Md. police search for family of fallen officer from 1920
Police department tries to get fallen officer from 1920 on federal, state and local memorials for line of duty deaths
By Erika Butler
BEL AIR, Md. — The tombstone of George Oliver Noonan in Quaker Cemetery in Whiteford reads "Gone But Not Forgotten."
But for the last 95 years, it appears the former bailiff, or constable, who was hired to protect the citizens of the town, had been forgotten.
It wasn't until late in 2014 that a historian working on another project discovered the 30-something-year-old (there are discrepancies in his dates of birth and death) had been killed in the line of duty.
There is no memorial to Mr. Noonan, hardly a record of his death among old Bel Air town records. Old local newspapers, including The Aegis, report on the bailiff's death in 1920, three days after he was injured arresting a "rowdy" on Main Street in town who had been setting off "railroad torpedoes," small explosive devices used then to signal trains.
One of the newspapers suggested a memorial to him, but nothing ever materialized. And over time, as generations passed on, so did the memory of Mr. Noonan.
No one at Bel Air Police Department was aware of Mr. Noonan's death until historian Michael Dixon brought it to their attention. And now, 95 years after Mr. Noonan died, the department is hoping to get his name on federal, state and local memorials dedicated to officers who died in the line of duty.
"He should have the recognition any other officer is entitled to," Bel Air Police Department Det. Sgt. Jim Lockard said. "Just because he died 95 years ago shouldn't negate the sacrifice he made to keep the town safe."
The department is trying to find any living family of Mr. Noonan, who had no children with his wife, so they can be recognized as well.
Anyone who has information regarding possible relatives of Mr. Noonan is asked to contact Lockard at Jlockard@belairmd.org or 410-638-4525.
Brought To Light
Besides being a historian, Dixon is also an adjunct college professor and teaches courses at Harford Community College, among other places. He lives in Elkton and does research throughout Maryland and Delaware.
When he's teaching, he likes to have narratives, stories, to relate to his students, he said Wednesday during an interview at the Historical Society of Harford County in Bel Air, where he was researching another project about women's suffrage in Harford County.
"It was strictly by accident" he came across an old article on Mr. Noonan's death, he said.
It piqued his interest as someone who teaches history of criminal justice, and he didn't recognize the name. As a historian, he often recognizes the surnames he comes across in newspapers.
"I took it on as my own mission" to find the whole story behind the death of the town police officer, he said.
All five local newspapers, including The Aegis, Bel Air Times and The Democrat, covered Mr. Noonan's death, but there was little in the way of follow-up in terms of his family or honoring his memory.
Dixon looked through old minutes from the Town of Bel Air meetings, checked his death certificate and court records and searched on http://www.ancestry.com, where he found Mr. Noonan's World War I draft registration card, a census record and the date of his marriage.
In the last 30 years or so, Dixon has come across three other line-of-duty deaths that have gone unrecognized.
In January 1891, Charles Schultz was shot and killed by two men, suspected to be "safecrackers," he came across while patrolling the streets of Wilmington, Del.
In August 1900 in Clayton, Del., 45-year-old Herbert Haynes died responding to aid a railroad detective involved in a shootout.
In Crisfield, Chief John H. Daugherty was killed on July 28, 1907.
As in Mr. Noonan's case, after their deaths and burials, little mention was ever made of them.
"They didn't memorialize people the way they do today," Dixon said, which is why he takes the information he finds to the respective police departments.
"As a historian, my job is to work in the past. My purpose is to carefully analyze and document the past, find groups in records, to pass them along and fill them in," Dixon said. "These folks have done a public service and it's really important to remember the fallen."
"Occasionally while researching some criminal justice history matter I find a hint in old records about a long forgotten, undocumented fallen police officer. When that happens, I pick up the evidentiary fragmentsand trace the trail back through time to make sure the officer's ultimate sacrifice isn't forgotten in the mist of time," Dixon wrote in his blog entry of Mr. Noonan's death.
In the early part of the 20th century, the town bailiff was "the official charged with keeping the peace" in town, according to the report Dixon compiled on Mr. Noonan. That person was responsible for "promptly arresting anyone committing disorderly conduct or otherwise violating ordinances of the town."
The first mention of Mr. Noonan in Bel Air town records appears around November 1917, when the town ordered his wages be increased.
Officer Noonan's Story
According to an article in The Aegis of Friday, July 2, 1920, "The disgraceful procedure of making life miserable for Bel Air's quieter citizens by bombarding the town with torpedoes at all hours of the day and night had a tragic sequel Friday evening when Bailiff Oliver Noonan was so seriously injured he died of wounds three days later."
