Gress Surpasses Prohibition Era Sheriff For Years Of Service

NEBRASKA CITY – Jim Gress held the office of sheriff in Otoe County longer than anyone in history because the voters said so, but only he could define the role of sheriff for nearly four decades.

Prior to 1983, he was working as a deputy sheriff in Nemaha County, but still had the apple orchard at Nebraska City and wanted to live closer to the farm.

Gress: “As I’m going back up there, I thought I’m going to try and run for sheriff. At that time, no one knew, especially me, that Harris was in some kind of trouble.

The trouble was a diamond ring missing from a cache of evidence the Nebraska State Patrol had taken off a suspect and handed over to then sheriff Harris Esluer. The ring was recovered, but there were questions about the sheriff’s story that it must have been accidentally dropped in his patrol car and never made it to the evidence locker.

Despite his conviction for attempted theft, Esluer still beat Gress in the election.

Gress: “Rightfully so, Harris was well liked …

Gress explains his only election defeat saying a dispatcher named John Cole entered the race as a write-in and split the “anti-Esluer vote.”

Esluer’s conviction barred him from holding the office, so the county board opened up applications. Gress was among 50 to apply.

Gress: I do remember coming out of that interview …

He said seeking the job was one thing, but now he had to find out how it was done.

Gress: “Commissioner Pat Ramold said …

Gress never met Carl Ryder, who served as sheriff from 1923 to 1950.

Ryder, the son of William Ryder and Eliza Hinkston of  Dunbar, worked on an Otoe County farm from 1904 to 1922.

The newspapers roared with headlines about the lawman. Once after releasing the last inmate from the county jail, he told a news reporter that now he concentrate on the next man.

Gress: “ They said he was a great sheriff…

Ryder told the newspapers during the Prohibition Era that the famous bootlegger and kidnapper George Kelly Barnes, nicknamed Machine Gun Kelly,  was sure to make his way to the area.

He said his men needed firepower to stand up against the Thompson submachine gun that made Barnes famous.

Gress: “When I took office, Otoe County did own a Thompson …

Ryder served 27 years from 1923 to 1950 and one year in 1955. Gress’s was in office 36 years.

Gress: “I never was afraid …

He started with three deputies, who were jailers in the basement of the Otoe County courthouse, and a handful of dispatchers.

Gress:  “Within first year, I thought I was going to resign

Gress said state-imposed jail standards convinced county commissioners to add staff.

Gress: “Not my decision …

Gress said there were many times in the early years when the county jail was empty. When the new jail was built with a capacity for 21 prisoners they were told it would last 40 years. The county is now spending about $20,000 a month to hold prisoners out of county.

Gress: “The crimes we had back then …

He said law enforcement techniques have improved over the years, but there seems to be a trend for a different type of community policing that he knew.

Gress: “Main thing, you’ve got to keep your common sense …

Gress said he believes he had success at the election polls because of the years he spent going out on calls in the county and mingling with the people.

He offered his endorsement of new sheriff Colin Caudill.