Jefferson County was organized December 8, 1818 when Missouri was still a territory. In those early days, the county’s settlers, who came from as far away as France, Germany, Canada and Ireland, lived without the conveniences of roads, stores, post offices, and blacksmith shops. None, however, lived without one gun and at least one dog, considered “indispensables.”
The first session of court was held March 22, 1819. It was then that Andrew Scott, commissioned as the first sheriff of Jefferson County, assumed the duties of his office. Jefferson County’s first Census in 1820 showed the sheriff was responsible for protecting a population of 1,832. At the same session, Herculaneum was named county seat. In 1820, land was donated to the county and a small log jail was built in the town. Instead of building a courthouse, the court authorized payment of $6 to John Finley, coroner and acting sheriff, for use of his house. The first murder trial that took place in that “courthouse” was that of Pierre Auguste Labaume, who was indicted and tried in March 1825 while Joseph Boring was serving as sheriff. The jurors returned a verdict of “Not guilty” and $227.75 in court costs were charged against the state.
In 1839 an act of the legislature ordered the county seat to be moved to Hillsboro, which was more centrally located, and $3,800 was appropriated for construction of a courthouse. The building was completed in April 1840. In 1841, a jail was built nearby at a cost of $1,500.
A case in the early 1850s revealed the mindset of that era. John, a slave, killed “Free Jack,” a free colored man, and was indicted for murder. He pled “guilty,” whereupon the court ordered that Sheriff James McColloch carry out the sentence of 39 stripes on his bare back. Jack, the free Negro, represented no value while John, the slave, did and his execution for the crime would have been the destruction of “property.”
The county’s first reported rape took place in 1862 when James Edmonds and James Bridgeman went to a house where Mrs. Mary Massey; her daughter, Margaret; and other women were staying. Edmonds first threatened to shoot the women and when his comrade told him to leave them alone, Edmonds shot and kill him. Edmonds then forced the 12-year-old daughter to accompany him from the house and kept her out about three hours. The following day, Edmonds was arrested and charged. In January, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged by the neck by Sheriff Jerome “J.B.” Dover until he was “Dead! Dead! Dead!”
Following the hanging, carried out on an old oak tree, the sheriff submitted the following report: “This execution came to hand March 3, 1863, and I executed the same on the 6th day of March 1863, by taking the body of the within named James Edmonds, and hanging him with a rope by the neck until he was dead! dead!! dead!!! and buried him near the Hillsboro graveyard, on the day above written, and this execution is returned satisfied in full. [Signed] Jerome B. Dover, sheriff.”
By 1863, when the population had grown to more than 10,000, it became necessary to construct new county buildings. In July 1865, the 40-foot-by-60-foot, two story courthouse and two story, six-cell jail with jailer’s residence was completed at a cost of $16,500.73. A fireproof addition east of the courthouse was built in 1892 with a second-story connecting walkway. Then in the mid-1950s the county repaired, modernized and enlarged the courthouse even further at a cost of just under $300,000. Thomas E. Mirgain, who joined the sheriff’s office in 1951, said the first police car radios were installed in 1956. That same year, Mirgain, who served 28 years before retiring as a major in 1979, established the county’s first fingerprinting system.
He said things were different in those days. “Prisoners respected you, did what you said. A prisoner never tried to lay a hand on me during all that time,” he said, adding that while he was never forced to shoot a prisoner, he did fire warning shots over their heads.
There are two recorded escapes from the county jail. The first was in 1965 when a prisoner cut through a bar in his cell, soaped himself down and slipped through. Inmates then summoned Conrad Pillen, the lone officer on duty, and struck him from behind. Inmates who chose not to flee perhaps saved Pillen’s life by administering first aid. Eight others escaped. Five were apprehended within a day; the remaining three were caught the following Saturday. The second escape was in 1993 when a single prisoner, Kevin Hahn, escaped but was apprehended the same day.
