DENVER — The Denver Police Museum held a small memorial Tuesday for a 1919 DPD detective who was ambushed and killed by suspected mafia bootleggers.
"Today, we remember him as we dedicate this street sign as a small token of our appreciation," a chaplain for the City and County of Denver said at the ceremony Tuesday.
The memorial plaque now hangs on 14th Ave. and Newton Street in Denver in remembrance of Detective George Klein.
"Although many years have passed since his unfortunate line-of-duty death, and it has been many years for us to learn of his actions, we remember. We remember him and we remember that he made the ultimate sacrifice," the chaplain presiding over the memorial said.
One-hundred-four years ago to the day, a gunman waited in ambush for Klein to return home late one night in west Denver before shooting and killing him. Officer Klein left a wife and two children behind, according to Jewish Colorado. No suspects were ever identified.
The sign honoring Klein is part of a larger project by the Denver Police Museum to find other fallen officers who do not have a memorial in the community and pay tribute to them by creating one.
"When the department was founded in 1859, to the present day, we've lost 77 officers," Michael Hesse, president of the Denver Police Museum, said.
Det. Klein was one of those 77. He served as the head of the bootleg squad for the Denver Police Department during the prohibition era. Klein was in north Denver investigating a report of someone selling alcohol when a suspect tried to flee and Klein shot him. Klein was eventually indicted for manslaughter but was found not guilty at a trial.
When he was shot outside his home, Jewish Colorado said Klein was targeted by members of organized crime, which Jeanne Abrams, a professor at the University of Denver, also theorized.
"Being a member of the Jewish community and being a police officer in Denver at this time was very difficult. That was the period when the Klan was coming to power," Hesse said.
It was uncommon for the Jewish community to go into policing at the time, Abrams said. But Klein "was a very grateful American, having come from Russia. And I'm assuming that one of the motivations to become a policeman was his appreciation for his adopted country."
Klein's family emigrated from Russia when Klein was young.
As he rose through the Denver Police Department's ranks to the head of the bootleg squad, Hesse said there were lots of opportunities for impropriety. Members of the mob tried to buy officers. But Klein was one that could not be bought.
"George Klein was a very devoted young officer," Joe Montoya, a DPD division chief, said.
Hesse and Abrams said Klein was threatened long before he was shot and killed in front of his house, but he never wavered. After he was indicted for shooting the suspect running from his bootlegging investigation, Klein quit carrying a gun.
"His wife was frightened from the day he joined the police force. And begged him many times — kind of had a premonition, I guess I would say — that something would end in tragedy," Abrams said.
Hesse confirmed that every night, Klein's wife said she'd would wait to hear her husband come home safely until the day he died in her arms.
Klein's story may not have been well known for more than a century, but the Denver Police Museum said it's committed to sharing the legacy of other fallen officers as well, who made an impact on the Mile High City.
"[The] importance of these signs is that 104 years later, we're standing at that location and we're still saying those officers' names and the people who perpetrated this crime are forgotten," Hesse said.
The Denver Police Museum is seeking feedback from community members about law enforcement in Denver broadly, solutions to improving community relations, and input on what role the Denver Police Museum could play to improve trust and understanding between law enforcement and our community. If you're interested in letting the police museum know what you think, head here.