Policeman Lyons was shot and killed by a robbery suspect.
Late November 1907 had been unseasonably warm even by Los Angeles standards with temperatures reaching the middle eighties. Angelenos had celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 28, with President Theodore Roosevelt issuing a proclamation stating people should have Thanksgiving as a day free from work. Saturday night the temperature was again mild dropping only to sixty degrees, with a slight breeze blowing across the urban landscape.
Los Angeles police officers were still healing from the loss of Clyde May, the first LAPD officer to be killed in the line of duty back on February 28, 1907. But enforcement of the law continued as did the street robberies perpetrated by highwaymen who plagued the downtown area and loitered within the saloons and pool halls scattered throughout First Street and other thoroughfares including Spring and Main Streets.
On Saturday evening, November 30, 1907, Patrolman Patrick H. Lyons was working his late evening shift, walking a foot beat along the Central Avenue corridor just south of today’s Pico Boulevard. Lyons was assigned to University Division, then located at 825 West Jefferson Boulevard. Captain Avery J. Bradish was in command of the division. Earlier in the year, Bradish ordered his patrolmen to stop anyone out during the late hours with no apparent legitimate business, in hopes of stemming the tide of robberies.
On Saturday night two other men went to work. A pair of street criminals named Daniel Meskil (aka Harry Mitchell) and Rolla Robe went on a crime spree intent on robbing any businesses they saw as vulnerable. The two purportedly met in a poolroom at Main and First Street called the Arizona. Meskil a career criminal from Nebraska, arrived a month before from Portland, Oregon, boasting he had committed numerous robberies there. Robe was impressed with Meskil’s exploits and agreed to join him on his violent path. They left Robe’s home around 8:30 pm, selecting George Garleman’s grocery store as their first target. The grocery store was located at 811 South Central Avenue. Robe and Meskil arrived at around 9:00 pm, entered Garleman’s store and asked to change a $2 scrip note. Once the register opened, they covered their faces with handkerchiefs and drew revolvers. During the robbery, Garleman’s daughter screamed that police were outside.
As Garleman’s daughter screamed, the alarmed robbers fled outside and jumped onto a horse drawn delivery wagon and fled southbound on Central. At Central and 12th Street, they collided with a parked streetcar. As the wagon overturned, the horse galloped down the street and the suspects ran eastbound into an alley. Later, it was established that Robe had worked for Garleman, driving the company grocery wagon for $10 a week. Robe inexplicably abandoned his job without notice after one day of work.
Ten minutes later the pair continued their crime spree entering the Magnolia Winery at 1404 South Central Avenue. As the proprietor Arthur Grosser counted the day’s receipts, the two men entered and pulled masks over their faces. They held Grosser at gunpoint taking twenty dollars in silver and scrip. As Robe and Meskil held Grosser at bay, they back peddled through the front door with guns still pointing menacingly at Grosser.
Lyons, who was racing to the first robbery, observed the crime in progress and rushed towards the two robbers, service revolver in one hand and baton in the other. A fireman named H.C. Stammer watched from across the street as events played out. Lyons confronted Meskil and Robes just as they exited the winery. He ordered the two robbers forward against Grosser’s storefront. Lyons searched the taller of the two suspects with one hand while clutching his revolver in the other. The stockier suspect, later identified as Meskil, was positioned nearly at Lyon’s side. He suddenly drew his revolver and ordered Lyons to put his hands up. Meskil had one of the grocers search Lyons for weapons.
As Stammer went to aid Lyons, Meskil fired at the brave patrolman. The bullet struck Lyons along his right eye. Lyons exhaled with a slight groan then collapsed. Stammer telephoned for assistance and described the shooter. Grosser exited the winery and observed the armed Meskil, later advising authorities of Meskil’s missing left index finger. Patrolman Lyons was carried to Fire Station No. 3 at 1406 South Central Avenue. He was transported to Receiving Hospital on First and Spring Street, where he died while in surgery.
A bicyclist chased the murderous pair northbound to 12th Street before they turned on him with their guns. As the call went out of an officer down, patrolmen responded from the surrounding areas. Officers were reached at their residences and responded to the manhunt for the two killers. An order was issued to arrest every man out on the street. A score of men were dragged to Central Station for interrogation. At 12th and Tennessee Street, Robe and Meskil robbed another grocery store.
Following the murder of Patrolman Lyons, the two felons agreed they should split up to avoid suspicion. They made plans to rendezvous at Hemlock and 8th Streets. While Robe was in route to the planned meeting, he was captured in the net cast over the entire Central corridor. Robe immediately gave up a description of his cohort. Robe was 22 years old but looked much younger. He had previously been arrested on Catalina Island in the summer of 1906. Two nights before, Lyons stopped Robe and searched him for weapons before releasing him. Robes claimed he committed the robberies because he needed money to buy food for his wife and child. Prior to the murders he was seen hanging out at poolrooms along south Main Street. Robe proclaimed, “The other fellow did the shooting. I didn’t have a gun.”
During the robberies, Robe was armed with a .38 caliber revolver while Meskil had a
.45 caliber revolver. After the two robbers were captured, each blamed the other for the murder. Witness Stammer identified Meskil as the killer of Patrolman Lyons.
