Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Francis "Two Gun" Crowley

Fight to the Death

Newspaper clipping of Harlow's murder
Newspaper clipping of
Harlow's murder

New York City Police Officer Maurice Harlow, 27, was walking his beat in East Harlem on the night of January 15, 1925. He had just been married three weeks before. As he crossed the intersection of 104th Street and Third Avenue, he noticed a taxicab being driven recklessly down the street. Harlow managed to stop the cab and asked the operator for identification. The driver was a local man named John Crowley, 25, who was no stranger to police. He had been arrested at least 11 times in the previous 10 years. Crowley was once charged in the murder of a 17-year-old whose body was found just a few blocks away at 100th Street and Second Avenue. He was later acquitted at a trial when a key witness failed to show up.

When Officer Harlow asked Crowley for his hack license, he became abusive and cursed at the young cop. Harlow then placed the driver under arrest and a fight broke out between the two men. Crowley grabbed the cop's nightstick and began to pound the officer while a crowd gathered. After a fierce struggle, Officer Harlow managed to get cuffs on the screaming suspect, who swore revenge.

"All right! I'll remember you!" Crowley yelled, "Your number is 11181. I will come back and get you. I beat a murder before and I'll beat another one with you!" Harlow took the suspect to the local precinct where he was booked and placed in a cell. The following day, John Crowley was released after paying a fine of $5. He was a free man, but he yearned for vengeance.

At about 10 p.m. on February 21, 1925, Crowley and his wife, Alice, attended a birthday party at 1813 Third Avenue. By the early morning hours, the party had become noisy and neighbors called police. The only officer who responded was Patrolman Maurice Harlow. As soon as the cop appeared at the door, Crowley recognized him. Words were exchanged between the two men and Crowley left the party with his wife in tow. A few seconds later, partygoers heard several shots ring out from the hallway below.

It will never be known exactly what happened in that hallway, but Officer Harlow and John Crowley got into a shootout before they reached the building lobby. Harlow was shot once in the back of the head behind his right ear. He managed to get off a shot before falling to the ground. This shot hit Crowley in the abdomen. Both men continued firing as they struggled to get to their feet. In the meantime, other cops in the area heard the gun battle and came running. They found Harlow unconscious in front of 1810 3rd Avenue, his pistol still gripped in his right hand. A few yards away, cops found another pistol with blood on the handle. A trail of blood led across the street and into the dark vestibule of 1803 3rd Avenue. There, John Crowley was found with a bullet through his stomach and his sobbing wife cradling him in her arms. They cursed the police even as officers tried to help them.

Harlow was rushed to Mt. Sinai Hospital, but he never regained consciousness. Before the ambulance reached the emergency room, the young policeman was dead. Crowley was arrested and shipped over to Bellevue Hospital where he remained in critical condition. Alice was taken into custody as a material witness. She fabricated a story that Harlow had fired upon her husband while she was trying to hail a cab. But when it was revealed that Crowley was a convict out on parole from Elmira State Prison, a public uproar followed.

"John Crowley is a psychopath," said Dr. Frank L. Christian, Elmira prison superintendent. "It was unfortunate that it became necessary to give him his liberty...no provision is made in our penal institution for the care of the criminal psychopath." Charges were exchanged back and forth in the press as everyone tried to duck responsibility in Harlow's murder. On March 10, the arguments became moot when John Crowley suddenly died from his gunshot wounds. By then the story was old news. His death was reported at the bottom of page 12 in The New York Times in a seven-line article titled: "Shot By Policeman: Dies". The story faded from view, lost in a tidal wave of crime reporting that filled the newspapers almost everyday during that era.

John Crowley had a younger brother, Francis, who was 13 at the time of the shooting. He was a slightly built, painfully sensitive teenager not more than 5 feet tall. When John was killed, Francis became inconsolable, withdrawn and soon dropped out of school. He lived his life in a bleak two-room apartment on West 89th Street with his foster mother. He spoke little to the people around him. But inside of himself, Francis developed a seething hatred for the police who he held responsible for the death of his brother.

One day, he swore to himself, he would get even.

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