Most people mark milestones and anniversaries. Some are a joyous occasion while others are somber.
Family and friends, colleagues and local, state and federal law enforcement agents gathered Friday morning at Metropolis Memorial Gardens to remember the 40th anniversary of the death of FBI Special Agent Johnnie Oliver who was a born in Karnak and was a native of Metropolis.
On Aug. 9, 1979, Oliver was shot and killed in Cleveland, Ohio, while pursuing fugitive Melvin Bay Guyon, who was wanted for kidnapping, rape and armed robbery. Oliver, who was a SWAT team member, and five other agents went to a Cleveland housing project where Guyon was believed to be residing.
Oliver and another agent went through the front door while the other four agents remained outside. Guyon, armed with a revolver, immediately shot Oliver, who was killed instantly. Guyon escaped through the front window. On that same day, Guyon was added to the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list and was subsequently arrested by FBI agents in Youngstown, Ohio.
Guyon, who is still in prison in Florida, was convicted of Oliver's murder and received a life sentence.
Oliver was born on May 8, 1944 in Karnak. After working for the FBI as a file clerk and serving two years in the military, Oliver became a special agent and was assigned to the FBI field office in Philadelphia. In 1972, he transferred to the Cleveland field office.
The Washington Post reported Oliver’s death on Aug. 10, 1979, stating “ . . . in the FBI's 71-year-history that three agents had lost their lives in a single day. Before yesterday's killings, 23 other agents had died in the line of duty, 21 of them shootings. FBI Director William H. Webster called reporters to the bureau's Washington headquarters to read a brief statement praising the three fallen agents, saying their service had been in ‘the finest tradition of the FBI.’”
According to the Post article, Cleveland FBI agent Anthony T. Riggio said the raiding party broke into the apartment through several entrances. He said Oliver was fired upon as soon as he announced he was an FBI agent. Riggio said that as other agents rushed into the bedroom, a man believed to be Guyon, barefoot and shirtless and bleeding profusely from the chest, escaped through a window and fled on foot.
Oliver left behind a wife and three children at the time of his death. His brother and sister still reside in Massac County.
Retired FBI Agent L.V. McGinty Jr. of Paducah and a current member of the Former Agents of the FBI Foundation were present at the special service on Friday.
McGinty explained the Foundation is working with the FBI Agents Association to make sure the agency, the Foundation and well as the public continue to honor the FBI Service Martyrs by placing an American flag on its agents’ gravesites just prior to the anniversary of their deaths.