Sunday, August 1, 2010

Springs officer murdered before Thanksgiving

America was a little different then. Colorado Springs too.
On November 26, 1953, Eleanor Roosevelt commented on the upcoming holiday.
“HYDE PARK, Wednesday—Thanksgiving day is the most personal of all our holidays, I think, because it carries us back to our own past history and we are primarily celebrating the survival of our first ancestors in this country. There may be other countries which have their own Thanksgiving days but this is our day, the day when we review the things that we in the United States have to be thankful for.” Less than 10 years separated that time from her husband’s official establishment the holiday on the fourth Thursday in November. Before then, Thanksgiving had moved around a bit.
That same day, actor John Wayne and his entourage touched down at the airport in El Paso, Texas, and the ‘Duke’ stopped on the tarmac to shake hands with a toddler on his way to the premier of “Hondo,” based on the book by Louis L’Amour. The show, of course, was in Three-D and WarnerPhonic Sound and Color.
The population of Colorado Springs, according to the 1950 Census, was 45,472, and that included the recently annexed town Roswell that was brought into the fold in June of that year.
Patrolman Richard Burchfield reported for duty on November 26, 1953 and left the station in Colorado Springs at 7:40 that evening. He had told his wife a few days before that he thought he knew who was involved in a series of stickups around town.
At 7:55 that night, the officer called to ask if any detectives were in, police reports said. When told they were, he stated he would be in shortly. This was taken to mean he had someone in custody or had some pertinent information for the detectives.
“Shortly after 8 p.m., Robert McVay of 540 East Boulder, spotted the police car on the west side of El Paso Street, near Bijou, and five blocks from the police station; he saw a man on the outside of the car, stooping down and looking in. He became suspicious when he and his wife saw the man run up the street and enter a car, so McVay drove two blocks north, made a U-turn and went back. The man was still sitting in the car so McVay drove home, then decided to make another trip and drove to the police car and again saw the man looking into the car; McVay stopped and asked ‘Do you need any help?’ to which the man replied ‘Hell no!’ Returning home, McVay tried to call police but the lines were busy, so he drove to the station and reported the incident. Detective Irion and Officer Garred went to the scene with him and found Burchfield slumped behind the steering wheel dead.,” according to an account by Carl F. Mathews on unsolved crimes in the Pikes Peak region. Mathews was the former Superintendent of the Bureau of Identification in Colorado Springs Police Department.
Burchfield had been shot eight times, behind the right ear, over the right eye, once in the right cheek, twice in the right shoulder and three times in the right arm. Nine shells, (along with the bullets identified by the FBI lab as coming from a Colt Woodsman automatic .22 caliber pistol) were found in the car.
“The suspect was thought to have been the holdup artist who had committed seven stickups in the month previous and had been describes by most witness as young, apparently 17 to 25 years of age, about six feet tall, an of slender build. His latest holdup had been that of Alton Peterson, who had been stopped in the 1400 block of North Cascade at about 7:15 p.m. which led officers to believe the killer was the holdup man,” wrote Mathews.
A witness account by Mary Lowe, living at 233 North El Paso, which was diagonally across the street from the scene of the killing, described hearing shots and an outcry. She told police she looked out her upstairs window and saw a man running up the street to a parked car, apparently a dark Ford Coupe, 1941 or 1942 model. He backed up, made a U-Turn and drove a short distance north, stopped and ran back to the police cruiser where McVay had talked to him after his third trip around the area.
“Police asked all parties who had Colt Woodman pistols to bring them to the station for checking and number I.D. s, but without results so far as any connection with the shells found in the car,” Mathews said.
Burchfield was 34 at the time of his murder and a father of three children. Rewards totaling nearly $1,700 were offered and private contributions and returns from movie houses (perhaps from the Three-D version of “Hondo.”) made up a purse amounting to $3,650, which was given to the widow.
“It was theorized that the man was in the police car when Burchfield started to question him, drew the pistol and shot the officer as outlined. No real clues have ever been found,” wrote Mathews.
Officer Richard Burchfield's murder, five blocks from the police station in his own patrol car, has never been solved. In Colorado Springs that year, for the police, for the family of Richard Burchfield, for witnesses Robert McVay, Mary Lowe and robbery victim Alton Peterson, and for others … it was as the former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “the most personal of all of holidays.”
America, and Colorado Springs, too, is a little different now.
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