Kilroy and the California Cop Killer | HistoryNet

Kilroy and the California Cop Killer

By R. Michael Wilson
1/4/2017 • Wild West Magazine

Fed up with being shadowed, badman Edward Moore confronted Nevada City lawman William Kilroy, gunned him down and headed for the hills.

Prospectors and merchants settled Nevada, California, during the 1849 gold rush but didn’t settle on a name until 1864 when they chose Nevada City to avoid confusion with the neighboring state. By August 1850 the first mine, the Gold Tunnel, had sunk shafts on the north side of Deer Creek, and Nevada County soon became the leading gold mining region in the state. The wealth in outgoing gold shipments and incoming payrolls also attracted road agents and footpads to the settlement. During California’s first half century as a state 71 lawmen died (56 by gunfire) in the line of duty. Criminals in Nevada County shot down five of them—three sheriffs, a city marshal and, the last, a special policeman named William H. Kilroy.

During the early months of 1899 Nevada City experienced a rash of saloon burglaries. Kilroy, recently widowed with a 3-year-old son named Elza, was sure the burglar was Edward H. Moore. Prospector Moore had a cabin and claim at nearby Canada Hill on Little Deer Creek. Locals had long considered Moore an obstreperous rogue, or what the April 1 San Francisco Call termed a “lawless and desperate scoundrel.”

In 1882 Moore was caught in the act of delivering lurid, suggestive letters to local women, and Nevada City authorities sentenced him to 90 days in jail. Though word of his reputation spread, his record remained free of criminal convictions for more than a dozen years. In 1896, however, he shot a neighbor’s cabin full of holes after the man persisted in working a contested claim on Little Deer Creek. The cabin shooting earned Moore another 150 days behind bars. For years authorities had also suspected him of far more serious crimes—murders committed during two failed highway robberies. In the first incident the superintendent of the Derbec mine was murdered in 1891 while transporting gold bullion to Nevada City; three years later a lone highwayman shot and killed stagecoach driver Arthur Meyer on the road from North Bloomfield to Nevada City. Lawmen failed to turn up enough evidence in either case to proffer charges, but Moore remained the prime suspect.

In late January 1899 officer Kilroy took to shadowing Moore whenever the prospector came into Nevada City. Kilroy was certain he would ultimately catch Moore committing another burglary. Tellingly, when Moore became aware of Kilroy’s scrutiny, the burglaries ceased. Moore waited for Kilroy to lose interest, but the lawman showed great patience. A month passed with no burglaries, and Kilroy continued to watch Moore’s movements. Moore ran out of patience first. By mid-March he was telling anyone who would listen how he would “fix” Kilroy and “pump him full of lead” if the lawman didn’t stop following him. Moore must have anticipated his threats would reach Kilroy’s ears, and perhaps they did, but Kilroy kept his cool and his distance. So Moore took direct action, confronting the officer in the lobby of the Union Hotel and making his threats face-to-face. Kilroy brushed them off. He refused to be intimidated or provoked into a confrontation. Determined to get Moore off the streets, Kilroy continued his surveillance of the suspected burglar.

On the evening of March 30 Moore stopped by Fred Ellerman’s saloon on Broad Street in Nevada City. When Kilroy entered the saloon, Moore confronted him and reportedly “reviled and defied” the lawman with taunts and every imaginable epithet. After midnight the men stepped outside and continued arguing as they walked down Broad Street toward Pine. About 20 minutes till 1 a.m. they reached the intersection, stopped and faced off. Local barber Robert O. Gates watched the confrontation from behind an electric lamppost overlooking the intersection. Gates was hard of hearing, but

the adversaries spoke loud enough for him to hear. “You dare not arrest me!” shouted Moore, who was also nearly deaf. “I will kill you if you try.”

“I could arrest you, but I do not want to,” Kilroy replied, “and you cannot kill me.”

At that moment Kilroy put both hands on Moore’s shoulders and leaned in, as if to shout something in the miner’s face. Before Kilroy could say another word, however, Moore pulled his revolver and shot Kilroy twice in the left torso, both bullets entering just below the officer’s heart. Kilroy collapsed to his knees, which sent Moore sprawling. Spotting Gates by the lamppost, the officer called out, “Oh, Bob, come here!” Just then Moore sprang to his feet, slipped the barrel of his revolver beneath Kilroy’s chin and fired again. That bullet penetrated the officer’s brain, killing him instantly.

