During the evening of August 28, 1882, Officer Hugh Burns, 38, was shot and killed by a young Kentuckian who had arrived in the city only a few hours before the incident.
Passing through Indianapolis while en route for Kansas City, John J. Jeter of Campbellsville, Kentucky, spent the time waiting for the west bound train drinking and playing cards. Later accounts suggest he may have been robbed at some time during the evening. At about 10:00, he suddenly appeared in front of Keating’s saloon, at the corner of Garden and Tennessee Streets, armed with a revolver. Waving the gun at another patron, Jeter was heard to say, “You’re the [one] that insulted me.” During the course of a struggle, the gun was discharged, the bullet flying harmlessly away. Jeter then broke loose, and still flourishing his revolver, made the crowd stand quiet while he cursed and yelled at them.
Living nearby, Officer Hugh Burns heard the commotion while sitting in the doorway of his residence, off-duty. Without stopping to put on his coat or arm himself, he crossed over to the saloon to quiet the disturbance. He found the crowd being held at bay by Jeter. Approaching Jeter, Officer Burns laid his hand upon Jeter’s left arm, stating, “I’m an officer – consider yourself under arrest.”
Jeter was standing at the time with his revolver held high. As Officer Burns spoke, Jeter answered, “the hell you are,” and, dropping the muzzle of his weapon, fired an overhand shot at point blank range.
The bullet struck Officer Burns just below the neck and, ranging downward, penetrated the aorta, inflicting a wound almost instantly fatal. Officer Burns staggered back and attempted to clutch a post, but fell to the ground. As he did so, Jeter fired a second shot, striking the officer’s left arm.
Jeter attempted to escape by fleeing on foot. With considerable resistance and injury, he was captured and subdued by the crowd.
Officer Burns was survived by his wife, Catharine, whom he had married earlier the year he died. She had been home preparing a meal when her husband had left to go to the disturbance. Hearing the shots, she called to him. Getting no reply, she ran into the street and saw him lying there. With the assistance of others, she lifted him and carried him into their home.
Officer Burns was also survived by a young brother, James, of whom The Indianapolis Republican wrote: "(He) almost doted upon Hugh, and the love of the two brothers was wonderful."
Officer Burns was well known in the city. He had come to the United States many years before as a small boy. When he grew up he became a bartender, and afterward kept a saloon at the corner of Illinois and Georgia streets. Having sold his saloon, he became a member of the police force about three months prior to his death. At the time of his death he was in line for promotion.
Services were held at St. John’s Cathedral where a large assemblage of friends gathered. A line of 150 carriages followed the remains to the Catholic Cemetery for burial.
A month after Officer Burns’ death, Mrs. Burns was reported to be dangerously ill with typhoid fever. Having left home before daybreak one morning, she was found several hours later lying beside the grave of her husband. Mrs. Burns survived her illness and remarried a number of years later. She died in 1925. Her gravesite lies next to both husbands at Holy Cross Cemetery, Section B, Block 9, Plot 587.
Officer Burns is the first IPD officer known to have been killed in the line-of-duty.
Sources: Indianapolis News, August 29-31, 1882; September 18, 1882. The Indianapolis Republican, September 2, 1882. The Indianapolis Journal, August 29-31; September 1-2, 1882. Marriage certificate, February 16, 1882. Holy Cross Cemetery Research conducted by IMPD Sergeants Jo Moore and Tom Feeney, Summer 2012.