THIS STORY REPORTS THE 1909 SHOOTING DEATH OF CAPTAIN WILLIAM H. MATHEWS AT THE HANDS OF OFFICER JOHN W. COLLIER AT THE FIFTH PRECINCT STATION HOUSE. THE CRIMINAL TRIAL THAT RESULTED IN A COURTROOM FIST FIGHT BETWEEN THE OPPOSING ATTORNEY’S THAT THE DEFENDANT HELPED BREAK UP. IT ALSO TELLS OF THE CAPTAINS TOUGH REPUTATION AND WHAT HAPPENED TO COLLIER AFTER THE TRIAL.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 7, 1909, PAGE 1
COLLIER IS SILENT
Slayer of Capt. Mathews Is Held for Grand Jury.
MOTHER TELLS OF NAGGING
Says Boy Must Have Been Insane When He Shot Victim
Coroner’s Jury Remands Prisoner to Jail After Hearing Story of the tragedy. Men of Precinct Whisper Trouble Between Slayer and His Superior. Views of Lawyers on the Case–Maj. Sylvester’s Tribute to Dead Officer.
Police John W. Collier, who on Friday evening shot and killed Capt. William H. Mathews, commander of the Fifth precinct, was held for the killing by a coroner’s jury yesterday. He was remanded to jail to await the action of the grand jury.
Collier preserved a calm, stolid demeanor throughout the proceedings and maintained strict silence. When called to the witness stand by Coroner Nevitt, the prisoner, by the advice of his counsel J.E. Archer, declined to make a statement.
Before being taken to jail Collier was driven to police headquarters, handcuffed to Private Frank E. Merrill, and photographed.
At the inquest, conducted by Coroner Nevitt, Assistant United States Attorney Perry represented the government. Dr. H.W. Moffitt, resident physician of Casualty Hospital, testified to finding the dead body of Capt. Mathews in a pool of blood on the floor of the captain’s office, and that the dead man was fully dressed.
Members of the force who reached Capt. Mathews soon after the shooting stated that his coat was torn, his tie disarranged, and buttons pulled off his shirt. This is accounted for Dr. Moffitt, who testified at the inquest that he jerked open the captain’s coat and shirt upon his arrival at the station house, and otherwise loosened his clothing. The left hand of the dead man was found clinched, and one knuckle was badly swollen as if he had struck a blow.
Lieut. Sprinkle’s Story.
Lieut. J.L. Sprinkle testified that the clock in the station pointed to 7:45 when he heard a shot. Five seconds later he heard a second shot, but was not able to locate them definitely. Then he heard Capt. Mathews voice. A few seconds later three more shots were fired. Witness ran to Capt. Mathew’s office and saw the last of the five shots fired. The wounded man was lying on his side on the floor and Collier was standing over him with the weapon pointed at him.
“I knocked the pistol from his hand,” witness stated. “About that time several officers entered through the other door.” Lieut. Sprinkle said he considered Collier was sober and rational. The shooting was done, he thought, in less time than half a minute. He thought Capt. Mathews was reading a letter embodying a complaint about street cars at the time he was shot.
“I Did It, Said Collier.”
Bicycle Policeman D.J. Cullinane, who assisted in arresting Collier, swore that the prisoner said: “I did it, and that’s all there is to it”. Witness said Collier appeared sober and rational.
Dr. L.W. Glazebrook, deputy coroner, who was the last witness, explained the result of the autopsy, held previous to the inquest, and described the wounds. He said there was no evidence of any tearing of the dead man’s coat and vest, although they were old.
Mrs. Collier, mother of the prisoner, to a Post reporter yesterday expressed confidence in her son. She declared “her boy” had been nagged to desperation, and that nothing in the world could have prompted him to commit such an act unless there was sufficient provocation.
“Persecuted,” Says Mother.
“I am sure the boy was temporarily insane at the time he fired the shots,” said Mrs. Collier. “He was one of the kindest hearted boys in the world, and though he had a violent temper, I do not believe he would intentionally commit a crime.
“The boy worked very hard, and on several occasions he was late in reporting for duty. From the little he said, I knew he was being persecuted, and I felt sorry. It took a lot to upset him, but when he was aroused he was very determined..”
