This is the story of how a Delaware Police officer was killed 119 years ago in a line of duty. The patrolman gave his life while serving the citizens of Wilmington. The tragic death caused a sensation at the time but once he was lowered into his grave memory faded into the mist of time, and the lawman was largely forgotten except for headlines in old yellowing newspapers at the Historical Society of Delaware and public records at the Delaware Archives.
It seemed like a routine January night in 1891 as Officer Charles W. Schultz on his last night alive trudged through the outlying part of his Wilmington beat looking into alleys, trying doors, and peeping through store windows as he checked for troublemakers. While he crept quietly through the silent winter darkness, the midnight hour ticked slowly by. To fight off the cold, since once the sun retreated the mercury plunged toward freezing, he kept his top coat wrapped tightly around him. Near 21st and Tatnall streets he observed two suspicious looking men answering the description of safe-crackers thought to be in the area. The instant he called out halt, the strangers pulled out revolvers. As Schultz struggled to draw his weapon, the heavy winter garments slowing him down, two pistol shots shattered the quiet midnight hour, striking him in the stomach and grazing his head.
The assailants escaped into the gloomy Delaware night, while the wounded Schultz, weak and suffering painfully, stumbled along in the direction of his home. Cries of “I am shot” attracted the attention of George Aiken, who helped him to Dr. Shortlidge’s office. Someone telephoned police headquarters so several officers and the patrol wagon rushed to his aid while the doctor attended him. Realizing the gravity of the patient’s condition the doctor loaded the mortally wounded man onto the Paddy Wagon and rushed the patrolman to the Delaware Hospital.
Schultz could not provide much of a description of the culprits except to say that they were “rough, burly fellows,” and one was taller than the other, the Delaware Gazette reported. Chief Swiggett hastily put extra men on the street to search the rough and unfrequented parts of the city.
His wife, five small children, brothers, ministers, and others assembled at his death bed. The nurses and doctors watching over the fading man heard his “distracted ravings,” noted the Delaware Gazette. He spoke of his wife and children and of incidents of the fatal night. What rested heaviest on his mind was his wife and children. Death finally came to 37 year-old Officer Schultz at 5:10 p.m. Friday evening January 30, notes the city’s Death Register.
Wilmington officers continued hunting down the cold blooded murderers involved in the deadly attack while newspapers editors worried that any possibility of identifying the assailants had vanished because of the “complete mystery enshrouding the few-known facts” of the terrible tragedy. The “only witnesses of this frightful crime were the victim and his assailants, and while the former’s lips are sealed in death, the latter have thus far succeeded in eluding arrest, leaving such meager clues as to admit only slight hopes of their speedy apprehension,” a paper wrote.
The lookout continued for days as squads rushed to Richardson’s Woods on the Newport Turnpike, the West Yard, the B & O Station, and other places but to no avail. As the sun faded one more time on New Castle County, officers on the day watch were detailed for extra duty with instructions to arrest all suspicious characters. And that they did for a number of arrests were made of tramps and others, however, one by one, they were all discharged. The only warm lead remaining developed Saturday when the chief received a telegram from that two men answering the description of the fugitives were lurking in that area. Officer Yates rushed to the Pennsylvania village, but when he got there the men had disappeared.
Authorities continued following leads and tracking down suspects, but the tangled trail kept leading them down paths to nowhere. Despite a wide search, some baffled investigators suspected the murders still lurked about Wilmington since it seemed almost impossible for the assassins to have escaped to another place, they asserted. All “cities and towns were notified of the shooting and reports from those . . . places indicated that no such men had been seen,” reported the Morning News. As the cold trail continued getting colder, Chief Swiggett received a telegram from the Norfolk, VA advising that authorities had two men answering the description. He jumped on a midnight train, but returned home empty handed for this, like other leads, proved fruitless. The slayers remained at large.
Steadily clues faded, but before it became a cold-case the Delaware Gazette and State News observed that the “assassination” constituted one of the “most cold-blooded, fiendish murders ever perpetrated” in Wilmington.
With investigators unearthing nothing new the outrageous murder also started disappearing from headlines, but before it became a long forgotten case in the annals of Delaware crime the editor of the Morning News noted some lessons from the tragedy. When the city installed police signal boxes officers began patrolling alone instead of in pairs since the city believed there would be no problem with summonsing aid from the police booths. That “order should be rescinded at once, especially in such lonely places as was patrolled by Officer Schultz,” the paper editorialized.
They also thought that the force was too small for the territory patrolled. “There are not more than eighteen officers on duty at night, and with the handful of men scattered from south Wilmington to outskirts of the Ninth Ward and from the West Yard almost to Edgemore, the only wonder is that more robberies and other crimes don’t occur.” Finally, the men should keep their guns where they can be reached instantly for if it is under coat, they might as well be without a weapon.
When those two gunshots pierced the quiet air in the sleeping city on the Brandywine so many years ago, Officer Charles W. Schultz became another Delaware public servant to die on the job.