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New Hero Search John J. Sturgus - Feb. 20, 1921 (248)

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Anchorage Police Dept. Patch
Resided: AK, USA
Born: Dec. 24, 1860  
Fallen: Feb. 20, 1921
Race/Sex: Caucasian Male / 60 yrs. of age
Dept: Anchorage Police Dept.
4501 Elmore Rd  
Anchorage, AK   99507   USA
County: Anchorage
Dept. Type: Municipal/Police
Hero's Rank: Chief
Sworn Date: 1921
FBI Class: Homicide - Gun
Weapon Class: Firearm
Agency URL: Click Here
Badge: 609
Bio: John Johnson Sturgus, 60, was born on Dec. 24, 1860, in Mansfield, OH. He was the only child born to Dr. John J. Sturgus (1824-1860) and Maria Louisa McNulty Sturgus (1839-1880). The 1920 census indicated that both his father and mother were also born in OH (his mother was born in Mansfield).

His father, Dr. John J. Sturgus, 33, married Maria Louisa McNulty, 18, on Dec. 1, 1857, in Richland County, OH. Maria was the daughter of William McNulty and Anna Maria McNulty (the daughter of Henry Arnold of Fairfield Co., OH). Her mother died on July 27, 1852, when Maria was only 13. Maria and her younger brother, William McNulty, were raised in Mansfield by their older sister Mrs. Mary L. Brinkerhoff (wife of Gen. R. Brinkerhoff) "after the breaking up of her father's home."

Dr. John J. Sturgus (his name was sometimes spelled as Sturges) may have been related to the Sturges family of Fairfield, CN, which migrated to Mansfield, OH. Eben P. Sturges (1784-Jan. 1, 1862) and Edward Sturges, Sr. (1805-Sept. 16, 1878), the sons of Dimon Sturges, "a soldier of the Revolution," arrived in Mansfield in 1820. Their great grandfather, Solomon Sturges, was killed by the Tories during the attack of the British on Fairfield, CN, on July 8, 1779. Dr. Sturgus died at the age of 36 on May 1, 1860, at the "Water Cure" (a type of spa/hospital) which he "managed." His only child, John J. Sturgus was born almost 8 months after his death on Dec. 24, 1860. His obituary indicated that Dr. Sturgus was possessed of very fine professional abilities and was a gentleman of refinement. His decease will be deeply felt not only by immediate friends and relatives, but by those, who, as patients at the Water Cure for years past have been benefitted by his skill, advice, and companionship. Dr. Sturgus was but 36 years of age, just in the prime of his manhood and usefulness. He leaves a widow and no children. Mrs. S. was a Miss McNulty, of Mansfield. The mother of deceased resides in Kentucky. The funeral will be appointed on hearing from family friends and be announced in the Leader of to-morrow--Clev. Herald, 1st. (Mansfield OH Herald, 5/9/1860)

The 1870 census located young John J. Sturgus, 9, living with his mother in Mansfield, OH, at the home of her half-sister, Mary Brinkerhoff. His mother was still living with the Brinkerhoff family at the 1880 census but young John, then 19, had already departed for "the west."

Maria Sturgus, 41, died on July 3, 1880, at the residence of her half-sister, Mrs. Mary L. Brinkerhoff, in Mansfield. Her obituary indicated that a year or so after her marriage her husband died, leaving her a son who is now in the far West. Her health has been failing for a few years past, and the occasion of her visit to Mansfield this time was to recuperate, but she met with a severe fall from which she never recovered. Mrs. Sturgus leaves a large circle of friends to mourn their loss, and who can recall in the memory of Mrs. S., one who always active in mind and body, and who was possessed of true Christian graces. (Richland Shield & Banner, 7/17/1880)

Young John "came west" (before the age of 19 when his mother died) and "lived for many years in the state of Montana where he acted as a peace officer." He also later served as a police officer in Everett, WA. It should be noted that the Alaska Dispatch claimed in a headline that while an officer in Everett, WA, Sturgus had a "Reputation as Killer When Performing His Duty." The article did not elaborate on the headline.

