Patrolwagon Driver Joseph Sturm | Cincinnati Police Department

Age: 43
Served: 1 year
1883 to March 29, 1884


After 93 murders occurred in Cincinnati during 1883 and several notoriously vicious murders welcomed in the new year of 1884, a substantive rumor emerged 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. 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. The responding guardsmen were inside the jail by 11:30 p.m. and riotous behavior broiled around them.

The crowd swelled and, about 1:30 a.m., they poured petroleum down the steps into the tunnel where the militia were stationed, and set it afire. The militia sprang to the door and delivered a shattering volley on the mob. They then pushed their way up the steps and fired again on the crowd. Unknown to the militia, Patrol Wagon Driver Sturm, of 159 W. Court Street, had driven Patrol Wagon No. 3 from the other side of the building and into the mob in order to pick up a wounded rioter and take him to the hospital. As he stepped down from the wagon, he was struck with four rounds from the militia’s volley. One account said he was shot three times in the leg and once in the groin. Another account has him shot four times in the side. Regardless, he died at 2 a.m. on March 29, 1884, becoming one of two hundred casualties during three nights of rioting.

Patrolman Sturm left a wife, Johanna, and three sons and daughter; George (26), Mary (23), and William (13). A Requiem High Mass was held at his funeral at 8:30 a.m. on March 31 at St. Xavier Church on Sycamore Street. He is buried in St. Joseph New Cemetery.

On April 26, 1898, the Ohio Congress passed Senate Bill No. 389 which said, in part, “for the relief of Joanna Sturm and children, widow and children of Joseph Sturm, deceased, killed by a member of the Ohio National Guard while defending public property … the commissioners of Hamilton county, Ohio, are hereby authorized and empowered to pay out of the treasury of said county to the widow and children of Joseph Sturm, deceased, a sum not exceeding thirty-five hundred dollars for their relief.

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This narrative was revised March 23, 2011 by Cincinnati Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President. All rights are reserved to him and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.