In October 1936, Boston police Officer John Lynch was on patrol in Jamaica Plain when he tried to arrest a man for drunkenness — a powerful, far younger man who had been a boxer. Lynch, an Irish native and veteran of World War I, was viciously beaten, sustaining serious head injuries.
Lynch was never the same. He continued on his beat, but became forgetful, and needed constant assistance from his partners. In time, it was hard for him even to recognize fellow officers, even longtime friends. By 1940, he could no longer work, and he died four years later, at 57.
Seventy years later, Lynch is being honored for dying in the line of duty, his sacrifice dutifully brought to light by Boston Police Department researchers. In May, his name will join the ranks of the fallen at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, rectifying a historical oversight and delighting a family who only recently learned the full truth.
“He deserves to be honored,” said Robert Anthony, the department’s chronologist. “We have to make sure these people are remembered as heroes.”
Anthony reviewed Lynch’s service records after being contacted by the officer’s grandson, Michael Lynch Jr., whose father had told him about the attack.
As Anthony combed through an inch-thick file from the city archives, he saw that substantial medical evidence linked Lynch’s death to the 1936 attack.
One colleague later told a superior that “in my opinion he has never been the same since the injury,” according to the police files.
By 1941, when Lynch was no longer on active duty, his memory and judgment was impaired, and his attention span was “so poor that it was difficult to get him to carry out even the simplest commands.” A doctor concluded he was suffering from a subdural hematoma.
Records show that while Lynch returned to work, he would sometimes get lost on patrol and wind up in a different part of town from where he was supposed to be.
“He wouldn’t know where he was,” Anthony said. “He never really recovered.”
Despite the evidence linking his declining condition to the attack, Lynch’s death was never classified as in the line of duty. In the intervening years, the incident may have faded from memory, Anthony speculated.
“Things were different back then,” he said. “It may have gotten lost in the shuffle.”
Lynch Jr., who works in the city’s technology department, said he was thrilled to hear that his grandfather’s service was being properly recognized, and thankful to researchers for working to set things right.
“I’m very grateful to the department,” he said. “Having his death acknowledged is really something.”
Lynch Jr., 55, said his father never talked much about the incident until his later years, when he began to speak more openly about how it affected the family.
“We all knew this was difficult on our parents, but we never quite knew why. They chose not to talk about it, and we learned not to bring it up,” he said. “But what happened to my grandfather was a defining moment for the family.”
Lynch eventually sought out his grandfather’s file in the city archives, and in time contacted a friend at the police department about reclassifying his death.
While news of the posthumous honor has touched the family, many of whom plan to attend a dedication ceremony in Washington in May, it came too late for Lynch’s father, who died two months ago at 89.
“It’s too bad,” he said. “I wish he were here.”
Lynch’s father knew about the department’s research, and was excited by the prospect of the recognition.
For Anthony, who has written a history of the Boston Police Department due out next month, the recognition of Lynch’s sacrifice has made all the work worthwhile.
In the past few years, researchers have combed through city archives to determine that several officers had died from injuries sustained in the line of duty, some more than a century ago. Walter Harris died in 1906 after being thrown from his horse, and Cornelius Regan died after rescuing a drowning man on Christmas Day in 1897. He became ill and died three weeks later.
In 2011, the names of both men were added to the national memorial, two curving, marble walls carved with the names of more than 19,000 officers.
Anthony said that while his job can be tedious, he has taken the task to heart.
“I would never want someone’s sacrifice to be overlooked,” he said. “After so many years, it’s something tangible. Their family can run their hands across the names, in a place of honor.”