Police Officer Joseph Nelson Smith

Police Officer Joseph Nelson Smith

Palm Beach Police Department, Florida

End of Watch Wednesday, June 6, 1923

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Joseph Nelson Smith

Police Officer Joseph Smith succumbed to a gunshot wound sustained three days earlier when he encountered three men leaving a beach carrying turtle eggs and turtle meat.

The day after his death, the body of his suspected killer was found hanging from a tree in Palm Beach.

Officer Smith had served with the Palm Beach Police Department for 3 years. He was survived by a brother who also served with the agency at the time.


  • Age 39
  • Tour 3 years
  • Badge Not available

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Incident Date Sunday, June 3, 1923
  • Weapon Gun; Unknown type
  • Offender Lynched

arrest attempt, environmental crime

Most Recent Reflection

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From The Palm Beach Post, June 7, 1923: After three days fight for his life, Officer Joseph Smith died at Good Samaritan Hospital of a gunshot wound received while on duty on June 3, 1923. "The three men were accosted by Officer Smith when he met them riding on the county road on bicycles, laden with turtle meat and eggs. It was while questioning them in regard to the butchering of the turtle that he was shot." I did not know Officer Smith but I was fortunate to find a newspaper article regarding his sacrifice in a box held by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. The memory of Off. Smith's heroic death was lost to memory in Palm Beach but has since been memorialized in all of the appropriate places including on a bronze plaque in front of the Palm Beach Police Department headquarters. His name appears there on a list that we hope has no additions.

Michael Reiter, Chief of Police (Ret.)
Palm Beach Police Department

March 14, 2024

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