End of Watch: The Death of Officer J. H. Carter: April 4, 1909

From the book, “Pensacola’s Finest,” available on Amazon.

Law and Order. That’s what it is called – for a reason. Historically, communities had often taken matters into their own hands when a horrendous crime took place. That sounds great, but not when emotions take priority over justice.  For instance, if a person was accused of a terrible crime, a lynching might take place, often without the whole story being told.  Occasionally, innocent people were wrongly killed.  Such was the case in many towns, including Pensacola. 

The midnight shift.  Officers who have worked it will tell you that it is a different animal.  Busy at times, slow at others, but always different.  A city changes somewhat when most people are asleep.  That’s how it was at 1:00 in the morning of April 4, 1909.  24-year old mounted policeman Officer J. H. Carter was working on the east side of town in the Hawkshaw neighborhood – near 9th Avenue and Aragon Street.  As a result of an unknown incident, Officer Carter took a man into custody.  Officer Carter needed to have the man picked up by the wagon and taken to the jail.  As they approached the patrol call box on the corner of Aragon and Luke’s Alley, a fight ensued.  The suspect stabbed Officer Carter multiple times, the fatal one in the chest, leaving what was described as a gaping hole.   Before he collapsed, Officer Carter managed to fire two shots at the suspect.   Carter died on the spot.  Within a few minutes, Marshal Sanders, Captain George Hall, and Sheriff VanPelt arrived and began an unsuccessful search for the unknown suspect. 

A few minutes later, a lady appeared at the desk sergeant’s office at the police station inquiring about the bond amount for her husband, David Alexander, who had just been arrested by a mounted police officer (incidentally, another David Alexander was named chief of the Pensacola Police in 2015).  Mrs. Alexander had been made aware that her husband had been taken into custody a few minutes before.  Immediately, all officers were notified and sent to Mr. Alexander’s home to make contact with him.  When they first made contact with him, Alexander’s clothes were disheveled, and his clothing and countenance were consistent with being in a struggle.  He was arrested and taken to the city jail. 

Captain Hall testified later that Mr. Alexander had confessed to the killing of Officer Carter to him and Turnkey Charles Simpson.  At the early stages, it looked as if Alexander was the killer of Officer Carter, but the full story would never come out.  Desk Sergeant Michael J. Murphy later testified that, at 4:00 am, 40-50 masked men stormed the city jail and accosted him and Turnkey Simpson, who were the only two men on duty at the station at that hour.  They overpowered Sgt. Murphy, put him to the ground, and held him there.  They then proceeded to Simpson and, holding a gun on him, made him open Alexander’s cell door.  They tied up Alexander and drug him out of the jail and across the street into Ferdinand Plaza.  They threw a rope over a pole, put the other end around Alexander’s neck, and lynched him.  Then – as he was hanging, they fired numerous bullets at him, fifteen striking him.  The coroner later ruled the gunshots as the cause of death. 

No matter how you view it, this incident was sad.  One of Pensacola’s finest had just been brutally murdered while doing his job, and his co-workers had worked swiftly and diligently to apprehend the man responsible.  However, instead of the town mourning Officer Carter’s death and proudly proclaiming the efficiency of the work of the Department, a bunch of citizens allowed their emotions to get the best of them and put to death the man who had not yet been convicted of the crime. 


The old “Hawkshaw” neighborhood

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