The History of Fallen Denver Police Officers Thomas J. Clifford and William Griffiths

Ken Suarez, Robin Clifford Suarez, Regina and Richard Griffiths were identified by Denver Police Ancestry Researcher Jeff Burke as descendants of fallen Denver Police Officers Thomas J. Clifford and William Griffiths. Both officers lost their lives on August 13, 1899 in lower downtown Denver. This was the first time in Denver Police History that more than one officer was killed in basically the same incident.

By Bill Finch

Denver Police Museum

Fallen Officer Project


Tom Clifford’s routine before leaving for work seldom changed. The last thing he did was kiss his wife Catie goodbye. But on the afternoon of Saturday, August 12, 1899, he stopped at the gate, turned around and went back to kiss her a second time. She then watched him turn the corner and leave her sight to catch a horse-drawn trolley that would take him to work. For the rest of her life Catie Clifford wondered if he had had a premonition it would be their last kiss.     


At 46 years old, he was a short man with a thin build and bushy mustache. His most remarkable physical features were his hands. They were big for a man his size; the strong working hands of the stone cutter he had been for many years before becoming a police officer.  Thomas Joseph Clifford was born on June 6, 1853, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the eldest of five children of Irish immigrants William and Eliza Clifford. His father worked as a laborer and his mother was a housekeeper. Clifford came to Colorado in 1879 looking for work as a stone cutter. He found it in Denver, at Brunton & Company and later at John McGilvray’s stone yard. About this same time, he met Catherine “Catie” Frances Birmingham, who had moved out west from Iowa. They were married in 1881 in Georgetown. He was 28 and she was 19. 


Their first child, Mary Irene, was born in 1883. Four others  — Margaret, William, Marie and Joseph – would come along later. As their family grew the Cliffords moved at least six times before 1899. After William was born, Clifford decided he did not want to remain a stone cutter forever and applied to become a Denver Police officer. He was appointed as a patrolman in 1891 and assigned badge number 42. He worked in the notorious red-light district known as the “Tenderloin” for the past four years.  It was a four-block-long, by three-block-wide district of vice and violence called by any number of disreputable names. Some called it the Tenderloin,  for what was thought to be the easy police corruption found there; another name was the “Row,”  for the ubiquitous houses of prostitution that lined each side of the streets; a third was the “sporting district,” for its many other diversions, such as saloons, gambling houses, shooting arcades and bawdy street performances.    


The center of all of it was Market Street,  between 19th and 23rd Streets. It and the two streets on either side of it — Blake to the north and Larimer on the south — ran in a diagonal trajectory from Cherry Creek, below downtown. Above 23rd Street, the area was much less developed and Market Street stopped well before the train yards north of East 40th Avenue. 

Clifford stepped off the trolley at 20th and Market, where he was assigned to keep a lid on the  shenanigans and worse committed by the drunken crowds. He and other sworn members of the department worked a grueling schedule of seven days a week with no regular days off. Although working every day without the break of regularly assigned days off was known to cause more drunkenness and illnesses, both feigned and real, Denver Police officers did not start receiving two days off a month until the 1920s. 


Clifford was older than most of the men he worked alongside. Slow to anger and known for his level headedness, his superiors considered Clifford a dependably steady employee. Not physically imposing like some of fellow officers, who were hired more for their brawn than brains, he relied on his calm demeanor and quiet resolve to get the job done, some of the same qualities that had served him well as a stone cutter and as a loving husband to Catie and father to their five children. The patrolman posted one block over on Larimer Street was not known for having a calm demeanor or quiet resolve. At 39, William Griffiths had been on the job for only a short time but had already gained a dubious reputation for flashy showmanship and was regarded by many as someone who took every opportunity to get his name printed in the Denver papers. Like Clifford, he was not a physically imposing man. His most recognizable features were his bright, intelligent eyes, the mustache he wore waxed and curled at the ends and his hearty Welsh accent. In the past year he had made several newsworthy arrests  and had once saved scores of residents from a fire at a boarding house.   Since April, he had led the department in the number of arrests made with 151.  


  “His whole soul was in his work,” a reporter for the Denver Daily News wrote. Each day Griffiths would scan the newspapers for his name and when he found it, he’d cut the story out and paste it in a scrapbook. He spent much of his off-duty time reading pulp detective fiction. Admire him as an energetic go-getter or dismiss him as a self-serving publicity seeker, Bill Griffiths was a hard-working copper who had a promising future on the Denver Police Department. William Edgar Griffiths was born on April 9, 1860, in the Welsh coal mining town of Abergavenny. He had four sisters and two brothers. His father was a miner; his mother died while he was still a boy. On June 20, 1887, he boarded the SS Arizona in Liverpool, England, to immigrate to the United States. Five days later the ship docked in New York Harbor. Twelve years after that in a tragic coincidence, a man from the Arizona Territory would suddenly and violently end Griffiths’ life. 


