Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 12 years, 7 months, 17 days
Unit of Assignment / Detail: Detective Bureau
District of Incident (Present Day): 001 - Central
Cause of Death: Gunfire - Enemy
Age at Time of Death: 34
Date of Birth: 14 Sep 1874
Date of Appointment: 26 Oct 1896
Date of Incident: 12 Jun 1909
End of Watch: 12 Jun 1909
Date of Interment: 15 Jun 1909
Cemetery: Mount Carmel Cemetery - Hillside, Illinois
Grave Location: Grave 3, Lot S17, Block 1, Section Q
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # B-2
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 2
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 1, Line 38
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 25-E: 15
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: No Military Record Found
Incident & Biographic Details
Detective Sergeant William J. Russell, Star #85, aged 34 years, was a 12 year, 7 month, 17 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to the Detective Bureau.
On June 12, 1909, at 10:45 p.m., Detective Sergeant William Russell and his partner, Patrolman Thomas Stapleton were on a patrol when they spotted a known confidence man. His name was George Kellar, alias “Bob” La Blanche, aka The Gimlet Burglar. The officers followed Kellar into Barney Bertsche’s saloon, located at No. 104 West Randolph Street (present day 63 West Randolph Street), which was fifty feet from the Detective Bureau Headquarters. Also nearby was the temporary City Hall. While entering the saloon, Sergeant Russell asked Kellar what he did for a living. Kellar replied he had some concessions at Riverside Park. The officers then went to the bar with Kellar and had a drink. The men then walked over to a two-seated stall where they sat down and ordered another drink. It was at this time that Sergeant Russell leaned over towards Kellar and said, “Let’s see if you’ve got a gun.” The men were seated two to three feet across from each other. Without warning, Kellar produced two pistols and fired on the officers. Sergeant Russell was shot first being hit two times. Before Officer Stapleton could draw his pistol, Kellar had gotten four shots off. The fourth shot grazed Officer Stapleton’s head and he returned fire after being blinded by the muzzle flash of Kellar’s gun. Kellar was struck and fired another round, this time striking Officer Stapleton’s ear taking off some of the lobe. Kellar then got up with one round left in his revolver and fled towards the Fifth Avenue (present day Wells Street) entrance to the saloon. Before exiting he turned and fired his last round at Officer Stapleton. Kellar then ran out and as he ran across the street, he tripped over the trolley tracks and fell on the sidewalk near Randolph Street. Officer Stapleton then pursued Kellar outside the saloon.
Patrol Sergeant Joseph A. Kilgore of the 1st Precinct, who was working to maintain order in a union hall nearby heard and several Detectives who were in the Detective Bureau’s Headquarters heard the shots and rushed to the scene. Lieutenant Andy Rohan of the Detective Bureau was standing in the doorway to City Hall and also heard the shots. He was the first to arrive onscene. With his revolver in hand, he entered the saloon through the Randolph Street entrance. Upon entering he observed Sergeant Russell slumped over at the table in the stall. Meanwhile, Sergeant Kilgore observed Kellar fall while still waving his revolver. He drew his weapon and held it to Kellar’s head and disarmed him. Seeing that Kellar was in custody, Officer Stapleton went back inside the saloon. As he entered he encountered Lieutenant Rohan who ordered him to arrest the bartender, Joseph Jones, and fours patrons in the saloon. Officer Stapleton arrested one of the patrons, Thomas Walsh, despite his injuries and transported him to the lockup in City Hall. Officer Russell was taken to Passavant Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Kellar was also taken to Passavant Hospital where he was treated and released.
On June 25, 1909, George Kellar was held by Coroner’s Jury. On December 31, 1909, Kellar was sentenced to life in Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet by Judge Scanlan. Kellar appealed and a new trial was granted and on March 21, 1911 he was acquitted by Judge Kersten.
Detective Sergeant Russell was waked at his residence located at No. 517 South Waller Avenue (present day 24 South Waller Avenue). His funeral mass was held at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church located at 10621 South Kedvale Avenue, Oak Lawn, Illinois. He was laid to rest on June 15, 1909 in Mount Carmel Cemetery, 1400 South Wolf Road, Hillside, Illinois. His grave is located in Grave 3, Lot S17, Block 1, Section Q.
Detective Sergeant William J. Russell, born September 14, 1874, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on October 26, 1896.
Detective Sergeant Russell was survived by his wife, Anna Lillian; children; father; two brothers and sister.
Incident Recorded under Chicago Police Department homicide file, Case #2108.
On October 14, 1910, Sergeant Russell’s star was retired by General Superintendent LeRoy T. Steward and enshrined in the Superintendent’s Honored Star Case, City Hall, 121 North LaSalle Street, Room 505, Office of the Superintendent of Police. Officer Shea’s star was one of fourteen stars added to the newly instituted memorial to preserve the memory of officers killed in the line of duty. The tradition of retiring a star number was born. In 1928, the star case was moved to the 4th floor Office of the Superintendent at Chicago Police Headquarters, 1121 South State Street. The Honored Star Case was later relocated to the lobby of Chicago Police Headquarters, 1121 South State Street. In 2000, Chicago Police Headquarters again moved to a new facility at 3510 South Michigan Avenue, Sergeant Russell’s Star was re-encased in the new headquarters building lobby.