Patrolman Robert Sterling Hester

Patrolman Robert Sterling Hester

Memphis Police Department, Tennessee

End of Watch Wednesday, January 12, 1983

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Robert Sterling Hester

Patrolman Robert Hester was killed when he was beaten and tortured after being taken hostage by a religious cult.

Several hours prior, an off-duty police officer observed a purse snatching. Although he was unable to apprehend the suspect, he recognized the suspect, and he went with two other officers to the suspect's home to question him.

When they arrived, they found no one home but were able to reach the suspect by phone. They were unable to understand the suspect on the phone, and a report was filed.

Meanwhile, the suspect was at a house at 2239 Shannon Avenue with 13 other males. They were all members of a religious cult. The 13 men and the suspect had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana all day. The leader of the cult instructed the purse-snatching suspect to call the police and summon them to the house. When he called the police, he told them that he wanted to talk to officers about an earlier purse-snatching incident.

Patrolman Hester and his partner were dispatched to the house. When Patrolman Hester and his partner arrived, they entered the house and quickly became aware that they were largely outnumbered by a group of crazed men.

Patrolman Hester called for additional units to respond, and both officers attempted to diplomatically back out of the house. As they tried to exit, the group attacked them. One of the suspects was able to gain control of Patrolman Hester's partner's gun. The suspect then shot Patrolman Hester’s partner in the face. Patrolman Hester's partner was able to escape, but Patrolman Hester was captured by the group and beaten with his flashlight and gun.

The first backup officer to arrive attempted to enter the house to save Patrolman Hester, but he was hit so hard upon entering the house that he was thrown from the porch.

The second officer to enter went in shooting. He emptied his revolver and exited. After reloading, he again entered and again emptied his revolver in an attempt to save Patrolman Hester. When all of his ammunition was exhausted, he retrieved his shotgun and again entered the house firing, but was unable to reach Patrolman Hester. It is unknown how many cult members were wounded or killed in that rescue attempt.

Seven of the suspects escaped the house as other officers arrived, but were all captured.

A stand-off that lasted 30 hours began. Negotiation teams, attempting to talk the cult members into releasing Patrolman Hester, were unsuccessful. During the 30 hours standoff, Patrolman Hester could be heard calling for help, and the cult members could be heard berating him. At about 3 am on January 13, the house went quiet.

Tear gas cartridges were fired into the house followed by several flash grenades. Tactical Officers entered the house and gunfire erupted. They were able to reach Patrolman Hester and remove him from the house. As Tactical Officers searched the house, they encountered gunfire and in returning fire, shot and killed seven suspects.

It was later determined that Patrolman Hester had been killed 12 hours before the Tactical Team entered the house. He had been beaten severely with his flashlight and handgun.

Patrolman Hester was a United States Army veteran of the Vietnam War veteran and served with the Memphis Police for nine years. He was survived by his wife.


  • Age 34
  • Tour 9 years
  • Badge 480
  • Military Veteran

Incident Details

  • Cause Assault
  • Weapon Officer's flashlight
  • Offender Seven suspects shot and killed

hostage, investigation

Most Recent Reflection

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I was 13 when this happened and remember laying in bed crying and praying after watching the news. Everyone was talking about it at school. Still makes me emotional to this day. So horrible and sad. You are not forgotten Officer Hester.


February 29, 2024

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