Police Officer Shot and Killed While on Duty at the Railway Crossing-Unknown Suspect Flees Scene

Nelson Zoch, Contributor

EOW: August 4, 1911

On Friday morning, August 4, 1911, at approximately 3:30am, Officer John Morris Cain was on patrol duty as a Houston Police Officer.  Officer Cain’s assignment, a very dangerous and lonely one, was at the North Side Railway Crossing, actually described as the crossing of the International/Great Northern and the Southern Pacific Railroads intersection as it existed in 1911 in Houston, Texas.  This exact location is difficult to pinpoint in 2006, but it is believed to have been in the northeast quadrant of the city near Nance Street.

1911-Anything familiar here, working alone due to manpower problems?

It was later learned that Officer Cain was very apprehensive in regards to working this assignment alone.  His partner of previous nights, Officer Myers, had been removed from this location to another assignment due to manpower considerations.  Officer Cain, while having been an Officer for less than a year, was apparently very aware of his dangerous assignment and had requested another assignment, or in the alternative, to not work this area alone on the night shift.

On this tragic morning, Officer Cain was later reported to have been involved in a conversation with several citizens regarding their business at this location at this hour.  These citizens, Richard Tolson and Rosa Mason, explained the nature of their business to the satisfaction of Officer Cain.  Just after this interchange, an unknown male exited the rail car near Officer Cain and the two witnesses.

He was later described as a tall, African American, 28-30 years old, wearing a dark suit of clothes, a Panama hat and being fairly well dressed.  He carried two grips in his left hand, a small one and a larger one, which from appearance were tied together.

This unknown male exited a rail car and upon seeing Officer Cain, in full HPD uniform, proceeded to walk away in the opposite direction.  Witnesses recall Officer Cain, seeing this individual hurrying away, asking the suspect “Can’t you stop when an Officer is talking?” At this point, the suspect said “Stop, hell”, whirled, and fired one or two times with a pistol towards the unsuspecting Officer Cain.  The suspect then fled on foot in the darkness.

One round from a .41 caliber pistol struck Officer Cain near the left nipple.  This missive ranged downward, passing just along the heart and striking the backbone and the spinal cord as it made its treacherous way through his body. The couple immediately reported this shooting and remained to describe what they had observed.

Night Chief Heck, along with Detective Kessler, Chief of Police Voss, and six other Officers responded immediately to the scene to begin their investigation.  This was truly a who-dun-it.

The Houston Post of 8/5/1911 described Officer Cain’s condition:

WAS CONSCIOUS TO THE LAST: “Up to the time of his death almost, Cain was conscious and conversed with his wife, other relatives and friends, realizing all of the time that he could not live.”

Interviews with the critically wounded Officer verified what the witnesses had told investigators.  Then, at 2:30pm on the afternoon of Friday, August 4, 1911, Officer John Morris Cain passed away.  He was 30 years old.

Investigators had early on concluded that the suspect had left town.  However, they were at a loss to determine which direction, as passenger trains were very popular in these days and ran day and night in and out of Houston.

The untimely death of Officer Cain cast gloom over the entire police department.  During his connection with the Department, he had done duty in almost every section of the city and was well liked by all who knew him.  He was considered an efficient Officer, fearless and always on the job, prompt and courteous in his dealings.

Another country boy come to Houston for work

John M. Cain was born on March 4, 1881, in Bastrop County, near Paige, Texas. At the age of 20, he came to Houston and engaged in the dairy business, later worked as a motorman for the Houston Electric Company and was at one time appointed as a deputy constable under Constable Frank Smith.  In September 1910, he joined the Houston Police Department.

He was survived by his wife, his mother, 3 brothers, and 4 sisters.  Two of his brothers, James and Albert, lived in Houston and were motormen.  The other brother lived in Austin and the four sisters lived with their Mother near Paige, Texas, which is in eastern Bastrop County.

Officer Cain was a member of the Woodmen of the World, Willow Street Camp Number 64 and this organization took charge of the funeral.  The service was held on Sunday afternoon, 4:00pm, August 6, 1911, from the Officer’s home at 1404 Cook Street.  All of the Officers of the Police Department attended in a body and gathered at the Police Station at 3:00pm.  They were met at the home by the Woodmen Lodge, who also attended as a body.

The funeral cortege was one of the longest in the city in many months and the floral offerings were many. The procession to the cemetery was strikingly impressive, with the mounted police officers and other members of the department being led by Chief of Police Voss and Reverend Ammons.  Burial followed at Magnolia Cemetery, located at what is now West Dallas and Montrose/Studemont. Active pallbearers were Gordon Murphey, S.M. Habermacher, J.H. McNutt, C.A. Lomax, C.M. Wilson, and Duff Voss.  Honorary pallbearers were T.R. Carr, Ed Carr, G. Wilson, Wilbur Engle, Leon George, and James Ramsey.

The investigation continues

Since the tragic death of Officer Cain and during the funeral and mourning process, the investigation into this Capital Murder continued.  It was in the days that followed Officer Cain’s funeral that the thought regarding this WHO-DUN-IT murder slowly sank in– Could it be actually possible that this terrible crime would not be solved?  The murdered Officer gave a reasonably good description but would not be available in court.  The couple who observed part of this crime, therefore, would become crucial witnesses if anyone could be placed before them.  Even in 1911, the authorities became aware of how critical other items of physical evidence would be.