He found work in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania, but soon wanted to do something more exciting with his life. In 1889 he enlisted in the US Army Infantry in Pittsburgh. He was sent to Fort Reno in the Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. There he met Maria Louisa Colcord, the daughter of the man who ran the largest cattle operation in the territory. After a brief courtship they were married in 1891. She was 23 and he was 29. Called Birdie by her friends and family, Maria, like her husband, had a flair for the dramatic and an inclination toward impetuosity. By the time they married, she had already been married and divorced three times, beginning at age 16. The first two were in Kansas. Her first husband was said to have been a hired gun in the Lincoln County, New Mexico range wars and friends with Billy the Kid. Her second marriage was to a farmer, which in 1884 produced a son, Sidney Colcord Briley. A third marriage happened in the Arizona Territory.  


In 1892, Griffiths, a corporal, deserted his post and was arrested. He was convicted in a general court-martial and sentenced to three months imprisonment and was dishonorably discharged. He and Maria packed up and moved to Denver afterwards, where he had been told he could find work. Her son Sidney, who was being raised by her mother, Mary Clay Colcord, accompanied them to Denver. Not long after arriving, Maria gave birth to the first of the couple’s two children, Robert. A daughter, Marie “Mattie”, was born three years later. Griffiths found work at a grocery store on Larimer Street, and later as a private detective. The Griffiths lived at 1222 23rd St., in a small wooden frame house just off the alley. Mary Colcord and her grandson lived next door. Griffiths applied for employment at the Denver Police Department. Despite the black mark of a dishonorable discharge on his military record, he was appointed in 1898 and assigned badge number 73. It may have been Maria’s older brother, Charles Colcord, who steered him toward a career in law enforcement and put in a good word for him with Denver authorities. He was the first chief of police in Oklahoma City, and later served two terms as the sheriff in Oklahoma County.   


Griffiths had already made three arrests that night. The first two were for drunkenness and the third for armed assault — a stabbing — which occurred some distance away from his post. When he saw the speeding horse-drawn police ambulance heading towards him on its way to the stabbing, Griffiths knew it was headed somewhere exciting and he did not want to miss out. Most patrolmen would have simply moved out of the way and let it pass, but not Griffiths. He waved for it to slow down enough for him to jump aboard. Maria happened to look out a window at their home just as the ambulance clanged and rattled by on Larimer Street. She was pleased to see her husband riding on one side of it, smiling from ear to ear, she would say later. After booking the suspect into jail at the central station at 14th and Larimer, he hurried back to his post at 12:10 a.m. to see what other trouble he could find. He would not have to wait long.  


Earlier that evening, nine uniformed soldiers from Fort Logan south of Denver were given  passes to come into the city and blow off a little steam. The passes would expire at 2 p.m. the following day when they were required to be back at the post. At 8:30 p.m. they boarded a horse-drawn trolley outside the north entrance to the fort and headed straight for the Tenderloin.    

Three of them — Lester Chester Cummins (called L.C.) William Bryant and Wellington Llewellyn — were brand-new privates in Company L, 4th Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. Cummins and Bryant were penniless but Llewellyn was flush with a wad of cash burning a hole in his pocket. He paid for his two companions’ fare and even tipped the driver twenty bucks. Once they got to their destination he gave his buddies a little walking-around money to enjoy themselves.   


Army regulations prohibited soldiers from carrying firearms and ammunition in the city. The three of them had not yet been issued weapons. It did not matter to Llewellyn, however. He had brought his own gun to the party, a large .44-caliber, six-shot revolver. It was tucked in his front waistband underneath his shirt and he carried extra ammunition in his pockets. The Army and city leaders knew full well where soldiers like these would go to spend their time and money. Unofficially, as long as they did not get into serious trouble or otherwise bring ill fame to the service, the Army had no problem with them patronizing the kinds of businesses that the young men’s parents and pastors, wives and girlfriends would almost certainly have objected to. City leaders were happy to have the rowdy soldiers and their money come to this notorious part of town that was conveniently located on the outskirts of downtown, well away from the nicer neighborhoods and businesses. In fact, most of the bordellos in the Tenderloin were considered legal businesses which generated tax revenue for city coffers.  Those same officials, some of whom were themselves patrons of the bordellos, paid little heed to the outcries demanding reform coming from church pulpits and progressive civic organizations. The way they saw it, the business of prostitution would always be around, and it was better to regulate it and profit from it while confining it to its own stand-alone district, rather than criminalize it, force it underground and lose control over it.      


