By Rick Hinton
Tom Settle’s sister, Marlene, remembers the day he was born. She continues to carry that memory, with the logic and reasoning of a 4-year-old. “I wanted a sister! Grandma said maybe we’ll give him away if you don’t want him.” Marlene tried to rationalize the situation. “No… I want to see him first!” That Thursday, her mother and Tommy came home. Marlene’s eyes met those of her little brother and it was over! There was no going back. A sister and brother cemented a bond that transcended the coming years, and even after death. “He was a fun-loving, mischievous little guy,” Marlene remembers. “So totally alive!”
One of my oldest friends, Allen Settles, is second cousin to Tom, or “Tommy” as he remembers him. Marlene stated, “He never was called ‘Floyd’ or even ‘Tommy’… it was always Tom.” We both lived in Cumberland at one point and Allen told me Tom’s story. Seeing the actual physical location of where it had happened did something to me: I never forgot it! Or… the details of that day.
As Tom Settles entered the bank, William Adams stepped away from the water fountain along the interior wall, making a decision that not only would have ramifications affecting the rest of his life, but also bringing Billy Ray Adams along for the ride. It was not supposed to go down that way, but it did. Settles got off two shots — not hitting either robber — before he himself was shot, going down on his knees at the front counter. Billy Ray then leaned over the counter and finished the job. Bank manager, Kenneth Herndon, stated he heard Billy Ray say during the shooting, “ I may as well kill a cop now!” Marlene declares the man was pure evil. The bank manager pleaded with the robbers to leave before anyone else was hurt. He had the keys to the back door. Take my keys… just leave! Apparently, they saw the wisdom of his suggestion. However, another scenario was playing out just outside.
Deputy Marshal William Estes had arrived on the scene at about the same time that Tom was entering the bank with his .38 revolver drawn. Estes decided to cover the side door in case the suspects vacated the bank from there. The front door burst open and a man ran directly toward Settle’s patrol car. Estes fired his shotgun, fortunately not hitting the man who turned out to be the bank manager trying to make it to the patrol vehicle to use the police radio. “We’ve been held up!” he cried. The blast, instead, blew out a window of the patrol car. Estes entered the bank and saw Settles lying in a pool of blood. Simultaneously, the robbers exited the side door with a female hostage in tow and sped north.
A Code One (officer shot) went out on the police radio. Two-and-a-half hours later it was revised to Code Ten-Zero (The end death of a police officer). A well-coordinated manhunt began. The female hostage was told to jump out of the moving car as it headed north on German Church Road. She flagged down a ride back to the bank. The vehicle was later found in the driveway of a small farm in the 3900 block of German Church Road. Pieces of the puzzle fell quickly into place. The property was maintained by the owner of the Mahogany Bar, where bartender William Adams, on his shift, was quickly arrested as he poured shots. The getaway car was registered to one Billy Ray Adams. He gave himself up the evening of Settle’s funeral, tired of hiding, and afraid he would be assassinated by the police. There was some closure… some.
Tom Settles served two tours of duty in Vietnam as an infantryman. His older brother Paul also was there. Both were following in their father’s footsteps. Both witnessed the grim side of the human condition — death, mayhem and suffering. Both survived. Marlene remembers, “When they returned, they’d aged a hundred years, and looked exhausted and starved. Very thin!” Convicted felon, Billy Ray Adams, had also served three years there, yet, he was dishonorably discharged while Tom served honorably. It’s a study in contrasts!
Friends say Tom was doing what he loved best when he died. But again, he gave his best at everything he did…