Memorial to John H. Fowler

fallen-badge_blackbandEnd of Watch: September 9, 1884
Rank: Officer  Badge No. 23
Age: 42  Years of Service: N/A
Location of Death: First and E streets, NE
Duty Assignment: First Precinct


Officer Fowler was acting as a guard of a chain-gang, when a prisoner named John Langster escaped. Officer Fowler discovered Mr. Langster hiding in an outhouse and attempted to apprehend him. A fight ensued in which Officer Fowler was shot with his own gun and died in the street. John Langster was captured by Officer Boland, at 311 D Street, NE and charged with murder, and hanged.


Officer Fowler had served with the Metropolitan Police Department for 14 years and had served in the Civil War as a private in Company D; 4th Battalion, District of Columbia Infantry. Officer Fowler was survived by his wife and four children and is buried in Plot R91/297 of Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC.


Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.



Fatal Attempt to Re-Arrest an Escaping Member of the Chain Gang Yesterday–How the Crime was Committed–The Murderer a Man of Bad Character.

John Langster, alias “Guinea”, a member of the chain gang, sat yesterday morning on the curbstone of First Street, near D northwest. Apparently he was pulling grass out of the gutter; in reality he was working at his leg irons with a little piece of wire he had picked up in the street. His efforts were at last successful, and quietly ridding himself of his shackles, he stood up. Nobody was noticing him, and he moved slowly up First street and stood for a moment under the awning of Holmes grocery store, at the corner of First and E streets, as if undecided what to do next. Then he spied the alley running from First to Second Streets, between D and E, and hastily retraced his steps to it. As he disappeared in the alley Officer Fowler, in charge of the gang, caught sight of him and started in pursuit. When about half way up the alley the man stood at bay.

“Will you come back to work?” said the officer. “No,” was the dogged reply.

The policeman advanced a step further, pistol in hand, and the subject made a movement as if he would assault him. Quick as thought, knowing the desperate character of the man with whom he had to deal, the officer fired a shot into the air, hoping to intimidate him. The action had the opposite effect. Langster, enraged and furious, sprang upon the officer, who attempted to handcuff him. “Help me,” shouted the officer to two men standing nearby, but they refused their aid. In the struggle which followed and which only lasted a few moments, Langster wrenched the pistol from the officer’s hand and pointed it at him with an oath. Twice he fired without effect, and then placing the muzzle of the revolver so close to the policeman’s side that the powder burnt the vest, he fired the third time. The ball sped on its fatal errand. The wounded man walked a few steps, the blood gushing from a gaping hole in his side, while the murderer ran up the alley into Second Street. Sergeant Boyle, who lives nearby, and who had been roused out of bed by his wife and had run half-dressed into the street, came upon the scene a moment later and found Fowler standing up, supported by a gentleman named Henry Houck.

“I am done for, Sergeant, I am dying,” was the remark of the wounded man. “Who did it?” said the Sergeant. “Guinea,” was the reply. The sergeant made a cheering remark, but the officer shook his head.

Officer Coghill, arriving at this juncture, was sent to arouse the reserve at the station-house. “Come,” said the sergeant, then, “We can’t let this man die in the streets, let us take him to the station and send for a doctor. Here, Wilt Atkinson, help us,” said he, speaking to a man standing nearby. The man addressed picked up the wounded officer as if he were a baby and the party moved slowly to the station, carrying him as tenderly as possible. “Oh, put me down and let me die here,” he groaned, after a hundred yards had been passed. He was taken to the station house, laid on a mattress and Drs. Bayne and Magruder, police surgeons, summoned. When they arrived ten minutes later, Fowler was dead.

