Tragedy in 1924
Thomas Thornton had just gotten off duty at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning after his 10-hour shift, and was waiting at The Mining Journal presses to get the newest issue of the newspaper before heading home.
His partner, Walter Tippett, went to city hall to get a truck to drive him home. Thornton made a check of the alley behind the Journal office between Third and Fourth streets.
He surprised a man trying to break into Bouchor’s Drug Store and told the man to halt. Shots ensued with a foot chase leading onto the property of Harlow Clark on Fourth Street. In a few minutes more shots were fired. Officer Tippett heard them and started his search.
Several people then found Thomas Thornton wounded and lying on the ground. He described the assailant as a fellow about 5-feet 9-inches tall with a blue suit on and a soft brown hat. Thornton was quickly driven to St. Mary’s Hospital.
Meanwhile, Chief Martin Ford had been notified of the incident. Calls were made to the prison and sheriff’s departments in the county to keep a look out for the criminal on the run.
Soon, a man fitting the description was seen walking on the Duluth South Shore and Atlantic Railroad tracks, past the prison and heading to Harvey.
Who was the assailant? The police had been patrolling the alleys more often because during the previous week, Stern and Field’s Clothing Store had been broken into through the fire escape on the back alley just one block away.
Articles of clothing had been stolen. The thief was soon identified as 20-year-old Oscar Lampinen, who lived in Deerton. Lampinen was known to show off his shooting skills. He always carried a gun.
At the hospital, it was discovered that Thornton had been shot at close range in the abdomen, hip and shoulder. He shook hands with his partner Tippett and said he had done his best. “Goodbye Tip, I’m going.” He died shortly after. Thornton was 26-years-old and left a wife and two young sons.
Most of this story is now told by Walter Tippett who testified to the events in a written inquiry two days later.
Mr. Ford, his son Lloyd and Tippett drove over to officers Anderson and Betts homes to begin to assemble a search party. Ford gave order to his son Lloyd to drive to the Fords’ home and get his gun, a luger automatic.
Lloyd brought a .25 automatic. After the man was spotted, the three men headed to Harvey with Lloyd driving the vehicle. Tippett remarked that they ought to have rifles but Ford stated that they could not afford to lose any time. They sped to the Lakewood Lane crossing and saw a man walking on the tracks. Lampinen spotted the police officers with Lloyd and ran into the woods toward the Chocolay River, Tippett stated,
“Just as soon as he got to the woods, I saw him throw his coat on the ground then reach into his hip pocket. We three commenced firing at him and hollering and I saw him disappear over a little knoll into a thick swamp. Mr. Ford and his son stayed on the high land. Just as I went down into the swamp, I heard shots fired in rapid succession and I just got up where I could see the edge of river, about 20-feet, when I heard Martin Ford say, ‘Oh, he got me too, Tip’ and he had his hand on his right breast and staggered and fell, and Lloyd says, ‘Yes, he got me too!’ Just then I saw a head raise above the bank and a bullet struck the tree right near me and I kept coming and Lloyd says, ‘He is in the water.’ I stepped up to the bank and he was beginning to swim 150-feet across the river and I fired.”
Tippett continues to testify that he shot Lampinen twice and had noticed blood at the back of his head. Tippett told Lloyd he had got him, and Lloyd said, ‘Good for you, Tip.’ Tippett watched Lampinen disappear into the Chocolay River and did not resurface.
Chief Martin Ford fell with his gun still in his hand, 15-feet from the river.
There was nothing that Tippett could do for the chief, but his son needed immediate attention. Tippett got the young Ford into the automobile and raced to St. Mary’s Hospital.
Capt. Deegan of the lifesaving crew dragged the river and located Lampinen’s body. His .32 caliber revolver was never recovered, just shells on the shore from bullets that killed Ford and wounded his son. A soft, brown hat was later found in the woods with a Stern and Field label, proving that Lampinen had been the robber the previous week.
Lloyd Ford had been shot twice, in the forehead and abdomen. At first, it was thought that he could survive but he took a turn for the worse and died two days later.
Martin Ford had been an exemplary fire chief for over 5 years. He was 55-years-old and left a wife and 3 daughters.
Marquette was shocked by the senseless killings. The State Compensation Act would provide relief to the Thornton and Ford families of $14 a week for 5 ½ years. However, the community knew the need was immediate and within days had raised $5,000 by subscription, the largest donor being Louis Kaufman.
Final chapter: The tragedy of this event did not end here. Tippett, who had been on the force for less than a year felt badly about killing a man. He left the police force and worked at the Marquette Branch Prison until 1926. Tippett was originally from Ishpeming and wanted to work closer to his brothers who were both iron mine captains. One brother found him a “safe” job in an iron mine in west Ishpeming. As fate would have it, Walter Tippett’s first day of work was Nov. 3, 1926. He was on his first shift underground at the Barnes Hecker Mine when a sudden cave-in of sand and water filled the shafts and entombed Tippett and 50 other iron ore miners. This disaster is recorded in history as the worst iron mining accident in the Upper Peninsula. The Tippett family was naturally devastated by this turn of events which left many widows and 132 orphaned children in the Ishpeming area.