Saturday, October 29, 2011

Old unsolved Portland murder resurfaces

Marge Niblock did a bang-up job on this article in today's issue of the Portland Daily Sun, on a topic to be covered in more depth tomorrow, Sunday, October 30th, at 2:00pm, as the subject of a talk at the Maine Irish Heritage Center (corner of State and Gray Streets) in Portland. Suzan Roberts Norton will present the results of several years of research she has undertaken with the consent and assistance of the Connolly family. The talk is free and open to all.

From the sound of the article, it will be a talk well worth attending. Sadly, I'm stuck at work, but maybe some of you can attend!
Who Killed Officer Connolly?
By Marge Niblock
Oct 29, 2011 12:00 am

Since the establishment of the Portland Police Department in 1848, two officers have been killed on the job. The first was Charles McIntosh, in 1915, when he was shot and stabbed by two felons who were later caught.

Patrolman Michael Connolly
The second was Patrolman Michael Connolly, and the 81-year-old mystery of his death remains unsolved. Whoever killed Officer Michael T. Connolly literally got away with murder.

Connolly’s lifeless body was found not far from “a sinister squatters’ colony beneath the brow of Eastern Promenade . . . near Fish Point.” That grim discovery was made on the morning of August 15, 1930, and bold headlines to that effect emblazoned the first page of that day’s Portland Evening Express.

Longshoreman John Lee discovered the body in the sand while gathering driftwood on the beach at about 8:15 a.m. Connolly was lying face down and had been shackled with his own handcuffs. The officer’s fully-loaded service revolver was in his right-hand pants pocket, raising many questions. According to newspaper accounts, Connolly’s gun holster was carried on his left hip because he was left-handed.

Patrolman Connolly was considered to be “an efficient and faithful officer,” and was described as having a strong physique, weighing about 190 pounds. He left behind his wife Mary Connolly and five children, James, Edward, Catherine, Margaret, and John, ranging in age from 3 to 11.

The autopsy verdict was cause of death due to drowning, with no marks of violence on Connolly’s body. There was an embarrassing delay before the arrival of a medical examiner, causing strong criticism by police and County officials, as reported in the paper that day. It was more than three hours for a medical examiner arrive at the scene. There had been a “drenching rain” during that period of time. The medical examiner concluded that the officer was alive when thrown into the water.

Officer Connolly’s key for pulling the call boxes was around his neck on a string, but his uniform hat was missing. Connolly’s watch stopped at 4:07. He had called headquarters from a box at Congress and Mountfort at 5:09, and the time for him to pull the next box on his foot beat would have been at 6:07 at India and Commercial Streets.

Fifty-one new call boxes had been placed throughout the city in the early 1920s, replacing the old ones from the late 1800s. There was a phone inside each box, allowing officers to speak directly to police headquarters, located at 132 Federal Street at that time. After making an arrest, prisoners were walked to the closest call box. The boxes had two keyholes, with the one on top marked as “wagon call,” used when an arrest was made. Headquarters would then send a wagon to that location. Officers also left notes in these boxes at the ends of their shifts, to alert the next person on duty to any special circumstances that might warrant their attention. The use of call boxes ended in 1972.

There was a 15-minute grace period allowed to officers in pulling boxes, so police began searching for Officer Connolly around 6:25.

Connolly had been appointed to the force in 1918. For many years he had patrolled along the Western Promenade, but six weeks prior, local beats were changed and he was assigned to the Eastern Promenade area.

There were several possible theories involving bootleggers bringing in a shipment of liquor. The County Attorney ordered police to question all sailors from three battle cruisers that were docked in the harbor who may have gone ashore overnight.

This was the era of Prohibition, with smuggling of alcohol was big business, and many bootleggers’ boats carrying the illegal cargo pulled in near the shore of the city’s East End to unload their goods. The docks and warehouses on Portland’s waterfront held many secrets during that era.

Connolly’s badge number 71 was officially retired shortly after the tragic incident.

On June 28, 1985, a ceremony was held to celebrate the christening of a new police boat, the Michael T. Connolly. A rendition of that badge was painted on the vessel’s side. Numerous Connolly family members were in attendance, along with then-U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, Police Chief Francis Amoroso, and Mayor Joseph D. Casale. The 31-foot boat served the department until August 1, 1992, when it was retired from service. The department never has purchased another boat.

Kevin MacDonald, an evidence technician with the Portland police department who has been in that job longer than anyone else in the unit, said Connolly’s death would have been hard to investigate.

“Water complicates things due to rinsing effect.” He said under the circumstances that existed on that particular rainy day, and a body that had been immersed in water for many hours, “the transfer of hairs and fibers would be much less likely.”

MacDonald stated “If it happened today, we’d take the handcuffs, swab for DNA, and check for fingerprints.” He also felt there might be some significance connected to the officer’s missing hat, which was never found. “A lot of times guys would keep papers and information in their hats,” noted MacDonald.

This remains a cold case that the passage of time has not helped to solve.

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