Way We Were: The Governor’s Undercover Brother and the W.R. Jefford Saga
This is the fifth article in a series on Prohibition in Park City.
Park City Museum Research, Digital Services, and Social Media Coordinator
W.R. Jefford, born 1875 in Cornwall, England, and his wife Mary arrived in Park City in 1900. They took over W.A. Adams’ store, buying the building and merchandise inside from Adams. They later had three daughters and another son – another son died in infancy.
Jefford was elected as Park City’s justice of the peace in 1912 and began life with the law. After nearly a decade as a judge, Jefford was chosen to be the Summit County Deputy Sheriff in 1921. His responsibilities as a sheriff included catching bootleggers and busting soft drink parlors for selling booze.
Perhaps, however, Jefford was really on the other side of the law. The first week of May 1924 saw a large raid of soft drink parlors that resulted in eleven arrests. But this raid had not been Jefford’s doing – rather, it came down form the governor’s office and included the sheriffs of Utah’s other counties. The governor had sent his own brother in undercover to set up the raid of many of Park City’s establishments. It appears the rest of Utah didn’t trust that the sheriff in Park City was doing a good job.
The Summit County Commissioners agreed. In fact, Commissioner J.D. Fisher, also from Park City, accused Jefford of graft (acquiring money through abuse of power in his position as sheriff) and was the one who brought the governor into play. His “evidence” was that the secret raid successfully happened without Jefford’s knowledge. The governor’s undercover brother, aside from keeping tabs on the soft drink parlors, was supposed to be building a case against Jefford as a bootlegger, or at least as someone who was protecting bootleggers. He instead led the raid, leaving the commissioners without anything against Jefford. The commissioners offered no other tangible evidence of wrongdoing. Jefford’s boss, Summit County Sheriff Joe Clark also defended Jefford’s ability and commitment to the law.
Though the commissioners wanted him gone, Jefford remained with the sheriff’s office for a short time. In December, however, Jefford resigned due to being labeled a scapegoat for Park City’s problems with liquor. He moved to California by 1927 to operate a funeral home with his son but was still returning to Park City monthly to attend to “private business.”
It is on one of these monthly visits in November 1927 that Jefford was arrested for taking “hush money” from one of the soft drink parlor owners in Park City, witnessed by two federal Prohibition agents hiding in the room. The agents had been monitoring Jefford for over a month. Jefford had supposedly been taking money from bootleggers and saloons fronting as soft drink parlors since he started as deputy sheriff, promising them protection and to keep quiet in return. He had been asking for between $25 and $75 from each place. Allegedly, he was also reselling confiscated stills and liquor to moonshiners and bootleggers. George Goates, the Salt Lake City Prohibition Office Director, claimed that Jefford was making around $2,300 per month from his extortion, or $25,000 each year.
After Jefford was arrested, a raid up and down Main Street led to the arrests of several soft drink parlor owners and moonshiners who proceeded to claim they had been extorted by Jefford. In his preliminary hearing for court, Jefford told the judge the whole thing was a “frameup” job, including by arresting officer M.V. Milosovich. He was ultimately found not guilty for “conspiracy to violate the national Prohibition act,” but was found guilty and sentenced to ten months in jail for extortion. He unsuccessfully appealed his sentence.
W.R. Jefford died in November 1932 after developing an illness. His obituary in the Park Record made no mention of his infamy in town. Rather, they noted that he was “quite active in the civic interest of the community,” and discussed his affinity for fraternal organizations, at least four of which he was a member of in Park City.
Next week will conclude the series. Watch the Museum’s most recent lecture – about Prohibition – on their YouTube Channel.
Let the summer games begin! As you line up the cornhole boards and track down a shuttlecock for a game of badminton, here are some fascinating facts about backyard play.
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