Victor Helburg
Victor Helburg (Louisville Historical Museum)

LOUISVILLE -- The scene: the intersection of Pine and Main streets in Louisville -- Oct. 28, 1915.

The weapon: a rifle.

The getaway: a horse and cart.

The crime: the murder of Victor Helburg, the first and only Louisville police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

"It reads like a murder mystery," Robert Sampson, himself an officer with the Louisville Police Department, said of the vicious slaying near where Lulu's sits today. "It would generate headlines today and it made huge headlines back in the day. We need to do something here in Louisville to honor him."

And so Sampson -- along with a group of city officials, history buffs and members of Helburg's family -- are taking the first steps toward creating a park to honor the memory of a German immigrant who moved to Louisville in the late 1800s, became water commissioner, town clerk and assistant marshal before dying violently while trying to collect a license fee from a fruit-and-vegetable peddler.

Helburg was 48, married and had five children. The gunman, who had had several disputes with Helburg over payment of fees in the preceding months, fled the scene and was never caught.

The group is proposing a pocket park on Via Appia Way, adjacent to the police station and municipal court, where visitors would be able to sit in shaded seats and enjoy the sights and sounds of a fountain hewn from stone. A plaque bearing Helburg's name, with room for the names of any future fallen officers, would also be on site.

"We wanted to do something to honor him and anyone else, God forbid, who should lose their lives in the line of duty," said Sampson, who has seen two other law enforcement colleagues, in Boulder and Northglenn, killed while doing their jobs. "I'd like it to be something the city and police department are very proud of."

A local architect has drawn up rudimentary plans and the group hopes the city will chip in about $1,000 annually to maintain the park. Fundraising for the project, which the group hopes to complete by the century anniversary of Helburg's death in October 2015, has not yet begun.

'Jack-of-all-trades'

Patricia Bradfield, Helburg's 75-year-old granddaughter and a resident of Arvada, said the park would be the culmination of years of work on the part of her family to gain recognition for her grandfather's contributions to early Louisville history.

The family managed, after decades of effort, to get Helburg listed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial, but to date, there is no formal dedication to him in Louisville.

Starting a couple of years ago, Bradfield said she and her family spoke to the city about erecting a statue of Helburg, but those efforts ultimately fizzled. More recently, the idea of a memorial park took shape and with land near the police station already sketched out for a park, Bradfield said it seemed like the right time to pursue it.

"It's an acknowledgment," she said, her voice choking up talking about the man she described as "a jack-of-all-trades." "It should be an inviting place to sit down."

Immigrant tale

And a place, said Louisville historian Jennifer Strand, where residents can recognize one of their own -- an average man raising a family and trying to do his job the best he could.

Yes, times were tough in the early years of 20th century, Strand said. There had been several years of miners' strikes and Louisville had temporarily stopped collecting license fees citywide to ease residents' financial pain.

But in the end, she said, Helburg was only doing his job and should never have met the grisly end that ultimately befell him on a downtown street on a late October day in 1915.

"I think his story is like the stories of a lot of people in Louisville," Strand said. "The Helburgs were immigrants trying to make it."

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389, aguilarj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/abuvthefold.