The police department kept a sizable uniform presence in the Tenderloin during the day and doubled it at night. It was a dangerous place for a policeman to work and assaults on officers happened all too often. Already one detective had been killed, when Alpheus Moore was shot to death by a fleeing burglary suspect at 19th and Market in 1895. The three soldiers wasted no time in getting drunk and starting trouble up and down Market Street. At 10 p.m. at one of the shooting arcades, bystander Fred Lee reported seeing Llewellyn acting like a “swaggering daredevil.” Although he was clearly drunk, according to Lee, the soldier made repeated bull’s-eye shots with “regularity and nonchalance.” At 1 a.m. they staggered into the Alcazar  salon and dance hall located at the corner of 20th and Market. Llewellyn bought him and his two buddies a round of beer with a dollar. Bartender Henry Walbrecht gave him back 65 cents in change and Llewellyn put it in his pocket. A minute later he accused Walbrecht of keeping his change. 


Cummins and Bryant tried to tell him the coins were in his pocket but he would not listen to them. As he berated Walbrecht, another bar employee came over and tried to push Llewellyn out the door, but he wouldn’t budge and took out his revolver. Bryant managed to knock it away, but the bigger, stronger Llewellyn got it back. After another tense moment, he reluctantly agreed that now was a good time for them to make themselves scarce. He tucked the gun back under his shirt and they left, walking up to 21st Street and crossing over to Blake. Clifford was standing on a crowded sidewalk, surrounded by people in various stages of intoxication and degrees of congeniality. He may have been twirling his truncheon  to pass the time. Someone came up to him and told him about the trouble at the Alcazar. “That won’t be the last you hear from the likes of those three tonight,” he warned Clifford. As Clifford went to go find them, the same man yelled to him over the din of the crowd, “You had better get that gun away from him before someone gets hurt.” 


Clifford stopped pimp Frank Moore to ask if he knew where the three soldiers could be found. Moore replied he did not know. Just then, a shoeshine boy came running up to him and said the troublemakers were at 20th and Blake. One was taller and more solidly built than the other two. He was the one with the gun. Pushing his way through the crowd, Clifford saw the three soldiers and yelled for them to stop. They sped up to get away. Clifford unbuttoned the bottom buttons of his tunic,  tucked his truncheon under his belt and took out a revolver from his right-hip pants pocket. Holding the gun in his right hand, he shouted at them again, this time more forcibly, to stop. He brushed past Cummins and Bryant and came up directly behind Llewellyn. “Hold on! I want you. I want that gun.” Llewellyn ignored him. Clifford reached up and with his left hand grabbed the much taller man by the shoulder, spun him around and told him he was under arrest. 


Two streets over on Larimer, someone else had come up to Griffiths and told him about what had happened at the Alcazar. Sergeant H.M. Southard walked up to him at about the same time. Griffiths greeted him, “Hello, Sergeant Southard! I’m glad you came. I want to arrest a soldier who is flourishing a gun.” Before Southard could respond, they heard three shots, a pause, then screaming and hollering, followed by two more shots coming from the direction of Blake Street. Standing less than an arm’s length away, Llewellyn had drawn his gun and with no hesitation shot Clifford once in the chest. In attempting to knock the muzzle away, Clifford sustained severe powder burns on his left hand. The impact of the bullet knocked him down hard on the filthy dirt street. As he fell Clifford discharged two rounds in the air. The soldier then stood over him and fired twice more before turning to run “like a deer” down Blake Street towards downtown. “We ran in the direction of where the shots were fired,” Southard said, “and found Clifford dying at the corner of 20th and Blake.”


Frank Moore ran over to Clifford and saw that he had been severely wounded in the chest and was unable to speak. A stable hand named George Watkins ran over and picked up Clifford’s gun from the street. Someone named Arnett ran up to Moore kneeling at Clifford’s side and asked him who had done the shooting. Moore pointed to Cummins and Bryant, who had started to walk away until Moore ran up to them and held them at gunpoint with Clifford’s gun. When one of the soldiers threatened to knife him, Moore called out to the crowd for help and a dozen men surrounded the soldiers to prevent them from leaving. Other officers arrested them. Southard and a third patrolman, J. B. Baker started running down Blake Street after the gunman.   


