The Historian

2020 Fall/Winter

Table of contents

Stepping back in time with Thurold Robert “Lefty” Mofford

Museum Staff

It Happened There…

Retired Detective Arnold H. Carlson #753

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Officer Joe Petrosino, April 1979

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The Washington Senators baseball team was one of eight American League franchises. The team was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1901. Later the old Washington Senators became the new Minnesota Twins in 1960 and the expansion Senators would become the Texas Rangers in 1972.

Stepping back in time with Thurold Robert "Lefty" Mofford

Museum Staff

Phoenix Police Officer Thurold Robert “Lefty” Mofford, Mofford was a long time Phoenix resident. He had an early career as a professional baseball player. His name “Lefty”, came from his left arm picturing style and pitched for the Washington Senators. The Washington Senators baseball team was one of eight American League franchises. The team was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1901. Later the old Washington Senators became the new Minnesota Twins in 1960 and the expansion Senators would become the Texas Rangers in 1972.

His team in 1933 had some interesting history after Lefty left baseball. Included on the roster was second string catcher Moe Berg, a Princeton University and Columbia Law School graduate whose thesis on Sanskrit currently resides in the Library of Congress. At Princeton, Berg earned a Magna Cum Laude in modern languages and spoke Latin, Greek, French, Italian and German. As former teammate and pitcher Ted Lyon’s old joke about Berg went, he could speak 15 languages but couldn’t hit in any of them. Post-baseball, Berg served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services (then the O.S.S. and now the C.I.A.) during World War II. Casey Stengel called Berg “the oddest man who ever played baseball.”

Another player, Sam Rice, 43, was an outfielder. One memorable game happened during the 1925 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Senators were leading 4-3 at the eighth inning. The Pirates player Earl Smith hit a ball to the right field stands which would have been a game-tying homerun. Sam Rice’s diving catch to the ground set off speculation that he did not have possession of the ball. That mystery would not be settled until after his death. He received many media cash offers to reveal what really happened but refused all the offers. Instead he left a letter to be read as part of his estate after his death. Upon his death the family read the letter which said, “At no time did I lose possession of the ball.”

“Lefty” Mofford got on the department in 1929 and retired as a Captain in1949. Lefty sat down and had a taped interview several decades ago. He highlighted some of the important changes he noticed over the years. Crime wasn’t what it is today, according to Lefty, “We had maybe one or two (burglaries) a week, but the town was a lot smaller than it is (now). There was two of us on duty from four to six am and one of us would stay in the station answer the telephone and the other would go out on patrol. The entire city of Phoenix for those two hours had one officer on duty. The pay was 125 a mount or 62.50 a paycheck. No overtime.

They worked fourteen hours on the night shift and ten hours on the day shift, six days a week with just one day off. Lefty told us, “I worked under 29 chiefs of police in twenty years. Back in the old days when a new chief came in the uniforms would change slightly but not completely. When I first came on we work the ‘choke collar’ uniforms …and they were khaki uniforms. Straight coats and everything was worn underneath the coat. And then about 1941 we went in the blue uniform, which is very similar to the ones worn today.”

Lefty was asked about organized crime in Phoenix since he worked during prohibition. “There was no organized crime here at all. We did have a few of the organized criminals here, but this was strictly their vacation land in those days. We’ve had some pretty good, some pretty high powered gangsters in those days that were out here. Mofford also worked on the vice squad for quite some time. “We used to raid a lot of beer joints and there were a lot of stills, and we worked on them. It was pretty serious in those days, because bootlegging was a felony in the city of Phoenix. Once sentenced some prisoners would be assigned to a chain gang to cut lawns on city owned property. We did have some chains with big balls on them all the time. The chain gang was people that were well known because they’ve been in jail time and time after time. And the ones that would run, we called rabbits, we would put chains on them and they would have to carry it with them.”

In the beginning our department it was located at 2nd street between Washington and Jefferson in the middle of the block, near the current Civic Plaza space. The building was city hall with the police department in the basement of the building. It was later condemned and the new city hall and police station was built at 17 S. 2nd Ave, the home of the Police Museum. Mofford continued, “after I’d been on about six months, we moved to the new police Department and city hall which is where the old court house is now 2nd Ave. and Washington.’ He continued speaking, reminiscing on cars, “They started getting marked police cars in the middle 40’s. They had either spotlights on the car, red spotlights that you could turn on, .. a lot of them had red lights behind the grill.”

When asked about the safety of walking downtown he said, “There was very little mugging and like that that went on here. People could walk right down Washington, Jefferson and all those streets downtown and nobody was ever molested back in those days. That was during the war when that started, and it’s been ever since…in the mid 40’s.” People of Phoenix carried weapons much like the western days of Phoenix. Lefty commented, “Oh they carried everything. Guns and knives, blackjacks, everything in the world.” When asked about department training, policies and procedures, he replied, “We did organized and get a police manual in the 40’s. I helped work on that.” But before that the officers did not have much training or instruction. “We had nothing written, the only instructions we’d get would be when we’d go on shifts, and our supervisors would tell us what to do. And of course we had a record book that we checked every night, we called it ‘The Blue Book’, when you’d go on shift, why, you’d read that and see…what happened, and they want some stolen cars and all that.”

