On October 16, 1937, a bizarre mystery stunned the Alton Police Department – a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. On that evening, a man named August Mayford, age 66, vanished from the west end of the city’s business district without a trace, only to turn up dead a short time later near Edwardsville. He had been shot in the back eight times. What happened to August Mayford in October 1937 and why did the case plague the Alton police in such a manner? It was for the simple reason that August Mayford was one of their own…
After it was discovered that Mayford had vanished, the police began trying to track down his last known appearances. It had always been his custom to stop at the Faulstitch Cigar Store around 11:00 each evening but on October 16, he never arrived. He also failed to make his usual 11:00 p.m. call to the police station. It was thought that Mayford may have been making rounds of stores in order to shut off show room lights that had been left on a little later than usual because it was a Saturday night. At some point during his tour though, he was interrupted. Lights in a number of display windows on the north side of Third Street between Piasa and Belle were found still burning at daybreak on Sunday morning.
It was just shortly before this that Mayford’s disappearance was first realized. The desk sergeant at the station, noting that Mayford had not telephoned into the desk since before midnight, mentioned the matter to Police Chief Uhle. At that point, the chief realized that he had not seen Mayford in trips through the business district during the night and became immediately concerned. It was routine for him to meet Mayford when the older man got off duty and then Chief Uhle usually drove him home. Just before dawn, the chief drove to the Third Street business district and quickly saw that some show window lights that Mayford customarily turned off were still burning. Unable to find a trace of Mayford, Chief Uhle shut off the show window lights and started a more detailed search for the missing watchman. Meanwhile, a call to Mayford’s home discovered that he had not returned there.
Chief Uhle found only one clue in his search. When he visited the Maul Shoe Store on West Third Street, where Mayford usually kept clothing that he might need if it rained or the weather changed suddenly, he found an overcoat, a raincoat, some extra clothing and a wallet that contained some money. Uhle deduced that Mayford had evidently been there early in the evening, as he started on his rounds, but had not returned. The wallet contained the sum of $33, which was a decent amount on money during the waning days of the Great Depression, and the chief doubted from that moment on that Mayford would have left voluntarily without taking his money with him.
Police officers searched the streets but found no trace of the patrolman. It was suggested that perhaps he had fallen or even suffered a stroke in one of the stores that he cared for but there was no sign that a door had been left unlocked. The officers, and Mayford’s family, clung to the hope that he might be found early on Monday morning when the stores re-opened but there was still no sign of him. Word of his disappearance was sent to police departments in all of the nearby cities and to the state highway patrol headquarters. By late afternoon on Monday, his description was even put out in a radio broadcast. The river was searched, thinking that perhaps Mayford might have drowned, and a few days later, a hat that was found in the water sent an alarm through the police department. It was first thought to be Mayford’s but it was soon determined to be that of a fisherman who had drowned the Wednesday before Mayford vanished.
Rumors began to swirl around town that Mayford may have cashed a check for a large amount of money but that theory was put to rest later on Monday afternoon by Mayford’s wife, Bessie. She explained that it was true that she and her husband had a block of 40 shares of stock in the Piasa Building and Loan Association that had matured the previous month but that she had cashed a check for $4,000, not her husband, and none of the money was missing. There were still no clues as to what might have become of the missing patrolman.
On Tuesday morning, two sets of Mayford’s keys were discovered in a closet that the patrolman sometimes used at the Maul Shoe Store. The police now theorized that he may have discovered some criminals in the act of breaking into one of the locations that he guarded and that he might have been captured and forced to accompany them as they fled. The two rings contained all of the keys that had been entrusted to Mayford and strangely, they had not been discovered on two previous searches of the closet, including one by Chief Uhle.
The next day however, it would be discovered that the two rings of keys were not the keys that Mayford generally carried with him on his rounds. Those keys, along with Mayford, remained missing. Everyone had by now accepted the fact that the patrolman had not disappeared voluntarily but no one was willing to say that he had been kidnapped. Some of his friends continued to harbor the idea that perhaps he had fallen victim to an illness or an amnesia. They believed that this justified his erratic actions in turning off some of the lights in the Third Street showroom windows, but leaving others burning, just before he vanished. Regardless though, they could not explain why he had still not been found.
On October 25, with Mayford still missing, it was announced that his brother, Chris Mayford, was offering a $100 reward for any information that would lead to the discovery of his brother. The situation was becoming desperate by this time and it was hoped by his family that a reward might spark some new interest in the case. Sadly, it did not – although on October 31, the search for August Mayford would come to a tragic end.
On Halloween afternoon, several hands on the William Bohm farm, discovered Mayford’s body on the edge of a cornfield. He was lying not far from Cahokia Creek, near Edwardsville. The police and the coroner were quickly called to the scene and made the grim determination that they had indeed found the missing man. According to reports, Mayford had been shot in the back eight times, probably while lying on the ground. He had been likely been beaten into unconsciousness first, as his jaw had been broken and his false teeth had been shattered. All of this clothing was intact and the keys that he carried for the downtown Alton businesses were in his pocket. The only thing missing was his service revolver, which he had always carried with him in a holster.
Sheriff Simon Henry, who was the first on the scene, later suggested to reporters that Mayford may have prevented a robbery in Alton on the night he vanished. It was possible, he said, that he may have then paid for his interference with his life. He had been apparently beaten and then dumped from a car near the canal by someone who was familiar with the vicinity. The assailant had then opened fire on the injured man, killing him.
After the body was taken away, detectives arrived on the scene and began to examine and excavate the earth that Mayford had been lying on. Their careful search revealed five spent bullets that had passed through the patrolman’s back and into the ground. Two more slugs, probably from a .38 caliber pistol, were also found a few days later but unfortunately, these were the only meager clues to be discovered.
Mayford’s friends and fellow officers could only speculate on what happened to the patrolman on October 16. It was believed that the man was probably beaten in Alton and then “taken for a ride” to the lonely spot near Cahokia Creek where his body was found. His record as a police officer was examined and it was not believed that the patrolman had any enemies. He had never mentioned having any problems with anyone or receiving any threats, so it was still thought that he must have interrupted a break-in and had been taken away by one or more of the robbers and killed.
And to this day, this remains the most likely solution as to what became of August Mayford on that dark night in October 1937. The mystery of his death and disappearance has never been solved and remain a curious enigma in the annals of Alton police history. It is a part of Alton's ghostlore, as well....
On certain nights, it is said that the ghost of August Mayford still sometimes appears, near the place where he was last seen on October 16. As he rounds a corner, just down the street from the Grand Theater and near where the old Sears store used to be, his apparition takes one last look over his shoulder and then vanishes into the night. Like August Mayford himself, his ghost fades away and disappears into the mists of Alton history.
© Copyright 2007 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.