Griffiths had commandeered a bicycle – called a wheel by everyone – from Reuben Shields, a trick-riding street performer from Boston, and was pedaling furiously after Llewellyn. Whether it was to make sure he got his bike back or for the thrill of the chase, Shields grabbed another wheel and caught up to Griffiths. Sergeant Southard picks up the story from there. “Along Blake Street the chase continued. I steadily gained on both Griffiths and Llewellyn and had almost reached them when at 16th and Wazee, I saw a man step out of the shadow of a building and before I knew what was going on, saw a revolver thrust in my face.  ‘Hands up!’ was the command.” It was a night watchman named Love from the train station. He had seen Southard running and holding a revolver and the three large, inverted chevrons on his sleeves and assumed he was one the soldiers who had shot Clifford. As Southard started to tell Love who he was, he was interrupted by gunfire from nearby.   


Llewellyn had turned off Blake at 16th, at one end of the 16th Street viaduct, and ducked into the shadows. Griffiths had lost sight of Llewellyn beneath the viaduct. He dismounted as quietly as he could and breathing heavily, tried to catch his breath before drawing his revolver and stepping cautiously into the light cast by a streetlamp. Suddenly, he saw the silhouetted form of the gunman running towards the Morey Mercantile building. Griffiths yelled for him to stop, and when he didn’t, fired three shots, all of which missed. Llewellyn turned and fired twice, one of them striking Griffiths, causing him to collapse. Shields ran over to Griffiths who told him, “My God, Almighty! He’s got me! Take my gun and get him.” Boulder resident William Clark was standing nearby and saw what happened. “The man would not stop and Griffiths fired. He did not hit him and with reason, for the soldier was in heavy shadow. He turned, however, and quick as a flash, returned the fire. It was a true shot; nothing could be more accurate. But the advantage was with him. He was in thick shade, while the officer was in full glare of the electric light. Griffiths fell and his companion [Shields] picked up the pistol and fired two shots in the darkness. The shots were of no effect, however, for the man ran into the alley by the warehouse.” Southard ran to Griffiths’ side, saw how badly he was wounded in the abdomen and tried to offer whatever comfort he could to the dying man.  


Baker continued the pursuit across Wynkoop Street, running past the Union Station terminal and into the train yards behind it. When he lost sight of him a second time, he stopped and ran to the nearest call box to tell the central station about Griffiths and where he had last seen the shooter running. The lone operator on the station switchboard had already been inundated with calls about what was happening. A patrol wagon hurried to the scene to take Clifford to the hospital, but by the time it got to him he was dead. His body was carefully placed in the back of the wagon, along with Cummins and Bryant and more than enough seething officers to guard them. The first stop they made was the county morgue; then the two soldiers were brought to the central station for questioning.  A police ambulance, the same one Griffiths had boarded earlier, was sent for him. He was unconscious but still breathing when Southard, Shields and Clark helped the police surgeon load him into the back. He died a short time later at St. Luke’s Hospital without regaining consciousness.  


A description of Llewellyn was pieced together from witnesses and widely circulated. He was said to be white, about 30 years old, well over six feet tall, weighing 200 pounds with a husky build; he was wearing an army campaign hat, a blue uniform shirt and pants and black boots. He had a dark complexion, blue eyes. auburn hair and a small mustache. Every available policeman, on- duty and off-duty, was called in to search for the killer. At first, Cummins and Bryant maintained they did not know the name of their companion. After more rigorous questioning, however, they provided his name and admitted that the three of them had come to town together. Cummins said he had met him nine months earlier in the mining town of Globe in the Arizona Territory before either of them had enlisted.  The sometimes adversarial relationship between the Denver Police Department and the soldiers at Fort Logan was never known for its warm conviviality. After the shooting deaths of Clifford and Griffiths, the tenuous relationship sunk lower than ever and became a war of words. As the Army closed ranks around one of their own, the police department vowed on the deaths of two of their own to bring the soldier responsible to justice.   


Angry confrontations between soldiers and policemen erupted on the streets of Denver. As some officers saw it, any soldier they might run into could be complicit in hiding Llewellyn and deserved to be questioned and if necessary treated roughly. For their parts, the soldiers were not about to be pushed around by any local constabulary and they fought back. To make matters worse, some members of the command staff at Fort Logan were quoted in the papers as saying Llewellyn was a good man who could have become a good soldier, had it not been for the overreaction of Officer Clifford, who was goaded by people in the crowd to arrest him after some of them had tried unsuccessfully to dupe Llewellyn into giving them his money. 

Lieutenant Colonel Howze said, “Llewellyn stood well among his set, from what we can hear of him. He was regarded as a man to tie to. He was very popular with his comrades and eminently a fair man.” Another Army officer named Newbill agreed, “There is a mistaken idea as to the man. He was not to blame from all reports. He was provoked by a crowd to a point where he did wrong. He must have been mistreated.”


Another witness, unidentified by name in a newspaper story, gave the following account. “Several young women of the neighborhood were brought in [to the Alcazar} and Llewellyn was asked to set up the drink, or at least, all drank and he was asked to foot the bill. He was not as drunk as reported, hardly off his balance, but was still cool and could hold a revolver with a steady hand. He declined to pay the bill for drinks and there trouble began. Finally, he did pay, handing the bartender a dollar. He was given short change and protested. The trouble began again and grew more serious, until Officer Clifford ordered the soldier to surrender the gun. Then came the tragedy.” This version of events and others like it depicting Llewellyn as something of a victim himself of the nefarious people around him were discounted by investigators. They relied instead on the statements taken by known and credible eyewitnesses, some of whom are cited in this story. Llewellyn’s defenders were silent on the subject of the shooting of Griffiths.   


Police feared that Llewellyn was hiding out inside the army post, either with or without the consent of post commanders. The army allowed them to come in and look around, but hardly gave them unrestricted access to see every place where a man could hide. Two patrolmen in plainclothes were sent to Logantown, the neighborhood located just north of the fort, to conduct a thorough search of that area. They found nothing. Chief of Police John Farley sent two detectives back  to the fort to get an updated description of the fugitive. Army officials told them that might take some time, even though a recruit’s exact body measurements and marks and tattoos were recorded in the enlistment examination. After a lengthy delay during which time two additional requests had to be made, the information was finally provided. Autopsies were conducted on Tuesday. They showed that Clifford had sustained two gunshot wounds to the left side of his chest, one of which had struck just below the heart and passed through his body. The other struck a few inches to the right. Griffiths had been shot through the stomach on his left side. The round had broken one of his ribs and became embedded in his spine. 


Funerals for both were held the following day. Mayor Henry Johnson issued a proclamation making that afternoon a half-holiday for city employees to attend the services. Clifford’s coffin was taken from his home that morning to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at 600 Galapago St., where a Requiem Mass was celebrated. It was then moved to council chambers at City Hall and placed next to Griffiths’ coffin and a second service was held for both men. Afterwards, the public was allowed to come in and pay their respects. Several hundred people solemnly filed past the two open coffins. At 2 p.m. the coffins were loaded onto two flower- and bunting-adorned wagons which were led in procession to Union Station by the police brass band, city officials, representatives of the Knights of Columbus and the stonecutter’s union, four platoons of police officers and some 50 firefighters. Sergeant Bohanna  rode on Clifford’s wagon and Sergeant McGowen was on Griffiths’ wagon. From the train station, the coffins went their separate ways, each with a large escort, by rail, to their respective cemeteries; Clifford to Mt. Olivet in rural Jefferson County, and Griffiths to Fairmount in rural Arapahoe County.   


The suspect’s description had been sent out to law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Police in Trinidad thought they had arrested him and notified DPD. A Denver detective got on the next train to that southern Colorado city. Once he got there, it did not take him long to confirm the man held was not who they were looking for. He was George Richards, a recently discharged soldier who was still wearing some of his uniform. When Trinidad police came upon him as he was about to hop a freight train, he reportedly told them,  “I figure you want me for that Denver murder.”  Two days later three detectives were on a train en route to investigate another reported sighting of Llewellyn. This time they were headed to Las Animas, nor far from Trinidad, where sheriff’s deputies had spotted a man matching his description hiding by railroad tracks. He fled when they fired at him. Tension was palpable when a telegram from one of the detectives in Las Animas arrived at the central station in Denver. When it was announced that the unknown man had made good his escape, a collective groan of bitter disappointment could be heard all the way outside. 


On August 30th, a soldier’s uniform was found by a former policeman named Harry Allen outside the fence at Fort Logan, some 300 years northeast of where some soldiers’ tents had been erected. The hat, shirt, trousers and leggings had recently been jammed into an opening between a clump of bushes and a tree and partially covered over with a few weeds. Allen left it where he found it and went immediately to the central station to report his discovery. Detectives were dismissive and told him they were busy running down other leads and would not have time until the next day to go down there. Allen feared the clothing would be gone by the time they did, so with the help of his friend, Special Patrolman  T. J. Alford, they got the clothing and took it to Alford’s home at 822 Broadway. Upon closer examination the clothing looked like it could have been worn by a man as large as Llewellyn. The trousers legs were 37 inches long and the shirt was extra-large. It seemed likely to them that another soldier would not have discarded his own uniform in such a careless manner, especially since it still looked new. Detectives eventually went to Alford’s house and took the clothing.


