By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian
Note: This is the first of two parts. Read the second part on March 21. More information can be found HERE)
It was probably a typical Saturday night March 4, 1911, in Alexandria when James W. Walker, 30, entered a pawn shop on North Canal Street owned by C.W. Miller at 9 p.m., intent upon committing a robbery.
Standing outside the shop was Walker’s friend and accomplice, Rufus Warren, 27. Both men were Alexandria residents and employed as plate glass workers. Warren was single but Walker was married with four children.
While the robbery was in progress, a woman passing the store sounded the alarm.
Patrolmen Virgil Kirkman, 23, a member of the police force for only three weeks, and Fred Stokes rushed to the scene. Apparently Warren had seen them approaching and left his post outside. Not drawing his gun, Kirkman entered the store and Walker fired at him three times, not heeding the officer’s warning to throw up his hands.
One shot cut a finger; one went through his stomach, but the other struck him below the left eye, passing through his brain and lodging in the back of his head. Kirkman died at the Alexandria hospital at 11:40 that night.
Gunfire on streets
As Walker was fleeing the pawn shop, the other patrolman, Fred Stokes, gave pursuit and a total of seven gun shots were exchanged between the two. Walker fled south on Canal Street to Washington and west on Washington to Berry. Near the Christian church, Stokes lost sight of him.
Word was sent to the Anderson Police Department and Sheriff Jack Mountain requesting their assistance. The sheriff and three patrolmen quickly arrived and began a search for Warren. A tip from Alva Ice led officers to Washington Street where Warren was arrested. Warren confessed the crime and told where Walker could probably be found.
Meanwhile, Walker had made his way to his parent’s house in the west end. Alexandria Chief of Police, John L. Ellis, 33, had joined the pursuit and entered the house to search for him. He had just entered when Walker shot him in the stomach. Ellis was able to return fire striking Walker. The assisting officers responded to their fallen leader allowing the wounded Walker to escape.
Ellis was taken to the same hospital where Kirkman had died a few hours earlier. His wounds were determined to be critical as a bullet had passed completely through his body.
Chief Ellis died shortly after 3 p.m. Monday afternoon following a two-hour surgery Sunday night. He had requested his family be brought to his beside but died before his two children, 7-year-old Corinne and 3-year-old Robert, could get there.
Search for Walker
Events now moved quickly. Alexandria was described as being in the state of highest excitement as hundreds took to the streets. The crowd was so large that it was decided to transport Warren to the Anderson jail where he arrived early Sunday morning. At 3:10 a.m., a posse of 40 gathered in downtown Alexandria waiting for bloodhounds to arrive to begin the manhunt for Walker.
Walker’s capture occurred about 4 a.m. Monday morning in a barn northwest of Frankton. He had eaten supper about 6 o’clock the night before at a farmhouse and had been given permission to sleep in the barn. Later, the farmer’s son went to Frankton and told authorities he suspected the lodger. Sheriff Mountain was called and dispatched a carload of searchers to the barn where they found Walker wrapped in canvas on the barn floor near the door sound asleep. Walker awoke with four or five guns pointed at his face.
Walker later told how he ran to the L.E. & W. railroad located 300 feet from his father’s house, where he had shot Ellis. He walked the tracks to Orestes where he tried to get his wounded arm attended by Dr. Cook, but the doctor was too ill to help. He claimed he was in Elwood Sunday afternoon and decided to head for Frankton when he became so weak he stopped at the farm for food and rest.
By now Warren had been returned to Alexandria and was jailed with Walker. Citizens who were already angered by the killing of Kirkman learned of Ellis’ death. Mob violence was now feared and lynching became a possibility. Both prisoners were transported to the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis for safekeeping.
A double funeral was held on Thursday, March 9, at the Alexandria Methodist Church. One hour before the service, the church was filled to overflowing. At the close of the service, two horse-drawn hearses driven side-by-side led the procession to the Odd Fellows Cemetery that contained more than 1,000 mourners.
By this time, both Warren and Walker had been returned to Alexandria and the story shifts from being sensational to one filled with happenings that today seem bizarre.
The first of these occurred during Walker’s interrogation. He told that, as a boy, he played with Kirkman and liked him, and always spoke to him on the streets. He also said the two were members of the same secret order.
The wheels of justice moved quickly. On March 15, the grand jury met, 11 days after the shootings. They returned three indictments against Walker. Two indictments for first degree murder one for Kirkman and the other for Ellis. The third was for the robbery of the pawn shop. Walker pleaded not guilty to the first two, but guilty to the third.
Warren’s two indictments were for the murder of Kirkman and for pointing a deadly weapon against Alva Ice, the man who first told police where they could find Warren.
The trial and the bizarre events that followed make this story unique in Madison County history. The conclusion to the tale will be published March 21 on The Herald Bulletin history page.
The Madison County History Center, 15 W. 11th St., Anderson is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call 683-0052 for information.