By Richard Gazarik
JEANNETTE, Pa. — In 1921, Jeannette police officer Joseph Henry Bossert died while walking a beat on South 11th Street when a bullet from a .45-caliber pistol smashed through the door of a nearby rooming house, hitting the 44-year-old father of four sons in the chest.
Ninety-three years later, Bossert's sacrifice will be remembered when his name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, along with the name of a second officer, Allen "Jack" Capozzi of Jeannette, 35, who died of a heart attack after breaking up a bar fight on Oct. 18, 1978.
Every May during National Police Week, new names of police officers who died in the line of duty are added to the national memorial.
Last year, 321 names were inscribed on the wall already bearing nearly 20,000 names of officers who died since the early 1900s.
Jeannette Police Officer Justin Scalzo, who researched the deaths of the two city policemen and led the effort to recognize them, said time often causes memories to fade.
He said that was the story of Bossert's case.
"Nobody knew about that," Scalzo said. "Even the old-timers didn't know."
Scalzo was aided by Erich "Rocky" Geppert, 20, of Oakmont, and his father, Erich "Rich" Geppert III, an Oakmont police officer who investigated similar cases for the Law Enforcement Memorial Association of Allegheny County.
Rocky Geppert said 12 of the 16 names being added to the memorial wall are from Allegheny County.
The Bossert Story
Based on his research, Rocky Geppert said Bossert suspected the rooming house where the fatal shot originated was home to an illegal gambling operation.
One of the men inside the house, James F. Marshall, 29, knew that Bossert was outside the house and fired the shot that killed the officer, Geppert said.
Marshall later turned himself in to police, claiming he fired at what he thought was a burglar, according to news accounts.
He was taken to the city jail, where a lynch mob began forming, according to news reports.
But police were able to safely usher Marshall into the building through a back door.
Marshall was held for trial, but his story ends without news of his fate.
A search of newspapers and court records reveals no information about what happened to him.
Officer Capozzi's Story
Capozzi and partner Carl Shifko, who later became police chief, had responded to a fight at the former Piedmont Bar in 1978.
After he broke up the fight, Capozzi, an officer for six years, collapsed to the floor.
Shifko tried to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at Jeannette District Memorial Hospital.
Police officers from the city and surrounding communities lined the street outside the funeral home saluting Capozzi as his coffin was carried from a hearse into the funeral home.
He was survived by an aunt and uncle. Capozzi was the only child of Victor Capozzi, who died three years after his son was born, and Carmella Capozzi, who died in 1952.
Capozzi is buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Jeannette.
National Police Week, set for May 11-17, will feature a number of events at the national memorial, including the unveiling of the newly inscribed names on May 13 during an annual candlelight vigil broadcast live over the Internet.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 Tribune-Review