|Birth: ||Mar. 20, 1880|
New Jersey, USA
|Death: ||May 27, 1919|
Patrolman Abner R. Braun
Trenton Police Department
End of Watch: Tuesday, May 27, 1919
Tour of Duty: Not available
Badge Number: Not available
Weather conditions: Clear, High 86, Low 69
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Date of Incident: Tuesday, May 27, 1919
Weapon Used: Handgun
Suspect Info: Sentenced to death
Patrolman Braun was shot and killed during a vehicle pursuit. He was assigned to the Motorcycle Patrol at the time and had chased two Baltimore men in a stolen car into Pennsylvania when he was shot and killed.
Officer Braun and his family were very popular in the city of Trenton. He was married to Anna Bossman in 1906 and was appointed to the Trenton police force on October 25, 1907 as a Patrol Driver. In March 1910, he was commended in newspapers for saving the life of a boy from a runaway horse by jumping onto the horse in the middle of Hamilton Street, Trenton.
On March 1, 1912, he was promoted to Patrolman. About a year later he was assigned to motorcycle duty.
Over the years, the Trenton newspapers chronicled the birth of his children, his fraternal associations, police exploits and family life. In 1912, he was a member of the Improved Order of Red Men. In September 1913, he took a two-week vacation to Washington, D.C. and met President Wilson and other "big guns."
In December 1913, the Trenton Times did a feature story on Braun and his small farm; "He has an acre of ground and from it, with only his spare time for cultivation purposes, he gathers some surprising crops. Devoting his attention principally to chickens and small vegatables, the policeman makes a tidy sum each month from the sales of his poultry, eggs and garden truck. Just at present, he is gathering a splendid crop of celery. Earlier in the season he harvested other vegatable crops and as soon as the celery is out of the way he will prepare the soil for use again next spring." Braun lived at 1547 South Clinton Avenue with his one acre lot at the corner of Clinton and Stanton Streets.
In addition, to make ends further meet, he drove a jitney to Camp Dix in his spare time. The day before his death, Braun was one of two motorcycle policeman who went ahead to clear the streets for the parade of returning soldiers.
The events surrounding his death began in Baltimore, where Thomas Leonard Murphy, 20, and Henry A. Rick, 24, spent a day cracking a safe and stealing $100. They also stole an automobile. Before leaving the city, they went and got a haircut at the barber shop of Louis Laponzina, 1009 Greenmount Avenue. There, they talked about going to visit Atlantic City and other New Jersey towns. Laponzina asked that they deliver a message to a Trentonian barber Alphonse Pone and the two agreed.
From there, they went riding around Trenton, New Jersey trying to sell the car, a Stutz automobile, Maryland plate no. 20,128. They stopped by to visit barber Pone at his Anderson street shop and offered to sell him the car for $900. Pone became suspicious and notified Patrolman Nahr of the Second District. Witnesses included Frank Delphano, of Chambers Street; Nello Rosatti, of Whittaker Avenue, and Anthony Derrico, of Bond Street.
Patrolman Christian Nahr said that as the auto stopped on Chambers street, he pulled his patrol car alongside it and attempted to step on the running board of the car to inquire whose machine it was. Murphy, the driver, stepped on speed and escaped arrest. Nahr telephoned his headquarters to report the incident.
Sergeant Kelly detailed Patrolman Hort to watch for the vehicle at the Delaware River Bridge . The vehicle crossed the bridge shortly after the patrolman arrived there. Hort attempted to stop the vehicle but the driver tried to run Hort down.
At approximately 9:10 a.m., Policeman Braun of the Motorcycle squad arrived before the car was over the bridge. Hort indicated the auto to Braun who went into pursuit. Hort followed on foot, hoping that Braun would stop it before it reached Pennsylvania. However, the Stutz was a high performance automobile that was driven at top speed and had a lead on Braun who gave chase.
