In the Line of Duty: Philip Paul

Grave of Philip Paul, North Bend Cemetery

This was not my first visit to the North Bend Cemetery. I turned onto the sacred grounds off of Main Street in the community of North Bend. The last trip had been while researching the history of the Kettle Creek valley when I stopped to visit those who had been moved here when the US Army Corps of Engineers erected the Alvin R. Bush Dam as a means of flood control. A number of the cemeteries that would have been flooded by the creation of the dam were moved to this cemetery. Note: more about the graves moved can be found here: The Kettle Creek Project.

The grave I sought was next to one of the cemetery’s roadways and I quickly found the memorial. Walking to the stone I could see the surname “Paul” at its base. It was hard to make out the words, but after a couple minutes of working I made out the words above the surname that verified this was the grave I sought: “He sleeps an iron sleep / Slain while doing his duty.”

Philip Paul was born November 11, 1855 in Cambria County. His childhood was spent on the family farm until he took a job as a brakeman for the Pennsylvania Railroad. After working for them for a short period of time, he bounced around the country, taking jobs here and there before he settled in Renovo in 1883. He worked as a bartender, but gave up the job when he accepted the job as Chief of Police of Renovo. He was described as a large man who was liked and respected by most due to his gentlemanly manners.

The night of March 12, 1889, the residents of Renovo heard a gunshot at 11:20, but few paid attention to it. Roughly the time of the shot John Dwyer and a friend were passing Oak Street, an alleyway between Ontario and Huron Avenues. Glancing down the alleyway toward the police lock-up they spotted a figure lying on the ground. The man lying there was Chief of Police Philip Paul, who had been shot in the back of the head.

Though the doctor was called for and attended Paul, the wound was too great and Paul was declared dead. Chief of Police Philip Paul had held this position for less than a year, leaving behind a wife and young son.

Dwyer stated as they approached Paul’s body, they spotted a figure running into the shadows. The lock-up was open and the key was in the lock, meaning Paul was about to place somebody in the lock-up, but the identity of the prisoner was a mystery.

As witnesses came forward, the details about that fateful night began to develop. Shortly after eleven on the night of March 12, Chief of Police Paul came upon a group of men at the corner of Seventh Street and Huron Avenue. The group was loud and disorderly and Paul advised the men to disburse and go home. All the men except for nineteen-year-old Charles Cleary left the scene. Paul took Cleary off to the lock-up to spend the remainder of the night. When the two men arrived at the lock-up, Paul was dead, having been shot in the back of the head, and Cleary had fled the scene.

Among the men who were questioned was David Belford and Charles Sloan, who were arrested at the time so they would not flee the area because they were among the group of men that had been disbursed by Paul. The coroner’s jury immediately declared Philip Paul had died from a pistol shot from Charles Cleary.

Cleary managed to avoid capture the morning after the murder and hopped aboard a train headed to Emporium. At Hall’s Run – about three miles west of Renovo – he was tossed off the train by a brakeman, but snuck back aboard. He was questioned again when discovered at Grove Run and tossed off the train, but managed to sneak back onto the train again. When discovered the third time, he was held until the train reached Emporium.

The sheriff of Clinton County was informed of Cleary’s arrest and met railroad detectives at Keating to take Cleary to the prison in Lock Haven. The crowd in Renovo was at a frenzy as they awaited Cleary’s arrival. Deputies were placed on the train platform and only those with tickets to go to Lock Haven were allowed to get on the train. Upon arriving in Lock Haven, Cleary was placed in the county jail.

When Cleary went to trial, the prosecution presented witnesses who claimed they encountered Cleary that night and he never appeared drunk while in their presence. They also produced witnesses who heard Cleary making the claim he would kill Paul before he was placed in the lock-up again. These witnesses stated Cleary was out to pick a fight and wanted to fight Paul – many of those who met him that night believed Cleary had a gun on his person.

When Cleary gave his statement in court, he claimed that he did not remember anything about the shooting due to his being drunk. He had visited a number of places that evening – beginning at seven – but could not remember all of the places or how he got from one location to the next.

Cleary claimed he had heard the shot and remembered getting up from the ground. Upon seeing Paul lying on the ground he fled the scene. When questioned if he had a grudge against Paul, Cleary admitted the two of them did not get along, but he harbored no grudge against him.

The prosecution presented an interesting theory about what happened that night. They stated that Cleary was not drunk that night and had used this alibi of being drunk to assassinate Paul. In the prosecution’s closing, they connected the dots in a circumstantial case, claiming that only Cleary and Paul actually knew what happened that night, but Cleary’s actions afterward – of leaving from Renovo – proved his guilt.

In the end, Cleary’s defense failed and he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. Cleary appealed and was granted a new trial. There was a long list of reasons the courts granted the new trial, including: the evidence provided did not constitute a finding of murder in the first degree, the fact the court did not take into consideration reasonable doubt, at least one juror had announced before the trial that Cleary was guilty and nothing could be done to change his mind, and that the court, when instructing the jury, placed into their minds that the only way Cleary could have killed Paul was “deliberate and premediated.”

Cleary was tried again in 1891, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

The barking of a dog nearby brought me back to the present as I stood at the grave of Philip Paul. I finished remembering his death in the line of duty before leaving him to rest in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.

Note: Before you continue reading this note, I want to be clear that I am not defending Charles Cleary. I am not saying he was innocent of the murder. What I am going to say is after reading everything in the newspapers of the time and the coverage of Cleary’s trials, there are a couple things about the case which have no definite answers.

It does not appear that Cleary’s initial statement was ever really investigated – from the start he was the only suspect. Authorities believed his select memory was not due to alcohol, but due to not wanting to reveal the truth about what happened that night. The fact is the town of Renovo and Clinton County was upset their beloved Chief of Police had been murdered and wanted immediate justice, and unfortunately any statements Cleary made about that night were ignored or considered a lie.

There is one thing that the prosecution does not explain – how did Cleary manage to get behind Paul to shoot him? Cleary’s statement was Paul “had him by the neck” and was taking him to the lock-up for the night. At no point is it explained how Cleary, who was last seen being pushed ahead of Paul, managed to get behind Paul to shoot him in the back of the head. There were plenty of witnesses who saw Paul sending the group of rowdy men home, saw Paul taking Cleary to the lock-up, saw Cleary being pushed ahead of Paul, however there was no report of any sounds of a struggle or Paul crying out a warning. What was reported was a single shot and the first witnesses saw Paul dead on the ground. If the prosecution had an answer for how Cleary managed to get behind Paul to fire the fatal shot, it was never revealed in the trial coverage.

Cleary mentions he remembered hearing a shot and then getting up off the ground and seeing Paul’s body lying there. If true, it would suggest another person walked up behind the two men and fired the fatal shot. As far as I can determine, Cleary’s statement was never seriously looked into by authorities or even his lawyer. Although Charles Sloan and David Belford had been arrested the morning after the incident, they were quickly set free – authorities never considered any other person to be involved in the murder of Police Chief Paul.

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