In the meantime the vicinity of the sad affair had become wild with excitement and officers and citizens were searching yards and dwelling houses for the murder. Lieut. Kelly, who was at police headquarters, was immediately notified and with Officer Slack (remember him) hurried over to the scene. He found the square, bounded by D and E and Third and Fourth streets, surrounded by officers and was told that Langster had been followed to that square and that he was now in hiding somewhere within it. The Lieutenant climbed a fence near Ward’s dairy, being joined almost immediately by Sergt. Boyle, and both looked into the adjoining yards.

In a few moments Officer Roland appeared at the door of the rear basement of No. 311 D Street and beckoned to the officers on the fence. “I have got him,” he said, as they approached; “he is here under the bed.” The officers entered, and there on the floor under the bed, crouched Langster with Fowler’s pistol still in his hand. He had stripped himself of all of his clothes except his undershirt, and was wrapped in a quilt. His striped pants and shirt were on the floor near the foot of the bed.

He made no resistance when ordered to come out, and obeyed Lieut. Kelly’s command to put up his hands. While doing this, Sergt. Boyle picked up the pistol and remarked as he examined it, that another load remained. Langster turned to Boland and with a savage grin, exclaimed, “If I had known that I would have put you in hell, too.” While being taken to the station house the officers were informed that Fowler was dead. At this Langster burst out in a loud laugh. Afterwards, when the widow of the murdered man arrived at the station, Langster brutally mocked her grief.

When first looked up in his cell Langster was seen by a Post reporter. He maintained an obstinate, sullen silence, but the gift of a cigarette induced him to speak.

“Had you any intention of killing Fowler when you left the workhouse this morning?” queried the reporter. “No,” was the reply, “but I had made up my mind to escape, no matter what stood in my way.” “Why?” “I wanted to pay my fine.” “How did you get possession of the pistol?” “Well, the officer was going to shoot me, and I caught hold of the pistol and turned it towards him and fired. I then wrenched the pistol away and fired again. Then I ran away.”

Later in the day, however, Langster began to sham insanity, looked in a dazed way at his questioners, and, if he replied at all, made an incoherent remark. Towards night he abandoned this shamming, and said he was sorry for what he had done. When first locked up he expressed a wish to be hung at once, so as to show how game he would die, but his spirit of bravado did not last long.

During the afternoon there was an immense throng of excited persons around the station house. A man asked Lieut. Kelly if a crowd would be fired upon should the station be attacked. He was assumed it would, but Lieut. Kelly having heard other significant rumors thought an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure. He waited upon Maj. Dye about 4 o’clock and asked for an extra detail of four or five men at his station. The result of the conference was an order for the removal of Langster to the Fifth precinct station. When the officers went to unlock his cell at 7:30 o’clock they found that he had stuffed the key hole of the lock with chewed meat, paper, etc, rammed in with a match. Afraid that he might be taken by force, he had done this in the hope that it would prevent entrance to his cell. After a half an hour’s work the keyhole was cleared; Langster brought out, handcuffed, placed in a cab with Sergt. Boyle and Privates Boland and Karcher and hurriedly driven away.

The autopsy at 3 o’clock revealed the fact that the ball had entered the body between the tenth and eleventh ribs, passed through the liver, severed the vena caba, one of the principal veins in the body, and then lodged in the spine, from which it was chiseled out. The body was then turned over to the family of the deceased.

An inquest will be held this morning at 10 o’clock, the jury summoned being Daniel Sheehan, J. Fred Kelly, Henry H. Hoff, C.P. Shettle, W.O. Patton, and Charles Speht. The witnesses summoned are John G. Crogan, Thornton Chesley, A. Hamilton, W.D. Atkinson, Joseph S. Parson, W.W. Clark, Alfred S. Wilson, W.S. Chesley, Ed Holmes, Robert Jackson, John Miller, Henry T. Houck, and Thomas Smith.

Officer John H. Fowler was born in this District on October 22, 1842. He was appointed a station keeper in the Police Department May 17, 1870, and two days afterwards was appointed on the police force as a private of class one. He was promoted to the second class in the summer of 1883, and in October was detailed to take charge of the workhouse gang, which was put to work cleaning out gutters, alleys, etc. He took great interest in his work. He leaves a wife and four children.

