By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In the fall of 1963, Cpl. William Joseph Shrewsbury was considered a model trooper. Tall, muscular, handsome and with a no-nonsense look, Shrewsbury was the picture of a professional law enforcement officer. The State Police liked his look so much that they used his image to illustrate a traffic stop in a departmental pamphlet.
Fifty years ago today at about 11:20 p.m. on Saturday night, Sept. 28, 1963, Shrewsbury was dispatched to a residence in Ranger, Lincoln County, about 40 miles south of Huntington on the Guyan River. The initial report was that a male was suicidal. Shrewsbury, 32, was working at the Hamlin Detachment at the time. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Chandler went to the residence with Shrewsbury. When the two officers arrived, a male subject approached Shrewsbury’s patrol car, concealing a .32-30 caliber revolver behind his back.
“The man there had been threatening his family,” Robert Shrewsbury, Cpl. Shrewsbury’s brother said. “The man came out of the darkness and fired two shots through the closed window of the patrol car. One shot hit the seat, but the other shot hit my brother in the throat and cut his jugular vein.” Robert Shrewsbury paused his presentation of the narrative he heard 50 years ago.
He struggled to continue and said that his brother managed to open the door of his patrol car, fall out onto the ground beside the vehicle, draw his service weapon and fire all six rounds at his assailant, Leo Elliott, also in his early 30s. “He hit him with five of the six shots,” Robert Shrewsbury said. The State Police incident report states that Elliott was struck three or four times, and was dead on arrival at the West Hamlin Clinic about 20 miles from the scene of the crime. Cpl. Shrewsbury survived about 40 minutes, and was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital in Huntington.
“These were two men who were roughly the same age,” Robert Shrewsbury said, and paused again. Both of his lips appeared to quiver before he continued. “My brother died,” he said and paused again. “They both died. Two men who had never even met each other and both of them were dead.” Cpl. Shrewsbury enlisted in the State Police on June 1, 1953, and served 10 years, 3 months and 27 days. He was buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Princeton.
Both William and Robert Shrewsbury were born in Arista, Mercer County, at the foot of Herndon Mountain, not far from Matoaka. Cpl. Shrewsbury was born in 1931, and his brother was born two years later in 1933.
“We moved to Spanishburg in 1938, but my dad got tired of working low coal in Mercer County so we moved to Pageton in McDowell County where he worked in high coal,” Shrewsbury said. He said the family bought one of the Crozer Coal Co., houses in Elkhorn and lived there until the (then) Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern) demolished it to straighten out some track in the area. When that house was taken, the family moved to Leckie.
“My brother joined the U.S. Army when he was 16 years old,” Robert Shrewsbury said. “He was going to leave the Army after his enlistment was up, but President (Harry) Truman extended the service of everyone in the Army another two years because of the Korean War. When my brother got out, he joined the state police.”
Captain Tim Bledsoe of the West Virginia State Police was stationed in Hamlin about 10 years ago. “There’s a nice portrait of him in the detachment that gives some information about him being killed in the line of duty,” Bledsoe said. “To me, the significance of his photo is two fold. First, it is an image of the remembrance a fallen trooper who gave his life in the line of duty.
“Second, it is a constant reminder of the potential harm that is out there on every call that you respond to,” Bledsoe added. “Not long ago, I heard someone mention what they called a routine traffic stop. If you stop a car, there’s nothing routine about it.”
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com