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Plaque honors SLC police officer killed 98 years ago

Published December 8, 2011 3:23 pm

Police • Memorial plaque placed at location where Thomas F. Griffiths was gunned down.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Salt Lake City police officer who died in the line of duty 98 years ago was honored Thursday by modern-day fellow officers and a half-dozen of his descendants.

The family of Thomas F. Griffiths met at the Historic Sweet Candy Company building, 224 S. 200 West, where the officer — known for his "beautiful singing voice and patient manner" — was gunned down by a man he knew.

The owners of the building agreed to allow the police department to place a bronze memorial plaque on the outside to remember Griffiths and how he died. It is the third of 24 plaques that are planned for placement at locations where officers were killed while on duty.

Salt Lake City Police Lt. Mike Ross called the plaque dedication "a somber event," but added that it was "exciting" to finally be paying respect to the fallen officers.

Members of the Griffiths family, including some great-grandchildren, were "very emotional" and declined to speak publicly, Ross said.

Griffiths' death is recounted in End of Watch: Utah's Murdered Police Officers, 1858-2003, by Robert Kirby, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist and former police officer.

Griffiths patrolled the Greek Town area of Salt Lake and had great rapport with the residents there, according to Kirby, who called the 47-year-old Griffiths "an easygoing man who knew everyone and rarely resorted to arrests as a means of settling disputes."

On the morning of June 25, 1913, a man stumbled out of the Shamrock Saloon, 219 W. 200 South, with a cut to his right shoulder. The man told Griffiths he was injured during an argument with a 23-year-old Italian immigrant named Giovanni Anselmo, who had refused to pay for a round of drinks.

Griffiths was surprised because Anselmo — a tailor who lived quietly with his father — was not a known troublemaker, according to End of Watch.

"They knew each other by name," Ross said of Griffiths and Anselmo.

When Griffiths found Anselmo at a cafe next to the saloon, Anselmo — who in the meantime had bought a gun — didn't resist. But as Griffiths was calling for a car, the man ran.

After a short foot chase, Griffiths caught Anselmo behind the Sweet Candy Company.

As the two wrestled, Anselmo threw the officer against a pole and shot him three times — twice in the upper torso and a final fatal shot in the forehead.

Anselmo fled but was eventually caught, convicted at trial and sentenced to a life of "hard labor," according to End of Watch.

But after six years in prison, Anselmo ran away while working on a state road crew and was never recaptured. Police believe he made his way back to Italy.

Ross said the memorial plaques are a reminder not only to the families and police officers, but to the public, as well.

"People walk by these locations every day and don't realize someone lost their life here," Ross said. "We just can't forget them."

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity