Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 35 years, 6 months, 14 days
Unit of Assignment / Detail: District 20 - Warren
District of Incident (Present Day): 012 - Near West
Cause of Death: Explosion - Accidental
Age at Time of Death: 65
Date of Birth: 15 Jun 1858
Date of Appointment: 05 May 1888
Date of Incident: 012 - Near West
End of Watch: 19 Nov 1923
Date of Interment: 22 Nov 1923
Cemetery: Mount Olive Cemetery - Chicago, Illinois
Grave Location: Unknown
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # D-9
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 2
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Not Listed
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Not Listed
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: No Military Record Found
Incident & Biographic Details
Patrolman John J. McGonigal, Star #3166, aged 65 years, was a 35 year, 6 month, 14 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to District 20 – Warren.
On November 19, 1923, approximately 7:30 p.m., Officer McGonigal was on duty working as the lockup keeper in the Warren Avenue Station. He was killed when six wooden barrels and one steel barrel of grain alcohol exploded in the station house. The alcohol had been confiscated during a raid two months prior and was held as evidence. The barrels were being stored in a hallway at the rear of the station house between the squad room and the cell block, just off of a separate cell used for prisoners held in solitary.
Officer McGonigal was walking past the barrels and it was believed that a spark from his pipe ignited the alcohol. He was going to clean the solitary cell after Dr. Spencer Brown, held in connection with the Werner Brothers robbery, was taken to the Detective Bureau. The explosion rocked the station and destroyed the rear of the building starting a fire. After the explosion, Lieutenant David Schwartz and Sergeant Edward Collopy, believing everyone in the rear of the station must have been killed by the blast, directed Police Operator Gerald C. Nichols to put in calls for ambulances and pull motor squads before rushing back to investigate. By this time fire had spread from the hallway racing up the wall and up a stairway to the second floor. Patrolmen Francis Duffy, Mortimer Foley and M. Hogan, wagon men, ran in from a garage at the rear of the station and discovered Officer McGonigal’s charred body laying across a threshold leading into the squad room. There was only one prisoner, Vincent De Genova of 2147 South Tilden Street, in the cell block, which accommodates 150. De Genova was only slightly injured; a thick block wall separating the cell block from the hallway provided him protection. With their station house next door to the police station, Company No. 44 of the Chicago Fire Department responded and quickly struck the fire.
Officer McGonigal was waked at a chapel located on West Madison Street. His funeral mass was held in Requiem at St. Malachy Catholic Church located at 2248 West Washington Boulevard. He was laid to rest on November 22, 1923 in Mount Olive Cemetery, 3800 North Narragansett Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.
Patrolman John J. McGonigal, born June 15, 1858, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on May 5, 1888. On March 14, 1898, he was given a Civil Service promotion.
Officer McGonigal was survived by his wife, Emma (nee Holmes) and siblings: Henry and Mrs. James Bradley. He was preceded in death by his son, John M. McGonigal, two years prior.
On March 2, 2010, Officer McGonigal’s star was retired by Superintendent Jody P. Weis and enshrined in the Superintendent’s Honored Star Case, located in the lobby at Chicago Police Headquarters, 3510 South Michigan Avenue.