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The death of Officer Morgans

  • PHOTO COURTESY WILLIAM MORGANS  The only available photo of Lansford Policeman Morgan Morgans depicts him as part of this early Lansford football team. Morgans is seen standing in the back row wearing a light-colored uniform, fourth from the left.
    PHOTO COURTESY WILLIAM MORGANS The only available photo of Lansford Policeman Morgan Morgans depicts him as part of this early Lansford football team. Morgans is seen standing in the back row wearing a light-colored uniform, fourth from the left.
Published August 12. 2011 05:02PM

After 99 years, it's time for the truth to come out.

"He was murdered. There is no way it was an accident. I have no doubt in my mind," says William Morgans of Easton.

Morgans, who will turn 85 in January, wants the truth to emerge about what happened to his grandfather, Officer Morgan Morgans, the only Lansford cop to die in the line of duty.

William Morgans isn't alone in his wishes. Local law enforcement would like to know the details surrounding the death of a brother in blue so that family members might have answers and so the case can be properly recorded.

Lansford Police Officer Brian Horos, in particular, has taken strong interest in the case and is trying to obtain additional information for the Morgans family and others.

Similarly, Chief John Turcmanovich would like to see an accurate account of what actually took place.

At this point, it's not about punishment. And it's not necessarily about laying blame. It's more about finding the truth, which, they feel, is the right thing to do for the sake of all concerned.

Officer Morgans, night patrolman, was an admired and even feared 30-year-old cop with a wife and four children when he was shot between the eyes at point-blank range. The tragedy took place on October 9, 1912, at exactly 1:40 a.m. The bullet was fired into Morgans as he stood on a small, raised side porch at 8 East Ridge Street, in a tight alley that separates two large downtown buildings. The location is a short walk away from the former site of the police station, once housed in the firehouse.

After being shot, Morgans collapsed backward into the alley and was rushed to the hospital by Drs. Buckley, Neumuller and Young.

He lived for about two hours but never regained consciousness. Morgans died at Panther Creek Valley Hospital in Coaldale, now St. Luke's Miners Memorial, at 4 a.m. That part of the story isn't disputed.

But circumstances leading up to the shooting, and the actual shooting itself, are under scrutiny.

For instance, there are conflicting accounts as to what led the officer to approach 8 E. Ridge Street, a property that generally saw lots of activity.

"It was a barroom," says Turcmanovich, describing the business in the heart of the downtown.

(The building now houses Ameriprise Financial, operated by Michael R. Davis, who graciously allowed police to once again examine the shooting site, since the configuration of the side porch and doorway remain the same as in 1912.)

According to records, the place was called the Ridge House, both a public tavern and private residence operated by Mrs. Philip (Blanche) Thomas, whose husband had passed away ten years earlier. David E. Thomas operated the saloon portion of the business. The family lived in the building, including Rebecca Thomas and niece Florence, 18, who was blamed for pulling the trigger and killing the officer by mistake, believing him to be a burglar.

Morgans says details of his grandfather's death were kept hushed by his own family, probably to protect children.

But it's apparent, he says, that his grandfather had been baited to go to that establishment in the darkness of night.

"Two men came to the police station and said there was a burglary in progress and they went with him down the street," says Morgans.

The death of his grandfather has piqued his curiosity ever since he learned what happened.

"I never heard about it until I worked at the breaker in Summit Hill. It was about 1948 or 49, before the mines closed. I was talking to the superintendent, Ted Throne, and he said 'Did anyone ever tell you about your grandfather?'"

Thorne then relayed to Morgans the circumstances of the fatal shooting.

Morgans says: "The two men stood out on the street. He (Officer Morgans) went to the side door. They could hear him speak but couldn't hear what he said. The door was swung open and supposedly the girl shot at him."

The story appearing in the October 9 edition of the Tamaqua Evening Courier provided this dramatic account: "The door was thrown suddenly open by Miss Thomas who had a revolver in her right hand, and who fired point-blank at him, the bullet entering his forehead. He reeled and fell off the porch and Miss Thomas, seeing the tragic result of her mistake, stepped out on the porch and threw down the revolver, crying 'I shot him.'"

Up until now, there seemed to be no reason to question the account as presented. But none of it made sense to Morgans, who dissected the case and examined every detail in it. For instance, he calculated which direction the door would have swung open, the placement of others in the home, and the peculiar situation in which the youngest person in the house - a female teenager - would have been the one supposedly brandishing the revolver.

Much of the story just doesn't add up, says Morgans. Accounts from different sources seem to be in agreement that much more may have taken place than was revealed.

In fact, written reports of the shooting are contradictory in important details, including one that claims "she shot (the bullet) through the door," says Turcmanovich.

Also the girl's description and age vary, depending on which account is examined. Plus, the logistics don't appear to make sense. It is known that the officer stood six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. The point of entry and trajectory of the bullet seem to suggest that an adult shot the officer, not a girl sometimes described as small in stature.

Plus, the person who shot Morgans knew what to do, say police.

"They knew where to place the bullet," says Officer Horos. "I don't think she did it."

Accused shooter Florence Thomas was a senior at Lansford High School and would have been a member of the Class of 1913. She was described as a popular student and one of the brightest in the class. Ironically, Morgans' brother was in the same class, and was a close friend of Florence.

As it turned out, an inquest was done in what seemed to be a hurry, and those results were accepted without question.

"It would be much different today," acknowledges Turcmanovich, referring to current procedures pertaining to the investigation of a fatal shooting, in addition to what would take place upon the death of an on-duty officer of the law.

According to documents, Carbon County Coroner E.G. Brady conducted a fast inquest on the same day as the shooting and the jury held Florence Thomas blameless in the death. That determination might not have been far from the truth, some say.

There is a possibility that a different party was responsible for firing the revolver. If that was the case, an innocent Florence was actually the scapegoat. Moreover, Florence reportedly experienced much difficulty after the tragedy, as she was blamed for an officer's death, possibly unjustly.

In fact, this may be the reason why Florence couldn't accept what was being said about her all over town. Florence ultimately was admitted to an asylum. She reportedly spent the rest of her life institutionalized.

The Morgans family was heartbroken and the Thomas family was torn apart.

Like all tragedies, so many people were affected in so many ways.

Next week: Who pulled the trigger? A new theory emerges.

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