Early 1902 to November 8, 1902
Nicholas Hopperton became Independence town marshal in early 1902 after Bruce Northcutt resigned to become a Kenton County deputy sheriff. By the end of the year, he had earned the love and respect of every citizen of Independence.
On November 8, 1902, William (Billy) Rice (26) of White’s Tower, Kentucky, fresh from hunting, rode into Independence and to walked into Fleming’s Saloon with his double barrel shotgun. By 11:30 a.m., he was intoxicated, abusing other patrons, and told to leave. Someone called Marshal Hopperton.
Marshal Hopperton responded and met Rice as he sat on a beer barrel in front of the saloon. He took the shotgun and ordered Rice to leave town. Rice cursed him and Marshal Hopperton slapped him across the face and told him again to leave town, immediately. As Rice turned to leave, Marshal Hopperton returned his shotgun and followed him to the edge of town.
Just as Rice reached the corporation limit, he wheeled, leveled the shotgun at the marshal’s midsection and pulled the trigger. Buckshot exploded into Marshal Hopperton’s abdomen knocking him down. He got up, pulled his revolver, and shot Rice three times, knocking Rice down. Rice got back up, walked over to Marshal Hopperton, and, from point blank range, fired another salvo into Marshal Hopperton’s chest. Though every vital organ in his core was destroyed, the marshal raised himself one more time, shot Rice again, and then fell dead.
Marshal Hopperton left an expectant wife, Sallie Hopperton, and daughter, Bess May Hopperton (18 mos.). He was buried November 10, 1902 in Independence Cemetery. Alvin O. Hopperton was born a few months later. Sallie rejoined Nicholas 43 years later in 1945.
Onlookers picked up Rice and took him to Dr. Metcalfe’s residence where the doctor noted wounds to Rice’s left arm, the center of his lower jaw, and the left chest. About 1 p.m., Menafager’s ambulance arrived and took him to St. Elizabeth Hospital in critical condition. By midnight, he was not expected to live.
The Coroner, Dr. Tarvin, opened an inquest on November 11, 1902. All testimony was essentially identical and Coroner Tarvin found that Rice shot and killed Marshal Hopperton.
Rice appeared at a preliminary hearing on December 11, 1902 before Judge Stephens and defended by Louis Hanson. There he plead that he was not guilty by reason of self-defense. He was held in the Covington jail on a charge of Manslaughter until February 17 when the case went before the Kenton County Grand Jury. They refused to indict Rice and the murderer went free.
Thanks to Sergeant Ed Bailey, Independence Police Department, Marshal Hopperton’s name was added to the Northern Kentucky Police Memorial on May 10, 1999, and to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D. C. on May 13, 1999.
If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was researched and revised on October 31, 2012, by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President, with research assistance from Cincinnati Homicide Detective Edward Zieverink (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Historian, and Laverne Sharp, Marshal Hopperton’s granddaughter. All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.