Detective Sergeant John A. Cameron – Cincinnati Police Division

Cameron PAGE
Detective Sergeant Cameron

Badge: 36
Age: 52
Served: 25¼ years
January 14, 1910 to April 26, 1935

 

Detective Sergeant John A. Cameron and his partner, Detective John J. Schmitt, led a contingent of Cincinnati’s most seasoned detectives to the 1000 block of West Eighth Street in Cincinnati’s old West End on Friday, April 26, 1935 hoping to halt a rumored payroll robbery.
Earlier that day, a tipster had warned Detective James Gorman that the Crane and Breed Casket Company’s Treasurer E. T. Mossman would be robbed of his payroll that afternoon when he returned to the plant from making the bank run. The word was that Mossman would get off a streetcar in front of the casket company at 1227 West Eighth Street carrying the money and the would-be robbers would accost him, grab it and run.

 

 

 Carnegie Medal similar to that which was awarded to twenty-six year old John Cameron

Carnegie Medal similar to that which was awarded to twenty-six year old John Cameron

Cincinnati Police had confidence in this informant. Only two years earlier he had helped them send escaped convict Clay Fogelmann to face death in the electric chair for a murder and robbery that he committed in North Carolina; therefore, Cincinnati deemed his information reliable and after Gorman arranged to introduce the informant to Detective Sergeant Cameron, presumably it was Cameron who decided to stake out the area of the casket company.

 

At least five detectives were sent to the vicinity of West Eighth Street near Freeman Avenue and Carr and Harriet Streets. Cameron and Schmitt parked their vehicle and began their vigil. They were backed by three other detectives who had posted themselves in doorways nearby. An April 27, 1935 Cincinnati Times-Star accounting of the story identified the other detectives as: Martin Steiner, Elmer Zwissler, and Benjamin Schaefer. It isn’t known whether Cameron and Schmitt, as they waited for the robbers to appear, knew who they were or were simply “on the lookout” for suspicious activity.

 

When they saw the suspicious looking brown and tan vehicle cruising in the area and trailing streetcars to the factory they forced it to the curb at 1013 West Eighth Street.

 

That is when the gun battle – which would end the lives of two men and which would spread from its West End origins into the rural community of Morrow, Ohio in Warren County – began. All told, at least 14 law enforcement officers from at least four agencies were needed to assist in the capture of the formidable Lindsey Cyrus who stood 5’8″ and weighed 240 pounds.

 

Cameron and Schmitt were both veteran law enforcement officers and seasoned detectives. Between them they had 42 years both street and investigative experience. Cameron had come on the force with the Mounted Patrol in 1910. Schmitt became a patrolman in 1918. Both men were promoted to detective in 1928. Each man had shown courage and bravery throughout his career and neither one flinched at danger.
In 1909, civilian John Cameron had been awarded a prestigious Carnegie Medal for saving a life during a fire the year before. John Schmitt had escaped death at the hands of another gunman during a brawl at the Cat and Fiddle about five months earlier, when a bullet fired at him was deflected by his diamond tie pin – a gift given to him by his mother.

 

When the occupants of the suspicious vehicle – Leland English, the driver, and his passenger Lindsey G. Cyrus – showed they were not going to cooperate with law enforcement, Schmitt jumped out of the police car – which Cameron was driving – and pointed his pistol at Cyrus, ordering him to, “Put ’em up.” Cyrus then seized the detective’s wrist with both hands and shoved the pistol into the air.

 

By this time, Cameron was out of his car and alongside Cyrus’ vehicle. Schmitt, still held by Cyrus, shouted to Cameron to take the gun and shoot him. Cyrus then opened his car door with his knees and fell onto the pavement, involuntarily pulling Schmitt on top of him. Cameron managed to fire four shots. Unfortunately, one of those shots hit Schmitt in the hand.

 

Cyrus fell to the sidewalk.

 

Meanwhile English fled. Schmitt gave chase “through yards and over fences,” according to an April 27, 1935 Cincinnati Enquirer accounting.
With Schmitt gone, Cyrus regained his footing. He ran to his car, grabbed his pistol and aimed at Cameron through the automobile window, fired – and shot the Sergeant Detective in the forehead. Cameron, whose wounds would most certainly prove fatal, fell in the street. The time was around 1:40 p.m. Two other bullets had struck Cameron – one in the abdomen and another in his left hand.

 

Cyrus, also wounded by bullets from Cameron’s gun, sped away.

 

Meanwhile Schmitt, despite a gunshot wound to his hand, caught English on West Ninth Street near Freeman Avenue. Fire Marshal Harry McNay and officers on duty at Fire Company 2 and Ladder Company 6 at the northeast corner of that intersection took charge of the prisoner and hurried the wounded Schmitt to the hospital.