As the investigation intensified, a clearer picture of who Wellington Llewellyn was came into focus.  He was born in 1868 in Kentucky. His parents were Samuel and Louisa Brince Llewellyn. His father was a carpenter. He had three brothers, George, Egbers and Phineas, and two sisters, Susan and Laura. The family moved to a small town in Missouri in 1880 and farmed.  In 1890 he, his mother and two of his brothers moved to Globe in the Arizona Territory. Locals remembered him as “Jim.”  He, like Griffiths and his family, had worked in mining. Llewellyn was employed by the Buffalo Smelter and later at the Old Dominion Copper Company. He was said to be well liked by local residents. “He was an industrious young man, who was not addicted to liquor and was never quarrelsome, although he possessed prowess as a boxer and was an expert with pistol and rifle.” Such statements were made by persons who may not have known Llewellyn as well as they thought. He had earlier fled Texas when authorities suspected him of cattle rustling and other related crimes along the border with Mexico. 


The Llewellyn family left Globe sometime in 1896 and nothing else was heard from “Jim” until he returned in December of 1898. His mother had passed away by that time. One brother was said to be living in the Indian Territory and another was in the banking business in Comanche Town, Texas.  

Upon his return to Globe, he made a number of uncorroborated statements about what he had been up to since he was last there. He claimed to have participated in a Cuban mercenary operation onboard the Three Friends steamer, which was captured by the USS Marblehead. He then boasted that when war broke out with Spain that same year, he enlisted in the US Army and went to Cuba and got into some of the fighting. After Santiago fell, he said, he helped to police the city. 

At least two Denver citizens called the police to report they had known Llewellyn years earlier when he was a working cowboy. An elderly man named J.T. Howard, who lived at 1840 Champa St., said he had run into Llewellyn when Howard was a cattle rancher near Grand Junction. Someone else told Chief Farley he was certain that Llewellyn had been a cattle rustler in Texas named Bob Chaney.  


Once a thorough review of the shootings had been completed, several major problems in how all officers were equipped and trained came to light. The first involved their firearms. Standing in front of reporters, Chief Farley held Clifford’s gun in one hand and Griffiths’ in the other, and said, “It would take a good marksman to hit a man at night with one of these things at a greater distance than 10 feet.” There was no regulation requiring officers to have any specific make, model or even caliber of revolver; they only had to be “efficiently armed” while on duty, with a gun that they had either borrowed or purchased themselves.  A reporter raised the question of whether it would be better and safer for all the officers to carry only one particular model and caliber of firearm. Farley said he had considered the question earlier that day. “The matter suggested itself to me this morning. And when the commissioners met me I took it up with them. They seemed to be favorably impressed with the proposal to adopt as early as possible, a standard revolver among the force. No decision was reached this afternoon, but the question will be gone into more thoroughly at a future meeting.” 


Then there was the matter of firearms proficiency. Officers were not required to practice or qualify. Regular and compulsory firearms practice and qualification would not be required for another 28 years, when all sworn personnel were required to start carrying a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver with a five-inch barrel and a square butt, along with 15 extra rounds of ammunition. Another firearms-related concern was how and where the revolvers should be carried on their persons. They had been carried in one of two places: either in a hip pocket or in a shoulder holster, that was actually more of a scabbard, thrown over the right shoulder and hanging down over the left breast. In either case, the officer would first have to take the time to unbutton his tunic to reach and draw his weapon. Despite these potentially life-threatening and ill-advised conditions, officers as late as 1905 still had to wear their revolvers underneath their tunics and out of sight.  


Another significant concern was the large metal badges officers wore prominently on their chests which made for easy targets, particularly at night. The police oversight board questioned if badges should be worn under the officers’ tunics, like the guns they carried – out of sight. Proponents said that with the helmet and uniform officers were already highly visible and did not need the badge worn on the outside of their tunics for people to know they were policemen. An editorial in the Denver Evening Post had this to say. “The Fire and Police Board have about decided that the big silver star policemen wear on the left breast is a dangerous target at night, the bull’s-eye being the officer’s heart. The question has been brought up by the killing of Officers Griffiths and Clifford. Officer Clifford was shot twice, each time near the heart. Officer Griffiths was also shot near the heart. There seems little doubt that Llewellyn made use of the shining badges of the officers for a target. The board is now arguing whether or not any desperate man with the coolness of desperate men usually would do the same thing.” 

Despite all the talk no change was made. Indeed, in the 122 years since that night, uniformed officers in Denver have continued to wear badges on the left side of their chests – metal badges on their shirts and either badge patches or embroidery on their coats and jackets. Wearing a badge, especially a metal one, in such a way may have been a contributing factor in as many as 16 other line-of-duty, firearms-related deaths of Denver officers since 1899.    


