Served: 7 years
1867 to September 2, 1874
On May 2, 1871, the Cincinnati Daily Gazette announced the political severance of 39 patrolmen, sergeants, and lieutenants from the Police Force. This sort of political purge occurred from time to time during the era, usually with the change of mayoral administrations. One officer purged was 9th Street Precinct Patrolman Bird, of 11 Kossuth Street, an Ireland émigré. He was an older officer, having served under Mayors Torrence, Wilstach, and Davis and dismissed by the latter. He was always faithful in the discharge of his duties. Mayor Johnson, Davis’s successor, rehired Abraham Bird in 1874 as a Substitute (probationary) Patrolman.
On September 2, 1874, Sub Patrolman Bird was detailed, as a private policeman, with Patrolman McGarr, both of the 9th Street Station, at the entrance to the Jackley’s Great Vienna Circus on the Emery Lot, on Vine Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets.
The circus proprietor was Uncle James Davis. His son, J. M. S. Trim Davis, a deaf-mute, had free access to the circus and had a reputation for frequent acts of brutality and viciousness. He had married one of the performers a few days before and found that she had been unfaithful. He entered the circus and sought out the manager, Mike Lipman, and wrote him a note to the effect that he knew of her infidelity and that he intended to “put a head on her”. Lipman wrote back that he should not as he did not want to see him in trouble. Lipman then went about his business.
Shortly after the doors opened, someone came to Lipman and told him that Davis was making a disturbance at the monkey cage near the dressing room. Davis was agitating the monkeys. Lipman spoke to James Davis and he advised Lipman to have his son arrested.
Lipman found Patrolmen McGarr and Bird on the street and asked them for assistance. McGarr refused stating that it was the responsibility of the private policemen to handle issues inside. Patrolman Bird went with Lipman and on the way found Private Policeman John A. Webb who went along to assist.
After finding Davis, both officers tried to escort him out when Davis pulled away, took a pistol from his right rear pants pocket, and fired point blank into Patrolman Bird. Neither officer was armed (firearms would not be approved for patrolmen for another 14 years) and both turned away from the shots. The bullet went through Patrolman Bird’s left arm, into his chest, through both lungs, and through the aorta at the top of his heart. Davis then struck Patrolman Bird in the mouth with his pistol and with such force that the pistol dropped from his hand. Patrolman Bird fell, exclaiming, “Oh God!” and Davis went to him and kicked him three or four times in the back, picked up his pistol, put it in his coat pocket, and ran out.
A groom came out of the stable and immediately went to Officer Bird and found him already dead.
Patrolmen William A. Fox caught Davis trying to escape by the Race Street entrance, and arrested him. Davis put up such a struggle that other officers, Meyers, Brady, and Elchelberger, were needed to overpower him. James Davis was present by then and said he was not lacking in parental feeling, but he wished the policeman had shot his son. He further expounded that he personally selected Patrolman Bird for the detail because of his quiet, steady demeanor.
The officers struggled with Trim Davis all the way to the 9th Street Stationhouse. Once there, they searched him and found in his pocket a loaded single-barreled cartridge Derringer and two or three loose cartridges. Thereafter, he exhibited perfect composure. His interrogation was conducted in writing by Lieutenant James V. Sargent. Davis completely denied his involvement, even stating once that Patrolman Bird probably shot himself. Soon thereafter, he fell asleep, unconcerned, as though nothing had happened.
Patrolman Bird’s body was placed on a truss of straw until the Coroner arrived. Chief Kierstead ordered that the body be removed to the 9th Street Stationhouse. He was thereafter removed to Habig’s funeral parlor.
Patrolman Bird left a wife, Jane Bird (42) and five children, Harriet Ella Bird (20), James Bird (18), Emma Bird (14), Richard Bird (12) and Laura Bird (6). The funeral was held on Saturday, September 5, 1874 at 2 p.m. at the Christie Chapel M. E. Church where he and his family were members. A large number of night patrolmen, the entire night forces from Bremen and Oliver Street Stations, Superintendent Kiersted, and Mayor Johnson escorted Patrolman Bird to the church and as far as Lincoln Park after which the cortège passed through en route to Wesleyan Cemetery. On June 8, 1892, his body was exhumed and re-interred in Spring Grove Cemetery. Jane joined him on January 11, 1912.
AFter the murder, Manager Lipman immediately determined to give a benefit performance at any time Colonel Kiersted, Superintendent of Police, may indicate and devote the entire proceeds to Patrolman Bird’s family. Colonel Kiersted agreed and all policemen sold tickets. The benefit performances were held in the afternoon and evening of Monday, September 7. The tent was crowded to capacity for each performance and the Vine and Race Streets entrances were filled with those unable to gain standing room inside. A sum of $1,415 was collected. A private collection was taken up amounting to about $350.00 from patrolmen, including $55 from the 9th Street Station and $43 from the Hammond Street Station. Altogether, about $1,700 was given to the widow.
On April 2, 1875, J. M. S. Davis, was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree, and given a Life sentence. He was pardoned by Governor Bishop on January 2, 1880, after serving less than five years.
If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was revised August 28, 2012 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President with most of the research and data being provided by Joyce Meyer, Price Hill Historical Society Historian. All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.