Community, The Braxton Democrat

Ord Thompson Memorial In Final Stages

On the one hundred eighth anniversary of the death of Chief Ord Thompson, Gassaway’s only law enforcement officer ever killed in the line of duty, citizens of Gassaway are rounding the final corner in establishing a permanent memorial to the true Braxton County hero.
The effort is being spearheaded by local historian Herb Cogar and will take the shape of a granite bench to honor Ord Thompson who gave up all of his tomorrows for this community he loved. The exact location of the bench is yet to be determined.
Ord Thompson was born in Taylor County, West Virginia on March 20, 1871 to John B. and Sarah Ann Jones Thompson and was named for renowned Union Civil War General Edward O.C. Ord, by his father, a Union Army veteran. He would commonly be known by his middle name, Ord. He married Philadelphia “Del” Teter in 1891. They had four children.
By 1908, Thompson had become a railroader, and that year, he and his wife and children relocated from Belington, West Virginia to Gassaway which had become a railroad boom town since its founding just three years before.
In early 1915, Thompson, then a six-year resident of Gassaway, was hired as the town’s Chief of Police. He was by then well-known and commanded the general respect and affection of the citizens.
On the evening of April 29, 1915, a young man named William Holly Griffith arrived in town via train. Under the alias of F.S. Rose, he had some days before written a bad check to Stanard & Company at 602 Elk Street in Gassaway. Stanards was located in the Lee Building, which in later years would be the location of the Midland clothing store, and later a popular restaurant. A complaint had been issued by the proprietor of Stanards, Chief Thompson was notified, and in the early morning hours of April 30, 1915, he determined to arrest Griffith/Rose for what was a relatively minor offense.
Unbeknownst to Chief Thompson, William Holly Griffith had some weeks before been involved in another financial scam in Wirt County, which resulted in his killing a county constable who attempted to affect his arrest for that crime.
Chief Thompson found Griffith leaning over the business counter of Layman’s Store in the general location of the present City National Bank branch at 4th and Elk Street. Thompson announced himself and told the man he still believed to be F.S. Rose that he was under arrest. A violent struggle ensued.
Griffith produced a large caliber revolver and managed to fire a shot into Chief Thompson’s left chest, just below his heart. As Thompson crumpled to floor, Griffith made a hasty retreat. In the days following, an extensive manhunt ensued, ultimately resulting in Griffith’s capture in Youngstown, Ohio in late May.
Gassaway Police Chief Ord Thompson was evacuated by special train to St. Francis hospital in Charleston where he was pronounced dead. He was 44 years old. Following funeral services in both Gassaway and Elkins, he was buried in the Maplewood Cemetery in Elkins near the final resting places of Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen B. Elkins families.
One hundred and seven years have passed, with Ord Thompson being the singular Gassaway Police Officer ever killed in the line of duty.
Unlike today, when Ord Thompson was killed, there were no widows’ benefits. Social Security was still twenty years in the future. There was only charity among neighbors and their churches. Mrs. Thompson was left with the sole responsibility of providing for four children. It must have been a very difficult time for the Thompson family, at best. She did provide for them, though, seeing all four to adulthood.
Ord Thompson’s killer, William Holly Griffith, was sentenced to life in the West Virginia Penitentiary. He died there on July 11, 1971 at the age of 78, but not before he achieved relative celebrity status as the basis of a novel written by Davis Grubb in 1969, titled Fools Parade. Two years later, the book was made into a movie by the same title, starring Jimmy Stewart and other notable actors.
Memories of Ord Thompson faded. There were no books, no movies, not even a memorial to his loss, even in the town he served as Chief of Police which lead to Cogar’s idea of a permanent memorial. Area residents are now being ask to push the fund over the top to allow the dream to become a reality. Anyone interested in assisting in this worthwhile historical cause can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Ord Thompson Memorial Fund at the City National Bank branch in Gassaway.