Our mother’s Uncle Jack was a cut-up. During holiday get-togethers he would bring all of us kids (and there were lots of us) down to the basement, turn out the lights and tell us scary stories, bellowing and making us scream until his wife, Aunt Phil, would yell down the stairs, “Be quiet, Jack! You make more noise than the kids!” We loved it, and him.
Uncle Jack was born John Charles Ritter on November 2, 1913, the oldest child of Charlotte and John E. Ritter. He married Philomena Ferrara in January 1936. He joined the police force in the late 1930s, and spent most of his career with the vice squad. Uncle Jack handled a lot of interesting cases which were covered in the local Cincinnati newspapers.
The first newspaper mention of Uncle Jack was in 1939, when Patrolman John Ritter attempted to capture a prowler in his backyard on Milton Street. Unfortunately the man got away. During World War II, he worked vice, arresting suspects for indecent or disorderly conduct and illegal gambling—breaking up several marble and pinball games in cafes and drugstores. In 1941 he was hit in the nose by a suspect’s head when a bystander pushed the suspect into him, and was injured badly enough to require treatment by the police surgeon.
In 1942 Patrolman John Ritter and his partner easily captured three would-be robbers who were locked in the Wigwam Restaurant on Hamilton Avenue by employees and customers.
In 1943 Uncle Jack arrested a woman, Vilman Jackson, of West Eighth Street, for telling fortunes. For $1, she told him that his wife would divorce him that year, he would be offered a good job, and he would receive a large sum of money. “She also said that a man and woman, who, she suggested, were the shades of Ritter’s parents, were visible to her. When Ritter told her that his parents were living, she declared the spirits those of his grandparents.” (The charge was telling fortunes for money. Uncle Jack’s mother, our great-grandmother Ritter, told fortunes herself—reading tea leaves and cards for family and friends. But Grandma said the gift would desert her if she accepted money for it.)
In 1944 Uncle Jack was promoted to detective, and began working on a greater variety of cases. In October of that year he arrested a women for bigamy. She was accused of being married to four men, but admitted to only two husbands, “neither of whom were soldiers.”
Through the early 1950s there were few mentions of Uncle Jack in the paper. Then in 1954 there was this charming piece by Al Schottelkotte—older Cincinnatians remember him as a long-time news anchor at Channel 9:
“Searching for clues after the holdup at a loan company office in the Bell Block Thursday afternoon, Detective John Ritter found a pair of gloves on a desk. When employees said the gloves didn’t belong to them, investigators thought that the bandit must have left them behind. The clue exploded, however, when a lunkhead reporter by the name of Schottelkotte asked if anyone had seen his gloves.”
From the late 1950s on, Uncle Jack was involved in more high-profile cases. In 1960, he captured James Patrick, a bad check artist who had been operating in Dayton, Indianapolis and Louisville since his escape from an Alabama prison farm in 1952. And later that year, Uncle Jack arrested two young men, Donald Anderson and James Wilson, accused of swindling a number of elderly women out of their life savings, in Cincinnati and Davenport, Iowa.
After 1963 there are no more mentions of Detective Jack Ritter, so he may have retired from the Cincinnati Police Department about then. For a while he worked as head of security for the First National Bank of Cincinnati. In the family, Uncle Jack and Aunt Phil are much beloved—Uncle Jack for his sense of fun and Aunt Phil for her kindness (when she couldn’t remember our names she called us ‘Honey’). Uncle Jack died in 1994, and his wife of 58 years, Aunt Phil, died in 2004.