Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912. The Arizona State Capital building was the final home for Arizona’s Territorial Government until it became an official state. Construction of the Capital began in 1898, and it began operation in1901. In the early days, all three branches of the new state government occupied the four floors of the statehouse. The 1901 portion of the Capital is now maintained by the Arizona Capital Museum.
For several years I researched Arizona history at the State Archives Library while they were still located in the State Capital Building. One of the archivists approached me one day and said, “You know, Debe, there is an interesting energy in the State Capital Building, too. Look it up sometime.”
And, indeed I did. Tuesday, May 7, 1912 was just another busy working day at the State Capital. Workman were doing maintenance construction on the outside of the building and attending the landscaping. There were about 150 people inside the Capital Building, and legislation was in session. Upstairs, in the Arizona legislation chambers, politicians were discussing laws that would shape our new state. Downstairs, next to the ground-floor entrance, the clerks in the Surveyor General’s office worked quietly in their world of maps and land records.
Just before noon, violence suddenly erupted downstairs near the entrance of the Capital Building. Frank Coffman barged in, turned to his right, and without saying a word, fired four fatal shots at the chief Surveyor General clerk, Granville Malcolm Gillett. Coffman then stepped back to the center of the rotunda and fired the gun once more—shooting himself in the heart.
The popping sounds from the gun caught everyone off guard. They couldn’t imagine there would be a shooting in such a place. Many thought it was noise from the construction or just the explosion of a harmless bomb by a practical joker. These days we would all be running for cover!
A coroner’s jury determined that Coffman was motivated by an insane fixation on a land deal. Convinced that Gillett had cheated him, a note was found in his pocket stating he felt he had been swindled in a real estate transaction and decided to take things to the limit. His suicide and Gillett’s unexpected death would be a good reason energies could linger behind at the State Capital Building.
Arizona State Capitol Museum
1700 W Washington St
Museum hours: M-F 9 to 4
Saturday hours: 10-2 (Sept-May)
Closed State Holidays