As Kilroy collapsed face down, Moore yelled out to bystanders: “Keep away! I don’t want any trouble!” He then bolted down Commercial Street directly to his cabin, where he outfitted himself with blankets, provisions, his ear trumpet, a Winchester rifle and two revolvers. After calling for his two dogs—a black-and-white shepherd and a yellow mutt—he fled with them into the surrounding rugged hills.

Nevada County Deputy Sheriff J.S. Gregory enlisted the aid of E.W. Schmidt to carry Kilroy’s body to the undertaker’s parlor. They noted that the officer’s loaded revolver remained in its holster, his billy club still secured in his back pocket. The city trustee immediately issued a proclamation, offering a $300 reward for the arrest and conviction of Moore. Sheriff D.B. Getchell then personally offered another $250 for the fugitive, dead or alive, and released the following description of Moore: “5 feet 11 inches tall, wiry and strongly built, of dark complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair and mustache. He is quite deaf and has a confidential way of speaking to anyone.”

Immediately after the killing Sheriff Getchell deputized William Pollard and W.T. McClure and posted them outside Moore’s cabin. That night they saw the shadowy figure of a man approach the cabin door and fired at him. Convinced they had dropped Moore, Pollard and McClure returned to their place of concealment till morning. There they found that some animal had eaten their food, and at daybreak they plain ly saw tracks they were convinced belonged to one of Moore’s dogs. The pair then scoured the area around the cabin, expecting to find Moore’s body, but came up emptyhanded. A search of the cabin turned up a bill for $20 in groceries. It was clear Moore had prepared his getaway in advance, suggesting the murder had been premeditated.

Sheriff Getchell and City Marshal Edward A. Tompkins organized a posse to go after Moore. The sheriff also sent Undersheriff Pascoe and Deputy William Ashburn by train to Dutch Flat, instructing them to scout back overland and try to cut off the fugitive. Meanwhile, Kilroy was laid to rest the afternoon of April 2. The funeral cortege comprised 250 members of the officer’s lodge. Every flag in the city flew at half-staff, and every firehouse and church bell tolled. “William Kilroy was an officer who knew his duty, and because he had the nerve to perform it, he died the death of a dog,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Clyne at the service in St. Canice Catholic Church. “When his epitaph is written it will be, ‘He was faithful to his duty.’ He was murdered because he represented the honest and law-abiding people of this city, and there is no man, not a hoodlum or a rogue, who does not mourn for him today.” More than 2,000 people thronged the service, spilling out the door into the churchyard.

The outpouring of sympathy concerned Sheriff Getchell, who feared that if Moore was taken alive, the outraged citizens were likely to rise up and lynch him. To prevent such an embarrassment, Getchell sent word back from the mountains for his men to prepare to defend the jail. Meanwhile, the reward rose to $1,000, still dead or alive. Over the next few weeks Moore sightings poured in from across the region, sometimes at the same time many miles apart. More than once Moore was reportedly “cornered with no chance for escape.”

Not until April 3, three days after Kilroy’s murder, did rancher William Taunt learn that Moore was on the lam. “Do you mean Ed Moore, the half-deaf prospector up at Nevada City?” he asked. When assured the murderer was indeed that Ed Moore, Taunt said he had seen the fugitive the night before near the North Star mine, 2 miles from Grass Valley. “I could not be mistaken,” he added. “He and I were in the county jail together in March 1896, I serving for disturbing the peace, and he assault with a deadly weapon. We recognized each other immediately last evening and shook hands. He said he was going to the lower country on a little trip. He had a bundle of blankets and looked travel-stained and weary. But he had no gun, and I saw no pistols on him. He seemed glad to see me, and there was nothing unusual about his manner. After a pleasant chat he started leisurely down the road toward Auburn.”

Notified of Taunt’s assured sighting, Sheriff Getchell acted swiftly, laying plans with other lawmen in Nevada and Placer counties to intercept Moore. Newly elected California Governor Henry Gage authorized Company C of the National Guard to join in the search. On April 3 some 50 men under Lieutenant R.R. Walker scoured several abandoned mines on the far side of Banner Mountain for any evidence of the fugitive. That same day Captain George A. Nihell of the National Guard accompanied Marshal Tompkins to Spencerville to interview Taunt. They doubted the rancher’s story, and when Nihell’s force beat through the woods and underbrush where Taunt claimed to have seen Moore, they found no trace of the murderer.

