On January 7, 1933, the lives of two North Country men converged briefly nearly 300 miles from home in the Jamaica section of Queens in the City of New York. By odd coincidence, without ever meeting, they were fatally wounded within a few feet of each other. The older of the two was Walter Murphy of Ausable Forks, who joined the New York City police force in June 1926. The following year, he was cited for bravery after stopping a runaway horse (the cause of many deaths and injuries in those days), and in early 1933 he made headlines for a murder arrest. He frequently visited family in Ausable Forks, and had just left there nine days earlier after spending Christmas in the Adirondacks.
On the fateful day, Murphy was off duty, and with a friend had stopped at a service station for gas and to make some minor repairs to his car. While cleaning up in the washroom, they overheard a commotion outside.
A car had pulled up, and as three men exited, one pulled a gun and ordered the garage attendant inside the building, informing him they were being robbed. Murphy and his friend, William Higgins, stepped from the washroom and were told to throw up their hands. Murphy pulled his gun from its holster and shot one of the robbers dead. Another robber returned fire, pumping several bullets into Officer Murphy before fleeing the scene.
Caught in the crossfire was station attendant James Brassard, 19, who had moved with his family two years earlier from Champlain in northern Clinton County to New York City. He was engaged to be married soon, but died from his injuries twelve hours after the robbery. During his last few minutes of life, he managed to give an account of what had occurred. At about the time Brassard was breathing his last, police arrested two men and obtained their confessions.
Murphy, a plainclothes patrolman, was given an inspector’s funeral in New York City, attended by the police commissioner and nearly every top police official in the city. Murphy’s widow, Ann, and his son, Walter E. Jr., accompanied his casket in the funeral procession.
His remains, covered with a mass of flowers from fellow city officers, were taken north for a second funeral and burial. At 10 p.m., a large group of friends escorted the body from Port Kent to the family home as Ausable Forks began to grieve. The morning of the funeral, local schools and businesses closed as supporters packed the church. A similar scene played out that same morning in Champlain, as the remains of James Brassard were laid to rest.
In early February, Police Commissioner Edward Mulrooney presented Annie Murphy with a hero’s award of $100 in gold in honor of her husband’s bravery.
The robber shot dead by Murphy was Francis Ilardi, 21. The other two were identified as Dominick La Bianca, who did most of the shooting, and Joseph Murphy, driver of the getaway car. Both were charged with two counts of murder, but the first effort at prosecution ended in a mistrial. During the second trial, La Bianca argued that his confession had been obtained through “third-degree” methods—physical beatings. A physician testified to visiting him fifteen times in jail to treat “bruises and abrasions,” and did the same three times for defendant Murphy.
Regardless, the jury found La Bianca guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Officer Murphy, and he was sentenced to 20 years to life. Defendant Murphy was acquitted, but he remained jailed for a third trial addressing the death of Brassard.
Just as the twelfth juror was chosen, the trial ended when both men pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Three days later, they were each given sentences of 20 years to life for the death of Brassard. They were sent to Sing Sing, but La Bianca was later transferred to Dannemora.
Shortly after they began serving time, Walter Murphy’s name was inscribed on the New York City Police Memorial Wall in Battery Park. He was cited by the department for meritorious conduct.
In October 1934, at city hall plaza, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia pinned the department’s Medal of Honor on Mrs. Murphy and two other widows before a crowd of two thousand.
Photos: Walter Murphy; NYC Police Memorial Wall, where Murphy’s name is inscribed