LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) — A remembrance of Ernest May — the first police officer in Las Vegas to lose his life on the job — was observed when tragedy struck again. Metro Officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo were gunned down while having lunch. By an unusual coincidence, both of those shootings took place on June 8.
"Eighty-one years to the day after my grandfather was killed," confirms Dave Downer.
"Killed him, and they named that May Avenue," adds former Sheriff Ralph Lamb. He's referring to the street that intersects Rancho between Bonanza and Washington.
It was Lamb's recollection in April that spurred this story.
"Remnants of his family still live here."
May's grandson, great-granddaughter and her husband came by the News 3 studio to share their thoughts.
Grandson Dave Downer has studied the facts of the case for decades. He says that motor court and brothel operator William Henry Clark was on a drunken rampage.
"One of the ladies there called the police department. Said, you know, 'We need to get somebody over here. He's threatening to shoot somebody. And, oh, by the way, he threatens to shoot the first policeman he sees.' And so my grandfather was dispatched over there."
Lamb has heard the story many times over the years: "He says to the guy with him, 'I know that guy, I'll go over there and take care of it.' Well he drove over there, and the guy shot him five times."
"The official version is that my grandfather returned fire," says Downer. "He was hit, and then he shot Mister Clark as he was dying. That's the official story."
But there was also a theory that a remorseful Clark took his own life.
A third theory involves Ernest's stepbrother who arrived soon after the initial shooting.
"Clark is still alive, and Joe May decides to save the taxpayers some money and he shot him," speculates Downer.
An inquest took place the day after the shootings, covered on the front pages of the Las Vegas Age and Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal.
"There were witnesses, Some of the women, the girls who lived there. They did take their testimony," says Downer.
But no one seems to have seen the actual shooting ... or at least chose not to remember it in court.
Each May, Officer Ernest May is honored at the Fallen Officers Memorial. These days it is attended by his great-great-granddaughter.
"When we talked about what happened just a few weeks ago with the officers," says Melissa Tennant, "She said, 'Well that means that more people will have to come to the memorial.' And it really was very intuitive of her."
Melissa's husband, Jim, is now a police officer himself.
"I think it's awesome to be able to be part of that family but also to be part of the department family and being there in uniform to represent for Ernie."
Twenty-one local police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty, including most recently Officers Soldo and Beck. Ernest May's memory is honored with the aforementioned street, as well as an elementary school at Torrey Pines and Washburn.