In time the number of credible tips coming into the police department slowed and eventually stopped all together. Some detectives and many of the officers were reassigned to other duties not related to the two murders. The investigation was considered open but was mostly inactive for many years to come. Still, there were a few times in the course of the next several years, when members of the department and the officers’ families had reason to briefly get their hopes up that the killer had at last been captured. In 1901, the sheriff in Jasper County, Missouri, notified Denver Police that a man in his jail who was calling himself Jack Gardner, was in fact the double-murderer Wellington Llewellyn. But he wasn’t.  


Three years after that, Denver Police Chief Michael Delaney made the startling announcement that Llewellyn had been found hiding in plain sight, using a false identity as a prisoner in the penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. Inmate John Mahran was believed to be Llewellyn. He was serving time for cattle rustling – a crime to which Llewellyn had been linked before. So confident was Delaney that he had at last found the most wanted man in Denver, the board of pardons for the prison released Mahran to his custody in November 1904 to take him back to stand trial. The trial was held in May the next year at the West Side Courthouse. Despite numerous eyewitnesses testifying that he was in fact Llewellyn, the man they had seen shoot and then flee from officers, the defendant was acquitted on the grounds that he was who he said he was, John Mahran. He was returned to Illinois to finish out the remainder of his sentence. Despite the acquittal, many members of the department held fast to their belief that Mahran was really Llewellyn and that he had managed to get away again. 


Later that same year, the department thought that another prison inmate, this one in Indiana, was the killer. Again, however, it turned out he wasn’t. Three years after that, an army deserter named John Herman, who was said to have used the  alias of Wellington Llewellyn, was charged with murdering Clifford and Griffiths. He had been a private in a regiment of Illinois Volunteers during the Spanish-American War and had deserted but was caught and confined in the stockade at Fort Logan. He escaped on the night of the murders. His attorneys were able to convince Denver authorities he was not the murderer prior to going to trial. Then later that year came the sensational news from the War Department in Washington, D.C, that, in of all places, the Pacific island of Guam, an American territory, Wellington Llewellyn had at last been found. He was arrested as a deserter from the US Army’s Seventh Infantry Regiment, that was stationed in the Philippines. Supposedly, after fleeing Denver, he had enlisted under a false name in the Seventh in September, 1899, one month after the shootings, and went to Cuba with that regiment. After serving the remainder of his three-year hitch, he re-upped and was sent back to the Philippines. By this time, however, he had grown tired of military life and absconded. Upon closer examination, he too was found to not be the man who killed Clifford and Griffiths.  


The last reported sighting of Llewellyn came from the Philippines in 1912, where he was said to be the leader of a bandit gang. Meanwhile, the Clifford and Griffiths families were left to deal with their grief and find ways to make enough money to get by.  Although prior to 1899 there had been six Denver Police officers killed in the line of duty, the Denver City Charter did not provide pensions or other survivor benefits for their families. This glaring oversight stood in stark contrast to the $100 cash reward that was immediately offered for Llewellyn’s capture that grew tenfold to $1000 in only a few days. Mayor Johnson recommended that $25 monthly payments to the Clifford and Griffiths families be taken from the plentiful reward fund. However, Robert Speer,  president of the Fire and Police Board, said he did not think it was necessary to take funds from that account for any reason since there were enough “good and charitable citizens” in Denver to make their own private donations to the families. One alderman suggested that a gala fundraising ball be held for the grief-stricken families. There was even conflict over how much the city was willing to pay towards the two funerals and burials. An ad-hoc committee composed of an alderman and members of the department was appointed to find ways to finance them.  


When the committee became deadlocked and ineffectual, Speer made an impassioned speech on behalf of the murdered men instructing committee members to go ahead and plan lavish funerals and the funding would somehow appear. “If we cannot do that,” he said, “we might as well abandon our police department. We cannot expect our men to go and risk their lives if they know that their families will not be taken care of in the event of their deaths. These families must be taken care of, and if the money cannot be raised any other way, the Fire and Police Board will vote out of the funds being used to run these two departments if we have to lay off every fireman and policeman as a consequence. The soldier of the government’s family is pensioned, and if the policemen or firemen of this city cannot be guaranteed the same protection, the efficiency of the department will be crippled forever.”


His speech had the desired effect – but only on a limited basis. All funeral and burial expenses for Clifford and Griffiths would be guaranteed and a relief fund for families would be started with a modest $325. But the relief fund would not be available to those families who have already lost a loved one but would be used only in the event of line-of-duty deaths in the future. The relief fund would not be formalized until 1904 when the City Charter was amended. It also started a pension fund for officers who had attained the age of 60 after serving at least 20 years. Unfortunately, for the Clifford and Griffiths families and the families of other officers who were killed prior to 1904,  the fund was not retroactive and would not help them. By 1900 both families could no longer afford to live in their homes and had to move. Each widow found marginal employment running a boarding house. Maria Griffiths and her two children lived at 644 High St. Catherine Clifford and her children lived at 2131 Curtis St.


