Back in the Day: Blame Kentucky for Carmel’s sole police fatality
Commentary by Fred Swift
It started as a warm early summer day in a peaceful downtown Carmel. It was June 1900. Before the day was over the town’s deputy constable and a visiting street preacher lay dead in a tragic and very public double homicide.
The shooting deaths briefly put Carmel in the national news.
T.J. “Cyclone” Johnson, described as an “eccentric and defiant street preacher” from Kentucky, came to Carmel that summer to hold a series of tent revivals which were popular at the time. He set up shop on a vacant lot at the corner of First Ave. and Third Street N.W.
Things did not go well almost from the start. Varying accounts indicate that Rev. Johnson may have insulted various citizens from the pulpit or in other ways antagonized a portion of the community.
One night some young men went to the tent and perhaps taunted the preacher who carried a shotgun among his belongings.
A shot was fired. It did no damage, but the police were notified and Johnson was cited for his actions. Shortly thereafter Johnson was scheduled to appear before the Justice of the Peace. Knowing Johnson’s demeanor, the town constable deputized William F. Carey for the purpose of assisting in taking the preacher to court.
Court was held in a livery stable on West Main Street just east of today’s Monon Trail. A crowd gathered to witness the proceedings.
Apparently unknown to anyone, Johnson was armed with a revolver. As the hearing was about to begin the preacher pulled his gun and shot Carey, killing him almost instantly.
The bystanders were shocked and enraged. Some unknown member in the crowd pulled a gun and mortally wounded Johnson.
The unexpected event in a quiet, mostly Quaker community created a sensation. The county sheriff was called in to investigate. Despite dozens of witnesses the person who shot Johnson was never identified, probably protected by fellow towns people.
In the following days rumors circulated to the effect that Johnson’s Kentucky relatives were coming to Carmel to look into the matter. To say the least this put the community on edge. But, the rumored visitors never appeared.
Carey, who had a wife and young children, was widely mourned and honorably buried in Carmel Cemetery.
Today a photo of Deputy Carey, the only Carmel law enforcement officer ever killed in the line of duty, is found at police headquarters. And on West Main Street near the Monon, people can find the statue of a police officer.
The name badge reads W. Carey.
Fred Swift is a former member of the Carmel City Council, a former newspaper editor, a 60-year resident of Carmel and currently serves as a board member of the Carmel Clay Historical Society