John Cook had been sheriff of Mecklenburg County just three months when he was shot in the head and killed by a man he was trying to arrest.
The sheriff’s killer, who reportedly fled to Tennessee, was never caught. And Cook’s name slowly faded from the county’s collective memory.
Nearly 210 years later, after some digging by researchers at the Sheriff’s Office, the United States is honoring Cook with a spot on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The memorial honors more than 19,000 officers who have died in the line of duty throughout history.
Cook is one of the oldest. He became sheriff in July 1804, 28 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
He was shot Oct. 16, 1804, in what a newspaper clipping from the Carolina Gazette described as “a most atrocious and wilful (sic) murder.”
The suspect, a wagon-maker named Thomas Jarrel, evaded authorities despite a detailed description published in the newspaper: “His complexion clear and fresh-coloured; somewhat pitted with the small-pox, the scars of which are large.
“He is by trade a waggon-maker, subject to drink freely of spirits, and when intoxicated, very quarrelsome.”
Cook’s story was unearthed last year, as employees at the Sheriff’s Office were doing research for the organization’s 250th anniversary celebration, said Julia Rush, a spokeswoman for the office, who completed the application for Cook’s induction.
It happened “before Charlotte even had a newspaper,” Rush said. “We were researching our 250th anniversary, working with people in the (public library’s) Carolina Room.”
She said researchers were able to gather enough information about Cook and his killing to submit an application to the national memorial. His death was the fifth reported killing of a law enforcement officer in the nation’s history, and the first in the Southeast.