Dead Man’s Beat: 1890

An unknown Victorian police officer and his dog in the studio. Source:

An unknown Victorian police officer and his dog in the studio. Source:

Mrs Daffodil has some pressing duties here at the Hall, and so has asked that scribbling person at the macabre Haunted Ohio blog to supply today’s post.


A Spectre Phenomenon Who Paces a Beat With Chilly Regularity Every Night.

He Is Closely Followed by a Small, Ghostly Dog in His Silent and Dreary Watch.

About 1 O’clock in the Morning He Mysterious Fades Away into a Maze Near a Big Elm Tree.

Kansas City, Mo., Sept. 30. “Dead man’s beat” was the gruesome title that for many months clung to that portion of East Ninth Street lying between Woodland and Prospect Avenues in this city. It is the most aristocratic portion of town, too, but nevertheless, no policeman would voluntarily do duty there. A somber history of fatality clings to the beat that in the past few months has been intensified with the glamour of superstition. The beat is haunted. Formerly not a man was ever assigned there but death or disaster overtook him. Since January last, however, a series of nightly manifestations has given the locality a new name, and “dead man’s beat” is now known as the place where the ghost walks.

Every night, now, beginning at 8 o’clock and continuing until 1 in the morning, the phantom figure of a policeman, clad in the heavy uniform of a wintry night, the high collar of his overcoat turned up about his ears, whether it be warm or chilly, may be seen regularly patrolling up and down that street and trotting along close at his heels is the spectral figure of a small dog. Up and down, up and down, with a blood-chilling regularity and a freezing stillness the two phantoms pace the lonely and deserted street. At either end of the beat the pair turn with methodical precision and pace the beat over again. Steadily the spirit patrol is kept up from 8 until 1.


At stated intervals, each half square, the spectral policeman pauses, stoops over and then his arm rises with uplifted club and descends upon the edge of the curbstone; but like the phantom footsteps of the policeman himself, no sound issues. Each half square is this motion of tapping gone through, but only an oppressive silence follows instead of the welcome sound of the locust against the curb. The ear is strained in vain to hear a sound from either of the ghostly pair. All is silence—dead, chilling, unnatural, though such is the tension upon the nerves by the strange sight that one seems to hear the sound of their footsteps, the tap of the club, even the sound of their respiration.

Each hour, at one or the other of certain corners, the lonely copper and the ghost of the dog stop, while the former gazes away into the darkness as if expecting to meet someone. They are the “schedule points” where, in days gone by, the sergeant met the patrolman and received the report for the hour. But no sergeant now appears, and after a few moments of hesitating expectancy, the noiseless figures of the pair turn and resume their weary patrol, stepping off the squares with a measured and military tread. Thus the long hours of the night pass, and 1 o’clock draws near. There is a church tower not far distant and the bell in it strikes the hour with a distinctness that falls harshly on the ear. When the bell’s sonorous sound has ceased the pair of spooks reach the southwest corner of Park Avenue and Ninth Street, and leaning against a huge elm the policeman shivers and draws his collar more closely about his neck while the little dog cowers at his heels. Time them by the watch! The figures of the spectral train appear to fade away. Little by little they go, and then they finally merge into an indistinct maze, and just as the minute hand points to three minutes past 1 ‘clock in the tall tower, they disappear altogether and are not seen again until 8 o’clock on the following evening, when the nightly vigil of the two phantoms begins anew, as it has done since January last, and will continue to do, the policemen say, until the cowardly assassin of brave Officer Morgan is brought to justice.


For many a long month prior to that tragic night of January 1, that fated beat was under the ban of the police as a “Jonah.” Every man who had ever been assigned to duty upon it met with a signal misfortune, thus was it that it became known as “dead man’s beat.”

Denny Thomas was the first victim of the strange fatalities that clustered about the neighborhood. It was about the time that the police department of Kansas City was reorganized on the metropolitan plan that Denny was put on duty there in the usual course of events. Three nights afterward he became ill, and a week later a sorrowful procession of his mates followed him to a grave in Elmwood Cemetery.

Brave John O’Neil succeeded poor Thomas on the beat. One night, following a period of forty-eight hours of continued wakefulness, due to an election, John fell asleep on duty and was caught snoring by the sergeant. He was summarily dismissed from the force.

Jack Devinney took the beat, and one dark night, while making his rounds, he stumbled into a coal hole that some man’s stupidity had left open. An hour later the sergeant, after a diligent search, came upon the death trap, into which he nearly fell himself. Flashing his lantern into the depths, the sergeant saw the form of Devinney stretched on the heap of coal below. Some time elapsed before the owner of the cellar could be awakened and the ambulance called, and when poor Devinney was finally reached he was cold and stiff in death, his neck having been broken by the fall.


For the first time the singular chain of fatalities attending the East Ninth Street patrol duty was noticed. Through six successive changes in less than  a year did disaster relentlessly pursue every policeman sent to that fateful spot. One man who had never been known to drink before was discharged for drunkenness, although he pleaded in self defense that the trying associations of the beat were enough to drive one to drink. Another man lost his position through incompetency, while still another met poor Denny Thomas’ fate, sickness and swiftly following death.

Simon Harris was the seventh man to take the beat, and two weeks after going on duty there he was shot and wounded one night  in an effort to arrest a couple of peace disturbers. Though he survived his wounds he was forever incapacitated for active duty and he is now a station house keeper.

After that there were no more assignments to the beat. The chief humanely refused to pass what seemed equivalent to a death sentence on his men and the beat thereafter went by lot. John Knowles got the first black bean and he at once resigned from the force. Pat Connors followed, and for a time the dreadful hoodoo of the beat seemed to have run its course, or rather to have transferred itself to little “Tug,” a skye terrier of whom detail will be given. Pat Connors covered the beat for six months without disaster, and the men fondly hoped that East Ninth Street’s misfortunes were a legend of the past


But now to the dog Tug. He suddenly appeared at the central station one day soon after John Knowles resigned. Where he came from no one knew, but as he was a very clever dog and speedily developed some amusing tricks, he became for a time a favorite. The men, especially those on night duty liked to have Tug accompany them on their lonely vigils. But his popularity was short lived. He soon began to be regarded as a hoodoo. George Whitney, a colored policeman to whom Tug took a fancy, was soon removed “for cause.” Teddy Lyon was Tug’s next master, and Teddy lost his place not long after, for failing to pass the annual examination. Tug then transferred his allegiance to Sergeant Jones and followed him day after day on his tireless rounds of duty. One day Jones took a drop too much and the result was that he was reduced to the ranks. The day that Jones’ chevrons were removed, Tug forsook him and attached his unwelcome self to Jimmy Fitzgibbons, who was proverbially unlucky, but too big-hearted to reject Tug’s overtures of friendship.

“Jimmy’s name is Dennis,” remarked some of his brother officers when they saw how faithfully the little dog followed him about. Their jesting prophecy was only too true. One morning Jimmy sprang into the Missouri River off a sand-boat to save a drowning boy. The moment the officer dived Tug set up a dismal howling. Both man and boy were drowned, and their bodies were not recovered for weeks. After that Tug was kicked and cuffed off by every man he tried to follow, as the embodiment of ill-luck, and the poor creature in sheer despair one night forsook the police headquarters and went to Station No. 2, but even there his fate followed him, for a few days afterward an over-turned lamp set fire to the house and it was destroyed. Tug escaped and fled back to No. 1, where for weeks he remained unnoticed and disconsolate, fed only at intervals by Frank Morgan, the officer in charge of the station. This was the situation at the time that Morgan succeeded Connors on “Dead man’s beat,” whose terrors were now somewhat dimmed by the long period of immunity Connors had enjoyed.


It was just before the holidays that Frank went on duty, patrolling the beat at night. He was regularly followed by Tug, and when his brother officers saw Morgan, thus weighted down, as it were, by the double handicap of two jonahs, they shook their heads once more and again predicted ill. But Morgan gave no heed to the croaking.

The night of January 1 came. It was a cold night, when all the elements seemed at war, while a biting, freezing cold prevailed, and under the fierce gale the flying particles of sleet and snow cut a man as if with a knife. Limbs were blown from trees and came crashing down upon the pavement, while the air was filled with the rustling of the dried leaves that were blown hither and thither. Morgan buttoned his great coat closely about him and drew his head well down into the muffler; but in spite of his warm clothes the keen wind penetrated to his skin and chilled his very blood. With bent head, Tug close at his heels, the officer pursued his way, hour after hour, rapping the pavement at intervals, the sound of the club’s contact being carried away by the winds. Several times Morgan made his regular report to the sergeant. His next report was to be made at 1 o’clock at the corner of Park Avenue and Ninth Street. On that corner stands a huge elm tree, and Morgan leaned against it, seeking protection from the storm. Tug was probably standing at Frank’s heels. As before stated, it was a wild night. The flying dead leaves were rushing through the air, and the creaking of the waving trees and the soughing of the gale through the telephone wires overhead, all around the rattle of shutters—these combined to create a perfect wintry pandemonium.


In all the noise neither Morgan nor Tug noticed the assassin who was stealthily creeping up from out the black shadows behind. Closer and closer crept the midnight foe, until he stood directly behind Morgan, and still the dog could not have observed him or he would have given a warning growl. The assassin’s arm was uplifted and in the hand was held a long knife that descended with swift and resistless force into Morgan’s back, and slightly turning to the left pierced the heart. So powerful was the blow that the sharp steel cut through the heavy garments and into the flesh and bone, severing the spinal cord, so that death must have been instantaneous. The murdered officer fell suddenly a limp and inert mass, and in falling he crushed and killed Tug, for when found a few moments later the dog lay under his master, his white woolly hair dyed crimson with Morgan’s life blood. Both were dead and rapidly stiffening in the intense cold. Thus were they found by the sergeant. At the undertaker’s it was shown that Morgan’s watch had stopped just three minutes past 1 o’clock, marking exactly the moment of his assassination.

It was never learned who struck the cowardly blow. Morgan was not known to have had enemies and the supposition was that he was taken for another policeman, Jim Ryan, whom he resembled, and who had incurred the deadly hatred of a gang of young toughs by shooting one of their number.

For several days a keen and active search was prosecuted for the murderer, but as no success attended it the efforts were finally abandoned. It was on the night following this decision that the ghosts of the murdered policeman and the dog Tug were first seen, and there they may still be seen, every night, pacing backward and forward through the lonely hours, until 1 o’clock when they will fade and disappear at the fatal corner.

Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 21 September 1890: p. 21

Stories of “Jonahs” and “hoodoos,” like poor Tug were a popular theme in the 19th-century papers. Among others, I have told of hoodoo hats, rings, cats, hangman’s ropes, and of the cursed “Badge No. 3,” fatal to a number of Kokomo, Indiana police officers.

Stories in a similarly blood-curdling vein may be found in my book, The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales From the Past. You’ll find a table of contents here. If you enjoy historical ghost and horror stories, you might also enjoy The Face in the Window and The Headless Horror.

Please visit my blog for the strange, the fortean, and the macabre. My Facebook page is Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.


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