Langster is a vicious looking man, twenty-one years of age and unmarried. He was committed to the Reform School some three years ago and during his stay attacked Mr. Newman, foreman of the chair shop, for some fancied wrong. He also assaulted several of his teachers. Some time since he was fined $50 for cutting a man with a razor. He was arrested last July for assault and battery with intent to kill his father by shooting at him. The charge could not be sustained and he was sentenced to three months for carrying concealed weapons. He escaped July 28, but was captured and committed on August 11 for ninety days. He bears a bad character. He was secured behind a double row of doors at the Fifth Precinct last night and an extra detail was on hand to preserve peace.

Robert Jackson and John Miller, the two men who are alleged to have refused to assist Officer Fowler, were arrested. They protested that they are not the men.

The portion of the chain gang with which Langster was working did not attempt to escape during the excitement and shortly afterwards, Officer Barnes, who had charge of them in company with Officer Fowler, conveyed the gang back to the workhouse.




Evidence Elicited at the Inquest Yesterday –The Murder a Deliberate One –Langster Committed to Jail–His Attempt to Strike a Witness.
The inquest on the body of Policeman John H. Fowler, who was killed on Tuesday morning by John Langster, was held yesterday before Coroner Patterson and a jury composed of Messrs. Daniel Shehan, J. Fred Kelly, Henry H. Hoff, C.B. Shettie, W.O. Patton and Charles Speht.

A large crowd of idlers were gathered around the Seventh Precinct station house when the coroner arrived. The first witness sworn was Thornton Chesley, aged fifteen years, who saw the policeman chasing the convict up an alley. He followed and heard Fowler say: “I don’t want to shoot you, I have always been a good friend to you.” However, the convict refused to surrender and a struggle between the two commenced. Fowler fired his pistol right over the convict’s head to intimidate him, telling him he did not want to shoot him, but wanted him to come along without any trouble. He could have shot him without any trouble. Witness then got on the policeman’s horse and went for help, hearing two shots as he left the alley. A man whom Fowler had called upon to assist him had refused.

W.T. Clark, living at 415 D street, saw the struggle and the convict with a pistol in one hand holding the officer with the other, and saw him shoot the officer in that position. A. Hamilton, sixteen years old, saw the struggle and heard the shot fired, but did not know who fired it.

John G. Crogan, hearing two shots, ran up the alley, and the officer putting his hands at his sides, said, “I am shot. Guinea has done it for me this time.” He was carried away, but the convict stood still with a pistol in his hands, so he was afraid to approach him. Henry T. Houck heard two shots fired, and rushing forward caught the officer in his arms. While he was being carried to the station he said: “My wife and children,” again inquiring for them on reaching the station. Alfred S. Wilson said that after the officer had shot over the convict’s head he held the pistol behind him. The convict finally seized it after a struggle and shot the officer twice. The third shot hit the policeman and while the latter was being carried away, he said, “Let me lie down and die.”

Robert Jackson saw the struggle and heard a shot. The officer called him, and told him to take hold of the convict’s arm, which he did. The convict managed to get hold of the pistol, and tried to shoot witness, whereupon he said: “I just vanished up the alley; but I didn’t run away, as some people say I did.” Edward Holmes and W.S. Chesley testified to the general facts of the occurrence.

The prisoner, Langster, was then brought in by Sergt. Boyle. Having torn up his shirt the night before, he was dressed only in his striped convict pants. Officer Boyle said the prisoner had told him God had made him shoot the officer, and he had done it. In consequence of his having been in the United States Army he was a good shot, and it was only necessary for him to shoot once. He also said he would have liked to have shot the officer who found him under the bed where he was concealed.

