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Solving the coldest case

Rosemount policeman John Francis McDermott died in the line of duty May 22, 1923. He was accidentally shot by a fellow officer while pursuing two suspicious men.

His story is a tragic part of Rosemount's history and it was nearly lost.

The 27-year-old World War I veteran was a carpenter by day and a police officer at night. McDermott was active in the community and belonged to the Knights of Columbus and the American Legion. He was unmarried and had no children.

"Nobody was a full-time officer at that time," said Rosemount police detective Henry Cho.

Cho stumbled upon McDermott's story last February and has spent hours looking into the 85-year-old incident.

The night McDermott died he was filling in for the regular night watchman, Joe Heinen. According to information Cho gathered from old newspaper reports from the Dakota County Tribune and the Dakota County Globe, on the night of May 21, 1923 McDermott saw two dubious looking men stop their car near the creamery and walk into town.

Having known that three unknown men had threatened to "get" Heinen, McDermott called on three other officers and hid near the Rosemount First National Bank.

A car drove up to the Hynes filling station shortly after with three people in it. McDermott believed the the people in the vehicle were the ones that had threatened Heinen, so he ran across the street towards the Geraghty store to investigate.

One of the other officers who had been called in mistook McDermott for a suspect and commanded him to stop. McDermott ignored the officer's multiple commands and the officer shot him several times with a shotgun, hitting McDermott's head and lungs.

The suspects fled after hearing the shots and the three officers discovered the victim of the shooting had been one of their own. They transported McDermott to Sanford Hospital in Farmington but his wounds were too grave and he died later the next day.

A history almost lost

Whispers of McDermott's death have been around for years but for the most part his tragic death had been forgotten. It probably would have been completely lost had it not been for chance and the efforts of Cho.

In February, Cho stumbled upon the rumor of a Rosemount police officer killed in the line of duty while looking for the Rosemount Police Department's first badge for the city's sesquicentennial celebrations that will be held in July.

"A lot of departments will wear their first badge during special celebrations," said Cho.

Cho was talking with Dakota County Sheriff's department captain Steven Theriault about the badge when Theriault mentioned that a Rosemount officer may have been killed a long time ago. The story piqued Cho's interest.

"I thought it sounded like a neat thing to look into," said Cho.

Having no other knowledge Cho decided to go to local history buff Maureen Geraghty-Bouchard to see if she knew anything.

"I hit her up and asked her if she knew anything about this," said Cho. "She didn't have a whole lot of information but she gave me the name John McDermott."

Like anyone these days would do, Cho Googled the name and found a St. Joseph's Cemetery record.

After that Cho was encouraged and despite the fact it would be a lot of work he decided to investigate.

He contacted the St. Joseph's staff to see if they had any records. They did and it confirmed that John Francis McDermott's death had been from a gunshot. He also found McDermott's grave stone, which had information about his army service on it.

That information led Cho to Dakota County for the official death certificate. That record revealed McDermott's parents names James McDermott of Minnesota and Mary O'Donnell of Ireland. In addition to his parents, McDermott had three brothers and two sisters.

After more help from Geraghty-Bouchard and looking through numerous old newspapers including the Tribune and the Globe most of the story came together.

After some awkward phone calls Cho also found some of McDermott's surviving family members and they confirmed what little they knew of the story.

While Cho was initially doing police work when he found the story, he spent his own time and money to investigate. Although it was a lot of work Cho said he enjoyed doing it.

"If I didn't do it, I don't know if anybody else would have. Or if anyone would have come across this information again so I felt a responsibility," Cho said. "Plus it was fun."

An honor a long time coming

As he investigated, Cho decided to see if McDermott could be honored by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. To submit an application he had to meet a number of criteria.

"I really felt that if he really did die in the line of duty -- as a brother in law enforcement he deserved to be recognized for making the ultimate sacrifice for his community," Cho said.

To submit the application to the organization Cho had to find a family member, have a picture of the deceased and show that he was killed during duty.

Finding a picture of McDermott proved to be difficult. With no family pictures or police pictures available, Cho was stumped.

"I kept asking myself where would there be a picture of him," Cho said.

Eventually Cho found a picture of him in a Dakota County World War I book that listed all men and women who had served during that time. McDermott served in the U.S. Army with th 4th Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Battalion and received an honorable discharge.

After presenting the information to the city council in May, an application has been submitted to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. If chosen to be honored McDermott's name will join more than 17,500 fellow officers who have been killed in the line of duty on the memorial's blue gray marble walls in Washington D.C.

Cho doesn't know when he'll find out if McDermott will receive any recognition. If McDermott gets chosen he will likely be honored next May during National Police Week.

Either way Cho said he is happy to have made people aware of McDermott's sacrifice for his community and to have helped save a chapter of the Rosemount Police Departments history.

"I'm glad I did this," said Cho.