 

After his encounter with the men on duty at the fire companies, the much-subdued English admitted that he visited the plant that same day and had known that Friday, the day of the attempted robbery, had been pay day. In addition, he leaked enough information on Cyrus to Detective William Cleary to enable Cleary to identify English’s partner as one Lindsey G. Cyrus – formerly a resident of Staebler Street in Cincinnati, but now in the shoe repair business in Morrow, Ohio – by linking Cyrus to a Cincinnati daughter, Christine Heflin, 1912 State Avenue.

 

English eventually admitted to Sergeant George Schattle, after several failed attempts to convince Schattle of his innocence, that the hold-up had been planned. English said he and Cyrus had been drinking and that Cyrus had unfolded plans for a payroll robbery.
The stage now shifts north to Morrow, Ohio in Warren County.

 

Two cars of heavily-armed detectives were chosen to make the 38-mile trip to Morrow and bring back Lyndsey G. Cyrus. They were: Detective Captain Patrick Hayes; and Detectives William Cleary, Walter Carney, Andrew Beard, Adolph J. Mezger, George Lutz and Michael McShane; as well as Patrolman Timothy O’Leary and Deputy Sheriff Frank R. Mann. With the help of Warren County Sheriff William Hufford and Marshal Gus Slack of Morrow, who knew Cyrus, the squad set a trap for Cyrus to help bring him back to Cincinnati for justice.

 

But Cyrus was crafty. He was driving a different car than the one in which he had escaped in Cincinnati. And as a criminal on the run he took no chances. He started to park his car in front of the shoe repair shop, but just as Slack spotted him, Cyrus also spotted Mezger and Slack in Slack’s car and so he quickly drove away with Mezger and Slack close behind.

 

The stage now shifts to an alley – in the rear of his shoe repair shop.

 

Cyrus fired upon the vehicle in which Mezger and Slack were waiting – shattering its windshield, but narrowly missing the detectives. The Cincinnati officers responded with machine gun blasts.

 

Cyrus rolled out of his car, writhing. Police officers on the scene didn’t know the extent of Cyrus wounds at this time. Also, Cyrus’ opponents weren’t going to be fooled twice. Cyrus had pulled the “I’m wounded” trick back in Cincinnati, before he shot Cameron. So Cincinnati officers on the scene at Morrow then opened with another blast of machine gun fire.

 

But even as he fell for the last time, the still-writhing, still-cursing Cyrus – raised his revolver and fired off his last two shots.
Law enforcement closed in on Cyrus when they determined his gun was empty.

 

Cyrus was finally taken into custody, still fighting every step of the way. This was in spite of the bullet wounds Cameron pumped into him before Cyrus drove to Morrow, bleeding throughout the trip, plus the machine gun wounds sustained in the battle at Morrow. As the still-armed Cyrus continued cursing and swearing at his captors, Detective Andrew Beard stepped on Cyrus’ wrist knocking the pistol from his hand.

 

It was almost over.

 

Before Cyrus was put into the Sheriff’s car – in the custody of Detective Adolph Mezger to head back to Cincinnati – a hopeful Detective Lutz approached him, believing the prisoner must realize the seriousness of his condition after sustaining so many bullet wounds. Lutz attempted to encourage him to make a confession. Lutz asked Cyrus to “calm himself.” Cyrus replied by taking a swing at the detective, knocking off and breaking his glasses. Lutz’s face was bruised by the blow.

 

The trip back to Cincinnati was not without incident, either. As they drove the still-agitated Cyrus to General Hospital, Mezger had to wrestle him to the floor. Finally the Sheriff’s employee driving the car had to pull over to the side of the road so that both men could then shackle him to the foot rest.

 

Lindsey Cyrus died at General Hospital at 9:17 pm on April 27. Before he died, he confessed to Detective Walter McArthur that he and Leland English had planned to hold up the payroll messenger of the casket company.

 

“We were drunk as dogs,” he explained to McArthur in a Cincinnati Times-Star article published April 27, 1935.
After Cyrus’ death-bed confession, both he and English, who was being held at Station X, were charged by Detective Chief Emmett D. Kirgan with murdering a police officer in the commission of a crime. If convicted without a mercy recommendation, the offense would have carried with it the penalty of death in the electric chair. At this time, however Cyrus was not expected to recover from his wounds.

 

It is not known today whether English was charged in connection with the murder of Detective Sergeant John A. Cameron and the attempted payroll robbery of the Crane and Breed Casket Company. If English was charged with these crimes, it is not known whether he was convicted of either.

 

At the same time that police charged the two with the attempted robbery of the casket company and the murder of Cameron, they also blamed them with a December 8, 1933 robbery of the Ansonia Copper and Iron Company, 621 Evans Street.

