1812Blockhouse shares posts in our “Richland Roots” series to reveal stories of the well-known and less-commonly known people born here, or who lived here, and then went on to make significant contributions to state, regional, or national history.
By all accounts, native Mansfielder John J. “Jack” Sturges lived an adventurous life. It was his demise, however, that still fuels claims of paranormal activity in a most unlikely place – Anchorage, Alaska.
Sturges was born on Christmas Eve, 1861 to John and Maria Sturges. His last name (also spelled “Sturgus” and “Sturgis” in various accounts, but legally “Sturges”) is likely familiar to many Mansfielders; the Sturges family first came to the area in 1820 in the person of businessman Edward Sturges. While the exact familial relationship is not known, in 1870, Maria and Jack were living in the household of the well-known figure of early Manfsield history, General Roeliff Brinkerhoff.
The family moved west in the late 1870s, and Jack Sturges began a career in law enforcement, first in Montana and Oregon, and then moving to the frontier of Alaska in 1913. In 1916, he moved to Anchorage to serve as Deputy US Marshal –then, as now, the state’s largest city.
At the beginning of 1921, Anchorage officially became a city and created its first police force. More precisely, it hired Jack Sturges as its first Chief of Police; in fact, he was the only officer initially hired
Just weeks later, he was dead from a gunshot wound from his own weapon, the source of which has never been identified.
On the night of February 20, 1921, Sturges was on patrol. About 9 PM, he passed the store of a local butcher, the last person to see him alive. At 9:15 PM, Sturges was found shot, with his own gun, in the back alley, in a stairwell of a local hotel. The revolver lay in the snow nearby.
The body was initially found by a night watchman who, failing to initially recognize Sturges, ran to get the city’s lone police officer.
Speculation immediately began to possible scenarios in which the murder took place. Perhaps it had happened when Sturges had attempted to make an arrest, one theory claimed; another thought that revenge was a motive. Whatever the case, the mystery continues to generate interest among local paranormal groups who seek an answer.
Jack Sturges is buried in Anchorage. His Officer Down Memorial Page can be seen here.
You can actually visit and stay at the successor Historic Anchorage Hotel today, which uses Jack’s story in its marketing (follow link below).
Anchorage was in its infancy when the original Anchorage Hotel structure, located on the corner of 3 rd Avenue and E Street, was built. By 1936, the city of Anchorage was growing so rapidly that we needed to expand.