Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 13 years, 9 months, 1 day
Unit of Assignment / Detail: District 9, 21st Precinct - Maxwell
District of Incident (Present Day): 012 - Near West
Location of Occurrence:
Cause of Death: Gunfire - Enemy
Age at Time of Death: 40
Date of Birth: 1865
Date of Appointment: 04 Apr 1891
Date of Incident: 012 - Near West
End of Watch: 05 Jan 1905
Date of Interment: 08 Jan 1905
Cemetery: Calvary Cemetery - Evanston, Illinois
Grave Location: Lot S13, Block 33, Section U
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # B-1
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 23
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 1, Line 35
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 53-E: 7
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: No Military Record Found
Incident & Biographic Details
Detective James J. Keefe, Star #1620, aged 40 years, was a 13 year, 9 month, 1 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to District 9, 21st Precinct – Maxwell.
On January 5, 1905, at 12:00 p.m., Detective Keefe in company with Lieutenant Thomas Meagher and Detectives Richard Bermingham, King and Voss set out to arrest two known men wanted for armed robbery. The men were Frank Gagen and Harry Feinberg and were holdup in Gagen’s brother’s house located at No. 68 West 25th Place (present day 628 West 25th Place), near Wallace Street. Frank Gagen, a parolee, was wanted for several armed robberies and for shooting a policeman. When the officers arrived, Edward Gagen met them at the door. Lieutenant Meagher asked him the whereabouts of his brother and Feinberg. Edward declared that his brother and Feinberg were in his place.
While the Lieutenant was asking questions, the other Detective surrounded the building and Detective Keefe went to the back and knocked loudly. Edward Gagen then went to the back door and opened it. Officer Keefe made entry through the kitchen followed by Detective Birmingham. As Detective Keefe walked toward a closed bedroom door, just off the kitchen, those inside the room suddenly opened fire. Detective Keefe was struck in the chest and abdomen and fell to the floor. Detective Keefe yelled, “Help me boys, I’m shot! For God’s sake, come to me!“ Detective Birmingham rushed to his aide and as he kicked open another door he was shot in the abdomen, the bullet then embedding itself in his watch. Detective Birmingham also sustained three broken ribs. The other detectives were rushing into the house at this time and gunfire was exchanged with the bandits. Feinberg escaped through the rear door. However, he didn’t make good his escape before being shot in the back and leg as he fled by one of the other policemen. Frank Gagen was shot in his left side and through his right arm and then captured by Lieutenant Meagher after Feinberg had fled. Detectives Birmingham and Keefe were rushed to Mercy Hospital where Detective Keefe succumbed to his injuries during surgery within 30 minutes of arriving. Frank Gagen was taken to the 22nd Street Station along with his wife and mother. Once there, the true extent of his injuries was learned and was then taken to Mercy Hospital.
Meanwhile when Feinberg fled he boarded a northbound Archer Avenue streetcar at Wallace Street. He then walked to 26th Street and Wabash Avenue to a store where he purchased a pair of overalls and a cap to disguise himself. Next he boarded a Southbound Cottage Grove Avenue cable car. All the while he was losing blood from his gunshot wound and became weak. At 41st Street and Cottage Grove, he alighted from the cable car and went into the Blood & Walgreen’s drug store. Inside he told Mr. Walgreen that he had been shot and asked that an ambulance be summoned. While awaiting the ambulance, one of the stores clerks dictated a letter for Feinberg. The letter read as follows, “Dear Min, I love you as I always did. This is the last of me, I guess. I hope you think the same of me as you always did, and I am sorry to bring you to so much trouble. I tried to be good, but I was hounded. I am terribly wronged by those who said things against me. My love and best wishes. Do not grieve for me, but take life as it comes. Harry.” Feinberg was taken to Mercy Hospital and died from his bullet wounds on January 9th, 1905.
On January 24, 1905, Frank Gaghan was held by the Coroner. On April 6, 1905, Frank Gaghen was sentenced to life in the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet by Judge McEwan.
Detective Keefe was waked at his residence located at No. 208 Newberry Avenue (present day 1501 North Newberry Avenue). His funeral mass was held at Holy Family Church located at 1080 West Roosevelt Road. He was laid to rest on January 8, 1905 in Calvary Cemetery, 301 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois. His grave is located in Grave –, Lot S13, Block 33, Section U.
Detective James J. Keefe, born in 1865, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on April 4, 1891. He earned the Carter Harrison Medal in 1899. Detective Keefe was first assigned to the Canalport Avenue Station and then transferred to the Maxwell Street Station. He was known for breaking up the notorious Lally Gang after shooting its leader, McCauley.
Detective Keefe was a member of the Chicago Policemen’s Benevolent & Welfare Association and the John Wheeler Council No. 1105 Royal Arcanum. He was survived by his wife, Mary; children: John, Joseph, Mary and Thomas and brothers: Joseph and Michael.
Incident recorded under Chicago Police Historical Homicide Database, Case #1210.
As written in the Report of the General Superintendent of Police for 1902, the tale of Officer Keefe’s bravery which earned him the Carter Harrison Medal are as follows. Police Captain Wheeler reported as follows: James Keefe, patrolman, 21st precinct. “On January 13th, 1899, while we were working on the murder of Officer E. J. WaIner of the 23rd precinct, I confiscated a letter sent to George Simpson, one of the suspects in the case. The letter was mailed at Watseka, Ill., and signed by Sam Rich. Not knowing that he was one of the party wanted, I called Officer James Keefe of this station, and wrote a decoy letter and told Keefe to go to Watseka and put the letter in the post office, and when he came for it to arrest him and bring him to me.“
“When Officer Keefe got to Watseka he found that the man’s name was Sam Jones, and that he lived three miles out in the county with a bachelor uncle. Officer Keefe got the town marshal and his assistant and went to the house at 11 o’clock at night, and when the marshal tried to get in the uncle said, ‘he would kill the first man that came into the place.’ Both marshals then left Keefe alone and he (Keefe) forced the door open. There he saw a man with a shotgun pointed at him, also a young man, and jumping behind the latter, Officer Keefe drew his revolver and placed the muzzle of it against the young man’s side, at the same time telling the man with the gun that if he did not lower it he would kill the young fellow. During this time Officer Keefe kept the young man between himself and the man who had then leveled on him. He finally’ got the fellow out and returned to the city early in the morning on the 14th of January. The fellow proved to be the right one and made a full confession of the whole matter.“
“It was a very meritorious act, from the fact that Officer Keefe, when deserted by the officers of the law of that community, fearlessly stuck to his post virtually at the jaws of death, and accomplished his purpose by landing in Chicago one of the coolest and most determined young vandals, who is now serving sentence in Joliet for murder and robbery.“
In February 1958, Detective Keefe’s star was retired by Commissioner Timothy J. O’Connor and enshrined in the Superintendent’s Honored Star Case, located in the lobby at Chicago Police Headquarters, 1121 South State Street. In 2000, Chicago Police Headquarters moved to a new facility at 3510 South Michigan Avenue, Detective Keefe’s Star was re-encased in the new headquarters building lobby.