On 12-31-1932 in the late afternoon or early evening hours, Officer Ellsworth W. Cordes, 35, was on-duty, in uniform, and operating his police motorcycle. His motorcycle collided with a city streetcar at the intersection of 1 Ave. S. and S. Horton. St. Officer Cordes was thrown 60 feet, and died at the scene. Officer Cordes, and presumably the rest of his motorcycle squad, had been issued an order by a superior officer to rest for a few hours before returning to duty for New Year’s Eve activities. The initial newspaper account of his death stated he was off-duty. The Seattle Police Department released an official statement that Officer Cordes was on-duty at the time of his death, and that he was in the process of obeying an order to rest for a few hours before returning to duty. Officer Cordes lived in West Seattle, and was heading home to rest. But for the order which was issued, it is unlikely Officer Cordes would have been at that intersection at that time.
Officer Ellsworth Cordes was survived by his wife, Lena, and his three-year old daughter, Phyllis. His funeral was held on January 4, 1933 at the Home Undertaking Chapel. Officer Cordes was buried at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in a section reserved for police officers killed in the line of duty. Above his name, his headstone is engraved with the word “Daddy”.
Ellsworth Westphal Cordes was born on August 20, 1897 in Box Elder, South Dakota, about six miles east of Rapid City. He was the 7th eldest in a family with eleven children. In 1918, at age 21, Ellsworth was living and working in Rapid City. His name first appears in a Seattle Directory in 1922 when he worked as a printer. He married Lena May Blake in Pierce County on October 14, 1925. Ellsworth worked as an auto mechanic for several years before he was commissioned as a Seattle police officer on January 1, 1931. At the time of his death, the family lived at 6740 40th Ave. SW. Lena Cordes never re-married. She died in Seattle in 1980. Officer Cordes’s only granddaughter, Jolene, lives in New Orleans.
In January 1998, the Chief of Police nominated forty-nine Seattle Police Officers for the Washington Law Enforcement Medal of Honor. They were killed in the line of duty between 1881 and 1977. Nine of those nominations were rejected by the Medal of Honor Committee including the nomination of Officer Cordes. Forty of the forty-nine Seattle Officers were awarded the Medal of Honor. A sworn member of SPD had been tasked with locating surviving families of our Fallen, and he had from 1995 to 1998 to do it. He managed to locate four surviving families who attended the 1998 presentation ceremony. After 1998, the Department made no effort to locate surviving families of the other thirty-six medal recipients. Two of the officers whose nominations were rejected were re-nominated in 2009 and 2012 and awarded the Medal of Honor. Officer Cordes and four other SPD Motorcycle Officers, whose 1998 nominations were rejected, were re-nominated in 2012 and 2013, but the SPD Honor Guard Commander, Ty Elster, would not forward the nominations to the Chief of Police for his consideration. Officer Cordes’ granddaughter was contacted by the Honor Guard Commander, and told her grandfather was not eligible to be considered for the Medal of Honor. After a personal meeting in November 2013 with Chief of Police Pugel, he endorsed all five nominations. The Medal of Honor Committee within the Washington Attorney General’s Office decided Officer Cordes was worthy of consideration. On May 2, 2014, Officer Ellsworth Cordes was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His medal was presented to his granddaughter, Jolene Hebert, by the Governor.