Complex to be named in honor of east Idaho sheriff killed on duty 50 years ago
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RIGBY – Howard Shaffer was Idaho’s longest serving sheriff when he was killed on March 25, 1972.
Shaffer, who was first elected Jefferson County Sheriff in 1950, was on duty when he was hit by an oncoming train at the Lincoln railroad crossing off Yellowstone Highway in Idaho Falls. To this day, no one knows for sure what he was doing.
A news report from the Rigby Star on March 30, 1972 indicates Shaffer was traveling southwest just before 9 p.m. and didn’t see an approaching freight train. Witnesses reported he had passed several cars on the road and the crossing lights were flashing.
“His car struck the left side of the train and was swung around by the impact and was carried about 50 feet,” the newspaper reported. “He was rushed by ambulance to an Idaho Falls hospital but was dead on arrival.”
Shaffer was buried at the Ririe-Shelton Cemetery.
This year marks 50 years since his death and those who are old enough to remember Shaffer recall him with fondness.
Terrall Hanson, a retired Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy who was beginning his law enforcement career at the time of Shaffer’s death, has been working to get the Sheriff’s Office law enforcement complex in Rigby named after him.
“He was the only law enforcement officer in Jefferson County killed in the line of duty,” Hanson tells EastIdahoNews.com. “He’s recognized on the law enforcement memorial in Meridian and he’s mentioned in a national list of officers killed while on duty.”
Hanson already has the approval of current Sheriff Steve Anderson. A stone monument honoring Shaffer that will be placed in front of the building will soon be complete. Hanson is also planning to put a bio of Shaffer inside the building with some memorabilia in a display case, including Shaffer’s blackjack, or club, that Hanson inherited from Shaffer’s Chief Deputy, Joe Potter.
“I still have it and I’ll be donating it to the sheriff’s office to use in the display case,” Hanson explains. “Those are things of the past. We no longer use those. Now we Taser them.”
Hanson is working with the sheriff’s office and other dignitaries to finalize a date for an official unveiling and dedication ceremony.
In the process of fleshing out these details, Hanson has done a lot of research about Shaffer. He invested many hours into tracking down any living relatives for Shaffer. Shaffer’s wife, Vera Cleverly, died about 2010 and his daughter, Helen Fay, the Shaffers only child, died a few years after that.
Hanson was surprised to discover a grandson, Kendall Powell, living in Idaho Falls.
In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, Powell expressed his delight with Hanson’s efforts to honor his grandfather.
“I think it’s great. I know there’s been times I’ve gone up there to see his grave on Memorial Day and I’ve had to remind them to put a flag on there. It broke my heart thinking he’s being forgotten for all that time he served and everything he’s done.”
Powell, 52, was just 3 years old when his grandfather was killed. He and Shaffer were close and Powell says his family didn’t tell him about his death at first.
He recalls being at his grandparent’s house at the time. His grandma was babysitting him and his sister and she called someone else to watch them so that she could go to the hospital.
One memory that stands out to Powell is a time when he and his sister rode in the backseat of Shaffer’s patrol car down a dusty dirt road.
“The lights and sirens were going and we pulled up to this farmhouse. These two farm workers — their paychecks bounced, and they were beating up the farmer,” says Powell.
Powell recalls Shaffer wrestling one of the men to the ground as the other one took off and ran towards the patrol car.
Powell says his grandpa slammed him on the hood of the car and held him there with the other guy in handcuffs until another deputy arrived.
“I was scared … and I remember (Shaffer) looked over in the window at me. I was looking up over the seat and I remember him winking at me and saying, ‘We got him.’ He was like a superhero to me,” Powell remembers.
Powell describes his grandpa as a stout, broad-shouldered man who was honorable and honest in all his dealings with people. Even people “on the other end of his law stick” had a lot of respect for him, Powell says.
Remembering Howard Shaffer
Shaffer was born on Sept. 3, 1908 in Macon, Missouri, according to the Rigby Star. He loved sports and grew up playing baseball and football.
After high school, Powell says Shaffer played professional baseball in Kansas City for a short time before meeting his wife, who grew up in Sugar City.
“The story I heard is that he bought a car. They had a game out west here somewhere and him and his buddy on the team said, ‘Let’s just drive my car instead of riding the bus.’ They came through Sugar City and saw there was going to be a dance that night,” says Powell.
Shaffer met Vera Cleverly at the dance and Powell says Shaffer’s car was the first one she had seen firsthand. The two quickly fell in love.
“My grandma didn’t want to move away from her family and he gave up his baseball career and moved here. That’s when he became a cop,” Powell explains.
The top-ranking officer for the Idaho State Police was a big fan of baseball, Powell says, and that’s how Shaffer got his first law enforcement job.
He worked as a police officer in Rigby and Ririe for a time before becoming a state patrolman, according to the Rigby Star. He was drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he served aboard a destroyer as a gunner’s mate out in the Pacific.
After the war, Hanson says Shaffer was serving as Rigby Police Chief before he was elected as Jefferson County Sheriff in 1950. He held this position for 22 years until his death in 1972. Though he was the longest serving sheriff in Idaho at the time, Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen, who retired in 2020 after 24 years, now holds that distinction.
LaPreal Hinckley, a Rigby woman who worked alongside Shaffer as a deputy for 10 years, still remembers when Vera called her to come and watch her grandkids as she went to the hospital the night of her husband’s death.
“I took care of his grandchildren while his wife and daughter were taking care of business with his death. I stayed there all night long,” Hinckley recalls.
Hinckley’s father died when she was young and she says Shaffer was like a father to her and like a grandfather to her kids.
She remembers an instance where a lawyer from Pocatello jumped all over her because some papers hadn’t been served. Serving papers was not Hinckley’s responsibility at the time and when Shaffer heard how this man was treating her, he walked into the room and came to her defense.
“He put him in his place. He said, ‘You don’t jump onto my girl like that.’ He didn’t call me his secretary, he called me his girl. That’s the kind of person he was. We were all loyal to Howard and he was very good to me,” says Hinckley.
Many others felt the same way. Hinckley gave the life sketch at Shaffer’s funeral and she remembers an overflow of people in attendance that day.
“Everybody was his friend,” she remembers. “The man at the junkyard was there and dignitaries from Boise were there. People from all around the area were there. Howard Shaffer was a person that they all liked to be acquainted with.”
Hinckley says one of Shaffer’s goals was to coach a boy’s baseball team when he retired. He never got that chance, but Powell still has two of his grandfather’s baseball bats from his days playing professionally.
Today, Powell’s daughter, Kendra, is a deputy with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and he’s thrilled to see his grandfather’s legacy come full circle three generations later.
“She was on the dive team for a while. She’s a go-getter just like my grandpa was,” says Kendall.
Powell is grateful for his grandfather’s influence on his life and the idea of Shaffer’s name being etched in stone for generations to come is gratifying to him.
“I think he deserves it,” Powell says. “He was an honorable guy. I hope I can touch as many lives as he has and be remembered like that.”
WATCH OUR INTERVIEW WITH POWELL IN THE VIDEO ABOVE