END OF WATCH: May 14, 1923
Cleveland Police Department
Friday, May 11, 1923, Patrolman Dennis Griffin was detailed to watch for a suspect at a garage on Elgin Avenue. At 6:30 am, Patrolman Griffin was relieving Patrolman Henry Hughes when Griffin spotted a “machine” that fit the description of one sought by the police. Griffin and Hughes arrested the driver, J. L. Whitfield. Whitfield was wanted for questioning in connection with the theft of thousands of spark plugs from the Reflex Ignition Company located at W. 105th & Lorain. He also was thought to have participated in two other hold-ups in East Cleveland.
Whitfield was arrested and searched in front of his home. He asked if he could enter his home to speak to his wife and change his clothes. Griffin allowed Whitfield to enter the home. Griffin followed Whitfield into the home but did not see Whitfield put a 45 caliber revolver into his hip pocket. Griffin then led Whitfield back to Whitfield’s car but failed to search him. Whitfield and Griffin got into Whitfield’s car to return to Collinwood Police Station. Patrolman Hughes followed in another car that belonged to Whitfield. The car Hughes drove got a flat tire. Hughes told Griffin to continue to the station. The last Hughes saw Griffin and Whitfield was at Parkwood Drive and St. Clair Avenue.
When Hughes arrived at the police station, he realized that Griffin and the suspect had not arrived. All police squadrons were dispatched to search for them. Police Chief Graul took personal command of the search. Surrounding cities were notified to be on the lookout for a 1917 Jordan Roadster with a dark blue body, black hood and fenders, nickeled radiator, and red wire wheels bearing an Ohio license 184-569. The suspect was also described.
Police received a clue from George A. Dixon. He reported seeing a policeman slumped in the front seat of an auto at E. 135th & Shaw Avenue. A search was begun of the Forest Park Ravine and the Bluestone Quarry. The police alerted the whole city to be on the lookout for a Jordan Roadster with the suspect in it Police departments throughout the nation were notified to be on the lookout. Griffin’s wife believed he would return. She claimed, “Dennis has the luck of the Irish”.
On Monday, May 14, 1923, three boys found a burnt police uniform on Pettibone Road near Geauga Lake. Two pieces of a collar with the number 14 on them, part of a revolver holster and suspenders were found. The collar was believed to be Griffin’s as he was with the 14th Precinct in Cleveland. The search continued in that area but no body was found.
Mrs. Briel of S. Kinsman & River Road came forward with more evidence. She claimed to have given a shovel to a man fitting the description of Whitfield. The police returned to the area where the clothing was found and searched again. A shallow grave was found at the base of a large uprooted tree. Griffin’s body was in this grave. He had a bullet through the left side of his neck and a deep cut over his left eye.
Whitfield remained on the run. People claimed to have seen him in Toledo, Michigan and Wisconsin. Then police received a call that Whitfield was in Detroit. An anonymous caller revealed Whitfield’s location. Whitfield was finally captured on June 26, 1923 at Ternes Coal & Lumber Company in Detroit, Michigan. Lt. Nevel of the Cleveland Police Department arrested him personally.
Patrolman Griffin, the 29th Cleveland policeman to die in the line of duty, was believed to have died on Friday, May 11, 1923. He left a wife, Elizabeth, and a nine-month old son, Gerald Orrin Griffin.
Whitfield was found guilty of murder in the first degree and the jury recommended mercy. He was sentenced to life in the Ohio State Penitentiary. In a desperate attempt to escape from the penitentiary, he was shot, wounded and later died.
Dennis Griffin’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C. panel 28, west wall, line 2.
By Recruit J. C. O’Neil, Cleveland Police Academy