END OF WATCH: April 21, 1921
Cleveland Police Department
On October 16, 1920, Elmer Sprosty was appointed to the Cleveland Police Department as a patrolman. Felled by a gunman’s bullet on April 21, 1921, he was a policeman for only six months and five days.
He was the son of Captain Frank D. Sprosty and the nephew of Safety Director, Anton B. Sprosty. Elmer earned a reputation for daring in the short time he was a policeman. He disarmed two hold-up men after a thrilling chase on Woodland Avenue. Fellow officers predicted high honors for the young policeman. He was quoted as saying, “My ambition is to be as good a policeman as my father.” He had a star football record in high school, was married, but separated from his wife. He also served in the Navy during World War I.
On April 21, 1921, Patrolman Elmer Sprosty was on duty when he heard shots coming from Philip Goldberg’s Cafe at 1421 Scovill. Observing a group of men running from the establishment, he crossed the street to investigate. Seeing the policeman, one of the males fired at Sprosty. Sprosty fell to the street and the gunman walked up to him and fired two more shots into him.
At the same time, Patrolman Nathan Wachs, also heard the shots and came running. He saw the gunmen and fired at them, who in turn fled as Wachs approached. Wachs found Sprosty lying dead on the street. Wachs was unsure if he wounded the gunman who fatally shot Patrolman Sprosty.
William Conlon, alias Murphy was the first suspect arrested. He revealed all the males involved, William “Bobby” Hunt, Frank Shannon and Jimmy Walsh. Also “Chick” Connors, “Chuck” Pierce, “Oyster House” and Thomas Ruby. Murphy blamed alcohol was the cause of the shooting.
Murphy said the afore mentioned gang left Goldberg’s, and, when they got outside, “Bobby” Hunt punched “Oyster House” in the mouth, then pulled out two guns and began firing at the sidewalk. When he saw the policeman coming across the street, he aimed at him and fired. After the policeman fell, Hunt went over to him and fired two more times. Thomas Ruby commandeered a car and they got in it with Hunt riding on the right running board and Murphy on the left. Another policeman came and fired at them hitting “Bobby” Hunt, but they got away.
Subsequently, all the males involved were arrested. When Conlon, alias Murphy, was arrested, two guns were taken from his apartment. He stated both guns belonged to “Bobby” Hunt. Hunt was arrested on a tip he was injured and hiding at a friend’s house. He was picked up and taken to the prison ward at City Hospital.
Conlon and Hunt were convicted of First Degree Murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The cases against Walsh and Shannon, who also were charged with murder, were nulled.
A sad note, patrolman Elmer Sprosty faced these armed gunmen with a non-operative revolver. Witnesses wondered why he did not draw his weapon when approaching the gunmen. The explanation was revealed when fellow officers examined his revolver at Charity Hospital, It was out of repair and couldn’t be fired. Later examination reveled it could not be fired even in 15 minutes time. Ptl. Sprosty knew he had a non-functioning weapon when he faced the armed gunmen. (Information obtained from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Press, Cleveland Police Historical Society and the Cleveland Police Personnel Unit)
Funeral services were held from Elmer Sprosty’s parents’ home on W. 96th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, and there was a mounted police escort to West Park Cemetery where he was interred on April 25, 1921.
Elmer Sprosty’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C. panel 29, west wall, line 17.
By Recruit William J. Zurlo, Cleveland Police Academy