The officer may have lost sight of the suspects for a time, because they stopped at the Auto Service Garage in Langhorne, Pa. with Norman T. Esherich, proprietor. Miss Cynthia H. Leedom, 34, of Langhorne, book-keeper of the garage, said that Murphy bought 10 gallons of gasoline and left a gold watch as security. Murphy only had $2 on him.
Braun was seen stopping the two males by eyewitness Frederick Carey Morrell, of Langhorne Manor, president of the Floyd Garret Company, a chandelier manufacturer. Morrell, 37, said he was driving toward Trenton when he neared a bridge. His attention was attracted to Braun pointing a gun at two occupants of an automobile. Both the car and Braun's motorcycle were stopped at the time. Braun identified himself to Morrell and asked that the police be notified to come to his assistance. The two bandits sat quietly in the car all this time and seemed to be perfectly resigned to their arrest.
Eyewitness description indicate that this bridge was where the Lincoln Highway crossed the Pennypack Creek into Philadelphia county. It was here that a two-span, closed-spandrel, stone arch bridge stood. The bridge was originally built in 1805 and improved (widened) in 1917. It was bypassed by the Roosevelt Boulevard in 1921 and is no longer in use. Today, this bridge is hidden in the woods and weeds just east of present-day Route 1. Braun must have been on the Bucks Co., Pa. side of the bridge when Morrell saw him.
What happened next is unknown. Morrell speculated that the officer may have directed the males to drive on toward the Bustleton police station. I believe that Morrell told Braun where the Bustleton station was. Maybe Braun sensed that police would hesitate to come to the bridge which was at a jurisdictional border. This probably caused Braun to make a fatal decision to go to the Bustleton station where more aid would surely be found.
Murphy probably overhead the conversation between Braun and Morrell and realized that no assistance was coming to help the Trenton patrolman.
For whatever reason, Braun resumed his pursuit of the two males for another mile-and-a-half south.
Morrell said he got to Bustleton and reported the scene to a mounted officer attached to the Bustleton police station who refused to go to Braun's aid on the grounds that the scene of the arrest was outside his district. This allegation was later investigated by Philadelphia Police.
The chase ended in Philadelphia on the Bustleton Pike, near the Bustleton Aviation Field. It was also known as Northeast Boulevard. Today, this is the vicinity of Byberry Road and Roosevelt Boulevard. The Nabisco/Kraft Foods plant is situated where the airfield stood, between Red Lion and Byberry Roads. Roosevelt Boulevard was known as Northeast Boulevard at the time.
Apparently, the thieves thought they had an advantage along this stretch of the Bensalem Pike between Red Lion and Byberry. It was a dirt road with an air field and seven houses. Perhaps Braun was riding alongside the stolen auto, escorting them and directing them to the station. He may have pulled up closer to the driver to give him directions to continue following the Byberry - Bensalem Turnpike toward the police station.
The Baltimore Sun later reported that, at the above location, "Patrolman Braun drew his pistol as he came alongside the machine, and that the operator of the car stopped. Thinking that his difficulty was over, Braun put his pistol in its holster, and a few seconds later five bullets were fired into his breast." Morrell said that Braun was found with his gun in his holster at his side.
Murphy, in a subsequent confession, said that when Braun rode alongside their vehicle, he commanded them to halt. In response, Murphy shot him five times in the breast killing him instantly.
Harry Heck and H. E. Clegg, both of whom were from Trenton and were connected with the Delaware & Atlantic Telephone & Telegraph Company, reached the scene of the murder a few minutes after the bandits had fled. Only Mr. James Foster and Mrs. James Croslan, who lived nearby, were at Braun's side when the two Trentonians got there. Both men attempted to revive the officer with first-aid methods, but they found that death seemed to be instantaneous.
Braun's body was transported to a morgue in Bustleton and returned to Trenton later that afternoon.
