Edward S. Piggins 1906-1972



The following is a compilation of news clippings and other online information about Edward S. Piggins (1906-1972).

Piggins, Edward S. (1906-1972) — of Wayne County, Mich. Born August 10, 1906. Republican. Circuit judge in Michigan 3rd Circuit, 1959-69; candidate for justice of Michigan state supreme court, 1970. Died in Grosse Pointe, Wayne County, Mich., July 11, 1972. Interment at White Chapel Cemetery, Troy, Mich. --

Some of Piggins' letters have been preserved in the Carl May Weideman papers 1921-1972 at Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2113. Catalogue online via LCWEB (seen 1999/10).

Law Practice

The above dates are taken from mentions in the Michigan Supreme Court reports. Piggins's principal litigation as a party in the 1940s involved his role as receiver of an insolvent Detroit real-estate business, Toynton-Brown.

Detroit Police Commissioner 1954-1958

As police commissioner, Piggins gained nationwide attention for his fight against police corruption and his management of obscenity and race issues. Large numbers of blacks had moved to the city after the Second World War to work in the automotive industry and the city was becoming racially mixed: the conflict was later to climax with rioting in 1967.

Term: June 5, 1954 to Sept. 1, 1958, according to


Family Court for the District of Columbia: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of US Senate. Text includes: Here are some comments: Edward S. Piggins: "The fundamental purpose is excellent. Of course, it has to be watched to keep it from getting out of hand..."

Senate, District of Columbia Committee, 1954, document page 56

Forty-six policemen charged with bribe-taking from gamblers will be brought before the police trial board, Commissioner of Police Edward Piggins announced.

New York Times 1954-11-21

The Detroit Police Department and the Michigan State Liquor Control Commission took steps in November 1954 to strengthen enforcement of the Michigan Civil Rights Law, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, or creed by the owners or operators of places of public accommodation. On November 11 Police Commissioner Edward S. Piggins issued instructions to all commanding officers in his department describing the procedures to be followed by the police in handling alleged violations of the Civil Rights Law. In addition to making a proper and thorough investigation, getting the names and addresses of complainants, violators and witnesses, peace officers were directed to advise alleged violators of the substance of the Civil Rights Law and their responsibilities under it. The officer was also directed to inform the complainant of his rights under the law, and the procedures for securing a warrant from the prosecuting attorney. Complete reports of all investigations were to be made to the precinct and a copy filed with the detectives. On November 23 the Michigan Liquor Control Commission addressed a letter to all holders of liquor licenses calling their attention to the section of the Penal Code which provided that all persons were entitled "to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of . . . places of public accommodation, amusement, and recreation." The effect of that letter was to warn liquor licensees that they were expected to comply with the state's equal accommodation statute or face the possible loss of their licenses.

American Jewish Committee, 1956 Report at


Detroit Asks Tank for Use by Police. Detroit, Oct. 31 (UP) -- The Detroit Police Department is in the market for an Army tank to help keep law and order in the motor city. Police commissioner Edward S. Piggins said he has written Army Secretary Wilber M. Brucker and also telephoned him to ask for a tank. He said need for such a unit was demonstrated two months ago when a crazed gunman held police at bay for four hours. "We have a keen interest in a mobile unit called the M20, a tractor-like unit which will carry four men and has a place for mounted guns," the police official explained. "If we get it, we will turn it over to a special armored commando unit now being organized."

Stars and Stripes, 1955, November 1, page 6

Detroit, Dec. 28 (UP) -- A strike against Detroit's three major newspapers -- the Detroit News, Times and Free Press -- resumed yesterday after a three-day holiday truce. Striking stereotypers, mailers and printers returned to picket lines around the newspaper plants which remained idle for the 27th day. The truce was called Dec. 24 to permit pickets and special police detailed to strike duty to spend the holiday with their families. It was arranged by Detroit Police Commissioner Edward Piggins, who had assigned officers to each of the newspapers since the strike began Dec. 1.

Stars and Stripes, 1955, December 29, page 6


Detroit Police Get 'Ram' Car. Detroit, Apr. 25 (UP) -- The Detroit Police Department yesterday was presented a battlefield vehicle with a battering-ram prow by the Army to use in breaking up riots and flushing barricaded gunmen out of buildings. The vehicle, a modified M8 armored car, was accepted by Police Commissioner Edward S. Piggins from Maj Gen Nelson M. Lynde, jr., commander of the Detroit Ordnance tank-automotive Comd. Piggins said the vehicle would be turned over to the department's specially trained "commando squad" for use in quelling civil disturbances such as race riots and strike violence. Before modification, the M8 was armed with a 37-mm gun and two heavy machine guns. These weapons have been removed but the car's four-man crew will be armed with tear-gas guns, submachine guns, shotguns and pistols. The vehicle also has a pointed front to smash its way into buildings where a gunman may be barricaded.

