Officer Thomas Mathews Remembered

mathewsThe early morning hours of Wednesday, June 29th, 1949 were warm and clear as Officers Tom Mathews and Clark Cutting of the Abington Police Department patrolled beat #4 in the township’s upscale Rydal section.
At 1:18 A.M. the two young policemen turned onto quiet Dixon Lane. Officer Mathews, a four-year veteran of the force, noticed that outdoor floodlights were on at one of the large homes up ahead on Barrowdale Road. “There are lights in Koenig’s, we had better drive in,” he said to his partner. As the officer pulled onto the property, they saw Mr. Koenig signaling from a second story window.

“My dogs were barking quite a bit,” Koenig explained to the officers. “I thought someone might be around, so I turned the lights on.” As the officers got out of their car to investigate, they heard an engine start up. The sound came from the nearby intersection of Barrowdale and Leopard. The officers jumped back in their car and located an older, green International panel truck just minutes later. The vehicle was turning into the O’Neil property at Leopard and Dixon when the officers pulled up behind it. Oddly enough, the dilapidated truck immediately began backing out of the driveway. Officer Mathews called for the driver to stop. Officer Cutting remembered that the man behind the wheel almost backed into the patrol car, and noticed that the truck was missing its rear cargo doors and had “Fruit & Produce” painted on the side in weathered lettering.

As the officers approached the truck, they found the driver clad in sandals, brown pants, and a blue checked shirt. Off. Cutting asked the man for identification, while Officer Mathews examined the rear of the vehicle. The driver retrieved an expired license in the name of “Robert Arden” from the glove box and exited the truck while Officer Cutting took a closer look at the interior. Shining his police issue flashlight on the driver, Officer Mathews asked what the bottles in the cargo area contained. “Bourbon,” the man replied. “It doesn’t read bourbon here,” said Mathews, momentarily turning his flashlight into the vehicle for a better look at the contents.

Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, the suspicious driver bolted across Leopard Road and onto the spacious lawn of the three-story Hauptfuhrer Estate.

“Halt,” Officer Mathews yelled, and fired several warning shots with his .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. The officers chased the man past the expansive home and into the thick woods behind the estate. Officer Mathews yelled to his partner to return to the patrol car and summon more help. In 1949, officers had no walkie-talkies.

Hurrying back to Car #4, Officer Cutting radioed for assistance to Sgt. Robert Murray, who was manning the Abington Police base station. Cutting described the suspect, as well as the truck. Sgt. Murray dispatched all available cars to assist. Cutting then headed to the suspect’s truck and removed the rotor from the distributor to ensure that the suspect wouldn’t be able to start the vehicle, should he double back. Anxious to locate his partner, Officer Cutting jumped into his squad car in an attempt to cut off the fleeing suspect. He drove to Leopard and Panther, where he turned off the motor and listened. Hearing nothing, he called out to Officer Mathews, but received no answer. The worried officer then drove west on Panther to Washington Lane, where he was met by Abington Car #6, occupied by Officer Herb Mooney. Cutting directed Mooney to check the area near a long driveway that ran onto Washington Lane, and drove back to the Hauptfuhrer Estate. There he was joined by Officer Bilger of the neighboring Lower Moreland Police Department.

Growing more concerned by the minute, the two officers searched the woods where Officer Mathews was last seen, but found nothing. Soon, every officer working in Abington was involved in the desperate search. Floodlights brought to the scene by the Abington Fire Company soon provided the officers with an important clue. Helped by the added visibility, searchers located a handkerchief on a fence near Leopard Road. Did Officer Mathews leave it there as a marker?

The stolen truck driven by Off. Matthews’ killer

Officer Tom Mathews (center) flanked by Officer Herb Mooney and Officer Harry Brackenridge

From the case file, a map of the area around the crime scene

A shocked community: The Times-Chronicle, June 30, 1949

The officers climbed the fence and followed a trail of broken branches and trampled underbrush leading up an embankment. There they made the kind of discovery that every police officer dreads – the lifeless body of Officer Tom Mathews, partially hidden under a bush on an estate property belonging to Mr. Paul Gipson. The officer lay on his back, hat nearby on the ground. Officer Mathews’ handcuffs were still clutched in his right hand, and his revolver still snapped in its holster. Investigators at the scene determined that the policeman had chased the suspect a little more than one hundred paces before being felled. At 3:00 A.M. Doctor Randall Clark of Abington Memorial Hospital arrived and officially pronounced the officer dead.
What happened to Officer Tom Mathews in those darkened woods?

His death stunned his law enforcement colleagues and reverberated through the normally quiet Abington community. The answers to the mystery would ultimately be revealed during an intense, three-week manhunt.

