Deputy Sheriff Theron Anthony Burnham

Deputy Sheriff Theron Anthony Burnham

Polk County Sheriff's Office, Florida

End of Watch Friday, January 9, 1981

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Theron Anthony Burnham

Deputy Sheriff Theron Burnham was shot and killed after being dispatched to investigate a kidnapping near the Lakeland Regional Airport.

A young couple had given a stranger a ride. When near the airport, the man produced a pistol, ordered the couple to stop, and then ordered the man to get out of the car. The woman fled from the scene in the car and called police. As Deputy Burnhman responded to the scene, he spotted the suspect walking along Drane Field Road at Industry Boulevard.

The man shot and killed Deputy Burnham as he tried to detain him at about 4:00 a.m. Other responding deputies exchanged gunfire with the man, who was arrested the following day following a massive manhunt.

Deputy Burnham's body was found in a ditch along Drane Field Road, and the body of the man he ordered out of the car was found nearby.

The subject was sentenced to death after three trials. He died in prison in 2023.

Deputy Burnham had served with the Polk County Sheriff's Office for nine years and had previously served with the Winter Haven Police Department. He was survived by his wife and mother.


  • Age 27
  • Tour 9 years
  • Badge 137

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Weapon Handgun; Pistol
  • Offender Sentenced to death


Most Recent Reflection

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The killer of Deputy Sheriff Theron Burnham (Paul Beasley Johnson) has died on death row. He died from natural causes after serving more than four decades. Our thoughts and prayers should go out to the friends families of Deputy Sheriff Burnham and the two other men (Ray Beasley and William Evans) who were murdered on the night of January 9, 1981.

John Haseltine

October 3, 2023

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