John W. Sparks: Cullman County’s 15th Sheriff Killed in the Line of Fire


CULLMAN – John W. Sparks served as Cullman’s 15th sheriff and the only sheriff to die in the line of duty. He was a family man and served as Chief of Police in Cullman for five years prior to being elected sheriff. Although he is gone, he will never be forgotten, especially by our local law enforcement.

John W. Sparks was born November 1869 in Carroll County, Georgia. He was the son of William H. Sparks and Elizabeth Houseworth.

He married Miss Ida Elizabeth Williams, the daughter of George L. William and Amanda Boatright on August 15, 1890. All of them were from Carroll County, Georgia.

John and Ida moved to Cullman in 1904 with their three young daughters, Vera Grace, Kathleen and Jewell.

Not long after arriving in Cullman, the couple was blessed with another baby girl they named Reba.

Sadly, in 1907, Reba passed away, having only lived one month.

About a year after Reba died, in 1908, John bought a whole city block in Cullman on the SW side of 2nd Ave and 9th St SW.

John and Ida built their home on the NW quarter and the plan was for the daughters to marry and build houses on the same block.

Sparks became Cullman’s Chief of Police in 1913. His salary was $60 per month. He held the position for five years until he resigned after being elected Sheriff in November 1918.

His job as Sheriff did not last very long as he was shot to death during a prohibition raid on a Sunday evening on July 20, 1919.

Only six months after being sworn into office, Sheriff Sparks, along with the Cullman Police Chief had attempted to make an arrest at a downtown apartment.

When they arrived at the location, a female refused to let the sheriff in. Without missing a beat, the sheriff cut his way through the screen door and was confronted by the suspect just after he entered the apartment.

“Drop your weapon!” the sheriff and the suspect both told each other simultaneously. Instead of dropping their guns, they immediately fired their guns at each other.

As a result, the suspect was killed instantly and Sheriff Sparks was mortally wounded.

He was able to walk, hobbling painfully to a local drug store where he died approximately one hour later at the age of 49.

He was survived by his wife and daughters.

John's body was taken to his home to lie in state in the family’s parlor the day after his death.

His body was viewed and mourned by hundreds of Cullman County’s heartbroken citizens.

The funeral took place on the following Tuesday afternoon at the First Baptist Church with burial in Cullman City Cemetery.

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