BADGE 471, ID 2083
SDPD 10/20/1967 - 10/24/1992
06/08/1935 - 08/27/2006

Frank Zellmer; sex-crime detective known nationally

By Jack Williams

October 7, 2006

At age 32, while supporting a wife and three sons as a furniture salesman, Frank Zellmer felt compelled to change careers.

He knew it would be a financial sacrifice at first, leaving a steady job to start from the bottom in law enforcement.  But with his family's blessing, he entered the San Diego Police Academy in 1967 as the oldest cadet.

“It was the best thing he could have done,” said a son, Jay, an attorney who practices in Grass Valley.  “We were all in parochial school, and we had to stretch some pennies, but being a cop sounded pretty glamorous to us.”

During the next 25 years, Mr. Zellmer would gain national stature as a detective specializing in sex crimes and child abuse cases for the San Diego Police Department.

“His forte was interrogation,” his son said. “His mannerisms reminded you of Columbo (the TV detective portrayed by Peter Falk), and he thought of himself that way, too.”

Mr. Zellmer, who in 1987 was named the department's Officer of the Year, died Aug. 27 at Scripps Chula Vista Hospital. He was 71.

The cause of death was lung cancer, his family said.

Starting his law enforcement career as a patrol officer in Logan Heights, Mr. Zellmer was promoted to detective and assigned in 1975 to the sex crimes division.  In 1983, his colleagues nominated him for an Officer of the Year Award sponsored by Parade  magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“Zellmer is a rare blend of scientific investigator, street-shrewd cop, teacher and human activist,” his supporters wrote in the nominating letter.

The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training picked Mr. Zellmer to help develop statewide procedures in investigating sexual assaults.

The role involved lecturing throughout the state to law enforcement agencies and led to invitations to teach law enforcement specialists throughout the country.

In 1982, he was cited by a commanding officer for his investigative skills and superior interrogation techniques.  Four years later, he was among San Diegans honored as Citizens of the Year by the City Club and the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Zellmer received more than 50 commendations from citizens groups and was appointed by then-Gov. George Deukmejian to a state board on victims rights. He also served on several panels in seminars dealing with issues of child abuse and appeared on national television.

“He loved all aspects of his job but what fueled him was protecting the victims of crimes,” Jay Zellmer said.

Francis V. Zellmer was born June 8, 1935, at what today is Scripps Mercy Hospital and grew up in North Park. At Hoover High School, he was a classmate of county Sheriff Bill Kolender, former chief of the San Diego Police Department, whom he credited with inspiring him to pursue a law-enforcement career.

Mr. Zellmer married Ellen Cady in 1956. While living in Oak Park, he began his career at the former Moorstyn's furniture store on India Street.  A golf enthusiast in his youth, Mr. Zellmer gave up the game for several years while raising his family and working the irregular shifts his law-enforcement career demanded.

After retiring in 1992, he played regularly in a police golf club.  “We celebrated his 60th and 70th birthdays by taking him to Pebble Beach,” Jay Zellmer said.

The family plans a Zellmer Memorial Golf Tournament on Thursday at Cottonwood Golf Club in El Cajon.

Mr. Zellmer was preceded in death by his wife in 1983.  A sister, Patsy Zellmer, died a number of years ago at age 35.  A tennis prodigy, she teamed with the legendary Maureen Connolly to win a national junior girls doubles title in 1950.

Survivors include his sons, Joseph “Jay” Zellmer of Nevada City, Jeff Zellmer of Morgan Hill and Greg Zellmer of Fort Bragg, N.C.; a sister, Joannie Courvilla of Bend, Ore.; and eight grandchildren.
email me
Basic information is provided as a courtesy and is obtained from a variety of sources including public data, museum files and or other mediums.  While the San Diego Police Historical Association strives for accuracy, there can be issues beyond our control which renders us unable to attest to the veracity of what is presented. More specific information may be available if research is conducted.  Research is done at a cost of $50 per hour with no assurances of the outcome.  For additional information please contact us.