December 1: 1941: Former Duluth police chief killed in gun battle

On this day in Duluth in 1941, Lieutenant Oscar G. Olson of the Duluth Police Department was shot and killed during a gun battle with John Handris, who may have been experiencing a psychotic episode. Olson, along with sergeants Robert Johnson and Walter C. Johnston, had been summoned to a house at 2212 West First Street at 11:05 that night. The home was the residence of Handris’s mother and step-father, who reported that Handris—also known as John Delageorge—had been brandishing a firearm. They were worried he would use it. They also informed officers that Handris, 31, had spent some time at the Moose Lake Hospital for the Insane. Handris had locked himself in a second-floor room. He would not come out, so the officers went in—and were met with gunfire. Handris shot Olson once in the chest and suffered several gunshots himself—in his chest, right hand, and left arm—and later died of those woulds. Olson returned fire before he and Johnston overpowered Handris, knocking him flat—but it was already too late for Olson. Oscar G. Olson had served on the Duluth Police Department for 33 years, including four years as chief (1935–1939). Olson was a hotel clerk and bookkeeper until 1908, when he was appointed an emergency patrolman. In 1917 he made sergeant, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1921, assigned to inspect pawn shops. By 1926 he had become a detective. He left the DPD in 1931 to become chief investigator for St. Louis County and left that position in 1935 when he was hired on as Duluth’s top cop. At one point Olson served as the president of Minnesota Peace and Police Officer’s Association. When an angry lynch mob attacked Duluth police headquarters in 1920, Olson was one of only a few Duluth police officers who stood their ground to protect the inmates inside—all of whom had been false accused of rape. One official said that if only his fellow officers would have listened to Olson, the mob would have dispersed and the lynchings “would doubtless have been avoided.” Olson was 54 years old when he died; he left behind a wife and a daughter.

Oscar G. Olson photographed in 1920 when he was a sergeant with the Duluth Police Department. (Image: Duluth Public Library)