“I have known Collier during the entire four years that he has been a policeman,” said Lieut. Sprinkle yesterday. “He was over at the Second precinct when I was there, and I have been here all the time he has been here. For two years I have been on the trial board, and up until last October Collier had been up before that board on minor charges eight or ten times.”
No Chance for Quarrel
“Since last October, when he came to station 5, he has not been before the board once. So it is evident that there was no trouble between him and Capt. Mathews. The only thing that Collier might have felt a grievance over was the fact that Capt. Mathews, not very long ago changed him from one post to another.”
“There was no opportunity for any quarrel between the two men last night before Collier fired the fatal shot.”
Collier, when seen by a Post reporter in his cell, showed signs of having been in a scuffle, but this may be accounted for by the fact that he was handled somewhat roughly by the policemen who rushed into the office and made him a prisoner. When searched a pint bottle of whisky was found in Collier’s hip pocket. The bottle had not been opened.
Talks Over Phone.
Little by little talk is turning to differences alleged to have existed between Capt. Mathews and Collier. At 4 o’clock Friday afternoon Collier, who had been absent from reserve duty on Wednesday, called the captain over the telephone and explained that he was ill and wished a leave of absence. According to those in the station house at the time, Capt. Mathews became irritated, and told Collier to come to the station where the captain would determine for himself whether Collier was ill or not. The captain slammed the receiver on the hook, it is said, and went to his office apparently in no pleasant humor.
About half an hour before Collier appeared at the station someone called Capt. Mathews on the telephone, and a conversation ensued. What the party on the other end of the line probably will never be known, but it is asserted that Capt. Mathews turned red, and talked as if excited, as if the person with whom he was talking said something which offended him. It is declared that he slammed the receiver on the hook with such vigor that the telephone was nearly overturned.
It is assumed by the police that the person with whom the captain was talking was Collier, but this cannot be verified.
When Collier left home Friday afternoon his mother says he was, apparently, in a good humor. And when he appeared at the station there was nothing in his manner to excite the alarm of his colleagues.
Hints of Trouble.
Several of the men who were present when Collier entered nudged each other and whispered: “He’ll get his when the captain sees him.”
The policemen in the Third, Second, and fifth precincts, where Collier did duty, declare he was quiet, conservative, and a model policeman, although he reported late for duty on several occasions.
Central Office Detectives Baur and Springman, who examined Collier, say the policeman declined absolutely to discuss the case. It is asserted, however, that Collier remarked that after he fired the first shot his mind was a blank, and that he does not remember firing the four others.
Asked when it was expected the Collier case would be presented to the grand jury one of the staff of the district attorney’s office said yesterday: “The grand jury meets daily. It is possible the case will be presented in the regular way, reaching that body within two weeks. The police are working on the case and as soon as they have completed their labors and submitted the results to this office we will perform the work necessary to bring about an indictment.”
Where Burden Rests.
One of the leading criminal lawyers said to a Post reporter: “Collier has made good use of his training as a policeman by refusing to discuss his case with anyone–not even his closest friends. Such action is necessarily a handicap to the police, but no matter what his defense may be, the burden of proof rests upon him. It is enough for the government to show that there was a murder committed, and his admission of guilt eliminates the introduction of circumstantial evidence.
“In order to convict him of murder in the first degree it will necessary for the government to show motive and premeditation. If the act was done in the heat of passion the crime is lessened to the extent of second degree murder.The case is not unlike the Bradley case. There was no eye witness to that unfortunate affair, yet the grand jury returned an indictment for murder in the first degree.”
The body of the dead captain was removed from the morgue yesterday to the family residence, 321 Fifth street southeast, and from there the funeral will take place tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock. The cortege will proceed to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where services will be held. Interment will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery. A detail one inspector, and representatives of the several grades in the department will attend the funeral.
The superintendent of police, in the following order relative to the death of Capt. Mathews said:
Maj. Sylvester’s Tribute
“While yet recovering from the protracted and arduous labors incident to the maintenance of peace and order during the inaugural period, the department has experienced a disappointment at once shocking and sorrowful in the death by violence of Capt. William H. Mathews, which occurred on Friday, March 5, 1909, at the hour of 7:45 o’clock in the evening, at the Fifth precinct station house.
