Never forget P.O. Tom Kelly

"Her Name Was Joanne" chronicles the story of the fiance of fallen Chicago Police Officer Tom Kelly.  It was written by Retired CPD Lt. Dennis Banahan.  Please take a moment to read her story, and the story of two fallen Chicago Police heroes.  Officer Kelly's murderer, Charles Connolly is up for parole on July 18th.  Won't you help us to live up to our promise to "Never Forget"?  Join us in protesting the release of this convicted cop killer?  You can send a letter to the Chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, as follows:

Craig Findley
Illinois Prisoner Review Board
319 East Madison Street, Suite A
Springfield, IL 62701

HER NAME WAS JOANNE
By Dennis M. Banahan

I remember the first time I saw her face. It was from a distance.  Her dark eyes were haunted by inconsolable pain. She wept loudly and her body convulsed as she labored down the stairs of the Catholic Church behind the flag-draped casket of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Kelly.  Family and friends flanked her on each side for support.  A cold March wind tried in vain to sweep her tears away but there were just too many. She was a portrait of despair; of utter devastation. 
She was Tommy Kelly's fiancĂ©e and they had just recently finished their final wedding preparations.  All I could think of as I watched the stricken figure stumble behind the casket was that she should have been wearing white this week, not black. It should have been the happiest time of her life, not the saddest. I wished I could have reached out from the crowd and touched her hand or said or done something that would have eased her pain and her heartbreak. But it was evident that her agony was far beyond the comfort or consolation that a stranger in the middle of a crowd of hundreds could possibly offer.  She didn't know me and I knew very little about her.  Just that she was Tommy Kelly's fiancee and her name was Joanne. 
Tommy Kelly and I grew up in the same neighborhood together. The neighborhood was simply known as 69th Street.  It was a tough, predominantly Italian neighborhood so there weren't many Kellys and Banahans around but it didn't matter to any of us.  The Italians are great people and anybody from 69th Street was considered family regardless of whether your name began with a vowel or ended in a vowel. It was an unwritten bond that transcended ethnic or social differences.  It was a really a great place to grow up. 

Tom was a few years older than I was.  I knew his younger brother, Bob, who was my age, better when we were growing up. Bob and I had attended St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Grammar School together. The Kelly Brothers were from a tight knit Irish family.  They always reminded me of the famed Fightin' Sullivan Brothers.  They were pretty tough kids and they all looked out for one another.  They weren't known for starting trouble but they weren't known for backing away from it either.  Mostly, they were just known throughout the neighborhood as nice guys and good softball players. 
Tommy Kelly joined the Chicago Police Force a few years before I did.  By the time I came on the job in 1969, he had already established a reputation as being a good street policeman. Whenever the coppers with a few years under their belts would be milling around the roll call room drinking coffee and telling war stories, I always waited for the opportune opening to casually inject that Tommy Kelly and I were from the same neighborhood. As a rookie policeman, it was a great source of pride to me to know a policeman the caliber of Tommy Kelly. There was also a subtle, or maybe not so subtle, underlying suggestion that I wanted to be that type of policeman too. 
In the early 70's, Tommy Kelly and his partner, Tom Neustrom, were assigned to Area One Task Force, affectionately known at that time as the "Big Red One". The unit was defined as a mobile strike force and utilized to augment district manpower in those police districts experiencing a particularly high incidence of crime or assigned to a specific trouble site where the potential for violence was imminent.   They were crammed into the back of police vans like cattle and shipped to the west side for the King Riots; downtown for the Democratic National Convention; the Petrillo Bandshell for the Grant Park Riots; and thrown into hundreds of other like situations. Whenever, or wherever, things got ugly, they were activated. The officers assigned to that unit, by the very nature of their duties, had to be aggressive, hard working policemen.  