Sturgus moved to AK in 1913 "when he joined the stampede to the Shushanna placer strike." Sturgus moved to Anchorage in 1916 and was employed as a special United States deputy until he was "recently" appointed Chief of Police of Anchorage. The 1920 census listed his occupation as "special deputy U.S. Marshal." His death certificate indicated that he had lived for 7 years in the "Territory" and five years in Anchorage at the time of his death.

Sturgus apparently was appointed chief of police in early 1921 and the Anchorage Daily Times mentioned in passing in a story about matters before the City Council that the "police and jail committee" reported that there were numerous complaints of "open gambling in pool rooms, cigar stores, and other places in town. The City Council then instructed the chief (Sturgus) to "rigidly enforce the provisions of the ordinance relative to gambling."

The Anchorage newspaper earlier (Jan. 4) reported that police in Juneau were expecting an "influx of criminals to Alaska" and were planning on seeking the help of federal authorities to "have every man coming into Alaska inspected," in order to "ascertain their antecedents, and if not able to prevent them from coming in, to have each one accompanied by a complete record of his character, providing he has a criminal record."

On June 13, 1913, John Sturgus, 51, married Anna M. (maiden name unknown), 29, of Anchorage. According to the 1920 census, Anna Sturgus was born in England. Sturgus' death certificate listed him as 5'11" and 212 lbs. with a "fair" complexion and grey hair.

Survived by:
Anna M. Sturgus - Wife

and by several "relatives in Mansfield, OH."

Fatal Incident Summary
Offender: Unk.
Location: AK   USA   Sun. Feb. 20, 1921
Summary: John J. ("Jack") Sturgus, 609, was shot and killed by an unknown person on Feb. 20, 1921, in downtown Anchorage. The case was never solved and the identity of the killer and the motive for the shooting was never determined. Sturgus, the city's first Chief of Police, became the first police officer killed in the history of the Anchorage Police Dept. It was another 47 years until the next (known) A.P.D. officer was killed (Officer Benjamin F. Strong on Jan. 4, 1968).

Around 9:15PM on Sunday night, Feb. 20, 1921, the body of Anchorage Chief of Police John J. Sturgus was found shot to death and lying in the snow at the rear of the Anchorage Drug Store near Fourth Ave. and E St. He was lying at the foot of the stairs leading up to the second floor residences above the drug store. He had been shot "through the breast" with a ".32 soft-nosed bullet" which entered "the left breast at the nipple and passing between the seventh and eighth ribs coursed downward to the fifth lumbar vertebrae to the right of the spine, fracturing no bones in its course, but apparently passing within an inch of the heart." It was later determined that Sturgus had been shot with his own gun (a Colt revolver which was a ".32 caliber on a .45 frame") which was found a few feet away with one empty shell. There were some hints of a possible suicide in the article in the Anchorage Daily Times as several witnesses would later testify that Sturgus had been acting "peculiar" the day of the shooting and had been busy writing letters earlier in the day. It was first thought that the letters might give some clue as to who killed the chief but that hope apparently evaporated as the coroner's inquest never mentioned the letters.

Furthermore, the angle of the shot (a downward trajectory) and the path the bullet took suggested that someone shot Sturgus "from above" him at an angle that would preclude suicide. There were also no powder burns indicating a shot at close range as occurs in suicides.

The Chief's body was first found by John McNutt, the "special night watchman" and "fire patrol" who was "paid by the merchants" to "watch the fires" in the different downtown buildings and occasionally to "stoke up" the fires. McNutt saw a body at the foot of the stairway but did not examine it closely and presumed it was an "ordinary drunk." He (would later) testify that he "failed to get a response to his efforts to get the man up" (a strange claim since McNutt claimed to know the chief well and the body was lying face up), and reported that the "drunk" was "groaning." McNutt went in search of the Chief ("as was his custom in previous cases of a similar nature") to tell him of his discovery.

