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'20s Salt Lake City police shooting left severed spine and suicide in its wake

Published March 24, 2014 12:24 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Wednesday marks 91 years since a dark chapter in Salt Lake City police history, involving a severed spine, firing squad and suicide.

On Nov. 27, 1922, Sgt. Nephi Pierce and Officer George Watson were patrolling on foot near 525 S. Main Street. Shortly after midnight, they found and started questioning two men who matched the descriptions of a pair of robbery suspects — when one of the men drew a handgun.

Pierce ran for cover behind a tree, but a suspect shot him, severing his spine, according to a Salt Lake City police memorial. Watson was pistol-whipped and left for dead while the suspects ran.

Pierce, 53, died at Holy Cross Hospital from his injuries four months later, on March 26, 1923. Three month later, his wife Marie Pierce committed suicide in their home, according to the memorial. The two, who had no children, are buried beside each other in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

According to a separate online memorial, Pierce had been born in Sweden and served the Salt Lake City Police Department for 17 years.

Police had tracked down the two suspects the morning after the shooting. Following the sergeant's death, the suspected shooter was convicted of murder and executed by firing squad on Feb. 20, 1925. The second suspect was paroled a year later.

- Michael McFall

Twitter: @mikeypanda