Officer Gendron, an early casualty
Then, as now, the job of a law enforcement officer was often frustrating,
difficult and dangerous. Two of Warwick's late 19th century deputy
sheriffs learned that lesson early in their careers. One, Deputy
Sheriff John B. Gendron, lost his life. The other, Michael B. Lynch,
lost his position and had his career placed in jeopardy.
A 1902 story
Thanks to some excellent detective work by members of Warwick's current police force, Officer William Russo and Inspector Chris Mathiesen, the news of a Warwick police officer killed in the line of duty at the turn of the century has come to light. The officer was Deputy Sheriff John B. Gendron, who died as a result of a bullet wound he received on October 4, 1902. Gendron, like many other law enforcement officers of the era, held a number of positions. Often the pay was low and the working conditions, by modern standards, were poor. Gendron, in order to support his large family, had served as both a state and town police officer. He was appointed Deputy Sheriff in 1899 and served under the famous R. I. High Sheriff Michael B. Lynch of Warwick. He also was an officer of the Town of Warwick under Chief Thomas Andrews and was a night patrolman in the Arctic vicinity for two years at the time of his death.
The story of Gendron's tragic demise, as reported in a Nov. 24, 1902 copy of the Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, indicated that John B. Gendron and fellow Officer Patrick Shield, both of the early twentieth century Warwick Police force, surprised a tramp sleeping in a freight car at the railroad station in Arctic.. Arctic, like all of present day West Warwick, was part of Warwick as the separation of the two towns didn't occur until 1913.
A murderous "yegg"
According to the colorful language of the Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times, the "officers were shot down in cold blood." The article says that a "Murderous 'Yegg' resisted arrest and fired two shots one of which struck officer Gendron and the other Officer Shields." Officer Russo's research into the language of the underworld uncovered the definition of "yegg" as a tramp-thief, often dangerous, and a criminal tramp. According to the report, when Gendron attempted to handcuff the culprit, the man attempted to flee. Gendron knocked him down but the hobo had a revolver and shot both officers Gendron and Shields. The Times reports, "The 'Yegg' jumped over the prostrate form of his victim and made good his escape up the tracks in the darkness."
Shields went for help
Shields was struck with a bullet that hit him in "the leg a few inches above the ankle and ploughing a hole clear through the leg." The report indicated the wound was a "nominal one and required but a simple dressing." Unfortunately, Officer Gendron sustained a much more serious wound. The bullet that struck him entered his left side "at the junction of the femur or thigh bone and the hip bone." Apparently, the bullet "disappeared somewhere in the interior of the body."
Shield, though in pain, was able to walk and he summoned the Warwick Chief of Police, Thomas Andrew, who helped get Gendron to the Emergency Hospital at Clyde at about 2:20 a.m.
A fatal wound
Gendron was treated at the hospital and remained there for a few weeks. He was discharged with the belief that the wound had healed. By Nov. 24, 1902, Officer Gendron was dead. According to the reports of the time, he died of "anaemia of the brain" caused by the bullet wound he received on October 4th. Officer Gendron was forty-one years old at the time and left a widow and six children, the oldest of whom was nineteen and the youngest four months.
Officer William Russo and Inspector Chris Mathiesen noted that other Warwick officers who had died in the line of duty had been casualties of motor vehicle incidents, making Gendron the only known Warwick officer to die of gunshot wounds during this early period of Warwick's police history.
Gendron's superior on the state level, High Sheriff Michael B. Lynch, faced violence numerous times but, fortunately, was never seriously wounded. His major setback came in a different area. In addition to his problems with "yeggs" and other villains, Lynch was embroiled in a political struggle that resulted due to the enforcement of 19th century prohibition laws. When two of Warwick's political giants, Charles "boss" Brayton and firebrand Patrick Henry Quinn clashed, Lynch's career nearly came to an end.