On the afternoon of May 15, 1894, Chief Detective Leonard Harris and fellow Detective William Kelly arrived at the office of Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jesse Cope. The detectives had uncovered a plot to rob the Wells Fargo Express office at the railroad depot in Boulder Creek. One of the three outlaws, George Sprague, had come forward and informed the company of a plan to hold up the expressman on the night of May 15th.
The following afternoon Harris, Kelly and Constable Isaiah Hartman concealed themselves inside a boxcar which had been placed in front of the depot. All three were heavily armed and Wells Fargo expressman William Gass had been warned of the possible robbery.
At approximately 8:00 p.m. three masked men approached the depot. Two remained on the platform; the third went into the office. As he stepped through the door he pulled a 44-caliber pistol from under his coat and ordered Gass to open the safe. Before he could comply the three officers jumped from cover, weapons drawn. Kelly and Hartman took on the two suspects on the platform while Harris went after the third in the office.
“You’d better surrender.” Harris shouted, “I’ve got the drop on you.” The suspect calmly turned his pistol back under his arm and fired two shots before making any move to alarm Harris. Both shots hit Harris in the torso.
Out on the platform a gun fight ensued. Sprague, the informant, surrendered, while the other suspect and Harris’s assailant escaped into darkness.
Harris died shortly after midnight on May 16, 1894. He was survived by his wife and son, Jack. His killer was caught, convicted, and ultimately executed.