By April 4 authorities were pursuing every lead, knowing Moore’s provisions must soon give out. Lawmen issued warnings, and area residents took them seriously. Every man up in the mountains secured his cabin at night and slept with a weapon within easy reach. No teamster took to the roads without arms at the ready. Braver men were determined to capture Moore themselves, or at least slow him down so he would have a harder time eluding lawmen. The fugitive had a big advantage in his shepherd, whom he’d often boasted was the smartest dog in the state. Although Moore was nearly deaf, the dog would alert his master at any sniff of danger, and not by barking but by licking Moore’s face or acting in an animated fashion. For more than three weeks Moore eluded all pursuers.

On the morning of April 24, acting on a tip, Contra Costa County Sheriff R.R. Veale hopped a westbound train from Bay Point in search of a suspicious armed man walking the tracks. When the train stopped at a flag station a few miles above Martinez, Veale peered from his car and spotted his quarry headed up the tracks with a double-barreled shotgun at full cock. Veale soon recognized the man as Moore. Armed with a Winchester rifle, the sheriff quickly jumped from the train and ducked out of sight into the station. When Moore closed to within 40 feet, Veale stepped out, leveled his rifle and shouted, “Hands up!” Seeing his predicament, the exhausted Moore threw down the shotgun and surrendered without resistance. Three weeks of making his way through some of northern California’s roughest country to avoid lawmen had left him a wreck. Once the food ran out, even his dogs had abandoned him.

At gunpoint Veale marched Moore back to town, locked him in the Contra Costa County Jail and notified Sheriff Getchell, who arrived the next morning to escort the prisoner to jail in Nevada City. Promptly indicted for murder, Moore went to trial on June 13. Testimony lasted three days, with Moore taking the stand on June 16. He tried to convince jurors Kilroy had raised his billy club to strike him down, and he had only fired his revolver at the officer in self-defense. Moore then re-enacted his version of the confrontation, nearly knocking down his attorney as he rushed him in the role of Kilroy. Among the parade of prosecution witnesses, however, were Deputy Gregory and E.W. Schmidt, who testified that when they went to move the sheriff’s body, the club remained secured in his pocket. The jury dismissed Moore’s claim of self-defense and, after brief deliberations, found him guilty of first-degree murder.

Moore was remanded to the custody of the sheriff and fitted with an Oregon boot, a heavy metal shackle with braces attached to one leg to keep a prisoner off balance and unable to flee. Moore returned to court on June 26. Judge Frank T. Nilon denied the usual petition for a new trial based on a claim of new evidence, but then surprised everyone by sentencing Moore to life in Folsom prison instead of a trip to the gallows.

Moore arrived at Folsom on June 28 and registered as prisoner No. 4606. He was paroled on September 1, 1913, after serving 14 years and two months. To be eligible for parole he needed to be employed, and Fred Wren of Vacaville attested to hiring Moore. For nine years the parolee, who seemed to have no friends or living family members, worked for Wren. When diagnosed with carcinoma of the parotid gland, an aggressive form of mouth cancer, Moore voluntarily checked in to the prison hospital at San Quentin. He was under the care of Dr. Chester A. DeLancey until his death on August 2, 1922. In his last will and testament he requested burial in the family plot at Nevada City’s Pine Grove Cemetery. He also asked that, after expenses, the remainder of his $894.79 estate be divided among the eldest daughters of the Wren brothers and the oldest daughter of the Eichoff family (his connection to latter is unknown). Finally, he left his “violin and outfit” to one Mary Bruno of Dixon, Calif.

R. Michael Wilson, a retired Southern California law enforcement officer, writes from Henderson, Nev. He has authored books about crime and capital punishment in the West for more than a decade and is a frequent contributor to Wild West. This article was adapted from his 2014 book Cop Killer: California, 1850–1930, which is recommended for further reading along with Wilson’s Stagecoach Robberies in California and Wells, Fargo & Company vs. the Train Robbers, 1871–1912.


Originally published in the June 2015 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.

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