In 1901 Maria remarried, but this marriage too did not last. She filed for divorce the same year citing “severe abuse and attempted poisoning,” accusations her husband did not contest. A month later she married again, only to divorce this husband two years later in California. Before she died in California, in 1945 at age 79, she had married twice more. Robert joined the Navy and served aboard the USS Monterey in the Philippines. He left the service in 1917 and became a San Diego Police officer, the only one of his generation or the next in either family to go into law enforcement. He had a long and successful career and retired as a sergeant. He died in 1976 at age 84. He and his wife had three sons. One of them, Robert Alfred Griffiths, was a 20-year-old sailor aboard the USS Arizona when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Imperial Japan on December 7, 1941. He was one of 1,102 sailors and marines forever entombed in it after it exploded and went to the bottom. He was an electrician’s mate, third class. Fifty-four years after his grandfather had sailed aboard the SS Arizona to immigrate to America, and was killed 12 years later by a gunman from the Arizona Territory, another tragic nexus between the Griffiths family and ships named for Arizona was involved in the violent death of the fallen officer’s grandson. 


Mattie Griffiths and her family lived in the San Diego area too. She was 101 years old when she died in 1996.  In 1910, Catherine Clifford was still living in Denver at 1123 Jason St., with her three youngest children. She worked as a practical nurse. That spring she made headlines when she started a petition drive asking city council to pass an amendment that would make the department’s relief fund for families retroactive to at least 1889, when Patrolman John Phillips was killed in the line of duty. With the endorsement of the police department the amendment passed. It gave her a guaranteed $30 per month pension for life, and her youngest son Joseph, 11, a $6 benefit until he turned 16. 


In 1920 she and some of her children were living at 1927 Logan St., with the Easley family to whom she was related. She remained there until 1930 when she moved to northern California, where her daughter Margaret had died that same year at age 35. She eventually married a man, who like her first husband, was several years older than her. She died in 1939 at age 77.  Marie lived in nearby Napa with her family. She died in 1983 at age 88. William Clifford also moved to northern California and died there in 1954. Mary Irene died in California in 1962. It is unclear what became of Joseph, the youngest Clifford child.  


Fourteen years after two good men were killed trying to police it, the Tenderloin was at long last closed down to a large extent but not entirely. In 1913 the police and fire board voted to “abolish” the area. Chief of Police Felix O’Neill was ordered to close every house of ill-repute, saloons and all other related businesses. Sex workers and others who lived and worked there were told to vacate their premises or face arrest. Police moved in in great numbers and locked and boarded up most of the businesses, thus creating yet another name – “Padlock Alley” — for this much-nicknamed part of the city. The site of the Alcazar Saloon became a warehouse. Three years later, Prohibition came to Denver, and with it the last vestiges of what had been the most notorious neighborhood in Denver history faded away. 


Bill Finch is a retired lieutenant and 31-year veteran of the Denver Police Department. He has written extensively about the 77 men and women of that agency who have died in the line of duty since 1862. 


Selected Sources

  • Correspondence
  • Correspondence with Colcord family descendant Mark Jones in 2011 
  • Newspapers
  • The Denver Post
  • The Rocky Mountain News
  • The Denver Times 
  • Arizona Silver Belt newspaper, Globe, Arizona Territory
  • Books and Periodicals
  • Denver Police Department Pictorial Review and History 1859-1985
  • Denver Police Department History Yearbook 2003
  • Denver Police Department 2020 160 Years of Service
  • Travelers Night Guide to Colorado 1893
  • A Brief Walk Along Denver’s Notorious Market Street”: by Ann Sneesby-Koch, assistant curator of serials and project manager, History Colorado. Nov. 26, 2008 at
  • Oklahoma County Oklahoma: Oklahoma Genealogy Trails, Colcord Family Biography 2011
  • Official Records
  • USS Arizona BB-39 Casualty List, December 1941 
  • Passenger manifest SS Arizona, June 20, 1887
  • Denver Fire and Police Departments Roster and Report 1905
  • Denver Police Department historical roster at the Denver Police Museum
  • Gilpin County, State of Colorado Marriage Records 1881
  • Denver City Directories 1880-1920
  • US Census records: 1850, 1860 and 1870 Cincinnati, Ohio; 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920 Denver, Colorado; 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 San Diego, California; 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950 various towns and cities in northern California
  • National Archives and Records Administration Old Military and Civil Records Textual Services Division: Register of US Army Enlistments for Western Pennsylvania 1889; Post Returns for Fort Reno, IT, February, March and April 1892