The Miranda rights obviously didn’t exist back then and as Lefty put it, “it wasn’t even considered back in those days. We never told anybody what rights they had, we felt it was not our problem. That was the Courts. And back in those days, it actually was.” He added, “We had no crime laboratory. We did have a Record Bureau but it was all manually operated, no computers. Of course there weren’t computers in existence back in those days. And everything we did was manual.” Even radios were a luxury back in Lefty’s days of patrol. “Radio were just coming in and the police weren’t use to them.”

Mofford talked about patrolling Phoenix in the different methods available. “The police weren’t very mobilized at that time. Oh, I remember when we had bicycles. Police rode bicycles in the residential districts. They were good, because …you could slip around on them and you’d could see a person and they never made any noise. And I think that was one of the reasons why they used them, because they didn’t make any noise and they had no complaints from the public for waking them up. The used them about the time I went on, they used them for three or four years and stopped using them, they weren’t mobile enough. And there too many cars on the street that you had to have cars to catch them.”

Lefty was one of the first motorcycle officers in Phoenix and later became a captain on the department. One of Lefty’s contributions to law enforcement and safety was his innovative use of yellow paint for street markings. Paint on roadways for crosswalks and lane markings had always been white. Lefty, responding to a rash of deadly accidents involving school children walking to school, instigated Phoenix’s first school zones-special zones with reduced speed limits and portable signs. As part of his plan, Lefty ordered bright yellow paint to be applied to each crosswalk and zone. The use of yellow paint was big news. Soon the trend moved nationwide thanks to Lefty and the Phoenix Police department. “I rode a motorcycle for ten years. I rode four different kinds. Mostly Harley-Davidson, but I started out on an Ace 4 cylinder and I had a Henderson 4 cylinder and then an Indian 4 cylinder, and then I had a Chief Indian. So I wore out 10 motorcycles. We didn’t have helmet in those days. I wore boots. That’s all.”

He spoke of several close calls he had riding a motorcycle. “I had one freeze up on me on south Central Ave, and Earl O’ Claire was riding with me at the time. We used to ride quite often two at a time at night…I was going 75, 80 mph when this thing froze up on me. And I finally got control and stopped and he said, ‘what’s the matter with you can go that speed?’ Left responded ‘it wasn’t cutting out, I was trying to save my life.’ And at one time I went through Five points (7th ave. and Grand ave) with my siren on, I don’t remember what it was for, but a car pulled out in front of me and I went through the Union Oil Service Station at about 75 miles an hour.”

Mofford also rode on the Police Department’s ambulance. As Lefty would described it they would respond to “scene of accidents and crime, like a person was injured, we use to run an ambulance service and take people into the hospital.” He thought they maintained the service for about 10 years. “It got where it was too expensive for what we could get done, because they could hire drivers a lot cheaper than police men.”

“Lefty” first wife was Rose Mofford, who started as a secretary for the state treasurer and would later became Arizona’s governor. They had common interest. Rose played for the Cantaloupe Queens, an all-female amateur softball team. Rose Mofford had been inducted both into the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame and the Cactus League Hall of Fame to boot. Lefty and Rose would later divorce after a decade.

When Lefty had left the Phoenix Police Department he began working as an investigator for the Arizona Corporation Commission when he met Edna Richardson about 1970 and would later marry. Left and Rose remained friends until his death in 1983. They did not have children, and Rose Mofford never remarried. “Lefty” Mofford’s life was both exciting and interesting. It was an honor to take a moment to step back in time in his life.

Historical Research

The Phoenix Police Museum can perform historical research for you on a person or topic you choose. Our researchers can comb through our historical archives and create a report for you on a specific date, a historical figure, a family member, or a specific incident or issue. Let us help you learn more about our great history.

It Happened There...

Retired Detective Arnold H. Carlson #753

In 1965, Detective Carlson was a Night Detective. Early one morning, at 2:00AM, Detective Carlson and his partner, Detective Ralph McMillian, were in their 1965 Ford unmarked police car when they heard a call of a pay phone being broken into at 20th Street and Jefferson. Detective McMillian was driving and immediately left the area of Central and Monroe to go to the call.

As the Detective McMillian and Detective Carlson approached 17th Street and Monroe, a patrol car coming southbound on 17th Street collided with their car. Both the patrol car and the detectives’ car were badly damaged and came to rest in the Matthew P. Henson housing project.

