A tale from police history E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

Police officers in Utah are still coming to grips with an incident in Ogden where six officers were shot and one was killed. The cops were fired on after announcing their presence by a suspect believed to be running an indoor marijuana growing operation. The shooting was one of the bloodiest incidents in the history of Utah law enforcement. But a look into the history books shows one incident that was even deadlier. It happened way back in 1913 and it claimed six lives.

Five of the six were law enforcement officers.

The case went unresolved for almost a hundred years. Then Salt Lake County police officer Randy Lish read a book about it.

"When I read the story," Lish told reporters from the Deseret News, "I was deeply saddened that five officers and a civilian lost their lives and it was never solved. I thought, 'Holy smokes, how could this happen?'"

And so the lawman’s quest for the truth began. Lish's exhaustive detective work in multiple states finally solved the case and answered its biggest mystery. That’s the mystery of the man who did all the shooting and got away clean.

Based on Lish's conclusions, then-Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom formally closed the case in 2003.

Lish says that when he heard the news of the police shooting in Ogden he was devastated. The incident sparked memories of the 1913 shootings Lish had investigated by a desperado named Rafael "Red" Lopez.

Lish, who trains other officers, says the historical episode and the recent Ogden shootings exemplify the kinds of risks that Lish does his best to prepare officers to deal with. He's the senior instructor at a firing range operated by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Lish said one of the key lessons from both incidents is the fact that a suspect has an advantage over approaching law enforcers if it's on turf the suspect is familiar with.

The risk is magnified if the gunman is hiding in wait, preparing an ambush.

"When you've got to clear that hill, that corner, or whatever, they may be there waiting for you," Lish told reporters from the Deseret News.

The 1913 incident began with an argument in Salt Lake County's Bingham Canyon mining district.

Lopez killed a fellow miner in a dispute over a woman and then fled to the shores of Utah Lake near present-day Saratoga Springs.

When a sheriff’s posse moved in, Lopez was waiting, concealed in the brush with a Winchester rifle. He opened fire on the posse, killing Bingham Police Chief John William Grant and Salt Lake County Deputies George Witbeck and Nephi Jensen.

Lopez then fled to an underground mine in Bingham Canyon, an area he knew like the back of his hand.

Armed lawmen took up positions and stood guard at mine openings for days waiting for the suspect to emerge.

On the eighth day of the standoff, Deputy James Hulsey and special deputy Vaso Mandarich went into the mine pushing an ore car loaded with hay. The plan was to start a fire and smoke Lopez out.

"He stepped up behind them with a 30-30 Winchester at about 8 feet," Lish said. "He shot both officers in the back."

Lopez fled again and eluded law enforcement for weeks.

"He just kept on going from different mine shaft to mine shaft," Lish said. "He'd been a miner there for quite awhile. He knew it real well."

The reason Lopez didn’t starve was the fact that even though there was a murderer hiding in the mines, the mine stayed open and miners went about their work.

Lopez reportedly lived off their box lunches by begging for or stealing food.

"Some, they'd say they gave him the food," Lish said. "Some say that he took the food. Some say he pointed guns at them."

Somehow Lopez just vanished and was forgotten, at least in Utah.

Almost a century later, Lish re-opened the case after reading about Frank Hamer, the legendary Texas Ranger who set up an ambush that led to the deaths of the outlaw couple Bonnie and Clyde.

Lish was able to prove that Hamer also caught up with Red Lopez in 1921 along the Rio Grande. Lopez had been "committing train robberies and a lot of smuggling," Lish said.

"He was responsible for, according to the Hamer family, approximately 30 homicides after he left Utah."

A posse led by Hamer set up its own ambush to get Lopez and his gang as they crossed the border.

"And the ranger stood up behind them and told them not to move. And the shooting started. And about 11 of them, according to Frank Hamer, were killed," Lish said.
Lish was obviously happy to close a tough case 90 years after the fact.

He said it helped the relatives and descendants of the slain officers to close a painful chapter in their family history.

Thinking about the officers who were wounded and killed in Ogden Lish said, "That's what officers do. They help people."


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