Following an inquest, a bullet was recovered from Lyons’ skull. It was determined the fatal bullet that killed Lyons was from a .45 caliber revolver. The unusual bullet was an old military cartridge coated with a specific type of oil that produced a green hue on the bullets. Also, the fragments of the spent round contained traces of black powder, while new bullets utilized smokeless powder. Apparently, this production system was archaic by the time of Lyons’ death and it was this feature that proved vital in identifying the killer of Lyons. Meskil had purchased the .45 caliber nickel plated Colt revolver at Hoege’s Sporting Goods along with a box of the old cartridges.
George Lauman was arrested on December 1, 1907, by Captain A. J. Bradish and accused of being one of the two murderers of Patrolman Lyons. Initially, Stammers identified him as the shooter of Lyons. Lauman was missing part of his left index finger and thumb. But over the next few days, Lauman’s family vouched for his whereabouts and he was eventually cleared by police.
Plain clothes officers reconnoitered every poolroom in the downtown area. The dragnet continued through the next several days. Meskil inexplicably loitered at poolrooms along Central Avenue watching others play checkers. On December 3, 1907, Patrolman Anthony Connelly entered a poolroom 1232 East 7th Street, just east of Central Avenue. He asked the proprietor about the many customers in the establishment including one man wearing a brown coat with his left hand tucked into his trousers. Connelly approached the man and ordered him to show his hand for inspection. The man, later identified as Meskil angrily retorted, “What the hell business is it of yours?” Connelly, a member of the department’s boxing and wrestling team then grabbed Meskil’s arm and pulled it. With this, the fight was on. Meskil quickly pulled a .45 caliber revolver and Connelly, despite his experience as a pugilist, was in a fight for his life.
As Meskil struggled to point the handgun at Connelly’s torso, Connelly desperately grabbed the barrel then jammed his left thumb between the revolver’s hammer and firing pin. Meskil futilely squeezed the trigger a half dozen times intent on killing Connelly, but the hammer continuously pinched Connelly’s thumb. Though the hammer bit off flesh and drew blood, it could not strike the firing pin. Connelly punched Meskil repeatedly, pummeling him about the face in a desperate attempt to overcome the desperate killer. Meskil grabbed Connelly’s throat and squeezed as Connelly asked citizens for help. A former police officer now employed as a city sanitation worker came to Connelly’s aid and was promptly struck in the face by Meskil.
A former amateur baseball player witnessed the melee and picked up a billiard ball. The good Samaritan, a former pitcher fired a strike with the billiard ball from over twenty feet. The ball smashed into Meskil’s right cheekbone disorienting him and allowing Connelly to handcuff him without further incident. Connelly suffered a badly cut left thumb during the violent fight with Meskil.
Meskil was transported several blocks to Central Station on First Street and Broadway. There, Captains A. J. Bradish, Walter Auble and Flammer grilled Meskil for three hours. Eventually Meskil broke down and confessed to the murder. Later, a stenographer was called in to take Meskil’s confession and a photographer captured an image of the suspected cop killer.
Meskil gave an address of 1238 Â½ East 7th Street to investigators. They followed up to his apartment where officers recovered a black cap with an attached white mask. Additionally, officers recovered the .38 revolver carried by Robe. Detectives learned that on November 7, 1907, Meskil’s finger was amputated at Receiving Hospital after he accidently shot himself in the hand while living at 933 South Broadway. Meskil was in Los Angeles only twenty minutes when he shot off his left index finger while mishandling a revolver. Meskil desperately tried to flee the city but was unable to penetrate the dragnet set for him.
As court proceedings unfolded, Meskil mumbled in court that he had been sloppy by not hiding out. There was talk of lynching him so additional guards were posted in court during his appearances. He was eventually transferred to the County Jail. Meskil was previously jailed for assaulting his mother, sister and brother. He once stabbed his sister in the back with a fork. He claimed to have once murdered a drunken man by pushing him into a raging river as a teenager. Meskil was later tried and convicted of Patrolman Lyons’ murder. Rolla Robe received life in prison for his role in the murder of Patrolman Lyons.
On January 12, 1908, Meskil was sentenced to hang and sent to San Quentin prison to await his execution. However, while in prison, Meskil leaped off the third level of the prison onto the concrete below. The hapless Meskil managed only to severe his spine and was left paralyzed. He developed tuberculosis of the spine languished for several months before dying a slow painful death. Patrick H. Lyons became the second Los Angeles police to be killed in the line of duty. He was 30 years old at the time of his death. Lyons was originally from northern New York. He was single and lived at 720 East 5th Street, having been appointed to the Department on August 20, 1907. Prior to his appointment, Lyons served as a special patrolman with the department for approximately one year.
Bishop Thomas Conaty conducted the service for Patrolman Lyons on Thursday, December 5, 1907. The pallbearers were Captains Broadhead, Bradish and Auble, along with Lieutenants Dixon, Murray and Williams. Two days later, on Saturday, December 7, 1907, one hundred Los Angeles police officers escorted Patrolman Lyons’ body to the train station. Patrolman Connelly caught an outbound train headed for Chicago, Illinois, as he accompanied the body of Patrick H. Lyons, to his home state of New York. In Chicago, Patrolman Lyons’ mother, Anna Munson, met Connelly and received the body of her son. Connelly continued with Mrs. Munson to Brashear Falls, New York, where Lyons was buried.
Lieutenant J. A. Macias, #27710, LAPD