Served: 3 months
June 2, 1925 to September 14, 1925
At the age of 14, Clifford Cornish joined the United State Army to fight in WWI and served in the Coast Artillery. He was discharged as a Corporal. Sometime after his service to our country, he moved to 128 Garfield Street and joined the Cincinnati Police Department.
On September 13, 1925, District Five Patrolman Cornish was walking a two-man beat alone because his partner took leave that day. A program was at that time in effect to assure each policeman one off day a month.
Patrolman Cornish and his partner had been working on cleaning up the Clark and Harriet Streets corner of its bootleggers and narcotics dealers. On this night, he again attempted to clear the corner of several loungers. Most of the loiterers moved on, but 28-year-old John Henry Whitfield (AKA Henry Warfield), a bootlegger, drug peddler, and, at the time, an escaped prisoner from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, muttered to others standing there, “If this [expletive deleted] frisks me, I’m going to kill him!”
As Patrolman Cornish approached, Whitfield swung at him and Patrolman Cornish sidestepped the punch and knocked Whitfield to the ground. Whitfield pulled a .38 caliber revolver and fired five times at Patrolman Cornish, striking him once through the visor of his cap and into his head just above his left eye. Patrolman Cornish’s sidearm was still holstered. A bystander, David Jones, was shot in the left hip. Whitfield ran down an alley and escaped. Patrolman Cornish was transported to General Hospital.
Major Eugene T. Weatherly and Lieutenants Seebohm and Venn questioned those standing by at the scene. The witnesses almost universally denied seeing the shooting.
Patrolman Cornish died the next day, September 14, 1925, becoming the sixth officer killed in the Fifth District in five years.
Patrolman Cornish was survived by his wife (who was out of the country at the time); father, Lud Nuten Cornish; brother, Carl Cornish; step brother, Elmer Cornish; and step sister, Sarah (4). Funeral services were held on Wednesday, September 16, 1925, at 2 o’clock at the chapel of Henry Gildehaus Co., 1410 Vine Street. He was buried at Vine Street Hill Cemetery. His escort detail included Substitute Patrolmen Charles Kohl, Frank Drees, Fred Kimball, and Joseph Casey.
Two days after the Murder, on September 15, 1925, Detectives Michael McShane and Leonard Hayes received information regarding Whitfield hiding out at 1221 Gest Street. They notified Detective Chief Kirgan and Detective Sergeant Fricke. They and Detectives Hall, Ecker, Odensass, and Seebohm hurried to and surrounded the house and found Whitfield hiding under a bed on the second floor. They also found there the revolver used in the murder and it was loaded with “dum-dum” bullets (bullets with a cross cut into the nose intended to cause expansion). When questioned, Whitfield told the detectives, “I killed the officer.”
Prosecutor Charles S. Bell prosecuted and Arthur C. Fricke represented Whitfield. But, when the case went to trial, friends of Whitfield testified that Patrolman Cornish had first assaulted him and the jury found the murderer Not Guilty.
If you have information, artifacts, or photos regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was researched and written by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President, with considerable research provided by an anonymous researcher in Oregon. All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.