Special Agent Matthew E. McGrath

Special Agent Matthew E. McGrath

Illinois Central Railroad Police Department, Railroad Police

End of Watch Saturday, August 8, 1903

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Matthew E. McGrath

Special Detective Matthew McGrath was shot and killed just before midnight by three thieves in a Pullman railroad car in the Illinois Central Yard in the area of East 27th Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Due to continued thefts of brass and other valuable fixtures from the interiors of the Pullman cars, the Illinois Central detailed an extra force to patrol the yards and McGrath and his partner were sent out. The detectives boarded the train, made up of empty Pullman cars, to go to the 'Y' at 72nd Street. McGrath hid in a clothes closet and his partner hid under a seat.

The detectives had been in the car only a few minutes when a door was forced open and three men entered. At that moment, McGrath slipped out of the closet and faced them. As he did so, one of them raised a revolver, fired a bullet striking McGrath just above the heart. He was killed instantly.

Just as the shot that killed McGrath was fired, the second detective came out from under the seat to assist his comrade. One of the robbers felled him in turn with a blow on the head with a revolver. In spite of his wound, the detective fought with one of the men and struggled through the car in the aisle where McGrath lay. Another of the robbers saw an opening and fired point blank at the detective, who received the bullet over the heart and fell to the floor.

In another car were two other detectives who heard the gunfire. Unable to distinguish the forms of the struggling men and were at first hesitant to shoot.

After the second detective fell, the backup officers rushed into the car. The thieves, not expecting this new attack, turned and jumped through the car windows, carrying the glass with them, running down the yards towards Fourteenth Street.

One of the other detectives fired several shots after the fleeing men. By this time, the full force of the railroad detectives was alerted and hurrying toward the fatal Pullman car. With the sound of crashing glass, they turned to learn the cause and saw the men running away.

The detectives pursued the thieves, firing as they ran. One of the fugitives gave a cry of pain, and was seen to stagger and almost fall. His companions came to his rescue, and it appeared to the pursuers that one of the men practically was being carried in the flight. In spite of this handicap to their progress, the robbers dodged around in the shadow of the many cars in the yards and soon were lost to the sight of their pursuers.

Summoning aid from the Cottage Grove Avenue Police Station, the railroad detectives secured the aid of a number of city detectives and the search was continued until early this morning. The Harrison Street Police also sent a wagon to the Cottage Grove District to assist in bringing in suspects.

While the robbers were being pursued, another detective, also an employee of the railroad, with other employees, gave attention to the second detective. They lifted the wounded man up, and as they did so, he murmured the name of his assailant. With that he lapsed into unconsciousness. He was taken to the hospital, as was the body of McGrath.

Early the following morning, a number of arrests had been made on suspicion, but their names were not given out. Police surrounded the house of the identified gunman, awaiting the suspect's return.
The suspect, a parolee from the Pontiac Reformatory, confessed to being in the group of thieves whom shot and killed Special Agent Matthew McGrath and wounded his partner. He also implicated two accomplices. When police entered the suspect's home, he attempted to run but the wound in the leg prevented his escape. He was taken into custody and confessed.

When first arrested, he named another offender as one of the officer's killers. At the station, he met that suspect and then denied that he was one of the three. Police believe he retracted his first statement solely through fear of retaliation.

The second wounded detective, recovered at St. Luke's Hospital.

Special Detective Matthew McGrath was 28 years old. For the last fifteen years, or since a boy, Detective McGrath had been in the service of the Illinois Central Railroad. His wife, daughter and son survived him.


  • Age 28
  • Tour 15 years
  • Badge Not available

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Location Illinois
  • Weapon Gun; Unknown type
  • Offender In custody

larceny, trespasser

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Rest in peace always knowing that no passage of time will ever erase your memory, service and sacrifice.

Detective Cpl/3 Steven Rizzo
Delaware State Police (Retired)

August 8, 2020

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