Detective Carlson was dazed by the violent collision. As he sat in his car he finally noticed a teenaged boy was tapping on his car door. The door window was open and Detective Carlson, who was in a lot of pain, finally asked the young man what he wanted. The boy asked “Officer, is this yours?” Detective Carlson focused on what the boy was holding up between his thumb and forefinger…“like it was a dead rabbit”…it was a Smith & Wesson K-38 snub-nose .38 caliber revolver. Detective immediately felt for his holster and found that it was empty. The force of the collision had caused his revolver to fly out of his holster and then out of the open car window. The boy had found the pistol laying the grass near where the car had come to a stop.

Detective Carlson told the boy that it was indeed his gun and the boy handed to him. Detective Carlson then said “Thank you.” The boy quietly replied, “Your welcome” and the disappeared into the night. Detective Carlson never found out who the boy was, but he was thankful that there were good kids living in the Matthew. P. Henson housing project.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Officer Joe Petrosino, April 1979

(The below article was written on the Pro’s and Con’s of a new police Car “Nova” in April 1979 by Phoenix Police Officer Joe Petrosino. It is interesting to note that the same concerns employees had 40 years ago are still of concern in a recent review of a Phoenix Police Department vehicle now on the street.)

This is the new 1979 marked Chevrolet NOVA. Nova’s have been used for several years by detectives, but never for regular patrol duties. The Nova is sized between compact and personal luxury size. Power is supplied by a 350 c.i. engine with a 4-barrel carburetor, matched to a Chevy turbo-hydromatic transmission. Because of the power plant to vehicle weight match-up, the new Nova is reported to be a screamer on the straights.

Comments from several officers who have driven the Nova are a mixed bag of comparisons. First off, the Nova is compared to the Aspen for size, but is reported to handle better. When matched with the full-size Dodge, officers all stated that it was much faster and seemed to handle easier than a Monaco.

A couple of complaints dealt with the doors, which don’t seem to open wide enough to allow easy exit while watching a stopped vehicle. The front seat was also reported to be cramped for space. Some longer legged officers said they felt the rear screen had been set too far forward, and the front seats couldn’t be run back all the way was a consequence.

One report said there is a cable beneath the steering column that gets in the way of your foot when going from gas to brake pedal. One officer who drove the Nova on a couple of different days reported: “It was really fast. It feels good to know that it will really get on down the road. But I noticed a tendency for the rear end to break loose in the turns.” He went on to explain that in a hard right or left turn, at speeds over 30 mph, the Nova tended to slide. He said if officers don’t keep it in mind, we might brave a few officers ending up in peoples’ front yards.

The other negative comment I received about the Nova’s handling was that the front end seemed to float at high speed. That could explain why the Nova slides on turns, as the car would tend to get into the turn faster than expected. In general, officers were split between like and dislike of the Nova, with those who liked the car having a few dislikes, and vice versa.

In Memory

The Phoenix Police Museum is mourning the death of retired Lt. Mike Nikolin, one of the museum’s three original founding members. Mike had served as the museum curator over 30 years making the museum what it is today. Mike was a giving servant to others serving in the military, Phoenix Police Dept, the police museum, working with the homeless, serving at his church and more. Our prayers go out to his family and friends. He will be missed by us all.

We also lost Arnie Carlson. Arnie was one of our Thursday volunteers and had previously worked for Phx PD and MCSO, and a volunteer for channel 12 News help line. He has been in Hospice for the past few weeks.

Some items from our online store…

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Wall Art

Looking to add a little flare to your room or office? Look no further – this canvas print has a vivid, fade-resistant print that you’re bound to fall in love with and our selection of vintage prints will intrigue your guests.

• Fade-resistant
• 20.5 mil thick poly-cotton blend canvas
• Hand-stretched over solid wood stretcher bars
• Matte finish coating

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Other Stories from Our Blog

This is where you’ll find great historical articles from our staff, guest writers and contributors detailing stories and exploits of local Phoenix history as related to the Phoenix Police Department and Phoenix area law enforcement.

A Dangerous Night in Paris Alley

A Dangerous Night in Paris Alley

by Ed Reynolds Officers Patrick E. Henry and Charles “Rocky” Rockyvich were on routine patrol March 21st, 1960, but they knew that nothing in Paris Alley is routine. Paris Alley was that small, but very dangerous area of the deuce, in downtown Phoenix. Located near...

The first Police Radio system in Arizona

The first Police Radio system in Arizona

The Phoenix Police Department communications section came into being in November 28, 1932 when our department established the first police radio system in the state of Arizona. Previously, a bright light with an attached horn had been placed on a tower on top of...

An interview with Seth Scott Allen – Badge #301

An interview with Seth Scott Allen – Badge #301

August 15, 2008                                         Conducted by Dannette Turner Seth Allen became an Officer in 1956. He was 25 years old, married, and moved to Phoenix from Thatcher, Arizona. When he joined the Phoenix Police Department he lived at 723 N 28th...


The Museum will be closed for a quarter Board Meeting on Wednesday, April 21st, 2021. Thank you for your continuing support.   

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