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 Patrick J. Downey, Policeman

Patrick J. Downey

Tuesday, February 18, 1919

Downey, Patrick J.

Rank: Policeman

Serial Number:Unknown

Division: Unknown

Location: Train yards near L.A. State Park, w/o
L.A. River.

Date Killed: Tuesday, February 18, 1919

Cause of Death: Shot by an escaped prisoner.

The dark winter of 1918 - 1919 was winding down, having cast a pall
over the United States and the entire world as the First World War
dragged on. By February 1919, over 66,000 US troops had died as a
result of the war, with an additional 177,000 wounded. The Great
Pandemic Flu of 1918 - 1919, an extremely virulent form of
influenza was also raging, killing thousands of civilians in the
US, including some 18 Los Angeles police officers and accounting
for more troop deaths than combat itself.

In Los Angeles, social unrest and upheaval had been brewing since
1910 when two members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
were convicted of dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building
directly across the street from police headquarters on First
Street. An IWW member was also blamed for an explosion at the
Llewellyn Iron Works foundry on December 25, 1910, which was
located just east of today's Alameda and Main Streets.
Additionally, members of the IWW were purported pouring into Los
Angeles, an anti-union city, via the freight trains along the Los
Angeles River. As such, sentiments against the IWW ran high for
suspicious City and police department officials. At Chief of Police
John L. Butler's direction, the train yards along the river were
routinely scoured for transients with suspected affiliations to the
IWW or anarchist groups.

Patrick J. Downey was born September 22, 1883, in Ireland. He
immigrated to the United States and arrived around 1905 before
settling in California. He married Mary McDonald in September 1909
in San Fernando. The young couple settled in Indio, California
where Patrick worked in the railroad industry as a foreman. Patrick
heard the call to public service and was appointed to the Los
Angeles Police Department on December 1, 1916. By 1919, Patrick was
a detective sergeant assigned to the Boyle Heights Station, located
at 2015 East 1st Street, in today's Hollenbeck Division. Downey and
his wife Mary had three children: Thomas P., Patricia and Margaret.
The family lived in the 3500 block of east 6th Street, in today's
East Los Angeles.

Detective Sergeant Downey and his partner Fred W. Parsons were
assigned to Boyle Station climbed onboard an inbound freight train
at Alhambra (today's Main Street) and Eastlake Avenue by Lincoln
Park. The two men planned on arresting vagrants and potential IWW
members riding the trains illegally. As the train rolled past the
Llewellyn Iron Works, two men leaped off the train. Among the pair
was an ex-convict named Bert Williams who had spent time in a
Washington prison following his arrest for burglary. Williams was
also a purportedly high ranking member of the IWW.

Downey followed the two vagrants while his partner Parsons remained
on the train and rode the train to its terminus at River Station.
Downey had one man in custody as he met Parsons who captured two
additional riders. Downey informed Parsons that the other suspect
(Williams) had eluded him and left Parsons with three suspects as
he headed back between the freight cars lining the train yards. A
few minutes passed when Parsons heard a shot crack through the air.
As Parsons went to investigate, two of the transients quickly
escaped while the third stayed at Parsons' side. Parsons found
Downey lying along the railroad tracks mortally wounded.

Downey pointed weakly telling Parsons the last direction of his

Parsons and his prisoner ran towards the direction Downey pointed
and encountered a trembling switchman who had come across Williams.
Railroad workers summoned an ambulance which responded to an area
which today lies at the north end of Los Angeles State Park, just
west of the Los Angeles River. The ambulance transported Downey to
Receiving Hospital on 1st Street, where the police surgeon found
him with a gunshot wound to the left chest area. Downey died just
as the surgeon began medical intervention. Downey also had a wound
to his head, probably resulting from a blow delivered by a blunt
instrument. Finally he had bite marks on his hands that Williams
unleashed as he struggled with Downey over the officer's

The switchman pointed out Williams' last location. Railroad workers
had originally heard one gunshot, followed by a second shot a few
minutes later. Witnesses observed Williams standing over Downey and
taking the officer's gun. Williams threatened the witnesses as he
attempted to flee. Officers from Boyle and Central Stations
responded to the railroad yards where Williams sought refuge under
a freight car. Detective Sergeant Manuel Leon, backed by Captain of
Detectives George K. Home and several officers armed with sawed off
shotguns surrounded the train car (Captain Home would promote to
chief later that same year). Leon ordered Williams to surrender and
was able to coax the killer out without further violence. Williams
had a wound to the left side of his face, indicative of a violent
struggle with Downey.

Williams eventually pled guilty to first degree murder and was
sentenced to life in prison. By 1930, he was declared criminally
insane and sent to a state hospital in northern California.

Services for Sergeant Patrick J. Downey were held at Our Lady of
Lourdes in East Los Angeles on Friday, February 21, 1919. Downey
was buried at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles. His gravestone
may be viewed online at

Despite their traumatic loss, the Downey family persevered. Mary
Downey was left a widow at the young age of 29. Her children,
Thomas, Patricia and Margaret, were ages 8, 6 and 1 respectively,
when they lost their father. Mary Downey's parents moved in with
her and the family later moved a few blocks to the 3500 block of
Lan Franco, also in East Los Angeles. Mary eventually became a
nurse at Los Angeles County Hospital, the predecessor of today's
University of Southern California Medical Center. She eventually
promoted to nursing supervisor before retiring. She lived to the
age of 83 enjoying many years of retirement. Her son Thomas also
worked at the hospital first as a messenger then as an orderly
while he attended college. He eventually graduated from medical
school at Creighton University and became a doctor in southern
California. Patricia and Margaret later attended USC.

Lieutenant J. A. Macias, #27710

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