Days upon days piled up, as they do.  Leads came in and were checked out with the same results-negative.  Frustrations must have mounted, but Chief Voss and the local Sheriff as well as the entire forces from both departments were convinced that sooner or later, this murderer would be captured.

In the first three weeks, there were four newspaper accounts of arrests/detainments recorded in various parts of Texas, including Conroe, Montgomery, and Rogers, of suspects believed to be the suspect.  All were checked out thoroughly and proved to be unworthy of prosecution.  Keep in mind that in most or all of these incidents, Investigators from Houston had to arrange railroad travel schedules in order to further investigate these leads.

The days, months, and even years passed.  One can only imagine the thoughts that went through the mind of Chief Voss-Will the senseless Murder of Officer John Morris Cain go unsolved?  1914 passed with the accidental shooting deaths of Houston Officer Isaac Parsons and Harris County Deputy Arthur Taylor by two Houston Officers.  It can only be imagined that with this tragic incident and the unsolved Murder of Officer Cain, morale had to have been at a low point.

Houston Sharp

In the great State of Texas, there existed an individual by the name of Houston Sharp.  He came from a family of four children, the father of which was a minister.  His two sisters and one brother chose the upward path and became teachers and leaders.  Houston, however, was different. He attended Prairie View Normal, but was expelled for committing campus burglaries.  He definitely chose the downward path.  Later, he was described in court as a professional bad man with a mustache and a look of cunning as well as a cynical smile to all who dared to look at him.

Houston Sharp’s criminal record was reported as follows:

In 1910, when Constable T.A. Haddox of Grimes County attempted to place Sharp under arrest, Sharp grabbed a rifle and drew down on the Constable and disarmed him, threatening him with death if he attempted to follow him.  Shortly after this incident, Grimes County Sheriff Tom Lacey and Montgomery County Sheriff Ellis attempted to arrest him from a train, but Sharp escaped in a volley of gunfire.

Sharp was finally captured in a post office in the eastern Montgomery County town of Fostoria.  Officers shot Sharp five times with a .32 pistol, once with a .45, and a citizen assisted the lawmen by shooting Sharp in the back.  Somehow, this “cat with nine lives” survived.  He was convicted and sent to Huntsville.  However, due to his injuries, he was moved to the hospital farm and escaped five months later.

Grimes County Sheriff Lacey attempted to arrest Sharp, but Sharp overpowered the Sheriff and took his pistol.  During the fight, Sheriff Lacey nearly cut off the “pistol hand” of Sharp.  Sharp, who claims to have suffered a total of 16 gunshot wounds during his criminal career, was found later to be missing all of his fingers on one hand from the encounter with Sheriff Lacey.

He was convicted in 1913 of eight cases of burglary-16 years in the penitentiary.  He escaped amid a storm of bullets from the prison guards. Houston Sharp, already of much renown throughout Texas for his many acts of misdeed, was in the Texas Prison System in Huntsville on a burglary conviction of 58 years.

It was in prison serving his 58 years that he told of killing a Houston Police Officer.  He told several fellow inmates from Burleson County that he had killed Officer Cain. This was reported by these inmates, even though, just as is the case today, they likely had their own well-being in mind in doing so.

Houston Sharp met his match

Throughout all of his career, one law officer in particular, Harris County Detective T. Binford, proved later to be the nemesis of Sharp.  Detective Binford, who had suspected Sharp at one point during the five years after Officer Cain’s death, eventually began tracking Sharp’s movements before and after the Murder.  He determined that there was a gap right around the week of August 3, 1911.

When confronted with the suspicion of him being the murderer of Officer Cain, Sharp confessed.  However, he later withdrew his confession, saying that he was threatened with a “broken neck” if he did not sign the statement.  In the summer of 1916, nearly five years after the Murder of Officer John M. Cain, Houston Sharp was charged with Murder.

Post-Thursday, 9/7/1916-The trial began and the confession, after a difficult fight, was introduced into evidence.  During the proceeding, Houston Sharp took the stand and denied his confession, stating that it was coerced under the duress of having his neck broken.  He testified saying that he was at home for the birth of a child on the night the Officer was killed.  When it was proven that the birth actually occurred two weeks prior, he stated that he must have been mistaken.

In recapping this crime, his confession, which was considered by the court, he indicated that upon his being confronted by Officer Cain, he turned and fired one round from his .41 caliber pistol.  He felt like he had hit the Officer and fled from the scene on foot, later that night arriving at a lady’s residence in the Second Ward.  This woman was located and testified at the trial that Houston Sharp had arrived at her boardinghouse that night of the murder and had shown her a pistol.  She said the barrel was hot and smelled as if it had been fired recently.  She hid it for him that night, with Sharp leaving with it again the next morning.

Friday, 9/8/1916-fate is in the hands of the jury, who was locked up for the night.

Saturday, 9/9/1916-Good news for Houston Sharp is that he will not be required to serve the remaining 58 years on his sentence.  The bad news is that he will face a death sentence instead for the 1911 Murder of Houston Police Officer John Morris Cain.  The verdict was that Houston Sharp was to be sentenced to DEATH BY HANGING.

In 2004, Officer Cain’s gravesite was located at Magnolia Cemetery, tastefully marked with the standard Woodmen of the World marker. This marker makes the usual note of date of birth and date of death, but nothing as to how this young 30-year-old man died.  To correct that, a 100 Club KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY marker has been placed there to further honor his memory.

What happened to Houston Sharp?

Nelson Zoch – December 4, 2006