Stars and Stripes, 1956 April 26, page 7 (Photo of Piggins and armored car appeared in same paper on April 29.)

Piggins was one of nine police chiefs serving on a commission that drafted proposals to fight juvenile crime. The report went to a US-Canada group, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, meeting at their annual conference in Chicago.

New York Times 1956-09-12


White homeowners were holding demonstrations against a black woman purchasing a home in a street, Cherrylawn, and passed resolutions pledging no sales to blacks.

Through the last month, police have kept a watch on Cherrylawn. Edward S. Piggins, Police Commissioner, said the department had not entered the controversy but had preserved the peace. Groups are kept moving and large crowds dispersed as quickly as possible, he said. Several demonstrators have been taken to police headquarters; a woman was arrested for disturbing the peace. Since then demonstrations have dwindled.

New York Times 1957-03-03

Nineteen persons, including eight policemen, were injured last night in street fighting. The outbreak developed out of efforts by the police to stop what they called an unauthorized street gathering in the Negro district on Detroit's East Side. ... Police Commissioner Edward S. Piggins said "the assembly was not only unlawful but constituted a breach of the peace."

New York Times 1957-07-09

In Detroit, when James Milne was fined $3 for driving with his arm around a passenger on St. Valentine's Eve and protested that the passenger was his wife, Police Commissioner Edward S. Piggins backed the patrolman for his devotion to duty, praised Milne for exemplary conduct as husband, took care of the ticket himself.

Time Magazine 1957-03-18

# New York Times Index 1957, p 748: Piggins, Comr., see Books - Censorship, Mich. pars Ja. 18, 19, Mr. 30, 31, My 5,

Commissioner Piggins bans J. O'Hara book Ten North Frederick in any form, Detroit; calls it obscene; paperbound book had been banned from newsstands, January 18, p 18, col 7

Piggins says ban did not include public libraries, January 19, p 13, col 2

Court orders Piggins lift ban on O'Hara book, March 30, p 17, col 6

Piggins says anyone selling book is liable to arrest March 31, p 62, col 6

Court clears Comr. Piggins of contempt charge for violating injunction against banning J. O'Hara book; suit brought by Random House and Bantam Books. Publishers cite Piggins' statement in Detroit Free Press (Mar 30) vowing prosecution of anyone selling, May 5, p. 60, col 3

The case is also mentioned in the May 1957 and November 1958 issues of the journal Civil Liberties Docket, from which the documentary reference below is taken.


(Wayne Co. Cir. Ct., Chanc. #555-684, 685.)

Wayne County Circuit Justice 1959-1969

As a judge, Piggins was notably involved in attempts to halt police corruption and organized crime in Detroit.

His other offices in this period included: Grand Commander of Knights Templar of Michigan, one term, 1961.


The following story about Piggins' consensus style can probably be dated to about 1965, when the speaker, the very ambitious Thomas E. Brennan, later to be Michigan state supreme court chief justice, was a 3rd Circuit judge:

There were several of us young guys, particularly Jim Canham, and myself. Ned Piggins was not that young, but we felt that Tommy Murphy was kind of a bland fellow who wasn't exercising leadership and particularly was not standing up for our Court against the Supreme Court which seemed to be coming and telling us what to do, and we sort of felt that they didn't know what they were talking about because there weren't that many experienced trial court judges on the Michigan Supreme Court. Murphy had what we used to refer to as the 30-year rule. If you ever asked Tommy why we did a certain thing, he'd say, "Well, we've been doing that way for 30 years". That was the 30-year rule. I remember Jim Canham and I going one time to see Ed Piggins and we had been going around from judge to judge in the corridors lining up votes to get somebody new as presiding judge and Piggins was our candidate. We had the list and the two of us had calculated who would vote with us and so on, and we were persuaded that we had the votes to put Piggins in as presiding judge. We went to him and said, "Ed, we got the votes. We've got so-and-so, and so-and-so-, and so-and-so". There were twenty on the bench, and we probably had 12 or whatever number of votes. Piggins said some curious. He said that he wouldn't take it unless it was unanimous and unless every judge on the bench wanted him to be the presiding judge, he would not accept it. Jim and I left his office. We used to play squash every day at noon. I remember talking about it while walking over to the Lafayette Building to play squash and talking about Piggins' failure to grab the brass ring of leadership. Here was an opportunity for him to grab the brass ring and be the presiding judge. We brought him the deal and handed it to him. Now, he would have had some people on the court that wouldn't vote for him, but he would have had a majority, and a working majority, but he didn't want it. What I heard him say was, "I don't want the hassle of trying to lead when people are trying to shoot me down". In other words, "I want the obeyance of all my subjects before I become the king". In a way, that's a little scary. That's not the kind of leadership we're accustomed to in this country, really, and maybe he just figured "I don't want to be bothered with the thing unless everybody wants to go the way I want to go".

