Memorial to James E. Armstrong
End of Watch: December 20, 1919
Rank: Detective Badge No. 610
Age: 40 Years of Service: 16
Location of Death: Union Station
Duty Assignment: Headquarters Detective Bureau
Detective Armstrong tracked a suspect, John McHenry, to Union Station after he shot and killed a store keeper after robbing the store at 1224 14th Street, NW. When Detective Armstrong attempted to stop McHenry inside Union Station, McHenry drew a revolver and shot the detective three time at close range. As the detective fell, he was able to hold onto McHenry long enough for back up to arrive to take McHenry into custody. Detective Armstrong succumbed to the gunshot wounds one week later. The killer was sentenced to death for Sergeant Armstrong’s murder and subsequently executed on March 17th, 1922.
Sergeant Armstrong had served with the Metropolitan Police Department for 16 years. He was survived by his wife and three children.
Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 15, 1919, PAGE 1
SLAYS AUTO DEALER; WOUNDS DETECTIVE
J. McHenry, 19 Years, of St. Louis, Hungry, He Tells Police
Wallace W. Mulcare, of the Olympia apartments, and proprietor of an automobile accessory store, 1322 Fourteenth street northwest, was shot through the heart and instantly killed shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday, and Detective Sergeant James E. Armstrong was probably fatally injured by John McHenry, a youth, who entered Mulcare’s store and demanded the contents of the cash register.
After shooting Mulcare, McHenry made his escape with $152.59, but was captured in less than an hour at Union Station, where he had bought a ticket for Baltimore. Armstrong, who halted him and was attempting to arrest him, was shot three times in the abdomen. Armstrong was taken to Providence Hospital.
McHenry was arrested by Detective Sergeants Springman, Embrey and Thompson, who had hurried to Union Station on report of the hold-up and murder of Mulcare, to watch all exits, and who were attracted by the shots at the Union Station. McHenry admitted to the police shooting both Mulcare and Armstrong.
James Shelton, 407 Elm street northwest, employed by Mulcare, says that McHenry walked into the store and asked to look at automobile gloves, and that after debating the price, McHenry drew a 32 caliber Savage automatic pistol, and covering Mulcare with it, demanded money.
Mulcare moved from behind the counter going to the cash register near the front of the shop under pretense of complying with McHenry’s demand, but upon reaching the cash register, drew a revolver and shot twice at McHenry, neither shot taking effect. Mulcare then stooped behind the counter, and reaching around the cash register, shot blindly at Mulcare, the bullet penetrating his heart.
The shooting of Armstrong took place in the main waiting room at Union Station with several hundred people. After making a hurried investigation at Mulcare’s store, Armstrong, accompanied by Shelton, went to Union Station and arriving there saw McHenry standing near the ticket window and recognized him from the description sent to the police.
As he started in the direction of McHenry, the latter evidently suspected that he was a police officer for he backed away. Armstrong ordered him to stop. McHenry then drew his pistol and shot Armstrong three times. Driver Robey, of headquarters, reaching the station just at this time, felled McHenry with a blow on the head with his blackjack. Despite the fact that Armstrong was injured fatally, he did not release his grip on McHenry until Robey had used his blackjack.
Detectives Springman, Embrey, and Thompson reached McHenry about this time and disarmed him, placed him under arrest. He was taken to Casualty Hospital and the injury to his head was dressed, after which he was brought to headquarters and questioned by Maj. Raymond Pullman and Inspector of Detectives Clifford L. Grant. A charge of murder has been preferred against him.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JUNE 25, 1920, page 2
VERDICT OF DEATH FOR JOHN MCHENRY
Jury Finds Youth Guilty of First-Degree Murder for Killing of Detective Armstrong
PRISONER HOLDS HIS NERVE
Smiles as He Walks From the Courtroom—Mother Breaks Down Under Long Strain
John McHenry, the 23 year old youth who was tried before Justice Gould in Criminal Court for the killing of Detective Sergeant James E. Armstrong on the night of December 14 last, faces death on the gallows of the District jail for his crime.
The jury which held his fate in the balance reported out at 3:45 o’clock yesterday afternoon that McHenry was guilty of first degree murder.