Anyway, back in those days, the Big Red One, more often than not, was usually assigned to the 2nd District when their services were not needed elsewhere.  The 2nd District had acquired almost as many aliases over the years as some of the people that had been detained in it's lock-up. The station was referred to as "The Deuce" by some, or "The Bash" by others (a derivative of Wabash), even though the old red brick station house at 48th & Wabash had been razed and the new facility was located at 51st & Wentworth.  The location and the name of the police station may have changed but little else did. The 2nd District was still the 2nd District: a rose by any other name. It was geographically the smallest district in the city and yet it maintained the dubious honor, year after year, of having the highest crime rate in the city.  The city's political architects gerrymandered the district's boundaries to ensure that virtually all the public housing complexes, and the crime associated with them, were contained within its perimeters. The district, though only eight blocks wide and thirty blocks long, was, and is, home to twenty blocks of high rise public housing buildings that are called the Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Projects.  I always felt that whoever named Stateway a "garden" should have been arrested for a felony misnomer. The broad expanse of land that surrounded each unit was anything but a garden. It was a veritable blanket of refuse and broken glass. 
March 3, 1970 was the anniversary of my first year on the job. Several of the officers I graduated from the police academy with were planning a little celebration party for later that evening so I took the day off time-due. Tommy Kelly and his partner, Tom Neustrom, weren't celebrating that day though.  They were assigned to patrol the mean streets in the "Deuce" as they had so many times before. They were cruising the area around 44th & King Drive when they observed a vehicle containing two occupants commit a minor traffic violation.  They curbed the vehicle and exited their squad car. The driver of the car also got out and walked back towards Kelly and Neustrom while removing a traffic ticket from his pocket.  Officer Neustrom noticed that the passenger in the vehicle seemed to be acting unduly nervous. His police instincts told him the man's demeanor warranted further investigation. So upon walking over to the passenger's side of the car, Officer Neustrom initiated some general on the scene questioning. The man appeared to become even more tense and it was becoming increasingly obvious that his responses to the questions were deliberately evasive. Feeling that his suspicions were correct, Officer Neustrom asked the passenger to step out of the vehicle.  The man readily complied and after doing so, Officer Neustrom conducted a protective pat down of the man. After determining that the man wasn't in possession of any dangerous weapons, Officer Neustrom instructed him to step to the rear of the vehicle where Officer Kelly was still talking to the driver of the car. Officer Neustrom was conducting a cursory examination of the car's interior when suddenly from behind him, there was a thunderous explosion.  Officer Neustrom bolted upright and turned to look in the direction of the loud report just in time to see the driver of the vehicle rushing toward him with a gun aimed at his chest. Tommy Kelly was laying face down on the street with a single gunshot wound in the forehead fired from point-blank range. The driver of the vehicle pumped five bullets into Officer Neustrom's chest.  Still conscious, but unable to move, Officer Neustrom fell across the front seat of the offender's car and lay motionless, feigning death. It was every policeman's nightmare enfolding before his eyes. The killer, his lust for blood still not sated, ran to the passenger side of the car and yanked Officer Neustrom out by his ankles and threw his bullet riddled body onto the street. Officer Neustrom lay defenseless as the offender put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger six more times... but, fortunately, the gun was empty.  Miraculously, Officer Neustrom survived the attack. The two suspects fled from the scene on foot.  They were captured sometime later miles and miles away from the scene. They were holed up in a house, ironically located directly across the street from the high school where Tommy Kelly's father had worked for so many years as the school engineer and only two blocks from where the Kelly boys grew up. 
Though the swift apprehension of the murderer may have provided the Kelly family and Tommy's fiancee with some peace of mind, it did little to comfort them.  Nothing would bring Tommy back. There would forever be a black hole in their hearts that nothing, or no one, could ever fill.
I didn't attend my first year anniversary party that evening.

Pat Crowley had been a good friend of Tommy Kelly's. He was also a good friend of mine. They were a cut from the same cloth. Both men were regarded among the rank and file as outstanding policemen and both men came from similar backgrounds.  So, it was no surprise when Pat offered Tommy's fiancee a strong shoulder to lean on in her time of grief. And, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the qualities she found in Tommy Kelly she also found in Pat Crowley. 

 "In every adversity, there is a seed of an equivalent or greater benefit," as the saying goes.  And so, out of the despair and loss of a great friend and lover, blossomed a beautiful relationship. Tommy Kelly would have wanted it that way. To know that the woman he loved most in the life was being looked after by a man he loved and trusted.

But Joanne was still haunted by the terrible events that had inexorably altered her life forever.  So when Pat proposed to her she told him quite candidly that although she loved him, she couldn't marry another Chicago policeman, an Irishman at that.  She couldn't sit at home, night after night, afraid that the phone might ring.  Afraid to watch the news and hear that another Chicago policeman had been shot and they couldn't release his name until the family was notified. She wouldn't be able to sleep at night, knowing he was on the street patrolling the bowels of the city. No, unless Pat changed occupations, there would be no marriage.

Pat was brokenhearted. Joanne was brokenhearted.  Each understood the other's misery. The police department wasn't just a job for Pat; it's who he was. But could Joanne survive another tragic ordeal like that again? Pat knew the answer. No. 

Consequently, Pat took the Chicago Fire Department exam and placed high on the list. He tried to convince Joanne that it was a less hazardous job but she knew better. But as it turned out, it was a moot point. When Pat was later called to report to the Fire Academy, he declined the position. He was a policeman, not a fireman.

Joanne's friends and family tried to convince her to look at this grave misfortune from a logical perspective. They all agreed that what had happened to Tommy Kelly was a terrible, terrible tragedy but it was an isolated incident. There are over thirteen thousand men on the Chicago Police Force at any given time, the overwhelming majority of whom will live to retire from the job with thirty or more years of service and collect a pension. 
Finally, after a lot of prayers and cajoling, Pat Crowley and Joanne were wed.
* * *
On September 13, 1976, while conducting a narcotics raid, Officer Patrick Crowley was shot and killed.  He sustained a single gunshot wound to the forehead, as did Officer Thomas Kelly six years earlier.
* * *
I remember the second time I saw her face. It was from a distance.  Her dark eyes were haunted in pain.  She wept loudly and her body convulsed as she labored down the stairs of the Catholic Church behind the flag-draped casket of Police Officer Patrick Crowley. She didn't know me and I knew very little about her...but I never forgot her name.  Her name was Joanne. 

Joanne, wherever you are, if you should ever happen by chance to read this, I want you to know you're still in the hearts and the minds and the prayers of Chicago Police Officers.


Copyright ( 2000 Dennis M. Banahan.  All rights reserved.