Served to March 29, 1884
During 1883, at least 93 people lost their lives in Cincinnati to murderers who rarely, by the standards of the time, received due justice for their crimes. The citizens of the city and of Hamilton County were growing tired of the circumstances and perceived corruption permitting them from avoiding punishment, e.g., execution.
Then, the year 1884 opened with a few notoriously vicious murders and a substantive rumor that juries were being bribed to free murderers. The population of Cincinnati was uneasy when William Berner and Joseph Palmer came up for separate trials for a Christmas Eve 1883 murder of William Kirk, a West End horse trader. Even though Berner confessed, when he went to trial, the jury on March 26, 1884 returned a conviction for the reduced charge of Manslaughter. The populace was outraged.
On March 28, 1884 about a thousand citizens met inside Music Hall on Elm Street with thousands more outside the building. The meeting was tense, but peaceful. But, as they were leaving, a man on Elm Street yelled, “On to the jail! Follow me! Let’s hang Berner!” The crowd became a mob and by the time they arrived at the Courthouse at 9:55 a.m. it numbered 10,000 by some accounts.
Warned of their approach, Hamilton County Sheriff Morton L. Hawkins sent in the riot alarm to the Cincinnati 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 of the National Guard, 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, confessed his crime, and also 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 contained almost $33,000.
If you know of any information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society at Memorial@Police-Museum.org.
© This narrative was further researched and revised March 11, 2001 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer, Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Executive Director. All rights are reserved to him and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.