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Her Name was Joanne

November 5, 2012

I received a comment yesterday from retired Chicago Police lieutenant, Jim Padar, which started me thinking about fiction vs non-fiction.  Jim writes non-fiction police stories, and very well I might add.  Anybody interested in really well-written, entertaining police stories, visit his blog at jimpadar.wordpress.com.  Primarily, I write fiction, because it is easier for me to deal with make-belief.  About ten years ago, I wrote an article for the Police Writer’s Association, titled “Her Name was Joanne”.  It was a true story, tragic beyond belief.  I am not ashamed to admit I cried while I wrote it, and I cry now when I read it.  In the early seventies, there was a song of the same title, written and performed by Michael Nesmith.  One of the verses goes, “And I saw as she went, a most hopeless situation”.  I hope you enjoy the article.

 

Her Name was Joanne

By

Dennis M. Banahan

 

 

            I remember the first time I saw her face, her dark eyes were haunted by inconsolable pain.  It was from a distance.  She wept loudly and her body convulsed as she labored down the stairs of the Catholic Church behind the flag-draped casket of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Kelly.  Family and friends flanked her on each side for support.  A cold March wind tried in vain to sweep her tears away but there were just too many. She was a portrait of despair; of utter devastation. 

She was Tommy Kelly’s fiancée and they had just recently finished their final wedding preparations.  All I could think of as I watched the stricken figure stumble behind the casket was that she should have been wearing white this week, not black. It should have been the happiest time of her life, not the saddest.  I wished I could have reached out from the crowd and touched her hand or said or done something that would have eased her pain and her heartbreak. But it was evident that her agony was far beyond the comfort or consolation a stranger in the middle of a crowd of hundreds could possibly offer.  She didn’t know me and I knew very little about her.  Just that she was Tommy Kelly’s fiancee and her name was Joanne.

            Tommy Kelly and I grew up in the same neighborhood.  The neighborhood, simply known as 69th Street., was a tough, predominantly Italian neighborhood. There weren’t many Kellys and Banahans around but it didn’t matter to any of us.  The Italians are great people and anybody from 69th Street was considered family regardless of whether your name began with a vowel or ended in a vowel.  It was a great place to grow up.

Tommy Kelly was a few years older than I.  I knew his younger brother, Bob, who was my age, better than Tom when we were growing up.  Bob and I had attended St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Catholic Grammar School together.  The Kelly Brothers were a tight knit Irish family.  They always reminded me of the famed Fightin’ Sullivan Brothers, the five siblings all killed in action aboard the USS Juneau during WWII.  The Kellys were pretty tough kids and they all looked out for one another.  They weren’t known for starting trouble but they weren’t known for backing away from it either.  Mostly, they were just known throughout the neighborhood as nice guys and good softball players. 

            Tommy Kelly joined the Chicago Police Force a few years before I did.  By the time I came on the job in 1969, he had already established a reputation as being a good street policeman.  Whenever coppers with a few years under their belts would  mill around the roll call room drinking coffee and telling war stories, I always waited for the opportune opening to casually inject that Tommy Kelly and I were from the same neighborhood. As a rookie policeman, it was a great source of pride to me to know a policeman the caliber of Tommy Kelly.  There was also a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, underlying suggestion that I wanted to be that type of policeman too.

            In the early 70’s, Tommy Kelly and his partner, Tom Neustrom, were assigned to Area One Task Force, affectionately known at that time as the “Big Red One”.  The unit was defined as a mobile strike force and utilized to augment district manpower in those police districts experiencing a particularly high incidence of crime, or assigned to a specific trouble site where the potential for violence was imminent.   The Big Red One guys were crammed into the back of police vans like cattle and shipped to the west side for the King Riots; downtown for the Democratic National Convention; the Petrillo Bandshell for the Grant Park Riots; and thrown into hundreds of other like situations. Whenever, or wherever, things got ugly, they were activated. The officers assigned to the unit, by the very nature of their duties, had to be aggressive, hard working policemen. 

            Back in those days, the Big Red One, more often than not, was usually assigned to the 2nd District when their services were not needed elsewhere.  The 2nd District had acquired almost as many aliases over the years as some of the people that had been detained in its lock-up. The station was referred to as “The Deuce” by some, or  “The Bash” by others (a derivative of Wabash), long after the old red brick station house at 48th & Wabash had been razed and the new facility was located at 51st & Wentworth.  The location and the name of the police station may have changed but little else did.  The 2nd District was still the 2nd District: a rose by any other name.  Geographically, it was the smallest district in the city and yet it maintained the dubious honor, year after year, of having the highest crime rate in the city.  The city’s political architects gerrymandered the district’s boundaries to ensure all the public housing complexes, and the crime associated with them, were contained within its perimeters. The district was only eight blocks wide and thirty blocks long, and home to twenty blocks of high-rise public housing buildings on State Street called the Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Projects.  Whoever named Stateway a “garden” should have been arrested for a felony misnomer.  The broad expanse of land that surrounded each unit was anything but a garden.  It was a veritable blanket of refuse and broken glass.  The Ida B. Wells low-rise projects encompassed the east end of the district.

March 3, 1970 was the anniversary of my first year on the job. Several of the officers I graduated from the police academy with were planning a celebration party for later that evening so I took the day off time-due. Tommy Kelly and his partner, Tom Neustrom, weren’t celebrating that day though.  They were assigned to patrol the mean streets in the “Deuce” as they had so many times before.  They were cruising the area around 44th & King Drive when they observed a vehicle containing two occupants commit a minor traffic violation.  They curbed the vehicle and exited their squad car.  The driver of the car also got out and walked back towards Kelly and Neustrom while removing a traffic ticket from his pocket.  Officer Neustrom noticed the passenger in the vehicle was acting unduly nervous. His police instincts told him the man’s demeanor warranted further investigation. Upon walking over to the passenger’s side of the car, Officer Neustrom initiated some general on the scene questioning. The man became more tense, and his responses to the Officer Neustrom’s questions were deliberately evasive. Feeling his suspicions were correct, Officer Neustrom asked the passenger to step out of the vehicle.  The man readily complied and Officer Neustrom conducted a protective pat down.  After determining the man wasn’t in possession of any dangerous weapons, Officer Neustrom instructed him to step to the rear of the vehicle where Officer Kelly was still talking to the driver of the car.  Officer Neustrom was conducting a cursory examination of the car’s interior when suddenly from behind him, there was a thunderous explosion.  Officer Neustrom bolted upright and turned to look in the direction of the loud report just in time to see the driver of the vehicle rushing toward him with a gun aimed at his chest.  Tommy Kelly was laying face down on the street with a single gunshot wound in the forehead fired from point-blank range. The driver of the vehicle pumped five bullets into Officer Neustrom’s chest.  Still conscious, but unable to move, Officer Neustrom fell across the front seat of the offender’s car and lay motionless, feigning death.  It was every policeman’s nightmare enfolding before his eyes. The killer, his lust for blood still not sated, ran to the passenger side of the car and yanked Officer Neustrom out by his ankles and threw his bullet-riddled body onto the street. Officer Neustrom lay defenseless as the offender put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger six more times… but, fortunately, the gun was empty.  Miraculously, Officer Neustrom survived the attack. The two suspects fled from the scene on foot.  They were captured sometime later miles and miles away from the scene.  They were holed up in a house, ironically located directly across the street from the high school where Tommy Kelly’s father had worked for so many years as the school engineer and only two blocks from where the Kelly boys grew up.

Though the swift apprehension of the murderer may have provided the Kelly family and Tommy’s fiancee with some peace of mind, it did little to comfort them.  Nothing would bring Tommy back.  There would forever be a black hole in their hearts that nothing, or no one, could ever fill.

I didn’t attend my first year anniversary party that evening.

 

Pat Crowley had been a good friend of Tommy Kelly’s.  He was also a good friend of mine. They were a cut from the same cloth. Both men regarded among the rank and file as outstanding policemen and both men came from similar backgrounds.  So, it was no surprise when Pat offered Tommy’s fiancee a strong shoulder to lean on in her time of grief.  And, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the qualities she found in Tommy Kelly she also found in Pat Crowley.

 “In every adversity, there is a seed of an equivalent or greater benefit,” as the saying goes.  And so, out of the despair and loss of a great friend and lover, blossomed a beautiful relationship.  Tommy Kelly would have wanted it that way.  To know the woman he loved most in the life was being looked after by a man he loved and trusted.

Joanne was still haunted by the terrible events, which had inexorably altered her life.  When Pat proposed to her she told him candidly that although she loved him, she couldn’t marry another Chicago policeman, an Irishman at that.  She couldn’t sit at home, night after night, afraid that the phone might ring.  Afraid to watch the news and hear that another Chicago policeman had been shot and they couldn’t release his name until the family was notified. She wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, knowing he was on the street patrolling the bowels of the city.  No, unless Pat changed occupations, there would be no marriage.

Pat was brokenhearted.  Joanne was brokenhearted.  Each understood the other’s misery.  The police department wasn’t just a job for Pat; it’s who he was.  But could Joanne survive another tragic ordeal like that again?  Pat knew the answer.  No.

Consequently, Pat took the Chicago Fire Department exam and placed high on the list.  He tried to convince Joanne that it was a less hazardous job but she knew better. As it turned out, it was a moot point. When Pat was called to report to the Fire Academy, he declined the position.  He was a policeman, not a fireman.

Joanne’s friends and family tried to convince her to look at this grave misfortune from a logical perspective.  They all agreed that what had happened to Tommy Kelly was a terrible, terrible tragedy but it was an isolated incident.  There are over thirteen thousand men on the Chicago Police Force at any given time, the overwhelming majority of whom will live to retire from the job with thirty or more years of service and collect a pension.

Finally, after a lot of prayers and cajoling, Pat Crowley and Joanne were wed.

* * *

On September 13, 1976, while conducting a narcotics raid, Officer Patrick Crowley was shot and killed.  He sustained a single gunshot wound to the forehead, as did Officer Thomas Kelly six years earlier.

* * *

I remember the second time I saw her face.  It was from a distance.  Her dark eyes were haunted in pain.  She wept loudly and her body convulsed as she labored down the stairs of the Catholic Church behind the flag-draped casket of Police Officer Patrick Crowley.  She didn’t know me and I knew very little about her…but I never forgot her name.  Her name was Joanne.

 

 

Joanne, wherever you are, if you should ever happen by chance to read this, I want you to know you’re still in the hearts and the minds and the prayers of Chicago Police Officers.

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12 Comments
  1. Kathleen Nolan O'Malley permalink

    I have no words….

  2. Jim Eldridge permalink

    Written like a true Policeman

  3. Dina permalink

    What a heart breaking story.

  4. Ken Abels permalink

    Thanks Den you captured all the emotions we all felt at that time of our lives, from the terrible events that ocurred, but we never thought about her and how devastaded she must have been not once, but twice. Very nicely done my friend

  5. Alice White Balandis permalink

    Uncle Den,
    Im so proud to call myself your niece. You are an unbelievable writer. As I was reading this, I actually felt like I was there experiencing it all 1st hand. Im so proud of the Chicago Policemen in my family. My dad, brother, and wonderful Uncle Den. I remember when I was a kid, I could sit for hours on end listening to your stories. Thank you for sharing what must have been a very difficult time in a young police officers life. I love you. Boots

    • Hey Boots,
      Thanks very much, I’m glad you’re proud of us all, but you forgot to mention the “wonderfulest” policeman in the family, the guy that started it all, Uncle Bern. As his younger brother, I can assure you, Bernie Banahan was a hard act to follow. We all have our idols, and my brother was mine. And still is.
      Love,
      Uncle Den

  6. Peter F. Dignan permalink

    I knew Tom Kelly, and Pat Crowley. Pat and I went to the same high school, although he was a year ahead of me. Both good guys. I talked with Pat the night before he was killed. I remember John Solecki and I looking at his body in the St. Bernard’s E.R., and Lieutenant Jack Looney standing nearby absolutely inconsolable. I testified at the parole hearings for both of their killers and I’m pleased to say they are still in prison. Strange how I still get that gut wrenching feeling when I think of those two good guys being dead all these years, and how Joanne’s life was ruined. And some people wonder why cops become a bit hardened and rough around the edges. Dennis a great piece of writing. Hope to talk with you soon. All the best, Pete

    • Thanks very much for your kind comment, Pete. I don’t think my words could adequately express how devastated I felt that day, standing amidst a crowd of hundreds, and watching JoAnn walk behind Pat’s flag-draped casket. I don’t think I could even begin to appreciate her anguish. I didn’t think of Tommie or Pat as being particularly young guys at the time, but as the years went on and I’d see their pictures on the wall of every police station, I realized they weren’t much more than kids: not much older than my grandsons. And, while I’m on this blog, I’d like to take the opportunity to publicly state how much I admire you, and how proud I am to be your friend, for dragging those two wounded policemen to safety under fire. I think we both know that there are many police officers who talk that talk, but very few can walk that walk. If you hadn’t, I would have been walking behind two more caskets, and that’s an experience I hope nobody has to ever go through.

  7. Grace permalink

    I sent this article to my friend. She knew Tom Kelly very well from grammar school. She wanted to know Joanne’s last name. Is that a privacy issue?

    • Hi Grace. I don’t think supplying Joanne’s last name would really be a privacy issue, but the fact of the matter is I don’t know her last name. As, the story indicated, I never knew her personally. I’ve only seen her on two occasions in my life, and both times she was behind a black veil. Someone recently told me that after Pat Crowley’s death, she remarried, and has been happily married ever since.

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