01 May 2008

The First NJSP Civilian Killed "In the Line of Duty"

On December 19, 1924, the headlines of a local New Jersey newspaper read: "TROOPER SLAIN BY CAPTIVE; ONE DEATH IN HUNT: One Man Believed To Be Balked Bandit Kills Officer Near Mansville."

Those headlines were in regards to the murder of Trooper Robert Coyle #64, the first New Jersey State Trooper murdered in the line of duty. The story of Trooper Coyle's death is well documented in State Police history. However, there was an additional sub-headline that is not remembered: "Mechanic Is Killed and Another Hurt in Accident While Seeking Slayer: Cycle Hits Truck In Search." That mechanic was State Police civilian employee William Morton.

On the afternoon of December 18, 1924 Troopers John Gregovesir and Robert Coyle foiled an attempt to steal the $6,400 payroll of the Bound Brook Stone Company at Chimney Rock in Martinsville, New Jersey. The Troopers were escorting the suspect to the Plukemin Sub-Station for questioning.

"The two Troopers sat in the front seat leaving the suspect unattended in the back seat. While driving along the highway near Chimney Rock...the suspect suddenly shouted 'Hands up!' Trooper Coyle, who was riding in the passenger seat, turned and the man fired a blank directly into Coyle's face. The man then wrested Coyle's revolver from him and fired two shots into Trooper Coyle's back. He died immediately."

The payroll suspect turned murderer fled the scene and a manhunt ensued. At 2:30 in morning the following day, State Police civilian mechanic William Morton was riding in the sidecar of Trooper Harry Lindermann's motorcycle. They were searching for Coyle's murderer, but it is not known why a civilian mechanic was riding with the Trooper.

As they travelled between New Brunswick and Metuchen, they didn't realize that two trucks had pulled into the Lincoln Garage for gasoline. The trucks projected out into the street, their rear lights obstructed by tail boards. Linderman was able to avoid the first truck but he wasn't so lucky with the second one. He collided into a truck owned by the Phillips Company of Philadelphia.

The motorcycle continued another fifty feet before it overturned. Trooper Lindermann suffered a broken wrist and lacerations. Morton was thrown from the sidecar into a field, fracturing his skull as he landed on the ground. He died shortly thereafter.

Fred Davis, the County Detective investigating the case, declared the tragedy an accident. However, Lindermann was "held on a technical charge of manslaughter." Morton was taken to Gowan's morgue in New Brunswick and his funeral was held a few days later. He was survived by his wife and daughter.