 

Ironically, while the Crane and Breed payroll robbery was planned to take place exactly as the tipster said it would, the payroll arrived at the plant after the shooting. E. T. Mossman and the company’s sales manager D. Loren Davis had been delayed at the Netherland Plaza during a longer-than-expected lunch. In fact, their lunch ran so late that they took a taxi back to the plant instead of the streetcar. They were unaware of the thwarted plans to rob them that afternoon until they returned to work.

 

Detective Sergeant Cameron left a wife, Josephine, and two sons, John A. Cameron, Jr. and Donald C. Cameron. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery on April 29, 1935 at 3 p.m. His son, John Jr., married the following Wednesday.
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 researched and revised May 25, 2012 by Cincinnati Police Dispatcher Karen Arbogast (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Researcher, with initial research by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President. All rights are reserved t them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.
REFERENCES
Five Shot, 1 Dies in Cafe Battle
Cincinnati Post 11/05/35 p1

Police Refusal of License Cited in Cafe Slaying Case
Cincinnati Times-Star 11/05/35 p1

Detective Dies, Gunman is Shot Probably Fatally; West End Affray Followed by Battle at Morrow
Cincinnati Enquirer 04/27/35 p1

Confession Wrung from English with Lie Detector, Police Say
Cincinnati Enquirer 04/27/35 p4

Police Mourn As Detective Passes
Cincinnati Enquirer 04/27/35 p4

Bandits Charged with Police Murder
Cincinnati Post 04/27/35 p1

Downed by Machine Guns, Cyrus Keeps on Fighting
Cincinnati Post 04/27/35 p1

Bandits Charged with Police Murder
Cincinnati Post 04/27/35 p1

Detective tells of Fight for Life in Holdup Battle
Cincinnati Post 04/27/35 p2

Detective’s Slayer Identified as Man Who Stole Payroll
Cincinnati Times-Star 04/27/35 p1

Slayer of Detective Dies Escaping Trial for Murder
Cincinnati Enquirer 04/28/35 p2

Wife Relates Different Story of Cyrus’s Capture at Morrow
Cincinnati Enquirer 04/28/35 p2

Williams Cincinnati Directory, 1935
Vol. 84, p26

Insurance Maps of Cincinnati, Ohio
Sanborn Map Company; V. 01 1904-1930, Map 48

North Carolina Blacksheep Ancestors
North Carolina Executions
http://web.archive.org/web/20080219204335/http://users.bestweb.net/~rg/execution/NO%20CAROLINA.htm

Schmidt, John
City of Cincinnati
Division of Police Personnel Records

Cameron, John
City of Cincinnati
Division of Police Personnel Records

John A. Cameron, 1900 Census, b. 11/1882 in OH, res. Cincinnati, Father of OH, Mother of OH. White, Step Father Gerald Ferris (38) of Georgia, Mother Annie L. Ferris (39) of OH, Siblings: Dubree W., W. Clarence, Rachel, and Donald.
John A. Cameron, Marriage Certificate, b. 11/22/1882 in Cincinnati, father John Cameron, mother Anna L. English; Bride Matilda Kohule, b. 10/29/1884 in Cincinnati, father Michael Kohule, mother Eliza Schneider, License Date 1/11/1906
John A. Cameron, 1910 Census, b. OH, res. Cincinnati Ward 15, Married, White, Male, Father? Charles Dawson (52), Mother? Anna L. (48), Siblings: William C. (25), Donald (18), Tollie (24), and Marie (20), Son John A Cameron Jr. (3).
Matilda Cameron, death certificate, b. 10/29/1884 of Cincinnati, d. 11/1/1918 in Cincinnati, bur. 11/4/1918, St. Marus Cemetery, Father Gottlieb Kohnle of Germany, Mother Elizabeth Schneider of Cincinnati.
John A. Cameron, 1920 Census, b. 1883 OH, res. Hamilton Co, Male, White, Widowed, Parents of OH, sons John A. and Donald C.
John A. Cameron, Marriage Certificate, b. 11/24/1882 in Cincinnati, father John Cameron, mother Anna L. English,Widowed; Bride Josephine M. Kasselman (38), b. 2/24/1884 of Cincinnati, Father Henry Kasselman, mother Josephine Hoelker, Single; Married 12/2/1922
Confession, newpaper, April 29, 1935.
… Robbery Plot Tipped, April 29, 1935
Cameron, John A. (Sergent), Spring Grove Burial Card No. 115331, b. 11/24/1882 in Cincinnati, d. 4/26/1935 in General Hospital, bur. 4/29/1935/1500, res. 1302 Westminster Drive, Parents: John and Anna English Cameron, lot owner grandfather William Cameron,
Killed in the Line of Duty, City of Cincinnati, Department of Safety, Annual Report, 1935, April 1, 1936
Josephine Cameron, Death Certificate, b. 2/24/1879 in Cincinnati, d. 3/15/1938 in Cincinnati, res. 303 E. Mitchell Ave. bur. 3/18/1938 in Spring Grove Cemetery