Remembering Sheriff Gene Cox Gunned Down While Trying to Help

Press release from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department:

Gene Cox

Gene Cox

He was known as the sheriff who never carried a gun; the man whose laugh you could hear ringing across the building.

Wednesday, Nov. 29 marks the 35th anniversary of Former Humboldt County Sheriff Gene Cox’s death. Cox was killed in the line of duty in 1982, just four weeks before he was set to retire.

On that deadly Monday afternoon, Cox stopped by the Ebb Tide RV Park on his way home from work to help his father-in-law, park manager Jack Alton, handle a dispute with a distraught resident. The resident, Clarence Eugene McCutcheon, confronted Cox with a rifle, fatally shooting him. McCutcheon shot and killed two others in the rampage, Alton and former local education official Claire Montgomery. When officers with the Eureka Police Department arrived on scene, McCutcheon again opened fire. He was later fatally wounded in a shootout with Eureka Police officers.

“I was out hunting when my wife called me and told me the news,” Retired HCSO Detective Sergeant Dave Walker said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Gene Cox

Cox on the far right.

Sheriff Cox hired Dave Walker as a deputy Sheriff in 1973.

“He was a big guy, always smiling and laughing,” Walker said. “Sheriff Cox never carried a gun. He always had it in his glove box.”

Cox’s law enforcement career began in the early 1950’s at the Arcata Police Department. He joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1954, was promoted to undersheriff in 1962 and was elected sheriff in 1966. He was re-elected three times, serving as the Humboldt County Sheriff for 16 years.

“I don’t know if anyone could run against him and beat him,” Walker said about the election for sheriff. “Things were steady, the manpower was good. He ran a tight ship, but was highly respected both within the office and in the community.”

Cox led the Sheriff’s Office in expansion, hiring many new deputies and reaching Humboldt County in even the most remote areas. While there are few deputies remaining at the Sheriff’s Office who remember the Sheriff Cox’s roaring laugh and exuberant presence, his sacrifice protecting Humboldt County will never be forgotten.

Sheriff Gene Cox name is inscribed in the National police officer memorial, located in Washington DC. His name is one of 21,000 names of peace officers that were killed in the line of duty in the United States. Pictured are Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputies visiting the memorial in 2016.

Gene Cox

Cox on the right.




  • I remember Gene very well. I remember him as Gene because he was much much more than a sheriff. I still miss him……

  • Wish we had a sheriff like him now major sigh.

  • I remember this story. Sad, so sad.

  • I certainly remember Gene Cox, he was a wonderful guy, Humboldt County was lucky to have him

  • Mr. Montgomery was a close family friend of my grandparents, we were devastated.

  • Sorry that I was not more aware, back then, about his exceptional traits.
    I was just a young back-to-the-lander when Gene was Sheriff. I think I had a mindset of ‘us’ (hippies) vs them (authorities) back then, and not so readily able to distinguish the more subtle traits a Sheriff might have.
    No Sheriff (or person) should suffer his fate, especially in the course of (at least in part) doing a good deed.
    One of the saddest/worst parts of his death may have been the repercussions, through the law enforcement community to, ‘Don’t be like Gene. Always be armed!’

  • I remember back then…Sheriff Cox said he “was afraid for his life” to go down into Panther Gap. And for good cause! When people say all weed is always good I know better. Bodies disappeared down in there the times I knew it (’79-’82). There were violent gangs and it was because of situations like that and concerns like Sheriff Cox’s that we got CAMP exploding on us. He was a good sheriff.

  • I still remember the day Gene Cox was murdered, I will always remember! It, the shooting left me with a deep hole in my heart. I still don’t understand why the individual shot and killed him. It tore a hole in the community forever. I still think of the incident and how it marked a change in our society, a change for the worst. Please be polite to the police and sheriffs for the job they do. After all most of you reading this is not doing there job. That is because it takes a different breed to be a lawman.

  • Yep, remember the incident well and the man. He was definitely a force of good to be dealt with. Most of us who had been in the county awhile felt he and the office were there for the good of us all. It was a very sad day; we think about him and miss him still.

  • Thank you Kym for posting this, to bring light to his works as a public servant of our rural county. He did so much for the people!

  • Resting in peace. Nice man,but scared the crap out of me. My friends did something in school,so to tease them a little came in to the class and ask to see them outside.they thought that life was over,faces turned beet red. Lol.they didn’t fight again

  • The quality of our society hasn’t changed for the good over 35 years. Its gotten worse and domestic disputes rank number one for police responses(?). Video games,play stations,violence movies weren’t prevalent then, but boy are they negatively molding society today.
    Gene Cox represented Mayberry policies and the mildness of society. The murder of Sheriff Cox changed Humboldt’s reality and weve never recovered that era.

    • Research does not support any causal link between video games or violent movies and criminal acts. That was well refuted not along after this man was shot.

      • But more citizens had guns back then, and kids were taught to either respect or fear their elders which ever one they needed

      • And probably others could find more studies to refute your studies that refute other studies but the truth remains that the more people are exposed to violence the more desensitized they become to it … the general public is exposed to a great deal of violence from childhood (tv, movies, advertisements). Go ahead and sit down and watch regular cartoons and keep tally how many acts of violence (physical and verbal) you get in an hour. Now pair that with the lack of boundaries, moral upbringing/ lack of respect for others and you have what started our society on a down hill trend.
        I wish I could have been around to meet Gene! He looked and sounded like a wonderful individual … maybe some day our community can b blessed with another of that type!

  • I remember Sheriff Gene Cox as he would stop by and say hello from time to time. He will be remembered by his expressive eyes, big smile, but his laugh would embrace you into a positive mood. He has been missefd and loved all these years.. He will never be in forgotten.

  • I remember hearing the gun shots. So sad.

  • “Research does not support any causal link between video games or violent movies and criminal acts. That was well refuted not along after this man was shot.”

    When Donkey Kong, Ms. Pacman, millipede, dig dug were among the top ten video games.

    Now 25 years later

    Time to reevaluate your statics.

  • He was a fine man. a peacekeeper.Humboldt Co, Has never been the same.

  • I remember that day and what an awful sense of loss to our community. Rest in peace Gene

  • My memory recalls Mr. Clarence Eugene McCutcheon had been released from the Napa State Hospital just a week earlier, due to California’s political cutbacks in funding for the mentally ill. Having visited a patient there in 1976 I must say it was a very depressing place. Apparently it hasn’t gotten better.

    • Thank you. That was an interesting article. Eye opener. Times have changed and street drugs have made many situations much worse.

  • Kym Kemp, Thank you for writing the remembrance article. It was a very sad day as we are related. I noticed that you didn’t include Jack Alton’s police background. They both served with pride and honor.

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