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Officer James Thornton
Officer James Thornton

Officer James Alfred Thornton

End of Watch: October 16, 1937

On October 16, 1937, Officer James Thornton was on his first day of duty with the St. Petersburg Police Department. Thornton checked on duty at 4:00 p.m. with his senior partner, Officer William Glenn Newberry, and they were assigned to work at the Downie Brother’s Circus at Campbell Park. Early in their shift, a verbal altercation occurred between an intoxicated citizen, J.O. Moses, and the officers, and Moses was ordered to leave the circus. A few minutes after 8:00 p.m., Moses returned to the circus with a gun. Moses shot Thornton from behind killing him instantly and then turned and shot Newberry in the right breast and kidney. Newberry could not use his right arm, but was able to draw his firearm with his left hand and fire three rounds at Moses, who was running away. When the crowd on scene attempted to help Newberry, he was quoted as saying, “get my buddy”. Newberry’s own brother and fellow City Patrolman, Robert “Earl” Newberry gave blood at Mound Park Hospital, as did others, but Newberry died at 0405 hours on the following day.

The shooting suspect, Moses was tracked down to an apartment house in the 1200 block of 3 Avenue South. After further resistance from Moses, Officer J. Z. Stanley shot Moses twice. Many citizens of the City were also out looking for Moses, including Thornton’s own twin brother, John D. Thornton, who arrived on scene as Moses died.

Officer Thornton was survived by his parents; his wife, Ethel; and his three siblings listed above. The large funeral service was held at the Southern Methodist Church and over 100 vehicles lined the procession to the burial at Royal Palm Cemetery.

At age 24 and with 1 day of service, Officer James Alfred Thornton was the sixth St. Petersburg police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

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