Served: 6 years
1910 to July 24, 1916
On July 24, 1916, Jail Matron Anna Hart, of 349 Wood Avenue, was off duty at 4 p.m. and shortly after 5 p.m. was walking through the fifth tier of the Hamilton County Jail, temporarily housed at the Cincinnati Workhouse in Camp Washington.
Reuben Ellis, a 26-year-old black male, ambushed her, struck her three times with a twenty-inch iron rod wrapped in a bed sheet, fracturing her skull. She was found ten minutes later and taken to Cincinnati General Hospital but died at 11:30 p.m., becoming the first female law enforcement officer killed in the United States.
The ensuing investigation, led by Hamilton County Sheriff George F. Schott, quickly focused on Reuben Ellis, who was being held on a charge of burglarizing a home on W. 6th Street. An inmate told investigators that Ellis had confided to him that he was going to attack the matron, snatch her keys, and escape. Another inmate said that he saw Ellis run into the men’s quarters and throw a bunch of keys into a barrel of sawdust. Officials found that the murder weapon had been torn from Ellis’ bed. Ellis soon confessed.
Matron Hart was survived by five siblings; Ellen Hart Callahan, Katherine Jane Hart, Margaret Hart McKiernan, Theresa Hart, and William Hart. Her uncle was Hamilton County Treasurer Charles C. Cooper.
Father Luke Callahan (a nephew of Anna Hart), Father James M. Kelly and Father John F. Hickey concelebrated the funeral, a Requiem High Mass at the Church of the Annunciation. The burial followed in St. Joseph’s New Cemetery. Matron Hart was so popular among the prisoners that they took up a collection and sent a floral arrangement to her mother’s home prior to the funeral. Hundreds of friends paid a last tribute to Matron Anna Hart inside the church while the throng outside the church included several women whom she had helped to better living during the six years she was matron at the jail.
Ellis’ first trial started August 24, 1916, and ended up in a hung jury. They agreed he was guilty of the offense, but one juror would not agree to a recommendation of ‘no mercy’- a death sentence.
A second trial began six weeks later on October 4, 1916, at and ended with a conviction and a recommendation for no mercy. The Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence on November 27, 1916 and the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Governor James M. Cox refused appeals. At 12:14 a.m., on February 6, 1917, the Ohio Penitentiary physician pronounced Ellis dead by electrocution. He was the first Hamilton County killer executed since May 14, 1898, a gap of almost 19 years.
We have no picture of Anna Hart, only of her tombstone. We do not know where her family is, though we know she had no direct descendants.If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contac the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was revised on June 18, 2010 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President, based nearly entirely on research provided by Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Colonel Ray Hoffbauer and Steve Barnett.