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Local History Happenings
Iredell County's Sheriff's Department History
The Iredell County Sheriff’s Department website has an excellent history section containing information about and photographs of Iredell County sheriffs throughout the department’s 222 year history. Three of the department’s officers made the ultimate sacrifice. Sheriff Godfrey Click Kimball, Deputy Sheriff Robert Lloyd Cloaninger, and Deputy Sheriff John H. Miller were all killed by gunfire while performing their duties.
Deputy Miller of Chambersburg traveled to Mooresville by horseback on Saturday, June 30, 1917, to serve a warrant on a tenant farmer named Charlie Williams. He met with A.Y. Neal, Deputy Sheriff from the Davidson Township around 5 p.m. and together they traveled in Neal’s automobile to the farm of James Steele. The two officers then traveled by foot a quarter mile to the tenant home of Roxie Massey where Williams was staying. As the officers were attempting to serve the warrant, Williams fired a shotgun hitting Deputy Miller in the chest and fatally wounding him.
Charlie Williams was apprehended the day after the shooting and charged with killing Deputy Miller. After being found guilty he was sentenced to be electrocuted and he was put to death on September 25th.
It should have been the safest place in the world to be. It was August 3, 1919 and a religious camp meeting was being held near Mayhew in the Davidson Township. What Deputy Sheriff Robert L. Cloaninger found instead was a large and unruly crowd with weapons and illegal alcohol.
Lloyd Cloaninger, the deputy sheriff for Coddle Creek Township, had a warrant to arrest Sinclair Conner. Sinclair was attending the meeting with other family members. The deputy was carrying the warrant in his hand as he approached Conner and informed him he was under arrest. Suddenly, Sinclair drew a pistol and fired at the officer while pulling another man in front of him for protection. Deputy Cloaninger’s arm was glazed by a bullet as he pulled his own weapon and returned fire hitting Sinclair who ran a short distance before falling. As Cloaninger attended to Sinclair he was physically attacked by Sinclair’s brother Boise Conner.
A third Conner brother, Ralph Conner, then rushed up and fired a .38 caliber pistol hitting Deputy Cloaninger in the back before firing again and hitting him in the chest. Deputy Cloaninger fell mortally wounded as Ralph and Boise Conner fled. Cloaninger was rushed to Long’s Sanatorium in Statesville where he died Sunday night about 10 p.m. Sinclair Conner was brought to Statesville where he was treated for his wounds and placed in jail. His brother Ralph was arrested eight miles out of Davidson and also brought to jail in Statesville. Both Ralph and Sinclair were charged with murder in the first degree and both were convicted and sentenced to be electrocuted on November 21, 1919. Ralph, whom witnesses named as the shooter, was electrocuted while Sinclair Conner had his sentence commuted to thirty years. Sinclair later escaped from the State Penitentiary near Raleigh and was never recaptured.
Boise “Bozzy” Connor remained at large for four years before he was captured in Welsh, West Virginia where he was living under the alias of Ernest Potts. Boise Connor was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years at hard labor.
On the evening of Friday August 10, 1934 Statesville Mayor E.R. Rankin was cranking up his new 1934 Ford V-8 coupe when suddenly a young man jumped onto the running board and slid into the seat beside him. The man pushed a gun into the mayor’s ribs and ordered him to drive. Three miles out on the western edge of town the mayor was robbed of $41 in cash, a wrist watch, and his car. Unharmed, Mayor Rankin returned to Statesville to report the robbery to Iredell County Sheriff Godfrey Click Kimball. Both the Mayor and Kimball suspected the culprit was Ralph Davis, 25, a notorious criminal from Davidson who had committed a string of crimes in the early 1930s.
On Friday morning, August 17, a tip was received that the mayor’s car had been spotted on the G.W. Drye farm some ten miles east of Statesville. It was 10 a.m. when Sheriff Kimball and Deputies R.L. Gilbert and A.L. Sims arrived at the tenant house where they spotted Rankin’s car parked at the rear. Kimball and Gilbert went to the back door while Sims went to the front. The Calvin Turner family was living in the house and told the Sheriff the driver of the car was inside. Gilbert went back around to the front door to prevent his escape. When Gilbert came through the house he saw Davis already outside pointing a gun at the Sheriff. Davis fired at Deputy Gilbert, hitting him in the left knee, and Gilbert returned fire. Several shots were fired and Sheriff Kimball fell to the ground mortally wounded as Gilbert crawled for cover.
Davis escaped in the Mayor’s car. Sims and Dorothy Drye who witnessed the gunfight got the Sheriff and Gilbert into a car and rushed them to Statesville. Although in extreme pain from his wound Sheriff Kimball remained conscious and at one point told Dr. Sherrill, who was a close friend, “It was my fault.” Thinking as a professional lawman to the very end he instructed Sherrill, “Colonel, keep that bullet.” Though he survived the surgery, hemorrhaging and shock set in taking his life at 2:35 p.m. on August 17.
On August 20, 1934 Ralph Davis was arrested in a rooming house in Concord. At his trial ballistics experts testified that the fatal bullet came from Deputy Gilbert’s gun. Davis was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Ralph Davis spent the next 14 years in the state prison in Raleigh before escaping on September 30, 1948. Two days later he was spotted in Jackson County by Jackson County Sheriff Middleton. Davis ran and the Sheriff fired several warning shots before fatally wounding him as he neared the woods. Prison officials had described Davis as “one of the worst convicts in the prison system.”