James D. Thornton was born on September 30, 1921, in Gordon, Kansas. He graduated from Winfield High School in 1940. Thornton served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1946, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant. He attended Southwestern College from 1946 to 1948.
On July 1, 1949, Thornton joined the Highway Patrol and was assigned as a Driver's License Examiner in Garden City. He was promoted to Trooper in 1951, and began field duties in Finney County. Thornton transferred to Wellington in 1957. In 1969, he transferred to the Patrol's Kansas Turnpike detail, remaining in Wellington. In September of 1973, he transferred to Topeka.
On October 2nd, 1973, Thornton stopped to check on a hitchhiker on
Interstate 70 near the east edge of Topeka. While searching the
hitchhiker's bag, he was shot and killed. The hitchhiker, wanted for
murdering his father in New York, was later shot and killed by officers
in Topeka when he refused to surrender.
Thornton served the
citizens of Kansas for more than 24 years and was scheduled to retire
within the next year. He was survived by his wife and 2 children.