Robert Jackson was called again, and while he was describing how the convict had shot the officer, the prisoner interrupted him with “You are a liar, you s– of a —–, and I’ll slug you,” and tried to strike him, but was forced back into the chair.
Dr. Hartigan then described the autopsy he had made. There were two wounds, one between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, and the other in the ride side of the chest. The latter ball passed between the tenth and eleventh ribs, through the liver, and the largest vein in the body, and lodging in the spine. Death was caused by internal hemorrhage. Dr. Hartigan exhibited the fatal ball, which he cut in two with his knife while extracting it.

The jury did not take long to consider their verdict, which was “That the said John H. Fowler came to his death between 10 and 11 a.m., September 9, 1884, at the Seventh Precinct station, corner of First and F streets northwest, City of Washington, D.C., from a pistol shot wound of the abdomen inflicted with a pistol in the hands of John Langster, alias George T. Hudson.”

The prisoner was removed to jail about 12 o’clock in the patrol wagon. On the walls of his cell he had written, in a very good hand, “John Langster, murderer of Policeman Fowler,” and above it, “Miss Katie King, 1359 H street northeast.”

The father and stepmother of John Langster live in Chew’s alley at the back of the Seventh Precinct station house, but they have had nothing to do with him since he got out of the asylum. He is eighteen years old, and was first to the reform school June 5, 1876, from whence he escaped several times before his term expired in 1881. In 1882 he went to Pittsburg and enlisted in the Ninth Cavalry, being drafted to company H in Kansas. On the 23rd of September, 1883, he was sent to St. Elizabeth’s insane asylum and discharged in the following January. Since then he has been in jail on several occasions, for various petty offences, each time giving a fresh name.





His Feigned Indifference Followed by a Furious Rage

“Death” was the sentence pronounced by Judge Wylie yesterday upon John Langster, alias Lanscaster, alias George Hudson, for the murder of Officer Fowler. A cigar was in the prisoner’s mouth as he alighted from the prison van, and he went laughing into court. He was dressed in a striped shirt, dark pants and coat and wore a necktie of velvet.

Addressing the prisoner of many names, the court said: “What is your true name?” “John Langster,” he answered sullenly. “Have you anything to say?” “I didn’t kill no man; the man shot at me, and the ball come right by my ear; here is a print on my ear now.”

Judge Wylie attempted to address the prisoner, when the latter shouted: “He shot at me and pulled out his pistol and stung me. I have two notes here.”

The court continuing said: “There is nothing remaining for the court to do but to pass the sentence upon the verdict, which is: “That you be taken hence to the jail and there be kept in confinement until the first Friday succeeding the next term of the court in General Term and be then, between the hours of 8 and 10 o’clock, taken to the place of execution and be hanged by the neck till you are dead.” “Here are two notes,” shouted the prisoner, “and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

Handcuffs were slipped upon the prisoner by Mr. Springman as Judge Wylie finished his remarks. On the way to the cell Langster snatched a pen from Mr. Charles Pelham. Mr. Springman hastily recovered it. As the officer attempted to put leg irons upon him he became violent and profane and threw himself upon the ground. He was carried to his cell by main force. Then he knocked down the stove and attempted to pull up a bench. As the smoke poured from the broken stove, an officer rushed in and put Langster in an adjoining cell. The prisoner became furious, and Springman fastened him to the iron frame near the window. His yells could be heard all over the building. Breaking from his fastening, he tore his clothing until it fell in shreds upon the floor. Quickly as possible he was overpowered and taken back to jail.

The notes to which he alluded in court were as follows:
“These policemen, they are all like Mr. Fowler, and they did not tell the truth on me. I hear several of them say I oughter to be killed, and one of them say he would like to poison me if he could and some men come in and threaten to shoot me, and they said we’ll lynch you and hang you to a lamp post. I heard Officer Boyle say to two boys do not tell true on him. Mr. Wylie, this man went round and got up above twelve witnesses who was not there. All the men was there was three other men. If there had been there they would have come and help Mr. Fowler to take me. Your honor, I am telling the truth before God the most high. John Langster”

The other reads: Washington, Oct. 30, 1884–Your honor I am sorry but I am innocent of this murder but still I go to anywhere you send me. But every man come up on the stand told a willful lie except two men and a boy. But I am insane, and I have spells on me once in a while, and was in the Insane Asylum I was sent from the Army for the Insane Asylum under Mr. W.W. Godding being superintendent. Please see into it.”





