On the night of January 10, 1914 two men entered the small grocery store operated by John Morrison near downtown Salt Lake City shortly before 10:00 p.m. Morrison and his son, Arling, were sweeping up and preparing to close the store for the night. At the back of the store, Morrison's younger son, Merlin, waited for the lights to be turned out so the family could go home.
Re-enactment of the Morrison shooting
Two gunmen dashed into the store wearing hats and handkerchiefs pulled up to cover their faces. One spotted John Morrison behind the counter, shouted something, and began firing a handgun at the storeowner. Almost immediately, Arling grabbed the family's revolver and fired at the intruders. In response the masked gunman leveled his weapon at Arling Morrison and fired at least two shots. The invading gunmen then fled the store.
Young Merlin Morrison was the first on the scene. His brother was already dead from multiple gunshot wounds. His father groaned nearby. John Morrison would cling to life for a few minutes, but would die before medical attention could be arranged.
Merlin told police who arrived at the scene that he had been able to glimpse portions of the shootout from the back of the store. He provided vague descriptions of the two men, reported that Arling had shot back, and stated that the lead gunman has clearly shouted "We've got you now!" before firing at John Morrison. Police checked the cash register and found the day's receipts in place in the till.
The police knew John Morrison. He had been a member of the police force for a brief period before turning to what he hoped would be the more bucolic life of grocery store owner. Morrison had complained on several occasions that his time on the force had made him too many enemies who carried a grudge. He feared he would be the victim of a payback when criminals were released from jail. Additionally, police knew that Morrison had already had at least one shootout with armed bandits at his store, seriously wounding one invader in the process. It was Morrision's old service revolver that his son, Arling, had pulled from the produce bin when the shooting started.
The police quickly reached some preliminary conclusions, and passed them on to reporters who had gathered at the scene from Salt Lake City's three major daily newspapers. First, they announced that the attack was indeed a payback by someone who knew and disliked Morrison. They pointed to the full cash register as proof that it was not a robbery attempt. They also cited Merlin Morrison's version of the gunman's words as proof that the bandits knew Morrison before the attack. The second conclusion reached by police was that Arling Morrison's single gunshot had found its mark. Although there was no bullet retrieved or blood in the store, apart from the Morrison's, police said eyewitnesses were convinced that one of the gunmen leaving the store was acting injured. Police also reported that drops of blood were found in the snow approximately one block from the Morrison store.
The next morning, Salt Lake City's newspapers announced the search for two gunmen who had killed a father and son in a wanton "act of revenge."