Served: 2 years
1874 to February 23, 1876
On February 23, 1876, at 3:30 a.m., 5th District (Oliver Street) Patrolman Kemper found John Zilar (19), of 83 Everett Street, creating a disturbance in front of Sumpter’s Saloon at 15th Street and the canal (now 5th and Central Parkway). Zilar, an acquaintance of Patrolman Kemper’s, was intoxicated and instead of arresting him, Patrolman Kemper attempted to prevail upon him to go home. Zilar consented to go to his brother’s home about half a block away on Canal Street between 15th and Wade Streets.
Patrolman Kemper succeeded in getting Zilar to the top of the stairs and pushed the doorbell when Zilar suddenly punched him in the face which sent him toppling over the banisters to the sidewalk twenty feet below. Zilar fled into his brother’s home.
Lieutenant Wersel heard the noise of the fall and ran to Patrolman Kemper whom he found unconscious and bleeding from the nose, ears, and mouth. Doctor Conner was called to the scene and pronounced the case hopeless. Patrolman Kemper’s skull was fractured and “he had scarcely a whole bone left in his body.” Patrolman Kemper was then conveyed to his home at the corner of Linn and Clark Streets.
Zilar came out of the home, looked down at the officers assembled and told them, “I have thrown one son of a bitch over these bannisters, and if any of you come up here I’ll throw you over too.” Lieutenant Wersel ascended and arrested Zilar. Zilar then threatened, “I have killed one of you bluecoats and I will kill more of you before I am done with you. They took him to the Oliver Street Station and he fought desperately all the way.
During the day, he was awakened and informed of Patrolman Kemper’s condition. To which he replied that he “was glad the Irish Son of a Bitch would die.”
Patrolman Kemper died at 2 p.m. that afternoon.
He was survived by his wife, Louisa; three children; and his brother, Father Kemper of St. Philomena Church. His funeral took place at 9 a.m. on February 25, 1876, from his residence, and was followed by 102 patrolmen under the command of Captain Heheman and Lieutenants Crowley and Wessel. He was buried in Section B-11, Row L, Grave 55 of St. John’s Cemetery in St. Bernard.
Zilar was charged with Assault with Intent to Kill. During the next day, February 24, 1876, after Patrolman Kemper’s death, the charge was changed to Murder. He was still incarcerated December 17, 1876, awaiting trial.
By December 27, 1877, he was either released or out on bond because he married on that day.
Three weeks later, on January 18, 1878, Patrolman Kemper’s family’s civil suit against Zilar came to trial, but it appears he fled to Colorado.
His first child was born there during December 1879. By 1900 he and wife owned a farm and had seven children. He died in Colorado at 71 years of age in 1927 having never atoned for his murder.
If anyone has information, artifacts, or photographs related to this officer or incident please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Memorial@Police-Musuem.org.
This narrative was researched and revised February 5, 2013, by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Executive Director, with significant research provided by Joyce Meyer, Price Hill Historical Society, and Cincinnati Homicide Detective Edward Zieverink (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Historian. All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum.