The night of Friday, June 20th, 1884, probably started much the same as any other for Frank Piszczek. There was nothing -- no portents, no omens, no signs of any sort, that it would unleash a chain of events that would culminate in Frank becoming the first Milwaukee police officer killed in the line of duty.
|Milwaukee Police Officers and wagon outside the West Side Station, 1886|
Frank was born in the German Partition of Poland but came to Milwaukee at a time when Milwaukee was still in its adolescence. There were a number of Piszczek families among the earliest of the Polish settlers, and it is quite reasonable to assume that Frank was related to these, but as to exactly how he fits in, I have been unable to located any documentation. [If anyone knows, please contact me.]
Frank had originally been trained as a tanner. For a while, he had also worked as a brakeman for the St. Paul road. But in 1876 he had joined the Milwaukee City police department. At first, he was assigned as a night patrolman. He was then given a day watch. Next, he assigned to a station on the South Side. Finally, in about the beginning of 1884, he was made a roundsman.
When he had reported for duty earlier on that fateful day, he had been told to be on the look-out for two notorious crooks and "cracksmen." They had been known to have left Chicago a couple weeks before for a trip through northern Wisconsin. Just a couple days before, the pair had shown up in Manitowoc where they had robbed a saloon. Since that time, their movements had been traced but they still eluded capture. They had followed the railroad tracks out of Manitowoc until Sheboygan. There they had made a wide circle around the city, but had picked up the railroad tracks again south of town. They had then hopped a freight train which had reached Milwaukee about 7 that Friday morning. They had leaped from the train about three miles before reaching the Lake Shore Depot, and then had walked into the city. Since then, the police had scoured the city looking for them, but when Frank Piszczek came on duty, they still had not been apprehended.
There were no sign of the men until about 2:30 on Saturday morning. Officer Piszczek was visiting Union Depot on Reed Street when he was approached by Private Watchman Dan Kennedy. Kennedy told him that there were two men near-by who were acting suspiciously. They had been first seen at the Depot about 10 on Friday night and they had spent most of the intervening hours there. At one point, the smaller of the two men had tried to change a number of small bills for larger ones.
|Union Depot on Reed Street, from the Wisconsin Electric Reader.|
Piszczek, who was wearing plain clothes, crossed Reed Street and sat next to the man, engaging him in some conversation. He asked his name, where he was from, and several other questions. Feeling that his answers were not satisfactory and that the man was indeed a crook, Piszczek asked if the man would take a walk with him, and the stranger consented.
|An enlargement of an 1883 map shows the area. Union Depot fronts on Reed St.. Clinton is one block east.|
The two men proceeded south down Reed Street until Florida Street. As Piszczek turned east toward the police station the man became agitated.
"Where are you taking me, you ---- ----- -----?" he asked. Piszczek replied that he would show him. At that, the man sprang away from Piszczek and landed on his knees in the gutter. Whipping out his 38 caliber revolver, he got off two shots before running away down Reed Street. Piszczek tried to pursue. He also took three shots with his own gun as the man disappeared in the darkness. However, he soon realized that he was wounded, so he turned back to the station. He never made it, instead he collapsed in the street a half block from where the shooting had occurred. That is where he was found by the patrol wagon from the South side police station which had been attracted by the sound of gunfire. He was taken to the station and two doctors were summoned.
The doctors determined that Piszczek had been hit twice in the abdomen and that both wounds were fatal. They were eventually proven correct, but Piszczek fought for his life for 43 hours. A later autopsy determined that the first shot had hit him in the left side, entering his abdomen between the 11th and 12th ribs. The bullet passed through the left kidney and then lodged itself near the spinal column. The second bullet had entered the lower abdomen and had lodged itself in the muscles of the hip.
The flags of the city were flown at half-mast and all the police stations were draped in black. The Mayor and the Chief of Police, along with 50 off-duty police officers, attended the funeral. A long, solemn procession wended its way from Piszczek's residence on the corner of Greenbush and Mitchell Streets to St. Stanislaus Church. The funeral, presided over by Reverends Gulski and Rogzinski, was one of the largest funerals held in that church up to that time. Afterward, Officer Piszczek was laid to rest in Trinity Cemetery. He left his wife and and five children surviving.
In the meantime, all efforts to capture the perpetrator went for naught. It was not that the Milwaukee Police didn't try. Nearly a hundred officers hit the streets within an hour of the shooting. All roads out of the city were guarded and every street and alley on the south side was searched. One officer was sent to Racine, and another to Western Union Junction with orders to search every passing train. Two detectives were sent south in a carriage, another to the west, and the sheriffs were searching to the north. A reward of $500 was offered. Detective McManus was sent to Chicago, where it was believed the assailants had fled, and thirty policemen were on the case there.
The murderer was last seen shortly after the shots were fired by Mrs. McFadden, a resident of Reed Street. She was feeling ill, so she was sitting at her open window at about 3 a.m. when two man walked quickly past. One was very agitated. She distinctly heard him say, "I couldn't help it; if he had left me alone, I wouldn't have done it." But then the darkness closed around both men, and they disappeared into history.
Relation to Nearest Featured Profile: (Roman Czerwinski, Featured Profile #10): Father-in-law of grand nephew
Genealogy Uncovers a Woman's Link to a Moment in Milwaukee's History
Memorial Page of the Milwaukee Police Department
Milwaukee's Finest - 1800's
"Murder of Piszczek," Milwaukee Journal, June 23, 1884, page 4
"Peril of Policemen," Milwaukee Journal, June 21, 1884, page 1
"Taken to the Grave," Milwaukee Journal, June 24, 1884, page 1
"Who Shot Piszczek?", Milwaukee Journal, June 25, 1884, page 4.