To most in the current Revere Police Department, Sgt. John Shanahan was simply a forgotten tragedy on a plaque in front of the old Police Station on Pleasant Street.
For those officers who never worked out of the old Pleasant Street station, he was even more of a mystery. Some had maybe seen his plaque in the trophy case of the new station, but even more probably hadn’t.
However, over the last year, Det. Dave Caramanica, and others in the Department who assisted, made it their job to find out who the man was and what happened to him on a cold November night in 1928 – a night where he would die tragically in the line of duty in what they later learned was the result of a drunk driver.
“We always knew he had passed in the line of duty because the old station had a plaque at the entrance that had been donated by the Knights of Columbus,” said Caramanica. “This year, 10 years came up since we put (the late) Danny Talbot on the National Law Enforcement Memorial and so we decided to find out how Shanahan died in the line of duty. We wanted to try to get his name on the memorial too if it was appropriate.”
To do so meant delving into the old Revere Police logs – the ones that were written out in cursive by hand in large, leather-bound volumes. It was a crap shoot that the records would even exist, as many were lost over the years or during the move to the new station.
As luck would have it, Shanahan’s record was found, and the report had a good amount of detail – enough to eventually get him approved for the memorial. During Police Week in Washington this month, Sgt. John J. Shanahan had his name put on the memorial and read off during a huge ceremony under the appreciative eyes of his Revere law enforcement predecessors.
“It was nice to know that now he had his proper place in the history of law enforcement,” said Caramanica. “There are 20,000-plus names on the national wall. Dan Talbot was put there 10 years ago, and now we have Sgt. Shanahan there too. It was nice to see a guy who died so long ago finally honored in the right way. For us, we were able to honor our own and get him the recognition he deserved for being killed in the line of duty. It was no longer just that anonymous plaque that was on the old police station. We did the research and got him his proper recognition.”
That research involved digging through the old logs to Nov. 18, 1928 – where at 11:15 p.m. they began to find the story of what happened to Sgt. Shanahan.
That first call showed that an accident had been called in for a car crash at North Shore Road and Oak Island.
Sgt. Shanahan arrived at 11:20 p.m.
By 11:50 p.m., they got word that another accident had happened, and Sgt. Shanahan was in an ambulance on the way to Lynn Hospital. Soon after midnight, they heard that Shanahan died in that ambulance.
Another officer reported that Sgt. Shanahan had been directing traffic on North Shore Road when a Ford truck hit and killed him. The truck was registered to Dillon Parcel Delivery Service of Lynn. An investigation at the scene led to the questioning of Willie and Sophia Zimmer, 18 Arcadia St. That led to the implication of Anthony McDonald of East Boston – who had fled the area after the accident and went home by train.
Zimmer and McDonald argued about who was driving, with McDonald likely being the driver. All three of them had apparently been drinking before driving home in the truck.
Zimmer and McDonald were jailed and charged with manslaughter for the death of Sgt. Shanahan.
Shanahan died, officially, of a compound fracture to his skull.
In the payroll records, Caramanica said it was reported that Shanahan’s heirs were paid $63 on Nov. 23 for his final paycheck.
Caramanica said it was really a perfect storm for losing his story, as he wasn’t married and didn’t have any children. His only surviving family members were his sister’s family.
Caramanica said he reached out to two relatives who lived out of state and hadn’t been to Revere in decades. They were interested in the story and said they had heard pieces of what happened to Sgt. Shanahan.
Shanahan was born in Revere on March 29, 1874, and lived at 81 Central Ave. He became a Revere Police officer in March 1903, and had been a rubber worker prior to that. He became a sergeant in 1917.
Caramanica said the trip to Washington, D.C., this month is something that was very special for the department. It’s a trip that he recommends every officer take at least once in their career.
“You try to explain to the young officers to at least check it out once,” he said. “It’s a valuable experience and puts your job into perspective and highlights the sacrifice people have made on the job throughout the country over many years.”
Caramanica said the ceremony included 120 new officers added this year, and a total of 360 officers added when including legacy names like Shanahan.