Flash description of the suspects: one man is 5 feet 6 inches tall, about 23 years old, and weighs about 128 pounds. He has a long, smooth face and a light complexion. His hair is medium, dark brown. He was dressed in a brown suit, and wore a checkered cap and a shirt with soft collar attached, and a bow tie. The second man is 5 feet 6 inches tall, about 26 years old and weighs about 140 pounds. He wore a dark brown soft hat. He has a small red moustache and dark red hair. His complexion is florid. The vehicle description was initially described as a Hudson automobile. It was later found that it was a Stutz.
The killers had already fled south through Philadelphia and then toward Baltimore. The two changed license plates on the car and abandoned it in the woods near Towson on the outskirts of Baltimore. The vehicle was subsequently recovered by police and returned to its owner, Dr. Guy L. Hunner.
May 30, 1919 - Trenton Director of Public Safety George B. La Barre appealed to the citizens of Trenton for money to aid Braun's widow, "Abner R. Braun, an honest, faithful and courageous police officer, was foully murdered in the performance of his duty, leaving him surviving, a widow and seven children. The fact that he was killed outside of this State creates some legal difficulties, but the Board of Commissioners hope that the City may be permitted to contribute to the widow and children under the provisions of the Employers' Liability Law the sum of $10 per week for a period of 300 weeks, and that the widow may be permitted to receive an annual pension of $700 per annum. If these allowances are made, they will be entirely inadequate for the maintenance of Mr.s Braun and her seven young children. A fund of at least $7,000 should be raised by popular subscription. It will protect the widow and childen against want. It will be indisputable evidence that the citizens of Trenton appreciate honest, faithful and courageous peace officers. It will be a guarantee of our citizens to our other honest, efficient and fearless police officers that their families will be adequately provided for under similar circumstances." La Barre directed that all monies should be collected by the Trenton Times.
May 31, 1919 - The funeral of Braun was held Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock from the home of his father-in-law, Frank Bossman, 1609 South Clinton Avenue. Services conducted by the Rev. Charles H. Elder. Interment at Riverview Cemetery, under the direction of Wagner Funeral Home. Braun was a member of Trenton Lodge No. 164, L. O. O. M.; Incas Tribe No. 103, I. O. R. M.; Mercer Council, No. 50, Jr. O. U. A. M., and Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. Members of the Police Department were invited to attend. Braun's widow received $150 for funeral expenses from the Police Funeral Benefit Association.
The identity of the murderers were known to Captain John J. Clancy of Trenton Police since the day after the murder. Baltimore Police worked the case, including Detective George W. Armstrong, Detective Peter P. Bradley, Round Sergeant Nicholas Gatch and Sergeant Anthony Starr. The killers remained in hiding for almost two weeks.
June 9, 1919 - Murphy and Rick were arrested late at night on the Philadelphia road near Eleventh street outside Baltimore by city detectives. They were apprehended with surprise which prevented resistance. They had in their possession automatic revolvers and an extra supply of bullets. They were held at Baltimore Police headquarters awaiting the extradition paperwork from Pennsylvania. Both were known in Baltimore as "desperate crooks."
June 13, 1919 - two bills of indictment were returned by the Philadelphia Grand Jury against Murphy and Rick charging them jointly with murder of the officer.
June 20, 1919 - Maryland Governor Harrington signed extradition papers from Pennsylvania.
Saturday night, June 21, 1919 - Philadelphia Police notified that their prisoners were ready for pick-up.
June 22, 1919 - in the afternoon, four Philadelphia detectives arrived in Baltimore and had dinner at the Caswell Hotel (Hanover and Baltimore streets). They then went to the Northeastern Police Station at 1811 Ashland avenue, picked up the two murderers and transported them to Philadelphia by auto.
June 26, 1919 - at night, Murphy broke down and confessed to shooting the officer in an eight-page typewritten confession to Detective Belshaw, head of the Murder Squad in Central Police Station, Philadelphia. Murphy's alibi was that he mistook the uniformed officer for a highwayman.
