Deputy Earl Bucher

EOW 12/31/1940

Deputy Earl Bucher, 45, was shot and killed on Dec. 31, 1940, when he responded to a domestic dispute at a house, or beet shack, six miles south of Elwell. The call came in from David Sipes, 16, stepson of Fred Bernhardt, 58. Sipes said that his mother and step-father got into a fight over him and that his step-father ordered him out of the house. Sipes told law enforcement that as he ran away, Bernhardt fired a shotgun at him. He went to the Joe King residence across the road and called the sheriff's office in Greeley.

Deputies Earl Bucher and Guy McGinnis responded to the call, driving into the driveway of the house about noon. Bucher, who was driving, was closer to the house when both deputies exited their patrol car. He had taken just a few steps when Bernhardt stuck a double barreled shotgun out the door and, without warning, fired once striking Deputy Bucher in the head. He was killed instantly.

Deputy McGinnis ducked to avoid a second round of shotgun fire that sailed over his head. He jumped into the driver's seat of the car and raced back to the sheriff's office for help.

By 12:30 p.m., Weld County Sheriff Gus Anderson had assembled a posse of at least a dozen officers. The size of the posse doubled when it was  joined by at least another dozen armed men. The posse split into three groups, approaching the beet shack and a smaller shanty through a nearby field. After surrounding the buildings, the posse moved in and opened fire on the house. The posse stopped firing briefly when Bernhardt came out of the shack. The members of the posse assumed he was giving up the fight, but the firing resumed when Bernhardt made a B-Line for the shanty. 

By the time the incident was over, at least 20 tear gas shells and gas grenades had been fired into the windows of both buildings, along with several hundred rounds from rifles and machine guns. The posse gained access to the buildings at 1:30 p.m., and found Bernhardt dead in the shanty from gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach. He was wearing Bucher's badge on his overalls, which he had taken from the deputy after killing him. He also had Bucher's blackjack in his pocket. Bucher's duty weapon and a .22-caliber rifle were located on a kitchen table in the beet shack along with Bernhardt's shotgun, which was on the floor.

Helen Sipes Bernhardt also was found dead in the kitchen of the shack. Evidence showed she had been shot and killed with a shotgun outside of the shack. Her body was dragged back inside before deputies Bucher and McGinnis first arrived at the scene.

In addition to Sheriff Anderson and Deputy McGinnis, the following officers were named in the local newspaper as participating in the shootout: Officer Ed Lott, Deputy Warren Vose, Greeley Chief C. C. Hunter & Officer Joe Kem, Larimer County Sheriff Ted Schaeffer & Deputy Roy Barger, Captain Frank Burger and Patrolmen Gordon Lockett, M. B. McKinney, Mart Conway & Roy Calhoun of the Courtesy Patrol, and Longmont Chief Orville Barr. Several local farmers were also listed as being in the posse. Denver PD had sent a crew of 13 officers with ‘tear gas bombs, rifles, and tommy guns," but they arrived after the shootout was over.

The Bernhardt family had moved to the shack just two months earlier from Ault. Bernhardt had taken a ‘beet contract' on the Nygren place. Helen Sipes, 45, had married Fred Bernhardt two years earlier. In addition to David, she had four other children; Mrs. Hannah Schwartz (Keenesburg), Irene Sipes (Denver), Ruben Sipes, 17, and Delores Sipes, 9. Ruben and Delores were at the Pearl Hollow School, two miles from the home, when the incident occurred.

Deputy Earl J. Bucher resided at 1809 10th Ave. in Greeley. He was born in Eldora, Iowa on Sept. 19, 1895, but grew up in Greeley, attending Greeley schools and studying at Colorado State College before enlisting in World War I, serving in the 148th Field Artillery, Battery A. He was a past commander of the American Legion and a past exalted ruler of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Deputy Bucher had been married for 20 years and was survived by his wife Helen Davis Bucher, 43, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. G. L. Bucher of Greeley, brother, Glen (Greeley) and sister, Mrs. Neva McKinley (Mesa). Interment was at Linn Grove Cemetery.

Elwell, CO was located 2 miles west of Johnstown, at what today is the intersection of Colorado Highway 60 and Weld County Road 13. The location where Deputy Bucher was killed was 8 ½ miles Southwest of Johnstown, or just south of the current intersection of Weld roads 36 and 13.

Sources: June 2015

Weld County Sheriff's Office

Greeley Daily Tribune: Dec 31, 1940, Jan 1 & 2, 1941

U. S. Census - Weld County, 1940 et al.