He did his duty ‘to the last’ In January 1908, Boston bid farewell to a hero in blue; his killer soon faced justice (2nd of two parts)

Second of Two Parts

It was Jan. 16, 1908, and the ambulance had clattered to a stop at the Relief Station Hospital (part of the old Boston City Hospital) on Harrison Avenue. Inside, Boston Police Patrolman John T. Lynch hovered between life and death. Shot by a man named “Foley” a half-hour or so before, the young man lapsed in and out of consciousness.

The Boston Post reported: “He was then carried upstairs to the operating room, where he was laid on the operating table. The doctors held a consultation and decided to remove the bullet from his body. The bullet had entered the right side just above the liver and opened up a very ugly wound. The flow of blood from the wound was very small.”

The surgeons went to work, probing the wound for the bullet and gingerly extricating it. By the procedure’s end, they knew that the damage was fatal.

As the doomed officer came out of anesthesia, he strained to sit up. His doctors and nurses gently held him down as a priest arrived to administer the Last Rites.

His eyes widening, Lynch asked, “Am I all in, doctor?”

One of the surgeons replied, “No, officer, I guess you will be all right in a little while.”

One of the team told reporters: “This answer seemed to cheer him, and he smiled. Then with a pitiful and mournful voice he [Lynch] said: ‘Oh, my poor mother, what will she say?’

“These were the last words which the officer spoke, for he then lapsed into unconsciousness, from which he never awoke.”

Patrolman John T. Lynch passed away at 10:49 p.m. before his mother and father and siblings could arrive by his bedside. Standing beside him was Captain Gaskin, of Division 2, who had gone to the hospital as soon as word of the shooting came in there. Gaskin told the assembled reporters in the lobby: “Patrolman Lynch was one of the best young officers I ever knew and had a brilliant record. He was a careful man, polite and ever ready to do his duty. It is one of the saddest things that I have ever known during my term of office. His duty was done to the last in holding a dangerous man, even though dying.”

Inside a Station 2 cell, Foley, related the Post, “held a moody silence until word came that Patrolman Lynch was dead.

“’Foley,” they [the police] said to him as he peered from behind the bars at the station, ‘Officer Lynch is dead. You are a murderer. The electric chair will fix you for this.’”

Stunned and furious, Lynch’s comrades in blue began combing every lead about Foley and his escaped accomplice. In a brief statement to the press, the police offered only that “when booked at Station 2, the prisoner said his name was William Foley, 24 years of age, and that he had no home….that he lives in South Boston and that he is a member of a bad gang.”

Officer Patrick Doyle, who had scrambled to Lynch’s aid and grabbed the gunman from Lynch’s grasp, fought back tears as he spoke to reporters: “I am too much broken up to tell you how badly I feel. It seems strange that such a new man should have been stricken down. I do not remember the man who did the shooting, but he must be one of the gang we have been looking for lately.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Smith, Captain Dugan, and Captain Gaskin interrogated the prisoner, reminding him that the electric chair awaited him. “Then the man seemed to lose his nerve,” the Post recounted. “He talked.”

While the police interrogated Foley and started to comb South Boston for additional leads, the press descended upon Patrolman Lynch’s home, at 11 Bainbridge Street, in Roxbury. The Post related, “There his sorrowing family was found….Nearly crazed with grief over the untimely death of her favorite son, who thought only of her in his dying moments, the mother of the dead officer was on the verge of prostration.

“Sinking into a half-swoon on being told the awful news, she was not herself for the rest of the evening. Her cries, together with the weeping of the dead man’s sisters, could be heard throughout their home all of the evening – the home that the dead officer left about 5 o’clock last evening in the fullest health and hoped to return to at 1 o’clock this morning.”

Lynch’s brother officers felt the same array of emotions but for the moment tamped down their grief. That would come full-bore later. They continued to press Foley.

Within hours, the gunman completely cracked. He told the police that his vanished accomplice was a man named “John Murphy.”

On January 18, 1908, the Post’s front page blared: “Police Get Pal of Robber Who Killed Officer.” The papers reported: “They were waiting in the doorway [at the corner of Summer and Kingston Streets] to pounce upon the first best chance offered to waylay a pedestrian. [Foley] knew he could not get by the search of the officer, and he had fired, not with the intention of killing him, but for the purpose of diverting the officer’s attention so that he could get away. He expressed sorrow for Lynch’s death.”

With Lawrence fingering Smith as the killer and with Smith having been caught literally with gun in hand, the police and prosecutors moved quickly in Municipal Court. Smith was a career criminal since the age of 11 and had served two stints in prison.

Patrolman John T. Lynch’s funeral Mass was held on Mon., Jan. 20, 1908, at Joseph’s Catholic Church, on Circuit Street, in Roxbury, at 9 a.m. Packing the pews were his family, friends, brother officers, and dignitaries. Outside, a dense crowd had gathered in the frigid morning air.
“Great sorrow for Patrolman Lynch’s untimely end was expressed in all parts of the city, the Post reported. “His relatives are heart-broken, while the members of the police department, superiors and brother officers, manifested great grief.”

Following the service, Patrolman Lynch, also an Army veteran, was interred with full military and civic honors at Holyhood Cemetery.

On June 9, 1908, William Foley, the man who had gunned down Lynch, was convicted of first-degree murder. The judge showed a degree of mercy by sentencing him to life imprisonment, igniting outrage among the public and the police force. Foley was paroled in 1942.

Today, a memorial marker honors Patrolman Lynch at the junction of Summer and Kingston streets, the site where he was shot. Passersby should stop for a moment and take a look at the simple plaque. It commemorates a man who embodied the motto “to serve and protect.”