From Early Patrol of “Pike” Watchmen, Through Eras of Turbulence, Lawlessness, and Moral Development of Community, to Present Standard–Private Doyle’s Life Sacrificed to Duty
So closely allied as it is with the moral development of the community, there is probably no more interesting point in connection with the history of the Capitol City than a study of the police department. Washington has had many forms of police protection. Back in the early days, when Pennsylvania avenue was but a straggling street, and the promenade between its double row of trees was an afternoon feature, there were the old night watchmen, carrying a long staff in one hand and a tallow-wick lantern in the other.

Then came the appointment of the “high constable,” and the division of the town into four districts, with one man to patrol each throughout the day. Four men were given the office of “police commissioner,” with the onerous duty of supervising the policing of the town. Soon it became necessary to provide “lockup” in which to confine the prisoners taken. The constables received a salary of $125 a year each, and when the lock-ups were erected it is a matter of record that they cost but $150 each.

The historical episode of the stoning of President Tyler, many years later, as the chief executive was attempting to forget political animosities and insults in a walk about the White House grounds brought about a still further change. The famous “auxiliary guard” was organized, with fifteen men doing duty under a captain. The new police were sorely needed, for the spirit of the time was troublesome. Political enemies of the president were active in the city, and were responsible for many brawls and petty annoyances.

Firebugs Add Terrors.

Twenty-five years later the force was doubled, and further division of the city into police precincts was made. An era of incendiarism prevailed, and two additional men were detailed to each ward to aid in the suppression of the crimes. Then came a general increase of disorder, and it dawned upon the city fathers that their methods of preserving peace were inadequate. In desperation a force of 200 men was organized, rules adopted, and the metropolitan police, as the present generation knows it, came into being.
Under the new regime of police protection the city grew rapidly to a well-organized and well-conducted community. Probably the most notable era through which it passed was that of the seventies, (1870’s) when the district entered into its corporate rights. Election riots were frequent, and a unique requisition was made in consequence–that of rifles, carbines, sabers, pistols, and belts with which to arm the entire force. The city was passing through a transitional stage, and the times were precarious, despite the efforts of the police.

The gambling spirit came over the city. The gambling element was composed of all grades of the profession, from the gentleman to the tough. Raids were frequent, arrests made, but still the practice went on. Robberies became common. There was the sensational robbery of Vice President Colfax and many other of less mention. Murders followed each other with startling rapidity. The city was yet full of soldiers, and lawlessness prevailed in many sections, particularly that of the Southwest.

Southwest at Its Worst

At this time the southwest section was infested with hundreds of “speak-easys.” gambling houses, policy shops, lottery games, and disorderly houses, the proprietors of which openly violated the license laws. Sunday observance, anti-gambling laws, and offended the peace and dignity of all laws, seemingly without fear of molestation. The section, in fact, became a hotbed of all kinds of crime and the rendezvous of the worst class of criminals. The man who ventured there after nightfall did so at his own peril.

It was with such conditions the police had to deal, but the members of the police force of that day were, as now, imbued with that quality called courage. They needed it for to attempt anything like regulation of the section was to invite assassination. More than one man carried the scars of combat, and one, with whom this sketch deals in particular, sacrificed his life.

That man was one of the bravest, most chivalrous of any who have been numbered among the members of the Capitol City police. Francis M. Doyle never rose beyond the rank of a private, yet by the record of his deeds he takes a stand among the highest men of the department. On the night of December 29, 1871, he laid down his life in the line of duty, and the woman who fired the shot that killed him was acquitted by a jury, the excuse for this verdict being based on sex.

Among those who inhabited the southwest section of the city there probably was none who reached greater notoriety, so far as alleged violation of the law is concerned than Mrs. John Shea. A woman of resource, of character, of capability, for years she is said to have openly defied the police.

There came a time, however, when one more courageous than his predecessors said that Mrs. Shea must be brought to the bar of justice. To certain of the force he intrusted the duty of securing evidence which would convict her before a jury, and to others he gave the dutyof drawing as many as possible of her henchmen into the same net. A determined effort was put under way to stamp out the lawlessness of the southwest. The city was morally corrupt and to rectify the condition the southwest must be brought to task.

After weeks of effort the task seemed completed. There remained but to place Mrs. Shea under arrest. With this done, the backbone of the trouble would be broken, and a long step toward a general betterment of conditions taken. To Sergt. E.J. Duvall and Private Francis M. Doyle was intrusted this last duty., and upon the mission of placing Mrs. Shea behind prison bars the two brave members of the police department set out. They knew what lay before them, yet with never a thought beyond carrying out the orders of their superiors they started to perform their duty.

