After 93 murders occurred in Cincinnati during 1883 and several notoriously vicious murders welcomed in the new year of 1884, a substantive rumor began that juries were being bribed to free murders. The population of Cincinnati was uneasy when William Berner and Joseph Palmer came up for separate trials for the Christmas Eve murder of William Kirk, a West End horse trader, and the abuse of his corpse. Even though Berner confessed, when he was the first of the two to go on trial, the jury returned a conviction of Manslaughter on March 26, 1884 – not Murder. On March 28, 1884, eight thousand outraged citizens met at Music Hall on Elm Street. The meeting was tense, but peaceful. As they were leaving, a man on Elm Street yelled, “On to the jail! Follow me! Let’s hang Berner!” By the time they arrived at the Courthouse at 9:55 a.m., the crowd numbered ten thousand.
Warned of their approach, Sheriff Hawkins sent in the riot alarm to the Police and Fire Departments and sent for the First Regiment of the Ohio National Guard. During the second night of rioting, March 29, 1884, Captain John J. Desmond, 473 W. Court Street, lawyer and member of Company B of the First Regiment, led a detachment of his company through the Courthouse. As his company emerged onto Main Street and deployed, a rioter aimed a revolver at him and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. In the returned volley, the shooter was gravely wounded, taken into the jail, and confessed his crime before he too died.
Captain Desmond was survived by his widowed mother, Julia, and buried in St. Joseph (New) Cemetery.
On April 4, 1884, the “Bar Committee” proposed that a “National Guard Fund” be held in trust by the Fidelity Safe Deposit and Trust Company, and the income there from to be paid over to the widowed mother of Captain John J. Desmond, in semiannual installments, as long as she may live. Thereafter, it was to be distributed to members of the First Regiment of the Ohio National Guard who were injured or killed in the line of duty. The fund established became known as the “Desmond Fund” and lasted beyond the death of Mrs. Desmond. The Desmond Fund also survived the First Regiment of the Ohio National Guard which was disbanded. This caused a suit to be filed with several claimants to the balance. By court decree, the remaining funds were split among three of the Ohio National Guard who were shot and wounded on March 29, 1884; Michael J. Malone, Charles Cook, and Edward G. Muthert. That portion that went to Mr. Malone, and perhaps each portion, was passed down through Malone’s descendants. At some point, a portion of it was used for the repair and restoration of a statue of Captain Desmond now located in the Hamilton County Courthouse. In 1973, the fund became a portion of Jane Malone’s estate when she died without any heirs. It was then passed onto the Greater Cincinnati Foundation for management. Currently, its scope is “to provide financial assistance to deserving individuals who have been injured in the line of duty protecting Public property as a policeman, fireman, or another branch of the City of Cincinnati.” As of 2011, the Desmond Fund contains almost $33,000.
If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or the incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was revised March 23, 2011 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President. All rights are reserved to him and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.