The mysterious case of Grat M. Walk kept the region in suspense from 1903 to 1910. It wasn’t just your standard murder. It was a period of confusion and chaos, where one police officer shot another. The public was torn between whom to support, and no one ever knew why the murder even happened. The authorities wrongly arrested eighty men as being Walk. The pursuit went from Virginia, to California, and some news was even reported in Canada.
Officer Grat Walk was a native of the Thompson Valley area in Tazewell, Virginia. By 1902, he was a policeman in Bristol, Tennessee. He had an impressive career early on. He apprehended William Saul, who had attempted to murder J.M. Stone, in March of 1901. Walk found Saul hiding in a hollow tree just hours later. He shot and killed notorious thief Will Nickles in 1902.
Walk approached elder Officer Childress in the early morning hours of January 4, 1903. Childress was already conversing with another officer named Porch. Childress was past his capacity for law work. He suffered locomotion ataxia, or the inability to control one’s limbs, and was only kept on the force for the pension. He never participated in general police or detective work.
Walk asked to speak to Childress privately. The two men were known to dislike one another, so it was assumed they would bicker and argue, as usual. The discussion escalated, but Porch never heard exactly what they argued about. They began name-calling, and it wasn’t long before shots were fired. Childress was shot once in the thigh, and again in the head. Walk had a .44 in his pocket.
Porch ran to Childress to ascertain the extent of the damage. It was obviously fatal. He stayed by the senior officer while Walk took the opportunity to escape.
The crime was particularly outrageous at the time, due to Childress’s infirmity. He was even called “invalid,” by many publications, although clearly, he was not. Walk was free, but felt the noose tightening around his neck. He turned himself in on Valentine’s Day, at the Blountville jail. He was refused bail.
The authorities had made him a trustee in the jail by May. He stated he was sick on the night of May 23, one week before his trial. He needed some fresh air. As a trustee, the officials granted his request. He walked outside and was not seen again for years. Bloodhounds traced his prints to an area where someone had a horse waiting.
The authorities were infuriated. They asked the Governor of Tennessee to issue a reward. One month later, the reward was $700. News of the case spread like wildfire, even though the details were sketchy. No one could even guess what motive there might’ve been. Even Policeman Porch, who was standing just a distance from them, couldn’t say why it happened.
By November, a “reliable source,” reported that Walk had fallen in with a group of outlaws, just outside Big Stone Gap, Virginia. As usual, the outlaw gangs were ready to move in and terrorized civilized areas, although none ever did.
Rumors stated Walk died in Canada in 1904. The theory was soon debunked and the authorities were back where they started. Charles McDonald, a horse thief, was hospitalized in Los Angeles. The authorities were certain he was Walk, in 1905. Another man was also suspected in South Carolina. Actually, they weren’t even close to where Walk actually was.
Walk was caught in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. His nephew gave their location away to his girlfriend, and the information made its way to the authorities. Chief Caldwell, his old boss, traveled to Idaho to apprehend him. Walk was back in the area by May of 1910.
Walk hadn’t been using his own name since the crime. He was then known as Officer J.N. Howard. He’d worked as a merchant policeman for years in Spokane, Washington. He even handled his own wanted papers, with photographs.
Walk had more to worry about than the Childress shooting seven years earlier. Chief of Police Stauffer, in Spokane, was not on friendly terms with “Howard.” He came out and said Policemen P.H. Staubine had been missing since March. His body was found in a river, just before Walk was apprehended. So that had to mean Walk killed him.
Walk denied and said he always liked Staubine. He then delivered a silencing blow when he revealed he had a lawsuit against Stauffer, for $9,000, and it looked like he was going to win. He said Stauffer attempted to prejudice the public against him. Nothing ever came of the accusations out of Spokane.
Walk’s case was handed over to the jury on September 30, 1910. The proceedings ended on October 1. He was given 20 years in prison. It finally emerged that a woman was behind the entire ordeal, although her name was never released. Childress wanted Walk to stop seeing her, and Walk refused. The conflict resulted in a feud.
Grat’s brother Robert, of Tazewell, tried to get an appeal for Grat. The state supreme court refused to intervene in November. They sustained the lower court’s verdict.
Walk didn’t hold many grudges over the event, and even sent a handmade leather billfold to Chief Caldwell in 1912.
Grat’s brother, E.M., alias Ed Johnson, had a string of trouble himself. He moved to Nashville to be closer to Grat, but ended up on the wrong side of the bars. He was in jail by December 1912. He was charged with breaking-and-entering, and larceny.