Viva Elvis — Pop star dropped in on top cop — Disguised Presley soaks up lowdown on drug operation
The first thing you notice when entering the inner sanctum of Memphis Police Department Director Larry A. Godwin’s Downtown office on the 12th floor of 201 Poplar is how warm and welcoming the room is.
To help commemorate what would have been the 70th birthday on Jan. 8 of the city’s most famous resident, Godwin talked about the day he met Elvis Presley.
Born in Texas, but raised in North Memphis, Godwin lived at 908 Thomas St. and attended Holy Names School on Keel Avenue. When he was a boy of just 10, his father was killed on the street near their home, the victim of a stabbing.
When police officers called at the house to tell him his father had died, despite his grief, he felt safe in their company. That was the moment he made the decision to go into law enforcement.
Joining the MPD in 1973, he was appointed its director in 2004.
On a winter’s night in 1976, while working undercover in the metro narcotics unit, then-patrolman Godwin and patrolman Rodney Betts (since retired) were involved in a dangerous drug deal operation, shots were fired and everything that could possibly go wrong did.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, their captain, Fred Warner (who had his radio open to monitor their activities) was at Graceland presenting Elvis Presley with an honorary badge. Elvis heard everything.
Says Godwin, “It was late, about 10 p.m., but Elvis insisted on coming back with Captain Warner so that he could meet us.”
Warner, realizing that Elvis had one of the world’s most recognizable faces, did not think it was such a good idea. But Elvis disappeared for a few moments and reappeared wearing a disguise - and off they went.
“My partner Rodney and I were sitting at our desks at 157 Poplar (now the Shelby County Building) writing up our report,” continues Godwin, “when Captain Warner came in and asked us if we’d like to meet E.P. I said, ‘Who’s E.P.?’ and he replied, ‘Elvis.’ ”
A tall man came into the room wearing a snowsuit and ski mask. He pulled off the ski mask and it was Elvis, laughing. He was really excited and wanted us to tell him all the details of what we went through that night. He stayed for about an hour.
“He had a couple of guys with him but, they didn’t come into the room, it was just Elvis, Captain Warner, Rodney and myself. It was clear that Elvis had a sincere interest in and respect for law enforcement. He was very relaxed and having a good time.
“What impressed me the most was how completely down-to-Earth he was. He was interested in you as an individual and had such a friendly manner. I would say he really cared about people.
As he was leaving, Elvis invited the patrolmen to visit him at Graceland. ” ‘The door is open,’ he said, ‘just let my uncle know you’re at the gate and come on up, but remember, I’m not around until late afternoon.’ And with that, he was gone.”
Godwin and Betts never took Elvis up on his offer.
When Elvis died the following year, Godwin was mowing his lawn. His wife broke the news. “I was stunned,” says Godwin, “I felt that the City of Memphis and the Police Department had lost a good friend. Elvis never did forget his humble beginnings.”
The same can be said of Godwin.
A unique item sits on the edge of his desk. It is a red brick he retrieved from remnants of his old family home on Thomas Street, the day it was demolished. It is engraved: “Never Forget Where You Come From.”
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