October 12, 1925 (New York) – July 9, 1971 (Norwalk, CT)
Married to Mrs. Violet Pinto Fera; three sons, Nicholas, 20; Gary, 18; and Randy, 17
Local address: 6 Creeping Hemlock Drive
Enlisted in the Army Air Corps December 14, 1943; service number 42055460.
From The Bridgeport Post July 10, 1971
NORWALK COP KILLER SUSPECT HELD
2nd Suspect, Sergeant Die In Shootout
Connecticut National Branch Held Up for $12,000
Slain Suspect Had Long Criminal Record, Police Report
NORWALK — A 48-year-old ex-convict, suspected of firing the bullet which killed a veteran police sergeant in the blazing aftermath of a $12,000 robbery yesterday at 2 p.m. in the Connecticut National bank branch, was in police custody today. His alleged accomplice in the daring daylight bank robbery was also slain in the exchange of bullets which occurred several blocks away from the bank.
The suspect, Frederick Earl Wells, 48, who said he was from Nevada and San Diego, California, is reported to have surrendered at the home of a police lieutenant about 7 a.m. today after apparently going from door to door last night, attempting to give himself up as a police dragnet tightened.
After intensive police questioning, Wells was charged with robbery with violence and also with being a parole violator in this state. No details of his parole violation were immediately available.
Slain in the shootout, about 30 minutes after an armed bandit robbed the West Norwalk branch of CNB were Gordon Cogswell, 44, formerly of Norwalk, and with a record of holdup convictions, and 18-year veteran Police Sergeant Nicholas V. Fera, who spotted the reported getaway car, forced it off the roadway and shot it out with Cogswell and wells.
Th two in the getaway car leaped from their auto and a fusillade of bullets followed. Cogswell fell dead alongside the getaway car, as one of Sgt Fera’s bullets struck him in the head.
Witnesses said Sgt Fera had already been wounded and had slumped to the street when he returned the fire which killed Cogswell. The police sergeant died 15 minutes after being admitted to Norwalk Hospital of a single bullet wound in his chest.
A witness said that the second robber, later identified as Wells, ran from the scene and entered a two-story house. Th dwelling was surrounded by police, and occupants were led to safety as police made a room-to-room search but found no trace of Wells.
When other policemen, who had been alerted via police radio by Sergeant Fera, after he spotted the getaway car and identified it through a “hot line” broadcast, converged on the scene in patrol cars, they found Cogswell dead and Sgt Fera wounded fatally.
In the getaway car, police found an attache case, containing $8,600 and $2,400 was found on Cogswell.
In a “hot line” broadcast, Wells was described as having gray hair, a pock-marked face and a ruddy complexion.
A woman who was driving behind the getaway car, and saw the shootout, told police that Cogswell fired four shots at Sgt Fera, all of which seemed to go wild; but the second man, later identified as Wells, leveled his weapon across the hood of the getaway car, and took careful aim, before firing at Sgt Fera.
Wells, after fleeing the scene, hid out in a wooded area about a half mile from the shooting scene, and at 7 a.m. today went from door to door, telling residents he wanted to give himself up. One resident directed him to the nearby home of Police Lieutenant Louis Santo, and the lieutenant’s 18-year-old son, Richard, opened the door.
When Wells said: “I’m the man the police are looking for,” the youth called police a minute later. Patrolman Terrence Dougherty arrived and handcuffed Wells. Sgt Lamb arrived a moment later and they took Wells to headquarters, where he was still being questioned this forenoon.
Police said the missing $1,000 in the $12,000 holdup, was found in Wells’ inside pocket along with $58 of his own money, but police said no weapon was found.
With the finding of the $1,000 on Wells, all of the loot taken from the bank was recovered.
Describing the actual bank branch robbery, which took place at 2:30 p.m., police credited an alert teller at the drive-up window for furnishing police with a marker number of the getaway car.
Police said Wells drove up to the outside window and asked the teller, Mrs. Patricia Wempe, for $10 in quarters. Mrs. Wempe said she became suspicious when he acted very nervous and seemed to be stalling around, instead of leaving immediately. When the car left, she jotted down the marker number because of her suspicions.
Police said it was learned later that while Wells was at the drive-up window, Cogswell was in the bank, ordering Mrs. Judith Agrino, a teller, at revolver point to stuff money into a grocery bag.
After Mrs. Agrino placed all of the money she had into the bag, Cogswell said “that isn’t enough – get more” and she went to two other tellers, obtained more money and also placed that in the bag.
Mrs. Agrino told police: “I thought he was kidding at first, until his eyes glanced downward and then I saw the gun.”
As soon as all bank employees learned of the robbery, Mrs. Wempe turned in the marker number, and within minutes, a “hot line” broadcast had alerted Norwalk Police of the marker number and a description of what turned out to be the getaway car.
About 30 minutes after the robbery, Sgt Vera, driving his patrol car, spotted the getaway car, a blue, 1964 Ford with California plates, and gave chase. The car, apparently, had doubled back, and was headed back to the vicinity of the holdup scene.
Giving word to other cars by radio, he sped after the car and forced it to the roadside near Woodbury Avenue, where the car mounted a curb.
A woman driving nearby told police Sgt Fera got out of his car at the same time the bandits did and the driver, believed by police to be Cogswell, began rapidly firing a snub nosed pistol at the sergeant as he emptied his service revolver at the bandit.
The man on the passenger’s side took dead aim across the hood of the car at the policeman and fired his pistol.
Both the policeman and the driver fell to the ground, as the second man fled up Woodbury Avenue.
Other police arriving at the scene with an ambulance found a .32 caliber pistol with four shots fired under the body of Cogswell whom they identified as a man with a criminal record dating back to a series of holdups in 1952.
He was still wanted on a charge of kidnapping a young woman and taking her to Hartford where he reportedly raped her last May and is believed to have fled to San Diego in the interim.
Cogswell was also one of two men arrested in 1952 in connection with a series of Liquor store and grocery store holdups, and was subsequently convicted of the charges. At the time of his arrest, an arsenal of guns and assorted loot were recovered by State Police.
The getaway car was found to have been stolen in California.
The hunt intensified for the second suspect, who police did not believe could have gone far on foot since the area was saturated with police within a few minutes of the shooting.
Police Chief Francis Virgulak emphasized that the man was “an armed killer and still dangerous,” and warned anyone against either admitting strangers to their homes or picking up hitchhikers.
The force hunting the killer was augmented by State Police, FBI men, Stamford Police with a patrol dog, and off-duty Norwalk policemen who volunteered to work around the clock until he is captured. The police union offered $1,000 reward for his capture.
Sgt Fera, a native of New York City, joined the police department in 1950 as a supernumerary policeman and was appointed ta regular in 1952. He served a short time in the detective bureau before being promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1965.
He was an Air Force veteran, and in his duties as a street sergeant, had become popular with neighbors and businessmen in the area.
Survivors include his wife, Mrs. Violet Fera; three sons, Nicholas, 20; Gary, 18; and Randy, 17.
The funeral will be conducted on Tuesday with full departmental honors. An honor guard will be maintained at the Magner Funeral Home, 12 Mott Avenue, until the funeral, which will be conducted Tuesday at 11 a.m. in St. Jerome’s Church with a Mass of Resurrection. Burial will be in St. John’s cemetery.
Wayne Granquist, president of the Fairfield County National Bank, 77 Wall Street, a neighboring bank, said today that the bank has started a trust fund for the family of Sgt Fera and is requesting that contributions be sent to the bank’s Post Office Box 388.
Trustees of the fund are Albert Olivia, Barney Lieberman, and Vincent DePanfilis, all Norwalk businessmen.