Audiotape of Thomas E. Brennan (with Roger F. Lane) January 3 - 4, 1991


A judge sitting as a one-man grand jury investigating crime in the Detroit area said today he was carrying a gun and being guarded by the police because of threats against him. Circuit Judge Edward S. Piggins said an anonymous phone caller had warned: "You better watch yourself. Someone is going to get you."

New York Times, August 25, 1966, p 48, col 3, New York Times Index 1966, page 925

A second and more controversial one-man grand jury, which already has led to threats of violence, is to begin this week an inquiry into charges of horse doping and bribery of public officials in Wayne County. The investigation follows by only five days the conclusion of a year-long investigation by Edward Piggins, a Circuit Court judge acting as a grand juror. His inquiry led to 71 indictments and to petitions for removal of public officials. Charges of improper medication of horses at suburban Hazel Park Race Track have resulted in the approval of a similar one-man grand jury in Oakland (Pontiac) County, immediately north of Wayne (Detroit) County. State Attorney General Frnak kelley petitioned circuit judges in the two counties to approve both investigations. A new grand juror is yet to be empanelled. A controversy, now reported largely settled, has occurred over whether Mr. Piggins can legally take over the second inquiry. Michigan is the only state now using the one-man grand jury. State law provides a six-month investigation can be held if a petition is approved by a majority of the circuit judges in the county involved.

New York Times 1966-08-30

Judge George E. Bowles was named today by fellow Wayne County Circuit judges to conduct a one-man grand jury that will study charges of gambling and other crimes in the county. Judge Bowles, who voted for himself, outpolled a former grand juror, Edward S. Piggins, by 15 to 8. Judge Piggins abstained.

New York Times 1966-09-02

Article on downfall of Detroit mayor Jerome P. Cavanagh (Democrat) over the previous two years:

Cavanagh was suddenly the target of politicians, the public, the press. A one-man grand jury, empaneled at the request of State Attorney General Frank Kelley to probe ticket fixing in Wayne County, turned its attention to what the juror, Wayne County Circuit Judge Edward S. Piggins, believed was widespread corruption in Detroit politics. Zeroing in on Cavanagh himself, Piggins, who, like Kelley, was not fond of the Mayor politically, kicked off one of the biggest newspaper stories in Detroit's history when he uncovered two "little black books" purportedly listing the names of Detroit police officers accepting payoffs from Mafia and underworld figures. Police Inspector Paul Sheridan, a friend of Cavanagh and one of his appointees, suddenly resigned. A second one-man grand jury continued the assault, with more damaging headlines.

New York Times Index 1968-10-27

Appellant contends that Grand Juror Bowles exceeded the permissible scope of his inquiry when he put questions to appellant relating to the “little black books” seized by a previous one-man grand jury presided over by the Honorable Edward S. Piggins, another of the judges of the Wayne circuit court, and that appellant's refusal to answer those questions, therefore, was not conduct punishable as contempt. His theory is that the statute, CLS 1961, § 767.4 (Stat Ann 1954 Rev § 28.944), imposes a 12-month time limit upon grand juror inquiry into the subject matter of any granted petition for such inquiry and that no subsequent grand juror thereafter can investigate the same subject matter...