The District laws provide that persons guilty of first degree murder shall meet death by hanging and no option is left with the jury or the court to inflict a less severe sentence. McHenry heard the verdict of Jury Foreman Holmes in silence, only raising his eyes to the bar of the court when the verdict of the jury was returned. Justice Gould thanked the jurors for their service and ordered the adjournment of court. The convicted man will receive the sentence of death within a few days.
Mother Weeps Bitterly
When the jury brought in its verdict, Mrs. Austin Rice, the mother of McHenry, whose real name is George Rice, wept bitterly. She sat with nervous drawn face in the courtroom yesterday morning while Assistant United States Attorneys Cromelin and Archer pleaded that the jury uphold the law and find McHenry guilty of first degree murder. Her face brightened with hope when Attorneys Hawken and Havell spoke in behalf of the youth, and her hope that her son would get off with second degree murder, which is punished by a prison sentence, grew as the jury stayed out from 3:15 until 3:45 o’clock. Following the verdict she had to be assisted from the court.
Apparently the least concerned of all persons in the courtroom, McHenry even smiled as he walked behind a deputy marshal to the detention room below. Throughout the long trail the defendant never lost his iron nerve or appeared in the least perturbed by the fact that he was being tried for an offence punishable by death.
There were frequent verbal clashes between S. McComas Hawken and Assistant United States Attorney Cromelin as the latter closed his argument for the government. Mr. Hawken said the prosecution was making an unfair attack on McHenry when his lawyer had no opportunity to rebut the speech. He asked Justice Gould to withdraw a juror for the alleged improper remarks of the prosecutor, but the request the court refused.
Mr. Hawken noted an exception to the court ruling. It is highly probable that McHenry’s lawyers will make an attempt to have a new trial given their defendant.
Scores of Witnesses
Scores of witnesses were summoned from New England cities to testify in the McHenry case, both for the government and the defense. The officials of prisons where McHenry had been confined described to the jury his life in the past and of his acts while in prison. Edward Scanion, a convict, told of the “jobs” which he and McHenry had embarked upon a year ago in Boston. Scanion declared he is serving time that McHenry ought to be putting in for robberies.
Although the government had the option of putting McHenry on trial on either the charge of killing Detective Sergeant Armstrong or that of killing Wallace Mulcare, the automobile accessories dealer whom McHenry shot to death in his store in Fourteenth street northwest an hour or so before the killing of the detective, the prosecution chose the latter crime.
This was regarded as the most practicable step for the government as it would be necessary to show malice and premeditation to obtain a verdict of first degree. In the last minutes of their argument Assistant United States Attorneys Archer and Cromelin made a strong plea for the death penalty for McHenry, declaring that the law must be upheld and that inasmuch as McHenry had slain an officer in the performance of his duty, he must pay the extreme penalty.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 9, 1922, page 2
TOO LATE TO PLEAD FOR HER SON’S LIFE
Mother of McHenry Turns Sobbing From White House, Finding Mrs. Harding Gone.
DAUGHERTY ALSO OUT OF CITY
Poem of Death Agonies on Scaffold Recited at Anthony League, Adds to Her Anguish—Todays Plans
A pathetic figure dressed in black and shaken with sobs, Mrs. Mary Rice, the mother of John McHenry, who is sentenced to be hanged tomorrow. Pleaded at the front door of the White House yesterday afternoon for “just one word” with Mrs. Harding. “Just tell her I am here, and she will take pity on a mother’s anguish and will at least see me.” Mrs. Rice told the White House attendants. But Mrs. Harding had left the city a half hour before with the president and the mother sobbed again in despair at her failure to reach the only person who could help stay the boy’s execution.
“I can’t bear it.” she kept repeating; “I can’t have him killed. He has turned to God and is willing to devote his whole life to His service and to give all the money he can earn in the penitentiary all his life to those who have suffered by his acts. I saw John yesterday, “the mother continued, “and he looked very well and still has hope of having his sentence of death changed to life imprisonment.”
Will Visit McHenry Today
Mrs. Rice is to see the officials
f the pardoning board today and make a plea to them for her son’s life. She tried to see Attorney General Daugherty last evening as well as the president and Mrs. Harding, but he was away with the president. Tears stood in the eyes of the attendants at the White House as the broken and grief-stricken mother, disappointed at finding her errand in vain, turned wearily from the door, a lonesome, friendless figure.
