Officer Willard Johnston

Officer Willard Johnston

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California

End of Watch Thursday, February 24, 1938

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Willard Johnston

Officer Willard Johnston was killed when he was struck with a pick axe while trying to keep a prisoner from assaulting another prisoner. The incident occurred in a rock quarry at the Folsom Prison.

The 31-year-old inmate, sent to Folsom Prison for robbery, received a life sentence in 1928 after he beat to death a fellow inmate with a shovel. He was convicted of Officer Johnston's murder and received another life sentence. Days later, he was transferred to an insane asylum but was sent back to Folsom Prison because he was uncontrollable. He died in the Folsom Prison hospital of tuberculosis on November 14, 1939.

Officer Johnston had served with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for six years and was assigned to the Folsom Prison. He was on duty the day of the Folsom Riot in 1937 and was one of the guards who rushed into the lower yard, attempting to save Warden Clarence Larkin and Officer Harry Martin. He was survived by his wife and six children.

His father retired from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after 30 years of service. His brother-in-law was one of the militiamen killed attempting to capture the 13 convicts who escaped the Folsom Prison in 1903 after killing Officer William Leopold Cotter.


  • Age 54
  • Tour 6 years
  • Badge Not available

Incident Details

  • Cause Assault
  • Weapon Edged weapon; Pick ax
  • Offender Died in prison

prison work crew, prisoner custody, correctional Facility

Most Recent Reflection

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The tool used was actually a shovel, according to information given to the family at the time he was killed. It was during a riot and escape attempt by several inmates. The inmate who hit him was immediately grieving and tried to comfort him as he died. This was especially traumatic to my mother who was in High School at the time.

Dean W. Handy
Family member

March 11, 2024

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