Murdock Shot during Domestic Disturbance Call, Dies Six Days later while on the Operating Table

Nelson Zoch, Contributor

EOW: June 27, 1921

David Duncan Murdock was born in Bryan, Texas on August 31, 1884. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. J. H. (Ella) Murdock. He came to the Houston Police Department on October 15, 1920, from Bryan, where he had been employed as a deputy sheriff and constable.

The best information about David Murdock’s fate comes from articles from the Houston Press and the Houston Chronicle in 1921.

About 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 21, Police Officer Dave Murdock and his partner, Officer McGraw, responded to a call to 1508 George Street in Houston’s Fourth Ward. The summer was hot and the sun still out. Their call for service indicated that an African American male had shot a African American female. The shooter was in the house at this location preparing to resist arrest.

When the officers arrived on the scene, they were met with a fusillade of shots from inside the house. One of these shots struck Officer Murdock and he fell down, struck by bullets to both the jaw and the neck. Officer McGraw then opened fire, advancing toward the house. In this brave assault aimed toward the suspect who shot his partner, Officer McGraw survived, but was injured when he slipped and fell, bursting a blood vessel. About this time, other officers who were sent to assist should trouble arise, arrived on the scene and were going to the rear of the residence when they saw someone raise a window shade. When this individual saw the police, he jerked the shade down.

With Murdock lying wounded in the front yard, the officers entered the house. Inside, they found that the suspect had crawled up into the attic. They talked him down and identified him as Will Alexander. Alexander surrendered and gave his two guns to the officers, who also found in the residence the body of Edna Phelps lying on the kitchen floor. She was shot twice at close range and was dead at the scene.

When the shooting ceased and the scene was secured, an ambulance took Officer Murdock to St. Joseph’s Infirmary. The initial diagnosis was that he was not seriously wounded.

Police took Will Alexander into custody at the scene and turned him over to the protection of Harris County Sheriff T. Binford, Deputy Sheriff Rogers, and District Attorney’s Investigator George Andrew. They took him to the Harris County Jail charged with the murder of Ms. Phelps and the assault to murder of Officer Murdock.

Additional investigation revealed that there had been an on-going domestic dispute involving Alexander and Phelps, with the police involved as recently as Monday night after some shots were fired in the George Street neighborhood.

As stated, Officer Murdock’s condition was not believed to have been serious. After his transfer to the hospital for emergency medical care, upon his regaining consciousness, he was reported to have asked his fellow officers, “Boys, did you get him?”

The week wore on with the Houston Press reporting on June 27 that the Houston City Council authorized the Mayor to have Officer Murdock, now in serious condition, transferred to the Baptist Sanitarium at the City’s expense.

Medical science in 1921 was not sophisticated enough to accurately diagnose the injuries Murdock suffered from. The wounds were much more serious than doctors originally thought. A bullet wound to the jaw caused a tremendous amount of pain. Doctors originally planned to place a plate into the jaw bone. A three-inch fracture had resulted in the bullet to lodge in the back of Murdock’s neck. Doctors went through with the procedure designed to correct the problem on June 28. An operation was planned to correct this problem. Dave Murdock died on the operating table. The cause of death was listed “From Dilation of the Heart caused by Anesthesia.” He died at 11 a.m. He was thirty-six years old, married and the father of three children.

Under the headline, “Police Pay Their Last Honor to Fallen Comrade,” the Wednesday, June 29 edition of the Houston Post reported the details of Murdock’s funeral. The cortege formed at 918 Austin Street, the home of the officer’s brother, J. H. Murdock. A cordon of mounted policemen and twenty-eight patrolmen formed as an escort of honor and moved out ahead of the hearse. Directly behind came the family in automobiles and behind them a long procession of friends.

Sergeant Claude Beverly and Patrolman Frank Gresham accompanied the body of their dead companion and his family to Rockdale. Pallbearers were George Daniel, H. H. Flannagan, P. H. Hannah, W. G. Dunham, Jake Altofer and Ed Wilsford.  Burial was at the Oak Lawn Cemetery in Rockdale.

None of the city’s three papers contained an obituary listing the survivors of this brave police officer. During this era, a full obituary was apparently reserved for only the wealthy citizens. Not even a slain police officer qualified for this mention.

The Rockdale Reporter, a weekly publication, reported on June 30 that the deceased officer was accompanied by relatives, friends and representatives of the Houston Police Department. A service was held that day, a Wednesday, at 4:30 p.m. from the residence of Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Ashby, parents-in-law of the slain officer. Religious services were conducted at the gravesite by the Reverend G. S. Tomlin, pastor of the Baptist Church in Rockdale.

The Reporter further reported that Dave Murdock was for years engaged in various local business enterprises and that he was one of the best known and best liked men who ever lived in Rockdale. A weathered 84-year-old grave marker stands to mark the burial site of Officer Dave Murdock. Along with the usual date of birth and death, the following is inscribed:  “God in his wisdom has recalled the boon (sic) his love had given, and though the body slumbers, the soul is safe in heaven.” He is interred in an Ashby family plot and Helon G. Ashby (1870-1950) and Janet E. Ashby (1869-1965) are likely his in-laws previously listed as Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Ashby.

Through the excellent cooperation of Stephen Jones of the Phillips-Luckey Funeral Home and Paul Luckey of Rockdale Memorials, a special KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY grave marker was placed in eternal memory of this brave man interred in Oak Lawn Cemetery.

Not much was learned about Officer McGraw, not even a first name. In a side note to this tragedy, McGraw was not the regular partner of Murdock, whose regular partner, Officer W. Searce, was injured in the traffic accident several days before, a tragic event that claimed the life of Officer Jeter Young on June 19, 1921. Officer Searce obviously experienced an absolute nightmare of bad luck with his partners.

The July 1 edition of the Houston Press reported Justice of the Peace Leon Lusk denied bail for Will Alexander, the slayer of his wife and Officer Murdock. Eleven charges had piled up on Alexander, which included two murder charges, two unrelated assault to murder charges and seven forgery charges stemming from his business dealings with Fourth Ward area merchants.

The July 28 Press reported the following: “Future is dismal for 20-year-old Will Alexander.” In September 1921, it was learned that Alexander received a sentence of ninety-nine years for the murder of Edna Phelps. That headline reported “More to come.” Trial on the murder of Officer Murdock was to begin on September 6. The death penalty was a strong possibility.

Genealogical research revealed that Officer Murdock’s widow was left with two children, David Duncan Murdock Jr., born in 1916, and Ella Murdock, born on May 12, 1921. She was only six weeks old when her dad was killed. Mrs. Exie Ashby Murdock, the widow, apparently remarried shortly after her husband’s violent death. She married a man by the name of Gray and eventually bore three children with him. Also, both David Murdock Jr. and Ella Murdock took the name of Gray as their surname. Mrs. Exie Gray passed away in 1964.

David Jr., Ella and the three Gray children are all deceased. Contact was made with some of the Gray grandchildren, but their privacy was requested and honored.