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Daniel O’Connell

Appointed May 18, 1882
End of Tour Saturday, June 17, 1882

Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota
[Ramsey County Death Index]

Fatally injured by gunfire during a burglary investigation
after going “off-duty” and enroute home.


Photo of Daniel O’Connell not available

Patrolman Daniel O’Connell1 was found shot in the head around 0800 hours (8:00 a.m.) on Saturday, June 17, 1882, at the corner of Summit Avenue and Walnut Street in the City of Saint Paul, “a murder most foul and terrible”. He had been shot with an old-fashioned pepper box style muzzle-loading cap and ball revolver and became the first Saint Paul police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Patrolman O’Connell was just off duty, around 0230 hours (2:30 a.m.), and wending his way homeward along upper Third Street when a woman had told him that two black men had been prowling near her home on Dayton Avenue. Shortly thereafter, he was confronted by a wild-eyed young fellow, hatless and shoeless, and pistol in hand, who excitedly exclaimed that a couple of burglars had just left his house. O’Connell at once gave chase. Being off duty he was not missed at headquarters and the first intimation of his tragic end was from a man who found him lying face downward, cold in death, on an unoccupied property (lot) of Frank B. Clarke, near the corner of Summit Avenue and Walnut Street, close to the spot where it is supposed he surprised the burglars in ambush between 0335-0345 hours (3:35-3:45 a.m.). There were several people that heard the gunshot, including Patrolman John Zirkleback2 from his “Seven Corners” foot beat, and even persons that saw two black males running from the area, but no one that made the connection. The fatal bullet (ball) had entered the officer’s head through the left temple.

On October 23, 1883, two black male suspects, William Underhill (alias Richard L. or Albert Underhill and/or Nelson) and George Washington, were pardoned from the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester, Illinois, in order that they could be taken back to Minnesota to stand trial for the murder of O’Connell. They had been developed as suspects by Captain John B. Bressette3, through informants Charles Deslos and George Morton. The mayor of Saint Paul and the Ramsey County Attorney got the Governor of Illinois to pardon them from prior burglary convictions in Illinois in order for them to be brought back to Saint Paul. On October 24, 1883, both men pled guilty to the murder of Patrolman O’Connell and were sentenced to “life at hard labor” at Stillwater State Prison. In that the pleadings took place prior to a jury being impaneled, “death by hanging” was not an option. Underhill was determined to be the shooter, using his Navy model handgun, as described above.

Although police personnel records do not include a date of birth, several other records indicate that Daniel O’Connell was born in about 1849. Raised in Ireland, thirty-three year old “Big Dan”, came to the United States in 1865 and had moved to Saint Paul from New York six years prior to his untimely death. He had worked as a day laborer, and served as a patrolman in the “Special Police” two or three times temporarily prior to his current appointment with the Police Department (May 18, 1882), of which he had only served four weeks and two days. He was survived by his wife, Ellen, and two children, John Daniel and Hannah. Patrolman O’Connell’s funeral took place on Sunday, June 18, 1882, at the Saint Paul Cathedral, and he is buried at Calvary Cemetery, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Over one hundred years after the death of Patrolman O'Connell one his great great grandsons, Jon Joseph Sherwood,4 was appointed Police Officer in the Saint Paul Police Department (June 30, 1986). Officer Sherwood is still on the department, assigned to the East District.

It should be noted that in that this was the first officer killed in the line of duty, there was no bereavement account in existence to aid the family of the deceased. The city council paid all funeral expenses and provided Mrs. O’Connell with a monthly income of $25. Added to that was a $300 donation made by members of the police force, and a fund raising effort was to be made by the Chamber of Commerce. A pension fund for retired police officers and/or widows would not be enacted until 1891.

1 Daniel O’Connell was appointed Patrolman September 1887; and was fatally injured by gunfire during a burglary investigation after going “off-duty” and enroute home Saturday, June 17, 1882. This was the first Saint Paul police officer killed in the line of duty. Daniel O'Connell's great great grandson, Jon Joseph Sherwood was appointed Police Officer June 30, 1986.

2 John Zirkleback (aka Zirkelbach) was appointed Patrolman September 9, 1879; was promoted to Sergeant May 1, 1887; and died July 20, 1895.

3 John B. Bresette appointed Patrolman June 5, 1857; promoted to Captain 1883; promoted to Senior Captain May 1, 1887; retired May 31, 1890.

4 Jon Joseph Sherwood was appointed Police Officer June 30, 1986; was assigned to the Canine (K-9) Unit March 8, 1992; and was reassigned to the East District in 2013. He is the great great grandson of Patrolman Daniel O'Connell, the first Saint Paul police officer killed in the line-of-duty.