Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Death of Mrs. Spratt

Helenans may be familiar with the story of the sheriff’s wife who died in the Lewis and Clark County jail when her husband’s gun discharged. This story has long floated around, and here are the facts that go with it. The tragedy took place upstairs in what is now the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing Arts.

Lewis and Clark County Jail and Courthouse. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 953-357
It was 8:30 on the morning of November 11, 1922. Sheriff Thomas Spratt was in his private office just off the family living quarters. Mrs. Flora Spratt sat three feet away at the desk, looking through the phone book. Sheriff Spratt had just completed cleaning one gun and was examining another when it accidentally discharged. The gun was a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson police special six-shooter. The trigger was slightly out of order and after cleaning the gun, the sheriff removed a side plate from it, thinking he had extracted all the shells, and was working the trigger when it discharged. The bullet entered Mrs. Spratt’s right armpit, passed through her chest, and came out under her left arm. She cried out and Sheriff Spratt asked if she had been hit. She replied “Yes,” and died instantly. Drs. O. M. Lanstrum and S. A. Cooney and the county coroner were immediately called to the scene. The coroner decided not to hold an inquest. The Spratts had been married for thirty-six years and had three grown daughters. Before a brief appointment as sheriff in 1921, Spratt was an accountant in the state auditor’s office, dairy owner, and County Hospital superintendent where Mrs. Spratt was matron. His previous employment raises the question whether Sheriff Spratt was adept at handling weapons. After his wife’s death, Spratt was custodian and purchasing agent at the county garage. He remarried two years after the tragedy and died in 1956 at age ninety-four.

P.S. Remember Montana's first woman sheriff?

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