In 1858, Salt Lake City Police Officer William Cooke became the first Utah officer to be killed in the line of duty. Friday marked the 155th anniversary of his death, and while his story lives on, a photo to remember him by is still lost to time.
The 55-year-old officer was on duty and alone at the city jail on Oct. 13, watching an inmate who was there on "very minor charges," said Lt. Mike Ross, a historian within the department. Ross guessed that the charges were probably alcohol violations.
Then that afternoon, two men came in and demanded the inmate be released. But when Cooke refused, one of the men shot him in the thigh, according to a police department memorial.
Cooke died five days later.
The killer fled Salt Lake City. But three days after Cooke died, a Salt Lake mail carrier who was a close friend of the fallen officer tracked the killer to an area near Fort Bridger, Wyo. Records only give half the killer’s name — McDonald — a teamster who had recently arrived in Salt Lake City.
McDonald shot at the carrier hot on his trail, but missed. One account said the bullet did strike him, but that it had only grazed his collar, Ross said. The carrier returned fire and took out the killer with a shot to the throat.
Cooke, a husband and the father of six children, was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
There are no known photos of the fallen officer. Ross wants to hang photos of all the force’s fallen in the new Public Safety Building, but is short any portrait of Cooke and another officer, Charles Riley. A suspected bank robber gunned down Riley while the officer was escorting him to jail on Oct. 5, 1909.
If you come across a photo of either Cooke or Riley, contact the police department at 801-799-3100.
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