There is something inexpressibly sad about the history of that night. Upon Christmas day, four days later, Private Doyle was in his home taking toys from a tree for his children. Happy with his wife and family, he could have had no thought that so soon afterward the joy of the holiday season would be dimmed for all the city and to his family made deepest sorrow through his own death.

Early in the evening the two men set out for Mrs. Shea’s home on Maryland avenue southwest. The house was easily found, and knowing that the woman could have no inkling of what was to be done, the two men calmly knocked at the front door and awaited her. A maid answered , and upon their request to see Mrs. Shea they were shown into a parlor. In a moment the woman entered the room, with a word made them welcome, and inquired the nature of their visit with a smile that belied her real feeling.

Mrs. Shea was called beautiful. Tall, with a commanding figure, a voice that could be soft and soothing or cold and hard by turns, eyes that were limpid or steel-flashing in a moment, her entire nature expressed in a second utmost graciousness or the fight of a cornered tigress. Thus she had lived, and thus was the manner of her living and her character revealed in her being.

Quietly, and without wanting to alarm the other inmates of the house, Sergt. Duvall told the woman that she must accompany him to the station house. Her assent was as quietly given, and she rose to excuse herself, that she might a wrap. But, as she moved toward the door Sergt. Duvall again confronted her. With a sudden thought that the whole affair might already be known to her, and this be but an excuse that she might escape, he refused to let her pass from the room.

The woman’s suspicion was aroused, and a second later, When Sergt. Duvall turned to Private Doyle and asked him to place handcuffs upon her, she showed the ferociousness of a tigress. Scarcely half a dozen words passed between the trio in the next few moments. They were moments of tenseness, however, and they preceded death. Begging a seconds delay, Mrs. Shea slowly moved to the other side of the room, until she stood before an old-fashioned square piano by the wall.

The order to place the glittering bracelets upon the wrists of the woman was repeated, and Private Doyle took a few steps to the side of Mrs. Shea. As she stood there one hand wandered to the top of the piano and into a slight recess between two pillows. Private Doyle stooped to move the handcuff to a smaller dimension, that it might fit the slender wrist and offer no chance for escape. At the other side of the room Sergt. Duvall looked on, one hand closed around the grip of a heavy revolver.
Woman a Murderer

Then suddenly the woman whipped her right arm forward. Within its grasp was a bit of shining steel–and then murder! A flash of flame, a puff of smoke, a report, and Private Doyle sank slowly to the floor! The clasp upon the woman’s wrist loosened, a spot of blood appeared upon his breast, and as he lay prone, slowly widened out into a crimson pool, staining with its flood the clean white flooring of the room. A second, third, fourth, and fifth time the trigger of the revolver was pulled, but the hammer clicked upon empty shells. But one bullet had been sent, and it had done its work.

In a moment Sergt. Duvall had the woman within his grasp. He pinioned her to the floor, wrested the empty gun from her hand, and with a savage brutality pressed the other handcuff about the murdering hand until the narrow band of steel bit into the flesh and brought a drop of blood of its own. A handful of screaming , frightened women who had pressed about the door was pushed aside, ordered into another room, and the door locked upon them. The police and surgeons from the hospital were ordered.

Private Doyle was placed upon a mattress, his wound examined, and then for three hours the surgeons labored to keep alive the spark of life that could be barely detected. It was a vain task, and none realized it better than those who worked, but it was done–everything that human skill could devise or suggest. Finally death came, and blue coated men, who had stood shoulder to shoulder with him in duty, reverently lifted his body and bore it to the home of the sorrowing family.

City Honors Police Hero

Three days later he was buried. About his grave gathered men of every rank and station in life. There were those who had become, through constant association, intimate friends, those who had watched his career as a member of the police force, and finally those who had never before looked upon his face, but now wished to do reverence to the man who had nobly laid down his life in the path of duty. A whole city did him honor, and laid upon his grave their tribute of love and affection.

Months later Mrs. Shea was arraigned in court, charged with the murder of Private Doyle. Of the trial, which dragged itself out over endless weeks, of the pleas put forward in her behalf by counsel engaged at great cost, of the verdict, the less said the easier borne. In a little book at police headquarters in the office of Maj. Sylvester, there is written these words in explanation of the revolver to which they refer.

“With this revolver Mrs. John Shea murdered Private Francis M. Doyle on December 29, 1871, while resisting the efforts of the officer named to place her under arrest. She escaped punishment at the hand of the tender-hearted jury.”
The entry is significant, and it tells the story with remarkable fidelity. But if we must remember that the murder of this gallant man went unavenged, we can also remember that in the history of no city or community will there ever live the memory of a man more brave, more tender, more manly. Private Francis M. Doyle will always stand as an example of a man to be loved and revered.