other times silent on the matter.
“Sometimes, he talked about [how Wilbert Grubb died] a lot, and he had his moments that he didn’t talk about it,” Matthews said. “This was a beautiful ceremony. The family has wanted this for so long and we really didn’t know how to go about doing it until we talked to mayor McCauley.”
The city plans to hold a ceremony annually to honor Grubb’s legacy.