Files from Yesteryear: Shocking tragedy occurred in Cullman last Saturday night (1919)


Reprinted from The Cullman Tribune, 1919

Shocking Tragedy Occurred in Cullman Last Saturday Night


Mr. Graves went to the side of Sheriff Sparks, who said, “Graves get a doctor.” Mr. Graves asked Sheriff Sparks if he had been shot. He replied, “Yes, in his breast.” Mr. Graves assisted Mr. Sparks down the steps, to the sidewalk, when he said, “Graves get a doctor, I am all right, but turning sick and will get weak.” Mr. Graves rushed to the Peoples Drug Store and found Otto Hartung, just at the corner. Mr. Hartung quickly opened the store and rushed to the phone and began to call the physicians. Mr. Graves hurried back to look after Sheriff Sparks and found that he had attempted to walk to the drug store, but sank down on the sidewalk, just in front of the Hanlin building, which had burned. Policeman Graves and John Heinl picked up Sheriff Sparks and carried him into the drug store. 

The Sheriff asked Mr. Graves to go back and see about the other fellow. Then he called for Walter Martin, his son-in-law. The Sheriff asked Mr. Graves not to tell Mrs. Sparks about the shooting, as she was not well. Then he again asked how the other fellow was. 

Doctor Herrin was the first to reach his side, then Doctor McAdory and Doctor Martin. The physicians did everything possible to save his life, but he only lived about one hour, dying before being removed to his home. 

Mr. Sparks was one of the best known citizens of our county, having been elected to the office of Sheriff in the last November election. Prior to his election as Sheriff, he had served the city for five or more years as Chief of Police, during which time he made for himself a reputation surpassed by few, if any officials, in the discharge of his duties and enforcement of law, ever being kind and considerate of all people. Mr. Sparks was a member of the First Baptist Church, a member of the Masonic and Knights of Pythians fraternities and held in the highest of esteem by the citizens throughout the county.

The funeral services were held on Tuesday afternoon from the First Baptist Church, at 4 o’clock by the pastor, Doctor Clay I. Hudson, assisted by Doctor J.S. Robertson and Doctor B.F. Foster and a high tribute of respect to the memory of the beloved official was paid by Mayor Robertson, who probably knows better than any other man the real worth of John W. Sparks, as an officer who never failed, when it came to doing his duty. Despite the fact that heavy storm clouds of rain and thunder were rolling over our city, one of the largest crowds ever assembled, gathered to pay a last tribute of respect in the attendance of the funeral services.

 Mr. Sparks is survived by his wife and two daughters, Mrs. Walter Martin and Miss Jewel and a number of relatives. 

The remains were laid to rest, with Masonic honors, in the Protestant Cemetery and the grave buried beneath a bank of flowers, as a tribute of esteem. 

The other victim, John Mack, as near thirty-two years of age, was born and reared in Cullman, for a number of years, had been engaged in the business of running a public dray and was well-known by the citizens of our city. He was a son of Mrs. E. Mack of this city. Besides his aged mother, he leaves a wife and child and several brothers and sisters to mourn his unfortunate death. 

The funeral services of Mr. Mack were conducted on Wednesday afternoon from his residence and the interment took place in the Protestant Cemetery. 

Solicitor Dave Almon came to Cullman on Monday morning, starting an investigation, at once seeing that high feeling appeared to be in the air and that the time had arrived for a general cleaning out of places that would attempt to run in defiance of all laws. 

Three people were arrested, as accessories in the killing of Sheriff Sparks and placed in the county jail. On Monday afternoon, Judge Brickell ordered that the woman be transferred to Jefferson County Jail, in Birmingham and she was carried down on the evening accommodation by Deputy Sheriff Windsor. Another man was transferred to the Limestone County Jail at Athens. 

The Circuit Court is convening on Monday morning to conduct a thorough investigation of conditions that have prevailed, leading up to the double tragedy. Solicitor Almon, we understand, says that there shall be a general clean up and he has the law to back him up. 

Frank Claus, the traveling salesman, was carried before the grand jury for an examination Thursday morning and after an investigation by Solicitor Almon, as exonerated of being an accessory to the killing of Sheriff Sparks and given his freedom. Mr. Claus is well-known in our city.