Robert B. Harris was born on November 10, 1925, in Pantego, North Carolina, the son a plumber. In 1943, Bobby Harris joined the Air Force and served for three years including time in France. He returned to North Carolina and married his high school sweetheart. They joined his parents who were living in Del Ray, and he worked as a radio technician. But he wanted to be a police officer and on August 23, 1948, he was sworn in as an Alexandria officer.
On September 11, 1948, Private Harris and Private George Jordan were inspecting businesses along North Washington Street. At 2:45 a.m., Private Harris was checking the Howard Johnson’s at North Washington and Montgomery streets and Private Jordan went to check a nearby frozen custard stand. Private Jordan heard a gunshot and ran behind the Howard Johnson’s. He first went to chase the fleeing suspect but stayed with Private Harris upon seeing him in a pool of blood. Private Harris, shot in the groin with a major artery severed, was face down with his unfired weapon nearby. In his last words, Private Harris indicated which way the shooter had fled. Private Harris, an officer for less than three weeks, was taken to Alexandria Hospital and died moments later.
Investigators believed Private Harris had interrupted a burglar at the back door of the Howard Johnson’s when he was shot. Two witnesses had seen a man jump the fence behind the restaurant and run east on Madison Street. Officers from around the area searched for the killer but months passed before a suspect emerged.
A man in Richmond was overheard confessing to the crime. He was indicted but first faced prison for a murder elsewhere. On May 11, 1969, James W. Hunter, 47, was arrested for killing Private Harris. But at trial, his confession was ruled inadmissible and the charge was dismissed.
Private Harris, 22, was survived by his wife Elsie, their infant son Robert, his parents Roy and Leta, and a younger brother. He is buried at Yeatesville Cemetery in Pinetown, N.C.