The Friday evening in question was June 25, 1920.
Different newspapers offer different specific accounts of what happened, but the end result was the same.
One newspaper reported the "hoodlums" had been making "life miserable for the nervous and scaring horses by exploding the torpedoes as an advanced celebration of the Fourth of July," according to Dixon's report.
Mr. Noonan planned a crackdown, hoping to put a permanent halt to use of the "high-powered firecrackers." It didn't end the way he had intended.
Mr. Noonan confronted the "rowdies," warning them to stop lighting the firecrackers, Dixon wrote. Some refused, so Mr. Noonan seized some of them and put them in his pockets.
Mr. Noonan attempted to arrest one of the leaders of the gang of "ruffians," Billie Trundle.
"Bill put up an argument an in the scuffle which followed, both fell to the street with such a jar the torpedoes in their pockets exploded with terrible force," according to The Aegis.
The Democrat reported Trundle had five torpedoes in his pocket, Mr. Noonan had 50. The Aegis said Mr. Noonan had just purchased his own torpedoes to use to celebrate on July 4, which was nine days away.
"Their clothing was torn to shreds and Bailiff Noonan seriously burned and bruised," The Aegis reported.
The bailiff sought help from Dr. Charles Richardson at Richardson's Pharmacy. He was taken home in pain. By Sunday, his temperature was rising and his condition was deteriorating. A doctor determined his intestine had been torn. He was taken to the Church Home and Infirmary in Baltimore and doctors said peritonitis had set in. Mr. Noonan steadily grew worse until he died Monday, June 28, 1920, according to Dixon's research.
Trundle was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting an officer in the discharge of his duty, according to the Bel Air Times.
According to Dixon's report, Trundle's name was found the criminal docket of the Harford County Clerk of the Court. He had "presentment for disorderly conduct on a public street in the Town of Bel Air" on Sept. 20, 1920 and on Sept. 27, 1920, Trundle pleaded guilty and his sentence was suspended.
Although The Aegis reported that two indictments were returned by the grand jury in connection with the "Noonan case," a check of microfilmed copies of the paper, available at the Bel Air branch of the Harford County Public Library, found no reports of the actual case outcome.
Funeral services were held for Mr. Noonan were held at his home and he was buried at Quaker Cemetery in Whiteford, near the intersection of Scarboro and Quaker Church roads.
According to his World War I draft registration card, filled out Sept. 12, 1918, Mr. Noonan's date of birth is Nov. 21, 1885, though his tombstone lists it as Nov. 29, 1886. He was a town bailiff, according to the card, who lived in Bel Air
His wife's name is also spelled several ways, Luela Noonan, Suella Noonan and the former Lulua Carr.
Carr is not an unfamiliar name in Harford County. Most prominent is Circuit Court Judge William O. Carr, who has been on the bench since 1984 and is something of a historian himself.
The judge said he first became aware of part of the story behind Mr. Noonan's death, when someone did the genealogy for another woman named Carr.
"I knew he died in an accident, I always assumed it was an automobile accident," Judge Carr said. "That's the only thing I knew about it."
He said he thinks Luella Carr, or Suella or Lulua, was his great-grandfather's sister.
While newspapers reported Mr. Noonan's death as June 28, 1920, his tombstone and death certificate note it on June 29.
In trying to find Mr. Noonan's family, Lockard, of the Bel Air Police Department, has found more information about the former bailiff.
He lived in the Fountain Green area, Lockard said. And while the Noonans didn't have any children, Noonan's brother, Floyd, had three daughters, the youngest of whom was 10 in 1920.
As a bailiff, he was making about $45 a month.
After Mr. Noonan's death, his widow remarried and in 1929 bought a house on Broadway. They had no children.
He's hoping to get Mr. Noonan included on all three law enforcement memorials, including the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Maryland Fallen Police & Correctional Officers Memorial and the Fallen Officers of Harford County Memorial on Bond Street in Bel Air.
Lockard wants to find any of Noonan's family so they can be involved.
"We want to recognize the family of the fallen officer, so they have the option to be present for any memorial service in D.C. or for the Maryland memorial or public safety memorial at the Courthouse," he said.
Lockard said it's only fitting that a fallen officer get the recognition an officer would get if he or she died today.
"There's more recognition to an officer's death now than there was 80, 90, 100 years ago," he said. "Officer Noonan was injured on a Friday, died on a Monday, and the only entry we have in the town hall journal is a gentleman hired to replace him, no 'Officer Noonan died in the line of duty.'"
That's a wrong he and Dixon are hoping to fix.
Copyright 2015 The Aegis