Another policeman, a four-year old girl, and three perpetrators were also killed in the incident, and 12 others — mainly innocent bystanders — were wounded.
Edwin Churchill had been born in Liberty on June 16th, 1897, one of the four sons of William and Elizabeth Keough Churchill. He enlisted in the Army in April of 1917, and served for two years during the First World War, after which he joined the New York City Police Department.
On the afternoon of Friday, August 21st, 1931, just a few days after returning to work from a two-week vacation spent visiting family in Liberty with his wife and three children, Churchill was on his motorcycle in the vicinity of Third Avenue and 161st Street in the Bronx. Unbeknownst to him, because the NYPD had yet to embrace radio communications, three men who has just held up a payroll and killed the policeman assigned to guard it, were heading his way in a taxi.
The payroll — just over $4,600 – belonged to the Mendoza Fur and Dye Works, located on East 133rd Street in The Bronx. Patrolman Walter J. Webb had been assigned to guard the payroll and the plant manager who was picking it up, and was killed by one of the crooks.
Two of the men, later identified as 25-year-old John Brecht and 19-year-old Martin Bachorik, grabbed the payroll and sped off in the plant manager’s car, setting off a 12-block long shootout through commercial districts and residential neighborhoods.
According to an article entitled, “Gangsters on the Dyckman Strip: 1931 Shootout Makes National Headlines” on the website MYInwood.com: “After speeding away from the scene of the heist, the two robbers ditched the plant manager’s car at 149th Street and transferred their guns, ammo and stolen payroll satchel into a yellow Monarch taxicab driven by Herbert Hasse to continue their getaway.
“Hasse, a 27-year old father of two, had been driving a cab for less than a year when the armed bandits jumped in his back seat.”
To this day, there is debate as to whether Hasse was an accomplice who was waiting for the gunmen with a second getaway car, or if he was an innocent bystander caught up in the caper. He was killed in the barrage of gunfire that finally ended the pursuit on Dyckman Street just a short while after the robbery.
The three men in the yellow taxi sped past Churchill and another patrolman, Edward Worrell, who were completely unaware of the robbery. When a motorist, Charles Fackler, drove up and informed the two officers that the men in the speeding taxi had been brandishing weapons, Churchill gave chase on his bike, while Worrell jumped on the running board of Fackler’s car and induced him to join the pursuit. Churchill was shot multiple times during the ensuing chase, and died on the operating table three hours later.
The Liberty Register newspaper lauded Churchill as a hero, “promoting” him to the rank of Lieutenant in a front page story in its August 27th, 1931 edition.
“Slain Police Lieutenant Was Native of Liberty” the paper’s headline announced.
After recounting the incident in The Bronx, the article noted that “His brother, Charles Churchill, is also well known in Liberty. Mrs. Marie Conlon and Miss Anna Kelly are cousins.”
The paper reported that Churchill had been buried two days before.
“City officials gave him the highest praise for his courage and his doggedness in sticking out the fight to the end.”
Photo of Patrolman Edwin Churchill, a Liberty native, was shot and killed while on duty with the NYPD in 1931.