On Jan. 16, 1908, BPD officer Lynch made the ultimate sacrifice
First of two-parts
“For God’s sake, keep him away and don’t let him shoot me again!” shouted Patrolman John T. Lynch at Officer John P. Doyle, who had rushed across icy, snow-cloaked Arch Street to the corner of Summer and Kingston streets as three shots pealed though the chill evening air of Jan. 16, 1908.
The 23-year-old Lynch’s muscular 6-foot-2-inch frame was pinning another man to the ground. In the man’s right hand was a smoking 38-caliber revolver. “I saw Lynch on top of a man, holding the hand that grasped the revolver and turning it away from him,” Doyle later said to reporters.
A crowd had begun to gather.
As Lynch rolled off, Doyle pounced on the gunman and pushed the revolver away from him as Lynch lay crumpled in the snow, writhing in agony from a bullet that, according to the later police report, “had entered the right side of the officer above the liver and entered into the vitals.” Despite the grievous wound, Lynch had refused to let the shooter escape.
While grappling to control the thrashing suspect, Doyle shouted at onlookers to summon an ambulance and a police wagon from the Court Street Station while he kept urging his brother officer to hold on. “I jumped in to help and had no idea at first that Lynch was wounded. I supposed the shots must have missed, but as I jumped on the man, Lynch rolled over, and I saw he was hurt,” Doyle later told the Boston Post.
John T. Lynch had departed his family’s home, 11 Bainbridge Street, in Roxbury, at 5 p.m. on Thurs., Jan. 16, 1908, for his evening shift. For Lynch, wearing the blue and the badge of the Boston Police Department was his lifelong dream; less than a week earlier, he had made the jump from a reserve officer to a full-time patrolman “owing to fine work” that had caught the attention of his superiors.
The gravely wounded officer was born in Boston on Aug. 13, 1880, in the Lowell Street home of his parents, James and Mary Lynch. He grew up with three brothers and two sisters in a close-knit Irish Catholic family, and had graduated from the Phillips Grammar School before attending Boston English High School for two years. To help with the family’s finances, he worked for several years at a Leverett Street grocery and then landed a job as a clerk for the eyeglass firm Andrew J. Lloyd & Co where he learned to repair glasses. Still, he longed for a life with more adventure, a yearning that surprised no one who knew him or knew of him.
Long before he donned police blue, he was renowned as one of the finest athletes in Boston, starring in track and crew. The Post noted: “He was a charter member of St. Joseph’s Athletic Association, West End…. He represented that organization in all branches of sport in the various track meets of this part of the country and was stroke of the famous St. Joseph’s crack four-oared crew of three or four years ago. Cups that Lynch won for his organization and banners and shields that he helped win now number among the most cherished trophies in the possession of St. Joseph’s Association.”
When Lynch turned 18, he enlisted in the Ninth Massachusetts Infantry and soon earned renown as one of the regiment’s finest sharpshooters. He mulled re-upping in the Army, but his desire to become a Boston police officer brought him back home. “Lynch was a man of magnificent physique,” a Post reporter wrote, “standing 6 ft., 2 inches, in his stockings and tipping the beam at about 200 pounds. For years he cherished the ambition to become a police officer and at the age of 23 successfully passed the examination for the police service. He was compelled, however, to wait for two years before he could receive his appointment. He continually looked forward to the day when he would be made a police officer.”
That day came less than a week before he encountered the gunman at the corner of Summer and Kingston.
At roll call, Lynch and fellow patrolmen were ordered to keep a watch for a notorious South Boston gang that had been robbing downtown stores in recent weeks. According to the Post, “owing to the numerous breaks by “yeggman” [armed robbers] in the business section, officers on the beats were ordered to watch closely for suspicious characters.” That very night, two or three armed burglars reportedly had hit a clothing store at 364 Washington St.
Lynch began his rounds in Winthrop Square that frigid night and worked his way to Summer Street. Patrolman Doyle headed up to Arch Street. Just an hour or two into his shift, Lynch stopped short at the corner of Kingston and Summer Streets. He “noticed two suspicious men in a doorway” there and asked them what they were doing and what their names were.
One of the men, slightly built and barely 5-feet-5 inches, stepped onto the sidewalk and muttered that he was “John Murphy” of Andrew Square, South Boston.
“As he [Murphy] passed, Patrolman Lynch felt him for articles, as is the custom,” the Post wrote.” The man was clean. Lynch nodded and said, “I guess you are all right. You can go along.”
The officer turned to the second man, who hesitated in the shadowy doorway and murmured that his name was “Foley.” As Lynch moved closer to frisk the man, “Foley” slipped a revolver out of his overcoat’s right hip pocket. Three flashes illuminated the corner, and three sharp cracks echoed above Summer and Kingston. One bullet slammed into Lynch’s arm, another whistled over his shoulders, and the third ripped into his right side and through his abdomen before lodging in his liver. “Murphy” vanished into the night.
The badly wounded Lynch somehow wrapped his arms around “Foley,” took him down, and wrestled for the revolver as the shooter tried to twist away, but Lynch would not let go.
Passersby began to stop around the two men. Fred Shubert, of 191 Auckland Street, Roxbury, tried to help Lynch. “I rushed to the scene and arrived at the same time as Patrolman Doyle,” Shubert testified later. “I saw Officer Lynch on top of the man…holding the latter’s right hand, in which there was a revolver.”
As an ambulance and police wagon rattled up to the corner at about the same time, Doyle “got the “wristers” (handcuffs) on “Foley,” picked him up with several other officers, and tossed him into the wagon. Meanwhile, Patrolman Bartel and other Station 2 officers carried Lynch from the street on a stretcher, loaded him carefully into the ambulance, and raced off to the Relief Station Hospital in Haymarket Square.
Inside the vehicle, Lynch asked Bartel for something to kill the pain but then, according to Bartel, “seemed to fall into a stupor and did not speak again until he was being carried into the hospital, when he asked the doctor for a drink of water.”
Next: Death and The Aftermath