A man who was sentenced to life in prison in 1972 for shooting an on-duty Davenport police officer to death has died.
Wesley Betts, 63, was being housed in an out-of-state prison under compact agreement and died at a hospital at 9:21 p.m. Tuesday, according to a news release issued by the Iowa Department of Corrections.
A spokesperson for the department said legal agreements prevented reporting where Betts was being held. A Quad-City Times story in 1993 said he was at a federal prison in Virginia; a story in 2001 said he was at a federal prison in Pekin, Ill.
Betts died of natural causes. The preliminary cause of death is complications from non-small-cell lung cancer, which resulted in organ failure.
He was serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole for first-degree murder from Scott County and a sentence of up to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder from Lee County.
Michael Farnsworth was a 29-year-old rookie Davenport cop, four months on the job, with a wife and daughter at home when he was shot while answering a robbery call on Dec. 5, 1971. The shooting occurred at the former Quality Motel at 605 Main St. A residential correctional facility now stands at the site.
Former Davenport Police Chief Mike Bladel, who went through Davenport’s police academy with Farnsworth, remembers the shooting well. In a Quad-City Times photo from that night, Bladel can be seen on the third-floor balcony holding a shotgun.
Betts, then 22, and three other men, Willie Earl Davis, then 20, Wornice Lloyd, then 25, and Willie Lee Ellis, then 22, robbed off-duty Davenport police officer Leon Washington, who lived at the motel. The four, all from Chicago, fled Washington’s room with his gun collection as officers Sam Raley and Farnsworth pulled up in a squad car.
Farnsworth shouted for three suspects in the motel parking lot to stop. Betts opened fire from a third-floor balcony. Farnsworth was hit in the head and died instantly.
“Betts was on the third-floor balcony, firing down, alternating fire with a six-shooter in each hand,” Bladel said. “As Mike was running for cover, he was hit in the head.”
Moments later, other police officers converged on the scene, and the four suspects were captured.
The three other men received 25-year sentences for second-degree murder in connection with the case. Each was paroled in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
“Mike was a good guy who left behind a good family,” Bladel said. “It was a real tragedy that sent shock waves through the community and throughout the police department. We were new, we were green, and we were dedicated.”
Betts was serving his sentence at the state penitentiary in Fort Madison when he was involved in the stabbing death of inmate Gary Eugene Tyson during a riot in 1981. He was sentenced to 25 years for that death after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. A Quad-City Times story at the time of his sentencing said he was transferred to a federal prison in Oxford, Wis., after the riot.
“I’m glad that justice was served, and that Betts served his entire sentence,” Bladel said. “It was appropriate he received a life sentence.”
Washington eventually moved to Chicago. On June 6, 1981, he became involved in an altercation with James Riordan, first deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Washington shot Riordan to death and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. A search of the Illinois Department of Corrections website does not show Washington as being an inmate.