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Deadliest Utah law enforcement attack was in 1913

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 11:43 a.m. MDT

The American flag flies at half-staff at the Ogden City Public Safety Center in Ogden, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, following the shooting of six officers from the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force on Wednesday evening in Ogden. One officer has died. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) The American flag flies at half-staff at the Ogden City Public Safety Center in Ogden, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, following the shooting of six officers from the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force on Wednesday evening in Ogden. One officer has died. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

OGDEN — The shooting of six police officers in Ogden Wednesday may have been one of the bloodiest incidents ever for Utah law enforcement. But it wasn't the deadliest.

That distinction goes to an astonishing episode in 1913 that claimed six lives, including five officers. The case went unresolved for nearly a century, until Salt Lake County officer Randy Lish read a book about it.

"When I read the story," Lish said, "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?'"

Lish's detective work in two states finally resolved the case and answered its biggest mystery, the whereabouts of the man who did all the shooting and then made a clean getaway. Based on Lish's conclusions, then-Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom formally closed the case in 2003.

When Lish heard news of Wednesday's police shooting in Ogden, it rekindled memories of the 1913 shootings by a desperado named Rafael "Red" Lopez. The historical episode exemplifies the kinds of risks that Lish trains officers to deal with. He's the senior instructor at a firing range operated by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.

From left, Erin Francom, widow of Jared Francom, his brothers Travis Francom, Jessica, (Travis' wife) Ben and Gunner take part in a candlelight vigil honoring their husband and brother, Ogden police officer Jared Francom at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden Thursday, January 5, 2012.  Francom succumbed to his injuries after he and five other officers from the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot last night while serving a warrant at a home in Ogden. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) From left, Erin Francom, widow of Jared Francom, his brothers Travis Francom, Jessica, (Travis' wife) Ben and Gunner take part in a candlelight vigil honoring their husband and brother, Ogden police officer Jared Francom at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden Thursday, January 5, 2012. Francom succumbed to his injuries after he and five other officers from the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot last night while serving a warrant at a home in Ogden. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Lish said a key lesson is that a suspect generally has an advantage over approaching law enforcers, especially if it's on turf he's familiar with. The risk is all the greater 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 said.

That happened twice in the 1913 incident and five officers paid with their lives.

It 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 posse moved in, Lopez was waiting, hiding 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.

Then, Lopez fled to an underground mine in Bingham Canyon, an area he knew well.

From left, Katie Barton, Shannon Mullins, Cierra Mullins and Scott Conley talk with Ogden special events coordinator, Carolyn Brierley during a candlelight vigil honoring, Ogden police officer Jared Francom at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden Thursday, January 5, 2012.  Jared Francom succumbed to his injuries after he and five other officers from the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot last night while serving a warrant at a home in Ogden. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) From left, Katie Barton, Shannon Mullins, Cierra Mullins and Scott Conley talk with Ogden special events coordinator, Carolyn Brierley during a candlelight vigil honoring, Ogden police officer Jared Francom at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden Thursday, January 5, 2012. Jared Francom succumbed to his injuries after he and five other officers from the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot last night while serving a warrant at a home in Ogden. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Armed lawmen took up positions, standing guard at mine openings for days. 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. They intended to ignite a fire and smoke Lopez out.

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

For weeks, Lopez eluded capture.

"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."

As miners went back to work, Lopez reportedly lived off their box lunches. "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."

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

Travis Francom (center) talks with LDS bishop Jerry Bovee (left center) as he sits with his brothers during a candlelight vigil honoring his brother, Ogden police officer Jared Francom at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden Thursday, January 5, 2012.  Francom succumbed to his injuries after he and five other officers from the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot last night while serving a warrant at a home in Ogden. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Travis Francom (center) talks with LDS bishop Jerry Bovee (left center) as he sits with his brothers during a candlelight vigil honoring his brother, Ogden police officer Jared Francom at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden Thursday, January 5, 2012. Francom succumbed to his injuries after he and five other officers from the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were shot last night while serving a warrant at a home in Ogden. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

But 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. Eventually, 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 as Lopez and his gang crossed the border, Lish said. "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 took pleasure in finally closing the 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.

Police bring what appears to be evidence from a home in Ogden, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, following a shooting involving six officers from the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force on Wednesday night. One officer died. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Police bring what appears to be evidence from a home in Ogden, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, following a shooting involving six officers from the Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force on Wednesday night. One officer died. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

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

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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