On his way to locate the Chief, McNutt ran into Mrs. Baxter and "told her of the occurrence." She was returning to her residence on the second floor of the Drug Store and went immediately to check out the "drunk." She immediately recognized the body as that of Sturgus (raising doubts as to why McNutt didn't recognize him) who was "groaning audibly" and "throwing his head from side to side." She knelt by the side of the body and noted that he was badly hurt. Sturgus recognized her and called her "Ma," a name she was known by to friends. Mrs. Baxter then went to a nearby store and told her husband and other men of her discovery and they went to Sturgus' assistance. One man would later report that Sturgus was groaning and saying, "Oh, my head," and "Oh Bobby, Bobby."

The men carried the wounded Chief to the Richter Hotel (or Richter Baths). Two physicians arrived on the scene and determined that his "chances for life were slim" because his "circulation was poor and the pulse weak." Sturgus was given a "restorative, wrapped in blankets, placed upon the hose wagon on a stretcher" and taken to the hospital. At the hospital the physicians (Dr. J.H. Romig, Dr. Spalding and Dr. Cannon) "made a careful diagnosis." They prepared to operate "to relieve internal hemorrhage" and to extract the bullet. Until he "went under the anaesthetic Sturgus appeared to be in great pain" and said that "his hands were freezing" and "asked to be turned over" and that "the light hurt his eyes." He "expired on the operating table" at 10:50PM. The death certificate listed the cause of death as a "gunshot wound by person unknown with intent to kill."

The fatally wounded chief was asked repeatedly before he died by Deputy U.S. Marshals Clarence Mossman and Frank Hoffman who shot him but he "did not answer" and did not seem to recognize anyone who was present. It was hoped that "under the ether" he might "reveal something of the tragedy" but "he died with his lips sealed" presenting a "mystery remaining to be unraveled by the arm of the law."

The Anchorage Daily Times suggested several possible motives for the murder of Chief Sturgus. One theory was that he "was shot while endeavoring to make an arrest or while watching in the rear of the drug store for some man under suspicion." The Alaska Dispatch reported that he had been "watching a foreign club room when attacked."

A later (but discredited) theory was that Sturgus was first attacked and knocked down and then shot at a downward angle as he lay prone on the snow. However, the physical evidence at the scene argued against this theory since there was no sign of a "scuffle." Also, there were also "no other marks of violence on his person."

Another reported theory was that Sturgus had been "watching for someone conveying moonshine liquor through the alley and when attempting to halt them met his death." The Anchorage Daily Times reported that the chief was murdered "by members of an illicit liquor gang." In the same vein, it was reported that he was killed "in revenge" because of the "activity of the marshal's office during the past week." Sturgus had apparently assisted the U.S. marshals in recent days in making several arrests of moonshiners. The Alaska Dispatch reported that the Chief was killed in revenge for the "capture of 12 moonshine outfits last week by United States marshals."

Yet another theory was that the Chief was "killed by an enemy holding an old grudge," a likely scenario since it is likely that a man who served as a deputy U.S. marshal and as a Chief of Police in those turbulent days had many "enemies."

The citizenry of Anchorage was quite upset over the gunning down of their new Chief and "indignation ran at fever heat" with much talk of "organizing a vigilance committee to support the officers of the law in the effort to clean up Anchorage." The newspaper reported that "the entire federal force" was working on the investigation and that the "federal department of justice" was "leaving nothing undone to unravel the mystery of the Sturgus case."

Disposition: The case was never solved and the identity of the killer and the motive for the shooting was never determined.

Source: Book       Excerpted in part or in whole from Dr. Wilbanks book-


By Dr. Wm. Wilbanks FL International University

To be published by Turner Publications in early 1999

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