In the days immediately following the murder, hundreds of police officers swarmed the area, seeking the officer’s killer as well as clues to the circumstances of his death. Abington officers worked round the clock, joined by police colleagues from Philadelphia and Montgomery County, as well as a squad of officers from the Reading Railroad Police. The Reading Company’s tracks were in close proximity to the crime scene, so the assistance of the rail police was essential.

Numerous citizen volunteers also offered their help, including three local pilots, who circled the area in private airplanes, hoping to spot the killer.

While the manhunt would turn up several leads, all that was known initially was that the fallen officer had sustained three bullet wounds.

“It seems quite possible,” Lieutenant Alwyn Streeper told a reporter, “that Mathews may have caught the man…and that the officer was in the act of fastening on the handcuffs when he was killed without warning.”

The hands of a killer: fingerprints taken by the Virginia State Police helped identify the fugitive wanted for Ofc. Mathews’ murder.

Popular among his fellow officers, Tom Mathews was active in Montgomery County Lodge 14 of the Fraternal Order of Police. He is seen here, second from left, serving with the F.O.P. Color Guard.

Officer Tom Mathews was an Army veteran. Here he is seen in his paratrooper uniform with wife Mary.

A resident of Panther Road told investigators he had heard the warning shots but assumed they were caused by Boy Scouts setting off firecrackers at a nearby, sometimes-used encampment. A short time later the neighbor heard “a commanding voice” say, “Lie down. Lie down,” followed by three rapid shots. Still thinking it was pre-July 4th fireworks, the resident went to bed, unaware of the desperate search underway for Off. Mathews.
A neighbor on Frog Hollow Road recalled checking on her daughter at about 1:30 A.M. Passing by a window, she heard four warning shots, and several calls of “Halt!” Next she heard the sounds of movement in the woods, followed by a voice saying, “Get up, get up, get all the way up. And no tricks.” Three rapid gunshots followed.

As the investigation widened, officers discovered a motive for the killing. The 15-room Hauptfuhrer mansion had been broken into. The wealthy family was away on vacation as the burglar ransacked their home. In the woods, police found a silver cigarette case and a bottle of perfume,believed to have been dropped by the suspect.

Seeking additional clues, APD traced the produce truck to North Uber Street in Philadelphia. The owner’s 14 year-old son told investigators he had watched from an upstairs window as a man named Ollie Carey hot-wired his father’s truck on the night of June 28th at about 10:30 – less than three hours before Off. Mathews’ fateful encounter.

On June 30th, APD Detective Frank Jackson, accompanied by Philadelphia Police detectives, went to Carey’s West Philadelphia home in search of the suspect. Carey, fearing arrest, climbed out a third floor window when police knocked, slipping into the window of an adjoining row house. Downstairs, his parents told officers that their son had been gone since the day before. Carey’s girlfriend, Beatrice, also present, denied knowledge of his whereabouts. The frustrated investigators placed a round-the-clock watch on Carey’s home, and sent an alert via teletype to police agencies in an eight-state area. Back in Abington, Justice of the Peace Howard Nice approved an arrest warrant charging Ollie Carey with the murder of Officer Thomas Mathews.

The first major break in the case came on July 4th. That day, a Philadelphia detective received word that Carey had fled to a farm in Warsaw, Virginia. Det. Jackson arrived at the farm the following morning, but Carey had once again eluded capture. The residents of the farm told the investigator that Carey had indeed been there, arriving on June 30th, the day after Officer Mathews was murdered. However, Carey had asked the farmer to drive him 60 miles to Richmond on the evening of July 1st. Before being dropped off, Carey handed the farmer a letter, requesting that it be forwarded to Beatrice. The farmer instead turned the letter over to Det. Jackson. In part, the letter said, “I’d rather be dead than go to prison.” A short note Carey wrote to another acquaintance contained the words, “…if I am caught, I’ll get the chair…you see, I have killed a policeman.”

Unable to locate Carey, Det. Jackson enlisted the assistance of the Virginia State Police in Richmond. Major W.C. Thomas readily agreed to help, and Virginia troopers were alerted that the fugitive might be hiding within their jurisdiction.

On July 8th at 8:15 P.M. Trooper L.F. Payne of the Virginia State Police observed a man walking west on Route 130. The trooper noticed that the subject was carrying two suitcases. At 9:30 Trooper Payne again spotted the man, who was sitting on the side of Route 291, just north of Monroe, Virginia. When questioned by the trooper, the man produced a Pennsylvania driver’s license, identifying himself as John Thomas View, of Baring Street in Philadelphia. The man told the trooper he was looking for work on a farm, and that he was waiting for a bus to Lynchburg.

Not convinced, Trooper Payne left the man by the side of the road. Suspecting that he might be the fugitive wanted for Officer Mathews’ murder, the trooper contacted his headquarters for a more detailed description. Armed with the additional information, Trooper Payne returned to Route 291. The man, however, was gone. Witnesses said he had boarded a northbound bus. This information elevated the trooper’s suspicions even more, since Lynchburg, where the man said he was heading, lay in the opposite direction. Calling Trooper F.A. Bradley for backup, Trooper Payne overtook the bus, stopping it near Amherst, Virginia. The suspect was taken into custody, protesting loudly that he was “John Thomas View,” not Ollie Carey.