Until the late 1960’s the sheriff’s office didn’t have a sufficient number of deputies to handle large events or disasters so men and women with the Civil Defense Auxiliary Police units stepped in and, using their own vehicles and being equipped with a Citizen Band radio, assisted whenever and wherever they were needed.
Although 49 different sheriffs have served in Jefferson County, only one position was filled by a woman. After Sheriff Leo Church died while in office, his wife, Helen Church, was appointed to finish the one year remaining on his term. To date, Walter “Buck” Buerger, who was sheriff from 1965 to 1992, served the longest term. Sheriff Oliver “Glenn” Boyer, who ended his term on December 31, 2016, served for 24 years.
During Sheriff Boyer’s tenure, the sheriff’s office went through numerous changes. A renovation of the jail increased housing from 116 beds to 334. New communication and computer technology moved the office into the 21st century. Under Sheriff Boyer’s guidance, in March 2005, the agency was awarded accreditation by the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, an international independent accrediting authority recognizing professional excellence through commitment from all levels. In March 2014 the sheriff’s office received its third re-accreditation.
Two centuries after it was established, the sheriff’s office now serves a population of more than 224,000. Sheriff Dave Marshak was elected and took office on January 1, 2017 and continues the tradition of improving the sheriff’s office through advancements in training, equipment and technology.
|Sheriff Dave Marshak||2017-Present|
|Sheriff Oliver "Glen" Boyer||1992-2016|
|Sheriff Walter "Buck" Buerger||1965-1992|
|Sheriff A.R. McKee||1961-1964|
|Sheriff Helen Church||1960-1961|
|Sheriff Leo Church||1953-1960|
|Sheriff Amos Lee||1949-1952|
|Sheriff Bryan Moss||1945-1948|
|Sheriff Amos Lee||1941-1944|
|Sheriff A.R. McKee||1937-1940|
|Sheriff T.E. Lanham||1933-1936|
|Sheriff Carl Clark||1929-1932|
|Sheriff Ray Williams||1925-1928|
|Sheriff Raymond Brady||1921-1924|
|Sheriff Frank Clark||1918-1920|
|Sheriff Harry Dahl||1913-1917|
|Sheriff John Bechler||1909-1912|
|Sheriff Henry Dahl||1907-1908|
|Sheriff Thornton Hensley||1903-1906|
|Sheriff William Long||1899-1902|
|Sheriff Oscar Ogle||1895-1898|
|Sheriff Edward Maupin||1889-1894|
|Sheriff George W. McFrey||1886-1888|
|Sheriff Henry Hurtgen||1884-1886|
|Sheriff John L. Weaver||1882-1884|
|Sheriff Thomas J. Jones||1878-1882|
|Sheriff John Williams||1876-1878|
|Sheriff Benton "T.B." Moss||1872-1876|
|Sheriff John Williams||1870-1872|
|Sheriff Fred Luchtemeyer||1868-1870|
|Sheriff John Williams||1866-1868|
|Sheriff Charles "C.C." Fletcher||1864-1866|
|Sheriff Jerome "J.B." Dover||1862-1864|
|Sheriff Oscar Dover||1858-1862|
|Sheriff Augustin Wiley||1854-1858|
|Sheriff James McColloch||1850-1854|
|Sheriff Gabriel "G.J." Johnson||1849-1850|
|Sheriff Joseph A. Hammon||1848-1849|
|Sheriff John Hammond||1844-1848|
|Sheriff Mark Moss||1841-1844|
|Sheriff John Hammond||1840-1841|
|Sheriff James McChristian||1834-1840|
|Sheriff Ammon Knighten||1830-1834|
|Sheriff Gabriel "G.J." Johnston||1829-1830|
|Sheriff Issac Roberts||1828-1829|
|Sheriff William Ellis||1826-1828|
|Sheriff Joseph Boring||1822-1826|
|Sheriff George Hammond||1819-1822|
|Sheriff Andrew Scott||1819|