In the early morning of Oct. 18, 1929, Mobile Police Officer W.F. “Happy” Murphy made what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop on Broad Street near Conti Street.
The officer used the speedometer of his motorcycle to clock the driver going 52 miles per hour and successfully made the stop. It was then that witnesses say an occupant in the vehicle shot Murphy.
The officer pulled himself up using the wheel of his motorcycle, flagged down a passing motorist and collapsed. Murphy later died. The 28-year-old left behind a wife, a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old.
At the time, he was buried at Magnolia Cemetery, and Murphy’s family couldn’t afford a headstone. More than 90 years later, the officer’s gravesite was dedicated with a headstone on Friday, Oct. 16.
“We are truly grateful for the opportunity to stand here today to commemorate the sacrifice your loved one made,” Mobile Police Department (MPD) Chief Lawrence Battiste said at the gravesite.
John Murphy, the officer’s nephew who was in attendance at the service, said his uncle lived up to his “Happy” nickname. The officer was killed a full 18 years before the younger Murphy was born.
“My dad would tell me stories about him,” he said. “He would say he was always a very jovial, very kind-hearted person.”
Officer Christopher Dean, also buried at Magnolia Cemetery, received a headstone for the first time on Friday as well. Dean, who was 56 years old, was killed on Jan. 22, 1926 after making a traffic stop. He was shot four times, Battiste said, while his gun never left its holster. Dean left behind a wife, two children, an adult daughter and a grandson.
A suspect was captured, tried and hanged in June of the same year.
Like with Murphy, Dean’s family could not afford a grave marker.
“We’re honoring two men who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Battiste said. “We’re honoring the families by putting gravestones up.”
Family of the Fallen organized the event. MPD Lt. Tina Zanca, who serves as president of the organization, said they began researching officers who were buried without gravestones three years ago.
“This is the first two we’ve been able to finish up,” she said. “There are two more in the Catholic cemetery.”
MPD Chaplain Ed Connick, who is a member of the board of Family of the Fallen, held gravesite prayers for the officers and their living relatives at the cemetery. He read traditional Catholic prayers and sprinkled the new headstones with holy water.
Connick was also a big part of the process related to getting the headstones in the first place, Ken Bishop, a manager of Pine Crest Funeral Home, said.
Bishop said Connick contacted the funeral home about the officers and Pine Crest donated the markers.
“We felt like we would do anything we could to help,” Bishop said. “Everybody deserves to have something to show they were here.”
Pine Crest also helped design the police memorial at the city’s Public Safety Memorial Park in Midtown, Bishop said. The markers for Murphy and Dean were just an extension of that.
“We try to help wherever we can with our public safety departments, like the police and fire departments,” Bishop said. “We try to do what we can to help.”
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