OC’s first female deputy, Alice Chandler, was ‘fierce before fierce was cool’


Alice Chandler was 21 when she was invited to interview for a position as a deputy with then-Orange County Sheriff James A. Musick. She died on June 10 at age 94.  

Her job would be to patrol by horseback to keep trespassers and poachers away from Peter’s Lake, a popular duck hunting and fishing spot situated on James Irvine’s private property.

Chandler had no law enforcement experience, but Musick was aware of her reputation as a fine horsewoman. An hour later, Musick handed Chandler a badge and told her mother to purchase a handgun for her daughter.

Alice Chandler, center, in 2016, sits holding a photo taken in 1949 by her mother, Connie Chandler, soon after becoming Orange County’s first female deputy sheriff. Behind her holding photos of themselves as officers and deputies are, from left, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Suzy Seamon, Brea Police Officer Shannon Buckels, Garden Grove Police Officer Vanessa Brodeur, Garden Grove Police Master Officer Lea Kovacs, Santa Ana Police Motor Officer Irene Gomez, Garden Grove Police Motor Officer Katherine Anderson, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Olivia Coco, Los Alamitos Detective Justine Kim and Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Jenny Anckaer.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Alice’s mother purchased a 6-inch barrel S&W .32 caliber revolver for Alice, so she could perform her volunteer job as a deputy. And on that day in 1949, Chandler became the first female deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Chandler, whose diverse life experience also included stints as a cowgirl, riding instructor, dog breeder, airplane pilot, horse trainer, and model, died on June 10, 2023, at the convalescent home in Corona where she’d been living for several years. She was 94.

Alice Chandler.
Photo courtesy of OC Sheriff’s Department

Chandler was the last survivor among her eight siblings. She never married and had no children, but at the time of her passing, Chandler had become the “adopted” mother to women in law enforcement throughout the county and had more “daughters” than anyone could imagine.

None were closer to Chandler than now-retired Garden Grove Police Officer Katherine Anderson, who, incidentally, was Garden Grove Police Department’s first female motorcycle officer. Anderson first learned about Chandler from a 2016 article in Behind the Badge about the former deputy.

Some members of the OC Sheriff Department’s Ladies’ Trigger Team visit Alice Chandler, OCSD’s first female deputy, after their target shoot at the Prado Olympic Shooting Park in 2016. The team, from left, was Susan Huang, Dana Chaney, Norelly MejiaZea, Carla Dane, (Alice Chandler), Maria Bowman, Gina Garduno, Dallas Mihalik and Jean Tindugan.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

When discovering Chandler had no family and was living in a convalescent home, Anderson rounded up a group of female law enforcement officers and paid Chandler a visit. From then on, Chandler never spent a birthday or holiday alone.

“Well, I don’t know if she adopted me or it was a mutual love,” Anderson said. “I love that woman. We considered each other family. She didn’t have anyone else.”

Anderson became Chandler’s main caregiver in recent years and had power of attorney over her affairs along with Jennifer Anaker, a retired law enforcement officer and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s first-ever motor officer. Anderson visited with Chandler often, ran errands for her, took her shopping, and planned birthdays and other celebrations.

In 2017, Chandler received her first-ever Mother’s Day call, and for her birthday that year, Anderson organized Chandler’s biggest birthday celebration ever – a large gathering of female officers and others at a Mexican restaurant in Orange. Everyone at the party got a taste of Chandler’s sharp wit when she acknowledged the female officers who were present.

Alice Chandler, OCSD’s first deputy, left, smiles as she talks with police officers and sheriff deputies who came to visit her at the Care Center where she lives in 2016.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“The Lord hasn’t given me everything I’ve wanted, but I’ve had things I didn’t expect,” Chandler said. “Look at this. It’s like having my own kids. And I didn’t have to diaper them and give them a bottle.”

There were a few surprises at that gathering as well.

Ray Grimes, founder and co-director of the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum & Education Center, showed Chandler her badge, gun, and department ID, which were to be displayed in the museum.

After lunch, Chandler rode shotgun in an OCSD 1962 Chrysler police cruiser, leading a convoy about a mile south along Chapman Avenue to North Chandler Ranch Road, a street named for the ranch where Chandler lived with her mother.

Alice Chandler, Orange County Sheriff Department’s first female deputy, left, with Officer Katherine Anderson during her 91st birthday celebration in 2019.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Chandler had heard the street existed but was seeing it for the first time.

Chandler was also famously feisty and direct. She was headed to the beauty parlor one day when she saw a car illegally parked in a handicap spot and told the driver to move the vehicle.

When the driver responded with back-talk, she called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Patrol cars showed up and issued a citation but before they left, Chandler told the deputies that she could have just handled the matter herself, since she had her own badge and revolver.

“She was fierce before fierce was cool,” said retired Brea Police Officer Shannon Buckles, who was among the officers who visited Chandler on several occasions. “You couldn’t help but love Alice. She was just so endearing.”

Alice Chandler’s revolver, circa 1950s, was on display during her 91st birthday celebration in 2019.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

After retiring and moving to Alabama and as Chandler’s health began declining, Anderson tried to convince Chandler to move to Alabama and live with her family. The setting would have been similar to the farm where Chandler grew up in Memphis, Tenn., Anderson said.

“She didn’t want to be a burden,” Anderson said. “I said ‘you’re the opposite of a burden.’”

Anderson is grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time with Chandler, especially in her final days.

Current and former police officers in 2021 with Dorothy Alice Chandler, then 93, Orange County’s first female Sheriff’s Deputy in front of a display at the Old Orange County Courthouse celebrating her life. From left, Susan Huang, Katherine Anderson, both formerly from Garden Grove Police Department, Alice Chandler, and Cpl. Terra Ramirez of Garden Grove Police Department.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

She was not afraid of death, Anderson said. In fact, she was looking forward to meeting the Lord and reuniting with family members in heaven, including her younger brother, who was killed in a tragic accident at age 5, Anderson said.

She had specific plans for her arrival. She would give hugs in this order, Anderson said: God first, her mother second, and her little brother Monty third.

“I’m not afraid of this at all,’” she said.

Former Garden Grove Motor Officer Katherine Anderson and OC Sheriff Don Barnes gives Dorothy Alice Chandler, 93, Orange County’s first female Sheriff’s Deputy, a hug during a exhibit tour celebrating Chandler’s life in 2021. Garden Grove PD Cpl. Terra Ramirez is left.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge