At 85 years old and after 65 years as a Texas peace officer, Liberty County Sheriff’s Capt. Ken DeFoor is hanging up his gun belt and retiring from full-time service, though he will stay on as a reserve deputy to assist with the sheriff’s office honor guard and as a liaison for Texas EquuSearch. His retirement on Jan. 31, 2023, will fall on his 86th birthday.
“I think the Good Lord has led me the entire way. He saw me through some very precarious situations that were not of my own doing. He has blessed me with good health and I have been able to work in a profession that I think is the greatest on earth,” said DeFoor. “I hope to have been a good influence on the younger officers.”
DeFoor’s storied career in law enforcement began in 1958 when he graduated from the Houston Police Academy in 1958 and joined the ranks of Houston Police Department as a patrol officer. He was later promoted to crime scene investigator, then detective, lieutenant and finally captain for HPD.
“While I was a patrol officer, my partner and I organized the Houston PD Underwater Search and Recovery Team. We recovered dead bodies, submerged vehicles, stolen property and murder weapons. That division was called the SCUBA Squad,” DeFoor said. “I then tested for a detective position. Out of 300 applicants for the position, I tested for it and came in first place, which earned me a promotion as homicide detective, a position I held for 12 years.”
In subsequent years, he was promoted to lieutenant of patrol and then captain, first in the inspections division, then later on in the helicopter division, which, at the time, was a fleet of 18 helicopters, according to DeFoor, who has a commercial rating as a helicopter pilot.
DeFoor’s entry into aviation came from 12 years of service in the Air Force Reserves. The youngest of five sons of Tant Thomas DeFoor and Lona DeFoor, he followed in the footsteps of his four older brothers, who all served in U.S. military branches.
“My two older brothers were Navy pilots. The oldest, Conard DeFoor, was a fighter pilot who was shot down and killed off the coast of Iwo Jima, Japan, in World War II. My second oldest brother, Welfrea, was a dive bomber pilot and he was killed in the Pacific Ocean during the war. Neither of them were ever recovered,” DeFoor said.
According to DeFoor, it was around the same time that Thomas and Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, lost five sons in the war, prompting the creation of the Sole Survivor Policy. This kept DeFoor and two other brothers – Doug (U.S. Marine) and John (U.S. Navy) from serving in war abroad. All three finished their military service stateside.
“I am the last of the Mohicans, so to speak,” said DeFoor. “All my brothers are gone now.”
DeFoor retired from Houston Police Department in 1984 at the age of 47. He was retired “for two whole days,” he said, until he was offered a job as chief of police for Dayton Police Department.
“I was running for sheriff of Liberty County at the time. Some people from Dayton asked me to drop out of the race against Sheriff Sonny Applebe and take the job as police chief. I agreed and served there for three and a half years before leaving to open a private investigation firm,” DeFoor said.
While running his PI business, DeFoor continued working as a peace officer for Cleveland Police Department and the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office. He made a second exit from law enforcement when he was asked by former Liberty County Judge Lloyd “Tookie” Kirkham to head the Liberty County Office of Emergency Management.
“I kept that job for a couple of years. I stepped down when Greg Arthur was elected sheriff and he asked me to be his chief deputy. Sheriff Henry Patterson ended up beating Arthur in an election and I stayed on to work for Sheriff Patterson as captain. Then Sheriff Bobby Rader beat Patterson for the position and I stayed on to work with him for the last eight years,” DeFoor said.
In his current position as LCSO captain, DeFoor is tasked with media relations and oversees the reserve officers, honor guard, mounted posse, aviation unit, chaplains and family assistance group, handwriting analysis, S.C.A.N. and various other units.
Once he retires in January, he will remain as a reserve deputy and continue to work with the LCSO honor guard and as liaison for Texas EquuSearch. Since Rader was elected sheriff, Texas EquuSearch has assisted in 22 search and recovery operations in Liberty County, according to DeFoor.
“I have had the distinct pleasure of serving for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and having the opportunity throughout my career to police from the air, on the ground and underwater. I guess that is unique in that respect. I think that if you just stick around long enough, you have opportunities to do interesting things,” he said.
DeFoor said he and his wife, Jo, plan to continue volunteering for organizations in the Dayton area. DeFoor is currently the chairman of the Dayton Historical Society’s Police and Fire Museum Committee and is a member of the Dayton Rotary Club. The couple plans to spend part of their time traveling to car shows to share their love of antique automobiles. The DeFoors have a 1957 Plymouth police cruiser and a 1970 model Ford pickup truck, and recently acquired a 1950 Studebaker “Bullet Nose” Starlight.
“We are big into antique cars. I have been wanting a Studebaker like this for years,” he said.
The DeFoors’ vehicles have been used to film several movies including “Infamous” starring Toby Jones, Daniel Craig and Sandra Bullock; “Hope” starring Christine Lahti, Jena Malone, J.T. Walsh and Catherine O’Hara, and directed by Goldie Hawn; and “Mao’s Last Dance” starring Chi Cao, Amanda Schull and Joan Chen.
DeFoor said he wouldn’t mind adding another film credit or two if the opportunity arises.
“Jo says I am a frustrated actor,” he said with a chuckle.
As for his replacement at the sheriff’s office, DeFoor said that is still be worked out by Sheriff Rader. A number of people within the department have applied, though DeFoor has set the bar very high for whoever comes next.
“Ken has certainly been an asset to the sheriff’s office, not only in my terms as sheriff but for two other sheriffs,” said Sheriff Rader. “Ken cannot be replaced. We will find someone to take his position, but they will never fill his shoes.”