He Kisses a Crucifix and is Swung into Eternity
John Langster, ex-cavalryman, ex-lunatic, desperado, thief and murderer of Policeman Fowler, was hanged in the corridor of the jail a few minutes before 9 o’clock yesterday morning. The condemned man, who had been reading his Bible during the greater part of the night, fell asleep about 2:30 o’clock, and slept soundly until shortly after 6. He then expressed himself as perfectly ready and willing to die. His assurances, however, were not sustained by his actions, for his usually excellent appetite failed him, and the elaborate breakfast which he had ordered was removed almost untouched.

As the hour of the execution approached the rotunda of the jail gradually filled, until twenty or thirty policemen, a dozen newspaper men and a motley crowd of ticket holders numbering nearly two hundred had assembled, and were anxiously scanned by Langster as he stood at the door of his cell. About 7:30 he was finally visited by his father, and from that time until Warden Crocker entered the cell to read the death warrant Langster was engaged in prayer, while Father Sullivan paced up and down the corridor.

The possession across the rotunda to the scaffold passed between two rows of spectators and consisted of the warden and his deputy, followed by the prisoner and his religious advisers, Reverend Fathers O’Sullivan and Sullivan, of the St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, and a small guard of jail attendants brought up the rear. The prisoner, powerfully-built man, walked steadily, his elbows and wrists pinioned behind him. His eyes were downcast and his face wore such an expression as might be looked upon that of a man of retiring disposition thrust for the first time into a position of prominence. He kept his eyes on the crucifix seemed entirely self-possessed, and nothing in his carriage or demeanor indicated that the occasion was an unwelcome one to him.

His responses as the litany was read were inaudible except to the priests, but were prompt, as if well conned in advance. As the possession passed into the corridor the crowd closed in behind and followed down the iron steps. The prisoner was assisted in mounting the stairway leading to the scaffold, but almost immediately recovered himself took his place upon the trap and faced about. He cast one furtive glance at the crowd below him, but with this momentary exception gave his entire attention to his priestly attendants.

During the reading of the prayer for the dying his knees and ankles were bound with ropes, the noose was passed over his head and the knot adjusted to its place. His last voluntary act was the kissing of the image of the Savior upon a crucifix held by the priest to his lips. The black cap was drawn over his face, gathered about his neck and tied. A sound like the violent drawing of iron bolts was heard. The trap fell and the body of the condemned hung below the scaffold. There was no rebound or swinging, and for fully half a minute no motion whatever. Then the lower limbs were twice drawn up and relaxed; a violent shivering succeeded, but soon again the body and limbs became motionless.

“That’s his father,” whispered a jail attendant. The man pointed out was one of the miscellaneous crowd, a hollow cheeked, rudely-clad person, with a scared look in his protruding bloodshot eyes and a generally crushed “lowdown” aspect, who stood craning his neck with the rest to see what he could beyond the cordon of policemen.

The body was lowered a few feet and the hand of the physician was extended up to feel the pulse. Again and again the test was applied, and at last, twenty-seven minutes after the drop fell, the body was lowered into its coffin. Then the cordon gave way. The scared looking man scrambled onward with the rest, and though pushed aside in the struggle, reached a place where he could see the face of the dead. It wore the same quiet expression it last bore in life–almost of indifference, as if the event had been but a matter of course, and his part in it the mere fulfillment of a duty.

“Was his neck broken?” “They say it was,” responded the policeman. “Pass on–out this way.”