Madison Police and family members a generation or more removed held a brief ceremony Wednesday recognizing the 90th anniversary of the only Madison Police Officer to ever die in the line of duty.
Patrolman Frank J. Knoebel, who was born in 1887 and died at the age of 43, was shot in the line of duty while trying to apprehend burglary suspect Walter Carlin, 27, who was attempting to escape at about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 1930.
The shooting took place in the basement of the Odd Fellows Hall in the 400 block of Mulberry Street after Knoebel had been flagged down by a janitor who had found a suspicious man sleeping in the basement of the building.
Knoebel was transported to nearby King’s Daughters’ Hospital where he died from his wounds about an hour later. Knoebel, who was widowed, was survived by his son, Jimmy, his father and a brother and three sisters. He was buried in Springdale Cemetery in downtown Madison.
A change of venue was granted in the case and Carlin’s trial was moved to Ripley County where he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Indiana’s electric chair in a verdict read by foreman Evert Waters after the jury took just two hours to both convict and sentence Carlin.
During the trial, prosecutors told jurors about Carlin’s background. He earlier had been sent to Pendleton Correctional Facility for burglary in 1925 but broke out of the facility after being made a trusty.
Carlin traveled west to Chicago and was spending time there when he was arrested for a fight with an Army officer. Fingerprints identified Carlin, who also went by the alias Frank Allen, as an escapee from Indiana and he was returned to Pendleton.
Carlin had appealed the convicted in February of 1933.
According to affidavits in State vs. Carlin, Carlin had just been paroled on Dec. 22, 1930, when he traveled to Jeffersonville before spending that night in a Louisville hotel. He returned to Jeffersonville the next day and had Christmas dinner with his father and went to a show with his aunt and uncle that evening.
Now out of money and with no place to stay, Carlin “became disgusted” and stole a Whippet coupe and headed out for Linton, Indiana. While driving through Salem he robbed a hardware store of $11 cash, two revolvers, a shotgun and some shells and two boxes of cartridges and drove on to Bloomington, Indianapolis, Columbus and finally Madison.
The night he reached Madison, Carlin robbed Riddle Brothers Hardware but while in the store someone came in and he forced him to “stick ’em up” and let him out at the front door.
Carlin left his shoes in the hardware store and, since the weather was cold, he broke into a garage and tore up an old overcoat, wrapped his feet with the rags and slept in his car the rest of the night.
The next day he roamed about downtown Madison until about 1 p.m. and while walking down an alley he came to the basement stairway of the Odd Fellows Building and went downstairs where it was warm. He sat down in a chair in front of the furnace and fell asleep until awakened by janitor Arch Monroe, who questioned him where he had been, where he was going and what he was doing there.
Monroe went out shortly and met Knoebel, a policeman who was dressed in plain clothes, and told him about the man he had just left in the basement and asked if he would go down there with him.
Knoebel went with Monroe to the basement where they found Carlin asleep. Knoebel talked with Carlin for a while, asking him the same questions Monroe had asked earlier. He said he was from Jeffersonville and was going to Carrollton, Kentucky, to work.
Knoebel then left telling Carlin that he would see if he could locate him a pair of shoes. Knoebel returned shortly later with Police Chief Charles Stewart, who also questioned Carlin. After talking with Carlin a few moments, Stewart and Knoebel walked back to coal bin away from Carlin and talked together about the probability that Carlin was connected to the robbery at the hardware the night before. They decided Stewart should leave to further investigate.
Stewart later returned to ask Carlin what size shoes he wore, and told Carlin to remain there with Knoebel while he went to find a pair of shoes for him.
Soon after Stewart left, Carlin got up out of his chair, stretched himself and walked around the furnace near the stairway saying he wanted a drink of water. Monroe said he would get him a drink and when Monroe started to get the water, Carlin started to run up the basement stairway.
Knoebel grabbed Carlin and told Monroe to “grab that gun.” Carlin pulled away and shot Knoebel two times. As soon as Knoebel was shot he let loose of Carlin and cried out two or three times, screaming like he was in pain and ran to the top of the stairway. Carlin followed but was caught between the two cellar doors which fell down upon him.
Before he could free himself Stewart returned and with the assistance of others, arrested Carlin.
Police found two revolvers on Carlin and he was taken immediately to the county jail. Knoebel was taken to King’s Daughters’ Hospital where he died about one hour later.
The conviction was upheld by the state Supreme Court but the opinion cited that there was a question as to Carlin’s sanity and a test had not been made at the trial.
Carlin was awaiting execution on death row in Michigan City when in 1933 he was granted clemency by then-Gov. Paul V. McNutt, who commuted Carlin’s sentenced to life in prison with that sentenced commuted in 1949. He was released later that year — after serving 19 years —and returned to his home in Jeffersonville.
McNutt acted in the case after Judge Frank Gardner, who had presided over Carlin’s trial, called the governor to recommended commutation on the basis of unbalanced mentality.