On the night of December 7, 1878, curious citizens ran to the corner of 17th and J Streets after hearing numerous gunshots. It was eight o’clock in the evening and they found Officer Joseph Scott lying on the ground riddled with bullets. Witnesses saw four men run from the spot shortly after the shooting but no one could describe them.
Many years passed before the slaying was solved, and only then did they learn that the murder was the outcome of a robbery attempt. Three convicts in San Quentin eventually confessed to the slaying. They told of jumping off a train near 20th Street with a man named Edward. They intended to rob the first man they saw. There had been a fire at the Orphan Asylum at 19th and L Street that evening and Officer Scott had been detailed to watch the ruins. The four convicts met Scott on 17th Street attempted to rob him, and shot him when he resisted.