The Good Ole Days
Most people today hold the belief that our courts have gone soft. That in the good ole days judges
would throw the book at anyone who committed a crime as serious as the murder of a police officer.
Really? The following facts might change your mind.
Wheeling Police Patrolman Joseph Glenn was shot and killed January 17, 1888 while investigating a
possible burglary. As he approached two men in an alley, one of them opened fire. Both were
sentenced to life in prison. Both were pardoned by Governor George W. Atkinson just 10 years later.
Moundsville Police Chief James P. Thatcher was shot to death June 22, 1886 by a man who was
wanted for failing to appear on an assault charge. Chief Thatcher left behind a wife and 11 children who
probably always wondered why the man who killed their father was only sentenced to 7 years.
West Virginia State Police Private Ernest Ripley was shot and killed on November 18, 1920 in an
exchange of gunfire with two men related to the coal mine strike. Private Ripley killed one of them.
The other was sentenced to only 5 years.
Ansted Police Chief Joseph Wilson Davis, mentioned earlier, was shot in the back on February 27, 1934
as an act of revenge. His murderer was paroled after serving only about 5 years.
Kanawha County Deputy Sheriff J. H. Diamond was shot and killed by his own weapon on August 20,
1941 while attempting to arrest a man for creating a disturbance. The killer was convicted of
involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to only 1 year.
Piedmont Police Chief Charles E. Dornon was still serving his community at the age of 73. On January
9, 1946 he was called to a café to deal with two men who had become disorderly. These two men
dragged the chief into an alley and beat him severely on the back and head, resulting in a fatal heart
attack. They were both convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to serve 1 year in the
Mineral County Jail.
Keystone Police Lieutenant Ellis Roosevelt Mansfield died when he was shot in the back of the head and
neck on July 27, 1953 by a man he was transporting to jail. The shooter was sentenced to 5 years.
Matewan Police Patrolman Charles Perkins was mortally wounded on June 14, 1959. He was
questioning a suspicious driver outside his vehicle when the driver’s wife got out of the vehicle, ran up
behind Officer Perkins, and fired 6 shots at his back. He was hit by 3 of those bullets and was able to
fire once in return. His bullet struck his killer in the shoulder. Perkins lost consciousness and died 4
days later. His killer served only 1 year.
Correctional Officer William Edgar Quilliams was stabbed to death at the West Virginia State
Penitentiary at Moundsville on October 5, 1972. His killer was already serving a life sentence for
murder. Still, he would one day be released and live the life of a free man.
I could give more recent examples of light sentencing for the murderers of police officers. But my point
here is that is was this way back then as well.
There is no one reason for it. Some can be blamed on soft judges. Some can be blamed on gullible
juries. A few might have been caused by lazy or incompetent prosecutors. Better investigation and case
preparation by law enforcement may have been helpful in some cases. It also seems that if the murder
of a police officer occurs in a county where there is a high level of confidence and respect for law
enforcement, leniency for their killers is less likely to be tolerated.
If these were the good ole days, consider the uncomfortable working conditions. It was not unusual for
a state trooper to mount his horse on a winter day, ride across two counties to handle a complaint, and
then stay wherever he could find a place for the night.
He could not turn on his heater or air conditioner. He could not listen to his favorite FM station on the
way. He could not radio for help or call in on his cell phone if he got in trouble. If he was injured he
would not be life flighted out. No paramedics would be speeding to the scene and it might easily be
many hours before any kind of professional medical help got there. If he made an arrest he might have
a real challenge transporting his prisoner to the nearest jail.
There was no job security back then. During fiscal year 1922 the state police fired 141 men. The 1923-
1924 period saw an additional 180 State Policemen terminated. By 1926 the Superintendent seemed
encouraged by the fact that he had fired only 94, the lowest since the creation of the department. These
are pretty amazing numbers when you consider that if the State Police had 200 officers in their employ
at the time, they considered themselves to be pretty near full staff.
One state policeman was fired for marrying the widow of former Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield.
Constables and sheriffs were voted in or out at the will of the people. Deputy Sheriffs served at the will
and pleasure of the sheriff and had no recourse if he fired them.
There was no civil service protection. For many years there was also no pension plan. And training
opportunities were minimal. Prior to 1950 Troopers were off duty only 38 hours per week. From 1950-
1960 that improved to 48 hours off per week.
Good ole days? I don’t think so. This was a tough job that could only be done by tough men.
Some things haven’t changed as much as we might think.
Police Chief Stanton had served the town of Bradshaw in McDowell County for about 2 years. One hot
August day a man rode into town on horseback and was causing a disturbance at the local drug store.
Chief Stanton took the man into custody and removed a .32 caliber pistol from him. He was taken to
the police station.
The chief became momentarily distracted and the suspect pulled out a .22 caliber derringer from a pouch
strapped to his waist. He shot Chief Stanton in the head. Chief Stanton would die in a local hospital the
The suspect fled the scene on horseback but was captured immediately.
What I haven’t mentioned here are the things that make this story so unusual. First, the victim is Chief
Francis Stanton. She was the mother of a 6 year old daughter. And she is believed to be the first female
officer to make the supreme sacrifice while protecting West Virginia.
Finally, this occurred on Thursday, August 28, 1998. I mentioned she was distracted. It was the
telephone that distracted her. He pulled the derringer when she went to answer the telephone.
Except for these few details we might have imagined this occurring a hundred years earlier. Some things
don’t change as much as we think. It doesn’t matter if its 1900 or 2010. There are still bad people in
the world that have to be confronted by courageous officers.
If you ever doubt the courage of today’s police officers here in the Mountain State, spend some time
listening to a police scanner in one of our busier cities. You will soon learn that our police officers
display their courage routinely. Heroic acts are committed by these men and women daily. Listen to
their response when they receive a shooting call. They are the ones who move toward the gunfire while
everyone else moves away from it. We are fortunate in this state to have such a collection of dedicated
officers maintaining the peace.