Oxford Vignettes: Shoot Out in Oxford!

By Cathy Schmidt

Bill and Sara Benson were dear cousins to me who lived up the street from my family. Throughout their lives they enriched those who surrounded them with their community involvement, faith, grace, and generous neighborly manners. Sara kept a journal every year of her life in Oxford and Captain Bill kept a daily weather book throughout his time as ferry Captain of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. They were anchors in the town of Oxford, steadfast and kind, they were a pleasure to know.

The Benson family has graciously decided to share some of these journal entries with the readers of Attraction. Smartly titled “Oxford Vignettes” by Susan Benson, I invite you to enjoy reading these daily snippets of life in Oxford in their day.

In this undated photograph, Sara and Bill Benson sit on their front porch in Oxford.

William Lindale Benson was born in Bellevue on October 20, 1908. Sara Valliant Newnam was born on August 10, 1913 and grew up in the Grapevine House in Oxford. They married on Christmas Day in 1936 at the home of Joseph Newnam, her brother. After living in an apartment above the “Towne Shoppe” in Oxford, they moved to 315 North Morris Street in 1943, the year their son Dale Jr. was born. At their new home, Sara could watch Captain Bill and the ferry from her sink window and front porch. Captain Benson took over operations of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry in 1938. His summer schedule ran 80 to 105 hours per week. Only winter ice kept the ferry from running, and the only day he took off was Christmas Day, which was also his anniversary. He retired in 1974.

Wednesday, March 5, 1976

Shoot Out in Oxford! Bobby Banks and Ben Forrest shot by Richard Williams.

Elizabeth Ann Matthews is 10 years old today. Birthday card to Ann Matthews with $2 enclosed. Because of the railway, Southside (ferry) wasn’t hauled until today at Cambridge. I received my 7th social security check. Bill re-mailed 2 letters to Dale with note enclosed. Mostly Sunny, not too warm. Susan, Isabel and Jim came to 5 o’clock dinner – Roast beef, fried apples, peas, limas, baked pineapple, whipped potatoes and gravy, hot biscuits and Susan’s apple jelly, hot bran muffins and chocolate pie with meringue topping. Susan and Isabel helped with the dishes and they left. Susan was going back to Nancy’s. At 7:50 I went to Edith Taylor’s for United Methodists Women’s Meeting. Isabel and I arrived and went in together. We were the last to arrive. After we got in, we heard what sounded like shots but thought it had to be firecrackers or backfires. Edith was in charge of devotions and started the meeting at 8. All the while having those sounds outside. At end of devotions, I went out to see. Just as I got to end of her walk so I could see – I saw a man crouching behind a car across the street. There was a Maryland State police car with revolving red lights going in front of Aulby’s store – just then police using loud speaker said everyone get in house and lock doors and turn porch lights on. Then we realized it had been gun shots we had been hearing. Siren sounded like an ambulance call, we couldn’t imagine what was happening. From then on there was very little business meeting conducted.

We kept watching out the window. We had a “grand stand seat.” We saw more Maryland State police come. They blocked High St. with one police car and 2 troopers with drawn pistols took cover on each side of it. Sheriff parked across Edith’s drive and took his shot gun out and went down by Bringman’s store. We took turns calling home to tell folks to lock doors, etc. Bill called me back to say Sarah Crockett had called him from the hospital to say Bobby Banks (Oxford Town Policeman) had been shot in the throat and shoulder and Ben Forrest (Talbot County Sheriff) had been shot in the right temple, had been brought to the hospital, were treated and released. For at least an hour and a half all wondered what in the world was going on outside.

Bobby Banks attended the Street Naming Ceremony on July 7, 1996 at Waters United Methodist Church in Oxford.
Photograph of Bobby Banks provided by his daughter, Ferne Banks.

Finally we learned that Richard J. “Duke” Williams (35 years old) went on a shooting spree in center of Oxford, with a 12 gauge shotgun. He shot out windows in Bill Bringman’s station wagon and sprayed it with shots. Duke lives right behind Bringman’s store. Sprayed Oxford Police car with shots inside and out while Bobby Banks was in it, it’s a wonder Bobby wasn’t killed. For years Duke has been a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Seems he would have spells of depression and was on medication for it. Tonite he just cracked and went on the spree. Since he was shooting for real Bobby and Ben had to call for help. Duke got back in his house before the police could get him. They surrounded the house and finally talked him into surrendering. He left by front door, hands in the air and was escorted to a state police cruiser. Witnesses said Duke walked along the street slowly firing his shotgun in two shot bursts. It’s thought he was on his way down the street. That would really have been something if he had gotten there. Right after the incident began, state police erected road blocks at Trappe Station and Rt 333 and at Oxford Causeway and Rt 50. That was lifted at 9:45 pm. After it was all over we just looked at each other and couldn’t believe what we had seen. Those at the meeting: Mary Inglis, Ruth Garland, Geneva Gambill, Susie Haddaway, Evelyn Roth, Geneva Applegarth, Isabel Engle of course, Edith Taylor and myself. I helped Edith serve ice cream, coconut cake, nuts, mints, and coffee. After other folks left – I helped Edith with the dishes. It was a wild time in the old town tonight!

Sara Benson’s Chocolate Pie with Meringue Topping

9-inch baked pie shell or a graham cracker crust

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup of cornstarch

1/2 tsp of salt

2 oz. unsweetened Baker’s chocolate, chopped small

3 cups of milk

4 egg yolks slightly beaten, keep egg whites separate

1 tsp vanilla

Prepare and bake pie shell. Whisk together sugar, corn starch, and salt in 2-quart saucepan. Whisk in milk slowly. Add the Baker’s chocolate. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Pour some hot mixture into the egg yolk and then add all to the hot mixture, bring to boil again for about 2 minutes, while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Allow to cool to lukewarm and then pour into pie shell and put into refrigerator about 2 hours or until set. Once chilled, prepare meringue.

Meringue Topping

4 egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

6 TBS granulated sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 425. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in mixer until foamy. Beat in sugar one tablespoon at a time and continue beating on high until stiff peaks form and the meringue is glossy. Beat in vanilla.

Place scoopfuls onto chocolate pie, sealing the edges and creating peaks with a small offset spatula. Place in hot oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until the peaks are a soft brown. Remove from oven and serve. Refrigerate leftovers.

Sara Benson’s Chocolate Meringue Pie recipe was popular in 1976 and the recipe stands the test of time.
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