A Murderous Night In Cumberland

Originally Published in The Smithfield Times, November, 2015

A Murderous Night in Cumberland

By Jim Ignasher  

    The Valley Falls Baptist Church was filled to capacity as the funeral service began, forcing some mourners to wait outside.  At the head of the isle was a simple black coffin in which the deceased lay.  One newspaper reported that he looked “life-like”, as if “only sleeping”.  The Reverend Ellison delivered a eulogy that moved many to tears, and when it was over, a horse-drawn hearse carried the departed to his place of final rest in the Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls.  The date was April 29, 1901, and the funeral of the murdered police officer was the culmination of events which had begun four days earlier.

      In the spring of 1901, businesses in Cumberland, Lincoln, and Central Falls had been the targets of nighttime burglaries, all believed committed by the same person(s). In recent days three unsuccessful attempts had been made to break into the Burnham Store Company in Cumberland, a dry goods, grocery, and general merchandise establishment.  Figuring that a fourth attempt was likely, on the night of April 24th, Cumberland’s Chief of Police concealed himself inside hoping to make an arrest. At about 1 a.m., he heard someone outside the back door, and with revolver at the ready waited to see what would come next.  The would-be burglars worked on the door for the next fifteen minutes but couldn’t get it open, so they left.  The chief remained inside to see if they’d return, for he wanted to catch them in the building where there could be no doubt of their guilt.

      About forty minutes later, Special Officer Herbert Moore was walking a post in Valley Falls near the Central Falls city line when he encountered two men attempting to break into a store, but not the one the chief was located in.  This was an era before automobiles and police radios, and in 1901 even telephones were uncommon.  If an officer encountered trouble, he was generally on his own.  

     As Moore approached, one of the men pulled a gun and started shooting.  The officer returned fire, sending six rounds in the direction of his attacker, but missed.  Then a bullet struck Moore just above his right hip and knocked him off his feet.  The pain was intense.  The slug had torn through his lower intestines and lodged next to his backbone.  As the wounded officer lay in the street his assailants left him for dead.

     Officer Burlingame had been patrolling nearby, and when he heard the shots came running to Moore’s aid.  After assessing the wound, he helped Moore to his feet and led him down Broad Street towards the Town Hall where police headquarters was then located.  Along the way they encountered Maurice Mountain, a street car conductor for the Cumberland Electric Railway who was on his way home.  Burlingame apprised him of the situation and told him to go to for a doctor.  As Mountain ran down the darkened street he inadvertently encountered the gunmen, who likely mistook his conductor’s uniform for a policeman’s.  Without a word, they fired three shots at the Good Samaritan, striking him in the cheek, neck, and right shoulder.  Although wounded, Mountain managed to escape by running towards the relative protection of a shack near the Valley Falls railroad crossing.   

     Officer Moore’s wound was serious, and after being treated at the police station he was transferred by horse-drawn ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital where he succumbed on the 27th.  Conductor Mountain was more fortunate, and was sent home to recuperate.   

     One odd fact related to this story is the prophetic dream had by Officer Joseph Whipple of the Central Falls police about a week before, which was reported in the (Woonsocket) Evening Call on April 25, 1901.  It said in part, “In the dream he heard a shot, investigated, found that a Valley Falls store had been burglarized and an officer and a man shot.”  Whipple had told fellow officers about his premonition, but they didn’t take it seriously.  On the night of the shootings, he was on patrol near the Central Falls – Cumberland line, and when he investigated the sounds of gunfire he found the situation was just as he had seen it in his dream!     

     Within hours of the shootings, Chief Donahue and Officer Burlingame arrested a suspect, a 25-year-old Pawtucket man well known to police who went by different names.  The man claimed he’d been home asleep at the time of the gunfire, but his father denied this and said his son didn’t come home until daylight.  With his criminal record and no alibi, the suspect was brought before a judge who ordered him held on $5000 bail, and remanded him to the state jail in Cranston.  Chief Donahue admitted to the press that the case against the arrestee was circumstantial, but it was hoped that if he hadn’t taken part in the shootings that he might know who did.  The prisoner denied any and all knowledge of the crimes, and on May 6th he was released for lack of evidence.     

     In the ensuing weeks police continued their investigation, but nothing new was learned.  Then weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, and the case faded into history.    

    Then, ten years later, a possible solution to the mystery was put forth.  In the summer of 1911 two men from Cumberland, both brothers, were convicted of various crimes in Massachusetts and given long prison sentences to serve at the Charlestown State Prison.  Officer Burlingame, now Chief Burlingame, was summoned to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to give testimony in one of the cases because one the men was a suspect in the shooting of Officer Moore.  

     On August 30, 1911, the (Woonsocket) Evening Call reported that an unnamed prison inmate serving time in Cranston had given an affidavit “to the effect that one of the brothers had told him that he was the one who shot Moore.”   However, suspecting someone of a crime and proving it can be two different things, especially when the only evidence is hearsay from a convicted criminal.  The article ended with the hope that further evidence would be gathered to finally bring those responsible to justice. Unfortunately, history has shown that nobody was ever charged with Officer Moore’s murder.     

     Herbert Daniel Eaton Moore was born in Kittery, Maine, August 2, 1871, and was 30-years-old at the time of his death.  He was survived by his wife, three children, and a brother.       

Officer Herbert Moore’s Grave
Moshassuck Cemetery
Central Falls, R. I.

     Moore was appointed a special officer to the Cumberland Police in 1899.  In the early days of Rhode Island law enforcement, many cities and towns employed “special officers” to supplement the often small full-time force.  In some cases, there might be more “specials” than “regulars” on a department’s roster.  “Special officers” carried the same police powers as “regular” officers, (And took the same risks.) but only worked when needed.  In the case of Officer Moore, he was filling in for the regular beat officer who had the night off.  Many Rhode Island police departments continued to utilize “special officers” into the 1980s. 

     In Washington D.C. there is the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  Inscribed on it are the names of more than 20,000 United States law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty since the earliest days of our nation’s founding. (Presently there are 46 names from Rhode Island.) 

     From time to time, forgotten incidents such as the one involving Officer Moore come to light, and until quite recently, the Cumberland Police Department was unaware of his death in the line of duty.  As of this writing, efforts are underway to have his name added to the national memorial.     

—Officer Moore’s name has since been added. J.I.








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