St. Pete Police Dept. detective makes it his mission to honor city’s first chief 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The year was 1905. The date, Christmas Eve.

Late that evening, St. Petersburg’s police chief should have been going home. Instead, Chief James Mitchell was working the downtown streets.

While walking along Central between Second and Third, the history of St. Pete’s Police Dept. changed forever.

St. Pete detective Bilbery was so enthralled by this case, he nearly dropped everything to start investigating.

Chief Mitchell never had a proper burial. Not even a flag on his grave site.

Even now, the department still doesn’t have a photo of Chief James J. Mitchell.

It was late afternoon on his first holiday shift as St. Pete’s first police chief.

“Back then, St. Pete was part of Hillsborough County,” said Bilbery.

It was a time of change, new boundaries and new authorities.

“He was the first hired police chief for the city.”

Chief Mitchell was responding to a disorderly conduct call at a local bar.

“As he was attempting to walk that person to the 300 block of First Avenue South, where the police department was, the violator’s friend came up and stabbed the chief,” said Bilbery.

Chief Mitchell died that night. Records show he was buried without any honors. His grave was simply marked with two marble pieces in the Greenwood Cemetery along MLK Blvd.

It was something that struck Bilbery right in the gut, so he set out to make a change.

First, it took him months just to find the chief’s grave site, and when he did, he turned to the Heroes of the St. Pete Police Dept.

“He came to the board with all this information, and there was no hesitation when he asked,” said Dawn Peters.

Now, a beautiful memorial stands in place, honoring a man who gave his life in the line of duty.

Bilbery wishes there was one thing he could say to his former chief.

“Thank you. Thanks to his family for what they gave up, as well.”

St. Pete Police tell us before going to prison, the man charged in the chief’s murder was lynched by the citizens of St. Pete in the street.

Follow Jenn Holloway on Facebook


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