A view of 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard shows where Officer Rae Godfrey attempted a traffic stop on Joe Sole in 1933. (Courtesy photo)

A view of 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard shows where Officer Rae Godfrey attempted a traffic stop on Joe Sole in 1933. (Courtesy photo)

Brutal death of ‘bad cop’ goes unquestioned

Officer Rae Godfrey stood out as a “bad cop,” which was not easy to do in the 1933 San Francisco Police Department.

It was common for policemen to take payoffs from nightclubs, casinos and bordellos and pass the money up the ranks. But Godfrey took it a step further by taking payoffs from armed robbers and safecrackers. As a result, he was transferred from the Central district to the distant Taravel district. Police Chief William J. Quinn warned the district captain that Godfrey was a “dangerous man who should be watched.”
Quinn kept an eye on Rae, hoping to catch him in illegal activities, but he couldn’t find the smoking gun that would allow him to get rid of Godfrey.

Then there was the strange night of February 11, 1933. In the early morning hours, Godfrey and his partner, Cornelius Connolly, saw a speeding 1932 Buick with one man driving and another man in the back seat. The officers pulled the car over at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, and Godfrey walked over to the car. As he was doing so, the police car was struck by another vehicle, which had been following the Buick.

Both the Buick and the other vehicle then sped off. Police soon found the Buick and driver at 22nd and Wawona avenues. The Buick was leaking oil, and the driver was leaking blood. The dead man was identified as Joe Sole, a well-known North Beach racketeer. During prohibition, the Sunset District was a popular location for mobsters to get their termination notice.

Sole had been part of a counterfeiting ring and was about to stand trial. There were rumors that he was about to turn state’s evidence, and the strange circumstances of the murder raised questions at police headquarters. There was no evidence that linked Godfrey to the murder, but the pressure was mounting.

By April 1934, Godfrey was worried. He went to Grass Valley with his girlfriend, Ruth Wood, and checked into the Brete Harte Inn. The next morning, he was found dying from gunshot wounds. Police finally had their smoking gun. It was Godfrey’s, and its contents were in him — five bullets in his stomach and one in his head.

Many stories came out after Godfrey’s death. Chief Quinn said Godfrey was distraught and worried about the police investigation. Godfrey’s estranged wife said he admitted to making payments to safecracker Harry Gray, who was serving time in San Quentin. Wood said Godfrey had been worried over certain gangland affairs — this was confirmed by one of Godfrey’s friends, who said Godfrey had recently made out his will and was afraid someone was “going to put plugs in [him].”

The coroner convened a jury and determined Godfrey had died at the hands of person or persons unknown.

“Not so,” Chief Quinn said. “It was suicide.”

The cops on the street rolled their eyes at Quinn’s theory, but Godfrey was gone. Quinn’s problem was solved, and he was not interested in looking further.

I guess you could say Quinn’s motto was: “Never look a gift corpse in the evidence.”

The grand jury promised to look into it, but it came to nothing.
Crooks of San FranciscoNotorious CrimesRae GodfreySan FranciscoSFPDWilliam J. Quinn

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