The record before us discloses that while Grand Juror Piggins was conducting his inquiry certain documents came into his possession on the basis of which this appellant and another person were indicted for conspiracy to bribe a Detroit police officer. Judge Piggins served as grand juror for two successive six-month periods ending in August of 1966. Shortly before expiration of the Piggins grand jury, the judges of the Wayne circuit court granted a petition by the attorney general for another Wayne county one-man grand jury inquiry and Judge Bowles thereafter, on September 8, 1966, was designated by his colleagues to conduct it. On January 6, 1967, upon Judge Bowles' petition, this Court ordered transferred to Judge Bowles certain of the records of the Piggins grand jury which had been filed with the clerk of this Court ...

Later in January, 1967, appellant was subpoenaed to appear before Grand Juror Bowles and was asked the questions for his refusal to answer which he was cited and subsequently convicted of contempt. The questions related to certain documents transferred by our order to the Bowles grand jury from those deposited with us by the Piggins grand jury. These documents were the evidentiary basis upon which appellant had been indicted by Grand Juror Piggins for conspiracy to bribe a police officer. Appellant has not yet been tried on this indictment...

In re Colacasides: 379 Mich 69, 150 NW2d 1

Washington, July 11 -- Judge Edward S. Piggins of Michigan's Third Judicial Circuit was the lead-off witness at wiretap hearings of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee headed by Senator John L. McClellan, Democrat of Arkansas. Rival hearings on wiretapping were conducted last spring by another Judiciary subcommittee headed by Senator (Edward V.) Long (of Missouri). Senator Long is chief sponsor of an Administration bill to ban wiretapping except in cases involving national security. Judge Piggins, a strong advocate of wiretapping in criminal cases, told the McClellan subcommittee that Senator Long had made no attempt to conduct impartial hearings into wiretapping. Mr. Long's hearings, Judge Piggins said, were designed entirely to support Senator Long's "preconceived idea" that wiretapping is "all wrong." Judge Piggins also said that Senator Long had falsely accused him of encouraging wiretapping and bugging. "This is wrong and un-American," he said. Senator Long was not present when the charge was made. He is not a member of the McClellan subcommittee.

New York Times, July 12, 1967, p 25, col 2; New York Times Index 1967, page 938

Campaigns for State Supreme Court


Michigan's Supreme Court, one of the few courts in the nation with an even number of justices, will be constitutionally reduced at the end of the present session from eight to seven members for the first time since 1905. The reduction comes with the announcement yesterday by Justice Theodore Souris, a Democrat, that he will resign about July 1 to enter private law practice. The resignation also cut sharply into the political chances of Judge Edward S. Piggins, of the Wayne County Circuit Court, a Republican, who was actively campaigning for Mr Souris's seat. Judge Piggins said he was "not satisfied that Justice Souris's resignation operates as a matter of law to reduce the court to seven in number. This is a legal question that will have to be passed upon."

New York Times 1968 March 21, p 25, col 6, New York Times Index 1968 page 1090


Piggins mounted a campaign throughout Michigan to be elected to one of two vacancies on the state's supreme court, but had little expectation of winning the November 3, 1970 election:

[The] biggest underdog problem among the four candidates nominated by the two major parties for the state Supreme Court is faced by Wayne County Circuit Judge Edward S. Piggins. The two Democratic Party nominees -- G. Mennen Williams and John B. Swainson -- are both former governors well known around the state. The other Republican nominee, John R. Dethmers, is an incumbent on the bench and will receive this designation on the ballot. Thus Piggins finds himself in a less than enviable position, at least at the start of the campaign. It has been more than two years since he conducted the one-man grand jury investigation into alleged police corruption in Detroit. His name has not seen print frequently since. This has not dampened his enthusiasm for the campaign and has not prevented him from advancing a platform on which to run. Piggins recently unveiled a seven-point program for improvement of the state's judicial system, which he said has caused "consternation in the minds of many laymen. "This feeling was attributed by him to "instances of judicial leniency in the treatment of criminals; interminable unmerited appeals; incomprehensive delays; weeks spent in drawing juries; overcrowded trial dockets and the questionable behavior of some judges.

Cass City Chronicle, 1970 Sept 24

News report: Edward S. Piggins, 432 Saddle lane, missed election to a seat on the court with a vote of 288,970, just over 80,000 votes less than former governor G. Mennen Williams, 25 Tonnancour received.

Grosse Pointe News, 1970-11-12

Both the seats went to the Democrats, whereas the two Republicans lost (Cass City Chronicle report of results).

Swainson (above) was accused four years later, after Piggins' death, of accepting a bribe and resigned, according to the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society website.

Piggins died in 1972.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009. This page may not be copied, published or placed online elsewhere without express permission from the author.