End of Watch: The murder of Pensacola Police Officer John Gappa Yelverton – June 3, 1899

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An excerpt from the book, “Some Gave All,” coming soon on Amazon

By Mike Simmons

In 1897, John Yelverton became a Pensacola Police Officer. Not only did he love the work he did, but he found that he was good at it!

L & N Passenger Depot

Reuben Harris grew up in Savannah, Georgia. As an adult in 1899, he had been arrested numerous times. In 1899, he got into an argument with another man which resulted in Harris murdering him. Savannah Officer Thomas Watts responded with his partner, known locally as “Bill the Devil.” As they began the investigation, they got word that Harris was taking the first train out of town. Thomas and Bill also caught the train and stayed on his tail.

The train arrived at the old L&N Train Station in Pensacola on the evening of June 1, 1899. The law officers found Officer Yelverton and explained the situation to him. The men quickly made a plan and went after the suspect.

Yelverton, not expecting violence, followed Harris to the corner of Tarragona and Chase Streets and approached him. As soon as Harris saw the officer, he pulled a revolver and fired three rounds into Yelverton. One struck him in the head and another to his right side, mortally wounding him. As he fell, the wounded officer drew his revolver and shot at Harris, who had turned to run.

However, before Harris could flee, Detective Watts and “Bill the Devil” arrived and each fired, striking Harris in the lungs, but he ran and hid. Pensacola Police Chief Frank Wilde arrived and, together with the Georgia officers, began searching for Harris.

Wilde found him hiding, subdued him, and took him into custody. 

Officer Yelverton was rushed to the Pensacola Infirmary where he underwent emergency surgery. His health continued to decline, and he died at 3:35 AM on June 3, 1899. Officer Yelverton was 43 years old and married with two boys. The city fathers of Pensacola held an emergency session and voted to pay the $75 for Officer Yelverton’s funeral expenses. They felt that was the least that they could do for a man who gave his life to protect the community.

Harris was wounded in the lung, but he improved and was soon moved to the jail infirmary. Citizens of Pensacola became enraged. Talk began about forming a lynching party.  This threat became so real that Sheriff George Smith – who was in charge of the jail – stationed specially armed deputies at the jail around the clock.

On December 5, 1899, Harris’ murder trial took place. Harris’s attorney argued that the shooting was an accident, but the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Harris was sentenced to hang, much to the approval of the community. However, On January 26, 1900, Governor William Bloxham allowed the State Board of Parole to commute Harris’ sentence to Life in Prison.

Officer John Yelverton

Rest in Peace, Officer Yelverton


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