“Capt. Mathews became a member of the Metropolitan police force of the District of Columbia, June 15, 1886, and by industry and attention to duty won for himself the confidence of his superiors and the respect of the citizens in the territory where he was assigned. He was a thorough police officer, honest, alert, and intelligent, and gave his full time and attention to the welfare of the department.
Capt. Mathews was an affectionate husband and father, firm, but kind to the unfortunate, and his sudden death will be largely mourned.”
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED AUGUST 3, 1909, PAGE 5
APPEAL FOR COLLIER
Counsel Plan to Make Second Request for Bail.
TELLS STORY OF THE SHOOTING.
Slayer of Capt. Mathews, in Affidavit, Gives His First Public Recital of the Tragedy—Says He Went to Station to Ask About Reserve Duty, and, After Argument, He Shot in Self-Defense.
Counsel for John W. Collier, the policeman accused of the murder of Police Captain William H. Mathews in March last, have renewed the motion to have their client admitted to bail, and yesterday served the district attorney with notice that they will present argument to Justice Gould, in the Supreme Court, Thursday.
In dismissing the motion made last week Justice Wright did so without prejudice, thereby enabling counsel for the accused policeman to make a similar motion before another justice of the Supreme Court. In denying the motion last week Justice Wright stated that there had been no facts bearing on the merits of the case presented to him, and as it was a matter of discretion vested in the court he decided, in the absence of any extenuating circumstances for the commission of the deed, to dismiss the motion without prejudice.
Messrs. Woodward and Walker, in making a motion before Justice Gould, have set out the defense to be used in seeking to establish the innocence of their client. The affidavit, in substance, is to the effect that the interests of the defendant will be best served if he be allowed his liberty, thereby enabling him to obtain evidence sufficient to prove the statements made in his affidavit, and at the same time obtain funds to remunerate counsel.
Collier’s affidavit, in substance, reads as follows: That prior to the 5th day of March, 1909, he was a member of the Metropolitan police force, and that immediately prior to the shooting he was on general duty in the Fifth precinct; that he had been on duty at the precinct for a number of months prior to that date, and that Capt. Mathews was the police captain in charge during all that time.
Collier states that he was in receipt of information to the effect that Capt. Mathews was a man of violent and ungovernable temper, and had upon numerous occasions assaulted or attempted to assault a number of persons.
Collier states that he, of his own knowledge and belief, is acquainted with the fact that about a year prior to March 5, 1909, Capt. Mathews had drawn a gun on J.S. Cotton and had threatened to shoot him, and that the captain had on several occasions kicked and otherwise abused one or more of the officers stationed at the Fifth precinct. He also states that he saw Capt. Mathews strike a prisoner who had given a wrong name when brought to the station house.
Collier states that prior to March 5, 1909, he was stationed at Union Station, but was at the time under the immediate direction of the captain of the Sixth precinct; that at 4 o’clock March 5 he called up No. 5 station and spoke to Officer Burlingame, asking whether he (Collier) was to report at Union Station at midnight or for duty at No.5 station. Burlingame replied that he (Collier) should then be at No.5 station, as it was his time for reserve.
Called Capt. Mathews.
At the suggestion of another policeman, Collier states, he called up Capt. Mathews to ascertain about the reserve duty. When he asked the captain the question, according to Collier, the reply was: “I have not seen you for three days, and when I do so, I would not give 15 cents for you,” at the same time hanging up the receiver.
Collier says he then proceeded to his home, had his dinner, put on his uniform, and went to the Fifth precinct station house; that previous to starting to the station house he placed his pistol in his back overcoat pocket, where he usually carried it, expecting, he alleges, that he would be sent out on duty at midnight. Collier says he was in good humor when he arrived at the station house, and was whistling. He went to the captain’s office and noticed there was some one in there talking to his superior officer. He waited until the captain was at leisure, and then entered the office saying, “Captain, I have come to see you in regard to my reserve,” whereupon the captain replied, “I think you cooked your goose this time.”
Collier states he observed that Capt. Mathews face bore every trace of hatred and ill feeling toward him. He then said to the captain: “I think you have another thing coming to you, captain,” at which remark Capt. Mathews threw down a paper which he had in his hand and threw his right hand behind him, in the direction of his hip pocket, at the same time jumping at Collier, saying:”I will fix you for that, damn you.”
