John L. Sullivan
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Officer John L. Sullivan - Died July 23, 1952

John L. Sullivan


Officer John L. Sullivan, 30, was shot shortly after he arrived at his home at 4715 English Avenue after finishing his tour of duty on Wednesday, July 23, 1952.  Before leaving duty to go home, Officer Sullivan drank a cup of coffee with his partner and three other officers.  A few minutes later, he caught a bus to go home.  

At the home on English Avenue, Officer Sullivan’s wife, Mary Helen, had fallen asleep while watching TV.  At about 1:00 am she awakened to find a tall, skinny man in the room, armed with a gun.  The intruder cuffed her across the shoulder with the gun and pulled a 6-foot length of rope from his pocket.  Making a loose noose, he slipped it around Mrs. Sullivan’s neck and warned her to “Do what I tell you to do, or I’ll kill you.”  She replied she would do anything he wanted if he would not harm the children who were sleeping in an adjoining bedroom. 

A few minutes after having been awakened by the intruder, Mrs. Sullivan heard her husband arrive home from duty.  She grabbed her attacker’s shirt, twisted and pulled off a button, and ran screaming into the front room, saying there was an intruder in the bedroom.

Officer Sullivan, still in uniform, approached the bedroom door and ordered the man to come out or he would go in after him.  The intruder responded with a shot fired through the bedroom door.  The bullet struck Officer Sullivan just above the heart, near his badge.

Wounded, Officer Sullivan returned fire and pushed open the bedroom door.  The intruder dove through the bedroom window into the yard, bending the screen as he fled.   Officer Sullivan then staggered to his telephone and called police headquarters.

Within minutes, a flood of squad cars responded to the home.  Emergency aid was administered to Officer Sullivan, and he was rushed to General Hospital where he died at 1:49 am, about 45 minutes after he had been shot.

During the gunfire exchange, the intruder had been struck in the right arm and lung.  Police followed his trail of blood from the bedroom into the surrounding neighborhood. 

At about 2:00 am, a nearby resident called police to report a wounded man had fallen on his back steps at 4105 Hoyt.   The man had been shot and was identified as Emmett Johns.  Johns was 17, tall, and skinny.  His shirt was torn and missing a button that matched the button Mrs. Sullivan had pulled from the intruder’s shirt.  Paraffin tests showed considerable nitrate stains on Johns’ hands.   Johns was hospitalized and recovered from his injuries.  He was tried and sentenced to life at the State Prison in Michigan City..

Johns had discarded his gun during his flight from the crime scene.  An organized search was conducted in the morning to find the nickel-plated gun.  Army mine detectors were brought to Indianapolis by a trio of volunteer combat engineers.  The gun, a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, was found in a weed-choked lot about 300 yards from the Hoyt address by a member of the Indianapolis Police Athletic League (PAL Club) which had assisted in the search. 

Officer Sullivan was a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, and was graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in 1939.  He had been a member of the police department for three years, having joined the force in March 1949 after leaving an industrial job to begin a new career.  His kindness and devotion to his neighbors and family were reported in accounts of Officer Sullivan’s clearing snow and cutting the grass of a friend who had lost a leg during World War II, taking the neighborhood children for ice cream cones, and making mud-pies with his daughters.

A Marine veteran of World War II and Purple Heart recipient who had been wounded while fighting in the Pacific theater, Officer Sullivan was given full military rites conducted by the Police Post of the American Legion.  Funeral services were held at Grinsteiner’s Funeral Home followed by a requiem high mass in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.   Burial was in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Officer Sullivan was survived by his wife, Mary Helen Sullivan, and their two small daughters.  Mrs. Sullivan was pregnant with their third child at the time of his death.

Sources:  The Indianapolis News, July 23, 1952.  The Indianapolis Star, July 24-27, 1952.  The Indianapolis Recorder, February 21 and March 7, 1953.