July 25, 1919 - The two murderers were arraigned in the morning before Judge Davis in Quarter Sessions Court. Both pleaded not guilty. Judge Davis, on the move of Assistant District Attorney Maurice J. Speiser, continued the case until Friday August 1, 1919, when two important witnesses were produced. To date, Braun Fund collected $7,707.75.
March 22, 1920 - Trial for co-defendants Murphy and Rick began before Judge Singleton in the Court of Oyer and Terminer.
March 23, 1920 - Jury selection was completed late in the day. In the late afternoon, it was necessary to draw a special venire of 60 names before the jury was selected, as a whole panel of 41 names had been exhusted in selecting the first seven jurors. Finally, twelve jurors were selected: Foreman, Albert Miller, clerk; John Kunkel, driver; George Noad, salesman; Thomas Lee, steamfitter; James P. McGary, flour merchant; Vincent DiMucci, inspector; Thomas Connell, weaver; J. Herbert Lownes, clerk; George McCall, clerk; William Richards, inspector; Charles Pierson, architect and Robert Boyle, machinist.
On motion of C. Stuart Patterson, Jr., attorney for Murphy, separate trials were granted both defendants. Assistant District Attorney Maurice J. Speiser then elected to try Murphy first, and Henry A. Ricks, the other defendant, was sent back to the cell-room.
During the trial, the Commonwealth showed that Murphy and Rick knew that Braun was a policeman at the time Murphy shot him. Dr. Morrell was a key witness.
March 24, 1920 - The Commonwealth presented testimony evidence that the murderers visited Trenton to sell the stolen car, Trenton Police chased them to the bridge where Braun picked up the pursuit and that Murphy stopped at the Langhorne, Pa. gas station and used a watch to purchase fuel.
March 25, 1920 - Described as one of the most eloquent addresses ever delivered to a jury in the City Hall, Assistant District Attorney Maurice J. Speiser summed up the case of the Commonwealth against Murphy. Referring to Braun as a hero in the same class as the boys who laid down their lives in France, Mr. Speiser said, "When I think of poor Abner Braun lying dead on Bensalem Pike, his body riddled by bullets from the gun of an assassin, I feel humble, because I, too, am a public official charged with the enforcement of the law. Braun was not a man receiving luxurious pay and he did not occupy an exhalted public position - he was a comparitively poor man with a large family to support - but when the call of his duty came he was faithful to his oath to the people and went bravely to his death. None of the soldiers who died in France deserve more glory than Braun. He showed his courage when he pursued the enemies of society across the Delaware River bridge and though knowing that he was taking his life in his hands, did not hesitate."
At the conclusion of the District Attorney's address, many people were crying in the court room, but Murphy sat cooly by the side of his attorney, apparently unmoved. C. Stuart Patterson, Jr., attorney for Murphy, tried to bring out that the defendant did not know Braun was a policeman when he stopped him at the point of a gun. The Commonwealth, however, riddled this argument by asking why Murphy and Ricks refused to stop when ordered to do so by Patrolman Nahr, who was in uniform and could not be mistaken. The defense also asked that Henry A. Ricks, companion of Murphy, who was tried later, be called as a witness for the defense, but his attorney Henry J. Scott, refused to allow his client to testify. Witness testimony was heard from Harry E. Hack, 18 Greenwood Avenue, Howard R. Clegg, 923 Edgewood Street, Trenton, Bell Telephone employees. Police Captain James J. Culliton and Detective Captain John Clancy of Trenton, also gave damaging testimony, as did Detective Armstrong of Baltimore.
Among the spectators were three women. Two of them were Mrs. Elizabeth Bleasdale, 411 North Olden Avenue, and Mrs. Catherine Leonard, 151 East Front Street, Trenton, sisters of the murderered policeman. The other woman was the aged mother of the defendant, who sat quite still throughout the entire procedure, her face giving no indications of the emotions within her as she saw the clutches tightening about her young son. "I feel sorry for the poor woman," said Mrs. Bleasdale, as she watched Mrs. Murphy leave the court room with an elderly son. By a strange force of circumstances, the three women found themselves passengers in the same elevator which carried them to the street floor of City Hall. But the elder woman did not suspect the identity of the other women and silently went her way.