Collier says he felt that the captain was about to draw a pistol, and that immediately after the hand of the captain was drawn in the direction of the hip pocket his hand came back, his arm and hand being raised and extended in the direction of Collier. Collier says the fist of Capt. Mathews was closed, indicating conclusively that he held a revolver therein, and he had very reason to believe that his life was in danger.
Collier says he reached back in his overcoat pocket, drew his revolver, and fired at the captain’s hand, hoping to disarm him, but after the first shot, which struck some part of Capt. Mathews hand, the latter reached with his left hand to his right, whereupon Collier, believing he was endeavoring to take the pistol from the wounded hand to use, fired the second shot, which felled the captain.
Thought Life in Danger
Collier says that immediately after the second shot his mind became a blank, and he has no recollection of what took place, except that he led from the room by brother officers. Collier swears that when he entered the captain’s room he had no intention of holding a controversy, and that his only object was to receive instructions regarding his reserve duty. Collier also swears that Capt. Mathews was a very large man, both in height and structure, and he was no match for him.
District Attorney Baker and his assistant, Harvey Given, will oppose the motion for the admission of Collier to bail, declaring that the facts set forth are not of sufficient character to warrant his liberty.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 5, 1909, PAGE 1
PRISON FOR COLLIER
Murder Jury Returns Verdict of Manslaughter.
LAWYERS IN FISTICUFFS
Personal Encounter Between Prosecutor and Mr. Lipscomb.
Slayer of Capt. Mathews Is Found Guilty by Jury After Four Hours Deliberation—Trial Marked by Bitter Personalities—Attorney for the Prisoner Calls District Attorney “Liar,” and a Short Fight Ensues.
John W. Collier, the policeman, who on March 5, shot and killed Capt. Mathews in the Fifth precinct police station, was found guilty of manslaughter at 8:30 o’clock last night by a jury in Criminal Court No. 1. The jury gave its verdict after four hours deliberation, and, under the finding, Collier may be imprisoned for fifteen years, which is the maximum penalty for manslaughter. Collier’s mother and sister were absent when the verdict was announced.
Is Remanded to Jail
On motion of Mr. Given, Collier was remanded to the jail to await sentence. Attorney Taylor, for the defense, then asked Justice Gould to fix the amount of bail, informing the court that he wished to note an appeal. Bail was fixed at $10,000.00. Attorney Taylor requested that Assistant District Attorney Given pass upon the qualifications of Joseph S. Cotton, a laundryman, and a Mr. Clark as bondsmen. Mr. Given refused to act in the absent of the District attorney, and Collier was taken to the District jail.
Attorney Taylor said he believed Collier would be at liberty tomorrow.
One of the jurors said: “The last thing we did in the jury room was to adopt a resolution which bound us on our honor not to divulge any of the proceedings in the jury room.
The progress of the trial was marked by bitter feeling between counsel for the government and defense. Personalities frequently were indulged in, and Justice Gould on several occasions was forced to chide the attorneys for departing from the real issue of the trial, but it was not expected that there would be a personal encounter.
Lawyers in Brawl
During the course of the direct examination of Dr. E.M. Mott, of the Church of the Advent, who was character witness for Collier, Attorney Lipscomb asked if he had not received information to the effect that the district attorney had written a letter to Bishop Harding asking why Mr. Mott had been permitted by the Episcopal Church authorities to appear as a witness. In an instant Mr. Baker was on his feet asserting that Mr. Lipscomb was seeking to impress the jury with a condition of affairs which did not exist.
Mr. Lipscomb insisted upon Mr. Mott answering the question. “I want to show,” said Mr. Lipscomb, “that the office of the district attorney has attempted to intimidate the witness by addressing that letter to Bishop Harding.”
“Liar,” Says Lipscomb.
“Mr. Lipscomb knows he is stating something that is not true,” replied Mr. Baker, “and I object.”
Before Justice Gould could rule on the objection Mr. Lipscomb, advancing toward Mr. Baker, said, “You are a liar,” struck at him and missed.
Mr. Baker retaliated by aiming a blow at Mr. Lipscomb, but not until Assistant District Attorney Harvey Given had jumped in between the belligerents.
The blow intended for Mr. Lipscomb landed on Mr. Given’s right cheek. The Defendant Collier and Capt. Doyle rushed forward, and in a moment the courtroom was in a turmoil. After order had been restored Justice Gould said to Lipscomb: “I adjudge you in contempt of court, and fine you $50. Your action is unwarranted.”