Mrs. Rice will visit her son again today and hopes that she will be permitted to talk to him without the intervening prison bars between them. Yesterday afternoon Mrs. Rice was present at the protest meeting against capital punishment in the District held by the Anthony League, at 2007 Columbia Road.
Mrs. James Duvall, matron of the jail, read several letters from John McHenry and other men in the death house thanking her for flowers and fruit sent to them. At each mention of her son’s name Mrs. Rice sobbed silently, the tears running down her cheeks.
Terrorized by Recitation
Mrs. Rice seemed terror-stricken when one of the members of the league read a poem written by a convict in the jail, describing the agonies of the death penalty, and the ceremonies before and after the execution. Several of the members attempted to stop the reader, feeling that the strain of hearing the fate which her son was fast approaching would further unnerve the mother. Their efforts being of no avail they formed a circle about the sobbing woman and engaged her in conversation so that she could not hear the recitation.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 18, 1922, page 2
SMILES AS HE PAYS GALLOWS PENALTY
Youthful John McHenry Calm in Meeting Death for Murder of Two
MOTHER WEEPS AT PARTING
Collapses as She Leaves Son With Priest for Final Rites of Religion—Dead in 4 Minutes.
John McHenry, 24 year old slayer of Wallace W. Mulcare, automobile accessories dealer, and Detective Sergt. James E. Armstrong, went to his death on the gallows at the District jail yesterday morning at 10:40 o’clock. McHenry kept his word to the other inmates of murderer’s row and died with a smile upon his face. Four minutes after the trap was sprung McHenry was pronounced dead from a broken neck by Dr. Harry Davies, resident physician of the Washington Asylum.
The youth was convicted and sentenced by the late Judge Ashley M. Gould to be hanged. Several respites were granted McHenry, and when a last hour appeal failed yesterday, the youth of iron nerve left the cell at the jail, his arms tied behind his back and smilingly walked unaided to the gallows , nodding a good-by to a guard as he passed him.
Capt. William I. Peake read the death warrant to McHenry at 10:22. Immediately the guards prepared the doomed man for the march to the gallows. As McHenry emerged from the steel cage into the sunlit rotunda he started toward the front door of the jail. Quickly realizing his mistake, the man who has puzzled jail officials and physicians who come in daily contact with him, smiled to the guards and walked with a firm step in the direction of the steps leading to the scaffold.
Final Religious Rites
The condemned man a month ago embraced the Roman Catholic faith, and at daybreak yesterday attended mass in the physician’s room at the jail. His spiritual advisor, the Rev. P.J. O’Callaghan, was with the doomed man until he dropped into eternity.
McHenry’s mother, Mrs. Mary Rice, spent several hours with her son at the jail before the execution, and after bidding him good-by collapsed. Mrs. Rice left the jail by the rear door to avoid the gaze of the crowd that gathered outside the jail. About 100 persons witnessed the execution of the killer, and about 200 more gathered about the entrance to the jail, hoping to gain admittance to witness the hanging of the man whom jail attendants admit “the gamest man to ever be hanged in the District.
McHenry’s body was sent to his birthplace, New London Conn., last night, his mother returning to her home on the same train.
Shot Two to Death
John McHenry, entered Washington on the night of December 14, 1918, and after getting off a freight train in the Potomac yards, walked to Fourteenth street northwest, until he reached the auto accessories store of Wallace Mulcare. Hungry and destitute, McHenry entered the store and told Mulcare that he needed money. A moment later Mulcare was shot through the heart.. After falling behind the counter McHenry stooped over the man’s body and took a wallet containing $102.
Hastily leaving the vicinity, the youth went to Union Station and bought a ticket for Baltimore, Md. Stopping at a fruit stand at the station, McHenry bought a bar of candy which he had in his hand when Detective James Armstrong and Chauffeur Hugh Robey entered the concourse of the station.
McHenry, walking toward Armstrong and Robey, was halted by the detective. Before Armstrong reach his pocket McHenry whipped out his automatic pistol and shot the detective to death. A blow from Robey’s blackjack felled the youth.