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The Army's First Chief of Criminal Investigations.

In the Spring 2008 issue of Military Police, (1) I discussed the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) being formed within the Military Police Corps of the American Expeditionary Force in France. However, I neglected to name the first DCI commander.


On 12 December 1918, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin O. Saunders, who had been a member of the Judge Advocate General's Department, reported for duty. He had been selected for the position by Brigadier General Harry Hill Bandholtz, Provost Marshal General.

Saunders was born in Sharpsburg, Kentucky, on 17 November 1877. He first enlisted as a private in 1898, and he served in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. He reenlisted on 15 September 1899 while stationed in the Philippines, and he attained the rank of corporal. On 2 February 1901, Saunders was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry and assigned to the 29th Infantry Regiment, Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

In 1903, Saunders married Margaret Lane; and they had three daughters. He attended the University at Buffalo Law School, Buffalo, New York, where he graduated in 1912. (2) Shortly thereafter, he joined the Judge Advocate General's Department. During World War I, but before his assignment to the DCI, Saunders was awarded a Purple Heart for his actions during a German gas attack.

Organizing the theater-wide DCI and making it operational was a monumental task. The area of operation included all of Europe and the British Isles. Whenever possible, men with police backgrounds were recruited, while others taught the requirements of investigative work and prepared cases for courts-martial. It is certainly a tribute to Lieutenant Colonel Saunders that he was able to successfully command the DCI--especially during wartime and immediately following the armistice.

The March 1919 issue of Pourquoi? (an internal newsletter of the DCI Paris Branch) provides some perspective on Saunders' personality. It states, "He's got an eye keener than that of a Malay diver fishing for pearls, and he can see through more clouds and verbal camouflage than ever dripped from the prolific pen of [Sir Arthur] Conan Doyle. The Colonel is full of deductive processes and inductive syllograms, he savvies all the psychological bunk about psychopathic phenomena, and he knows a hawk from a handsaw." (3)


The short-lived DCI was disbanded along with the Military Police Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Saunders went on to finish his career with the Judge Advocate General's Department. In late 1919, while serving as the judge advocate of the Central Department headquartered in Chicago, Saunders testified as a character witness for a defendant in a general court-martial at Governor's Island, New York. Captain Karl W. Detzer, former commanding officer of the 308th Military Police Company (Criminal Investigation), LeMans, France, was being tried for twenty-eight counts of prisoner abuse. Captain Detzer was acquitted of all charges and continued to serve in the Army. (4)

Lieutenant Colonel Saunders was subsequently assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Panama; and the Presidio of San Francisco, where he retired in 1941. Lieutenant Colonel Saunders passed away on 14 April 1966.

Acknowledgements: The photograph of Lieutenant Colonel Saunders was provided by his daughter, Mrs. Margaret Walker. The sketch was provided by his grandson, Mr. Edwin Walker.


(1) Master Sergeant Patrick V. Garland (Retired), "Genesis of Criminal Investigation in the U.S. Army," Military Police, Spring 2008.

(2) Personal communication between Master Sergeant Garland (Retired) and Mr. Daniel Brewster, Office of Alumni Relations, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York.

(3) Pourquoi? (an internal newsletter of the Paris Branch of the DCI), Volume 1, March 1919.

(4) "Detzer, Acquitted, Gets Death Notes," The New York Times, 7 February 1920.

Master Sergeant Garland retired from the U.S. Army in 1974. During his military career, he served in military police units and criminal investigation detachments and laboratories. At the time of his retirement, Master Sergeant Garland was serving as a ballistics evidence specialist at the European Laboratory. He remained in this career field until retiring from civilian law enforcement in 1995.
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Author:Garland, Patrick V.
Publication:Military Police
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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