DENVER — No one would know, between stone markers and beneath blades of grass, a Denver Police officer is buried.
The unmarked grave in block 9 of Riverside Cemetery belongs to Charles Wanless. Few would remember his name had it not been spoken at the corner of Broadway and 9th Avenue in Denver Monday afternoon.
“Only one mounted police officer has lost his life in the performance of his duties,” said former Denver Police officer, Bill Nagel. “It happened here 129 years ago.”
Nagel read the story of Charles Wanless to the group of police officers gathered at the intersection. They were there, along with representatives from the Denver Police Museum, to honor Wanless with a memorial sign.
“This happened over 100 years ago but it doesn’t diminish the sacrifice that Charles gave to the Denver Police Department and to the City and County of Denver,” said Denver Police chief Paul Pazen.
Officer Wanless was the second Denver Police officer killed in the line of duty. On the night of Sept. 18, 1890, Wandless was riding his horse up Broadway along his usual route.
Someone ran out into the street, waved his arms to get Wanless’ attention and told him a man was threatening to kill his wife.
“Officer Wanless courageously ran inside and went up to the second floor to face the man with a gun,” Nagel said.
Wanless went to the door of Joseph Barnes. Barnes was inside with his wife and young son. He’d already warned his wife he’d shoot the first policeman that came to his door.
When Wanless appeared at the door, he ordered Barnes to drop his gun.
“Witness statements differ on who shot first,” Nagel said, continuing to read through Wanless’ story.
Barnes shot twice. Wanless was killed instantly, Nagel said.
“He was engaged two days before he was killed,” said Jeff Burke.
Burke helped research Wanless’ family for the Denver Police Museum. He worked alongside Bill Finch, a retired Denver Police lieutenant, who prepared the historical account Nagel read during Monday’s ceremony.
Burke said Wanless was just 27 years old at the time of his death.
“At his funeral service, there were 63 members of the police department dressed in blue that gathered to honor Charles Wanless.”
129 years later, Denver Police officers gathered again to honor Wanless. The memorial sign unveiled during “Police Week” is one of a few that will go up this week.
The Denver Police Museum said 72 officers have died in the line of duty during the department’s 160-year history.
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