“I apologize,” said Mr. Lipscomb, “and ask that I be purged of contempt.” “Your apoligy is not accepted.” said Justice Gould, “and the fine stands.”
Attorney Taylor then addressed the court, and asked that judgement be suspended until after the termination of the trial.
“I want no suggestions from you, sir,” said Justice Gould, and Mr. Taylor took his seat.
It is understood that Mr. Lipscomb will be placed under arrest if the fine is not paid.”
When both sides announced that there would be no additional testimony District Attorney Baker addressed the jury. He consumed about three-quarters of an hour in which he reviewed the case, and asked that a verdict be returned in accordance with the indictment.
Attack on Prosecutor
Attorney Taylor, in behalf of Collier, followed Mr. Baker, and was in turn followed by Mr. Lipscomb. The latter said the district attorney had indulged in the spectacular in bringing into the courtroom the furniture taken from the office of Capt. Mathews. He implored the jury to bring in a verdict of acquittal saying, “The district attorney, who is to follow me, in addressing you gentlemen possibly will insinuate that a verdict of manslaughter would be acceptable, but with us it is a case of neck or nothing, death or freedom, and my client would just as leave go to the gallows as the penitentiary.” Mr. Lipscomb address consumed about one hour and fifteen minutes.
Assistant District Attorney Charles Turner, who closed for the government, complained that Mr. Lipscomb lowered the dignity of the court when he demanded of the jury that it was a case of “neck or nothing.”
Justice Gould in charging the jury told them that it was within their province to return a verdict for either first or second degree murder, manslaughter, or acquittal.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MARCH 16, 1910, PAGE 11
COLLIER SOON TO BEGIN TERM
Former Policeman, Convicted of Manslaughter, Decides Not to Appeal.
It is expected that within a day or two the district attorney will take the necessary steps to have handed down the mandate in the case of John W. Collier, the former policeman found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the killing of Police Captain Mathews on March 5, last, and arrangements will be made for the transportation of Collier to Fort Leavenworth, to begin the fifteen year sentence imposed upon him by Justice Gould.
Prior to the expiration of the 38 days allowed Collier’s counsel to file an appeal from the verdict of the Supreme Court, Attorney Andrew Lipscomb obtained an extension of the time to MarchAs there has been no effort to perfect the appeal. It is stated that Collier has decided to begin the service of his term.
The next move of the district attorney will be to have the case docketed in the Court of Appeals and dismissed for failure to prosecute the appeal. This course must be pursued in order that the mandate may issue, following which Collier’s warrant of removal will be sent to Warden Thomas H. McKee, of the District jail, who is intrusted with the duty of seeing that Collier is safely delivered to the warden of the Fort Leavenworth penitentiary.
THE MAY 9TH 1910 FEDERAL CENSUS FOR THE FORT LEAVENWORTH PENITENTIARY LISTED JOHN W. COLLIER’S PAST OCCUPATION AS ELECTRICIAN . THIS WAS APPARENTLY DONE TO PREVENT THE OTHER PRISONERS KNOWING HE WAS AN EX-POLICEMAN.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED MAY 26, 1926, PAGE 9
FREEDOM OF SLAYER OF POLICEMAN ASKED
Collier Will Be Brought Before Court Friday on Habeas Corpus Writ.
John W. Collier, inmate of the Government Hospital for the Insane, and former policeman in the Fifth precinct, who shot and killed Capt. William H. Mathews of that precinct on March 5, 1909, will be brought before Justice Hoehling in circuit court Friday, on a writ of habeas corpus sued out by his counsel, James P. Farmer. The writ attacks the right of Dr. William A. White, superintendent of the hospital, to hold Collier in the ward for the criminal insane.
The former policeman was indicted on a charge of first degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of manslaughter, and a sentence of fifteen years in prison was imposed and has been served. Collier was sent to Leavenworth and was transferred to the Government Hospital for the Insane on September 2, 1917, without court order adjudging him insane, the petition for the writ states.
The shooting of Capt. Mathews stirred the police department as no other incident ever did. Collier pleaded self defense and contended that Mathews was about to shoot him first. The record shows that there had been several disagreements between Collier and Mathews prior to the shooting.