March 26, 1920 - Murphy convicted. While conversing with his counsel C. Stuart Patterson, Jr., Murphy said that he did not know that Braun left a widow and orphans. He added, "I did not want to kill Braun. I say this again, no matter what the jury's verdict is, but I certainly feel sorry for this widow and children. My brother gave me $10 with which to purchase smokes and other things while I'm in prison. This is all the money I have in the world, but to give it to the family of the dead cop."
His counsel forwarded the money to the Trenton Times in order that it might be added to the Abner Braun Fund. Judge Singleton Bell of Quarter Sessions Court then sentenced Murphy to first degree murder. Mr. Patterson arose immediately after the foreman announced the verdict and made a motion for a new trial. The Judge allowed the customary 10 days in which to file reasons to show cause why the new trial should be granted.
After the proceedings were over, Judge Bell left the courtroom and approached Police Captain Culliton and Detective Captain Clancy of Trenton, who were waiting for an elevator in the corridor. "You are the police officials of Trenton, are you not?" asked the judge. "We are," they replied. "I want to compliment you on the able manner in which you prepared the evidence for the Commonwealth. From the testimony I heard in court, your police department appears to be a very efficient one. Assistant District Attorney Speise informed me you left no stone unturned to bring in every available witness that could complete the links in the strong chain of evidence. Never did I try a case that went so smoothly."
May 6, 1920 - Twenty-two reasons in support of a motion for a new trial were filed by attorney Patterson with Clerk John Flaherty, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, on behalf of Leonard Murphy. These reasons were on purely technical question of law.
May 7, 1920 - Judge Singleton Bell presided in Criminal Court of Philadelphia a hearing for new trial for Murphy. Opposed by Assist. D.A. Speiser. That same day, Judge Bell sentenced Murphy to death by electrocution. Murphy did not flinch as he stood at the bar of the Court and heard the sentence imposed. He maintained the same calm, composed attitude that had characterized him since his arrest. As he was led from the court room he talked with his attorney, Patterson, Jr., and seemed confident that was still hope of sparing his life. Patterson prepared an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Jan. 25, 1921 - Rick, who turned State's evidence, plead guilty to complicity in the murder and was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced 19 to 20 years Eastern State Penitentiary by Judge McCullen.
Feb. 1, 1921 - Trenton Police apportion a $1,000 award to the witnesses that led to the successful arrest and conviction of Bruan's murderers.
June 6, 1921 - Murphy dies on "murderers' row" at Moyamensing (Philadelphia county) prison of tubercolosis due to stress of his death sentence. This prison stood at 1400 S. Tenth Street, at the SW corner of Passyunk Avenue and Reed Street. He grew sick, hysterical and delusional as he gloated over his impending execution. His mother was at his bedside when the killer died.
Braun left behind a widow and seven children ranging in age from 11 months to 14 years. His wife Anna had emigrated from Germany in 1892 with her father Frank Bossman. In 1920, their children were son Francis, son, 14; daughter Anna, 13; daughter Clara, 11; daughter May, 10; son Abner 8; daughter Florence, 6; daughter Dorothy, 2.
Story researched and written by Drew Techner.
1. The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. http://www.odmp.org/officer/15660-patrolman-abner-r.-braun
2. World War I Draft Registration
3. Philadelphia Inquirer
4. Trenton Evening Times
5. Baltimore Sun
6. Historic Bridges of the United States http://bridgehunter.com/pa/bucks/97009032900900/
7. The Lincoln Highway, by Brian Butko
8. U.S. Federal Census
New Jersey, USA
Plot: Section M, Lot 495
Created by: Researcher
Record added: Apr 30, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 36559783