24 October 2021

The Tanned Human Skin at the SLC Police Department

The SLC Police Dept has held onto a strip of tanned human skin for 100 years.

The story begins with a criminal going by the name of Tom “Blackie” Burns. He had several recent aliases including Tom Miller and Tom Gleason but his real name was Joseph C. Alseimer and originally hailed from Madison, Wisconsin where he was well known for his long list of crimes, including a successful jailbreak in 1917.

After his escape from Wisconsin, he came west and went by a variety of his “Tom” aliases throughout several western states.

In the early morning hours of Feb 8 1921, Tom and his gang of 3 others broke into the J.C. Penney store at 225 S State St. Their activity was reported by a nearby hotel clerk and Tom’s gang soon found themselves confronted by Detective C. W. Roskenkrantz, a rooky on the SLC police force. Tom and his gang quickly overpowered Rosenkrantz, tied him up, beat him unconscious, and took his service revolver.

Police reinforcements soon arrived and captured the 3 other members of Tom’s gang. But Tom had escaped by jumping out a window and went to the nearby Nord Hotel at 59 E 200 South (now the Gallivan Center) where he had rented a room.

Tom’s gang immediately confessed, and the police soon raided the Nord Hotel looking for Tom. During the raid, Tom shot and killed SLC Police Detective Green Hamby and wounded Chief of Police Joseph E. Burbidge. Burbidge then shot Tom in the chest who died an hour later at the hospital. You can find a memorial plaque for Detective Green at the Gallivan Center.

No one claimed Tom’s body, so it was sent to the University of Utah Medical School for dissection and educational purposes.

One version of the removal of Tom’s skin says that it was removed by the university and presented to the police who then hung it on the wall in the evidence room.

Another version says that off-duty police officers snuck into the police morgue and removed the skin, tanned it, and then looped it on the trigger guard of the pistol Tom had used to kill Hamby and wound Burbidge.

By 1993 the gun with Tom’s tanned flesh wrapped around the trigger guard was on display at the Police Museum in the old Public Safety Building (315 E 200 South).

I recently visited the new Police and Fire Museum in the new Public Safety Building (475 S 300 East) and did not see Tom’s skin on display (probably a wise decision). However, I believe a photograph published in 2014 by the SpaceSaver Corporation showing off its museum shelving system does show the notorious flesh-wrapped weapon.

Salt Lake Telegram 1921-02-14; SL Telegram 1935-01-05; Deseret News 1993-08-29; End of Watch by Robert Kirby 2004; Case Study: SLC Public Safety Building by SpaceSaver Corp 2014; various vital records on Ancestry

Image showing the SLC Police Museum collections shelving system, from SpaceSaver Corp, 2014

Image showing the SLC Police Museum collections shelving system, SpaceSaver Corp, 2014, with my notes

Tom "Blackie" Burns, real name Joseph C. Alseimer

Memorial plaque for Detective Green G. Hamby, on display at the Gallivan Center, SLC.

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