The man taken from the bus was driven to the Lynchburg Police Station, where his fingerprints were rolled and compared with those submitted by the Abington Police. After Virginia State Police Sergeant C.E. Rives determined the prints matched, the man admitted that he was in fact Ollie Carey, but maintained innocence in the shooting of Officer Mathews. Investigators, however, would later discover that, during his stay in the Amherst County Prison, Carey admitted to a fellow inmate that he “killed a cop in Philadelphia.”

Carey subsequently waived extradition proceedings, and was returned to Abington to face charges on July 13th. The following day, Carey admitted to burglarizing the Hauptfuhrer estate. But the Hauptfuhrers weren’t Carey’s only burglary victims. Items recovered at Carey’s home and from a Philadelphia Pawn Shop linked the suspect to a series of burglaries in Abington Township. Even the suitcase Carey was carrying when arrested in Virginia was found to have been stolen from the Hauptfuhrer home.

And what of John Thomas View, the name Carey gave to the Virginia State Police? Investigation showed that View’s home in Philadelphia had been burglarized on June 19th. Two dollars were missing. Also gone was View’s wallet and identification, stolen by a career criminal named Ollie Carey.

Ollie Melvern Carey was born on New Year’s Day, 1909 in Portsmouth, Virginia. A cook by trade, Carey was also known as “Buddy Brown,” “Chippy,” and “Harry Barnes.” Carey had been arrested for burglary in the past, and spent six years in prison, from 1941-1947. In the months before Off. Mathews’ death Carey had been working with a road construction crew in Rydal. His job afforded him ample opportunity to target homes for break-ins.

In February, 1950 Carey went on trial for the murder of Officer Thomas Mathews. The highly-respected Judge William Dannehower presided over Carey’s proceedings in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. District Attorney J. Stroud Weber led the prosecution team. Attorneys Julian Barnard and James Peck served as defense counsel.

Following closing arguments, the trial jury deliberated for three and a half hours before returning a guilty verdict on February 9th, 1950. Jury foreman Albert Fry of Cheltenham rose and spoke the particulars of the guilty verdict to the court.

“First degree, with the penalty fixed at death.”

After several years worth of appeals were exhausted, Carey’s sentence was carried out on May 18th, 1953 at Western State Penitentiary in Rockview, Pennsylvania.

Although the death of Officer Mathews took place long ago, he is not forgotten.

The Abington Township Police Department marked the 50th anniversary of his passing with a ceremony on June 29, 1999. Dozens of current and retired officers attended, along with community members and dignitaries. Officer Mathews’ widow, Mary, was an honored guest.

Tom Mathews, age 32 at the time of his death, was a decorated veteran of the U.S. Army, where he served in the South Pacific as a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Division. Before joining the Army he graduated from Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia.

Officer Mathews was a popular figure among his police colleagues, and was an active member of Montgomery County’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 14. Tom served as an official of the F.O.P., as well as a member of its color guard. An excellent marksman, Officer Mathews was officially recognized by the F.O.P. for his pistol skills.

Tom Mathews left behind wife Mary and two-year old son, Michael, as well as numerous friends and colleagues on the Abington Police Department.

It is a truism that the pain and heartache caused by the on-duty death of a police officer never go away. Consider these words, written by Tom Mathews’ widow in 1999:

Even though it happened fifty years ago, the pain of sudden loss, while it may occasionally fade into the background, has never escaped my mind for a single day.

Sadly, Mary Mathews McGettigan passed away in June, 2003 at the age of 84. She is buried next to Tom.

Michael Mathews, son of Officer Tom Mathews, relocated to the Dallas, Texas area in 1978. Currently, Michael is employed as a Regional Service Manager for Monitronics. He and wife Donna raised four children, Thomas, Donna Michelle, Michael and Stephen. All four of Officer Mathews’ grandchildren are grown, with careers and/or families of their own. Fifty-four years after his father’s death, Michael Mathews remains intensely interested in honoring his father’s memory.

On May 10th, 2003, a plaque honoring Officer Mathews was unveiled during the dedication of the Police and Fire Memorial. The Memorial is located at the Abington Township complex.

Officer Mathews’ name is also a part of the National Law Enforcement Memorial, located in Washington, D.C.

om & Shawna, Trey, Silas, Michal Donna Michele & Tracy, Stephanie, Kayla, Tracy (not in photo) Michael & Trisha, Gavin, Grace, Garrett Stephen & Brandi, Nick (not in photo)

Officer Tom Mathews, a true Abingon hero, is buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Montgomery County Pennsylvania.

Written by: Lt. Dennis McCauley