Hamilton cop was shot down nearly 55 years ago

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Published December 12, 2023 at 8:39 pm

J. Cameron McMurrich
J. Cameron McMurrich was killed in the line of duty 55 years ago. via Hamilton Police

A Hamilton police officer was shot down 55 years ago next week.

On December 22, 1968, A.Sgt. J. Cameron McMurrich, 34, was on surveillance duty. He along with several other officers were watching a gang-related house party on East 27th St. up on the Mountain.

McMurrich and his partner Sgt. Joe Rallo were on a foot patrol around the block. Other officers waited in a nearby car. However, mobile two-way police radios were not yet in use so McMurrich and Rallo were not in contact with backup.

Six members of this gang, namely John McClure, James Brechin, James Major, Murray Feist, Douglas Maracle and John MacEwan, emerged from the home and spotted McMurrich and Rallo. The gang chased the officers and eventually caught up to the pair two blocks away.

Once they were caught, the gang beat the three-to-one outnumber officers. During the attack, McMurrich fired a few warning shots from his service revolver. Brechin went for the gun and tried to wrestle it away from McMurrich. During the struggle, the gun went off and killed Brechin.

The others in the group managed to get the gun from McMurrich and shot him dead through the heart. Rallo managed to escape, but not unscathed. The attackers broke his nose and jaw. McMurrich was the seventh and last Hamilton police officer killed on duty.

According to journalist, Susan Clairmont McMurrich’s funeral was one of the largest in Hamilton history with 600 police officers and firefighters in an honour guard. He left behind his wife and four children.

As for the five survivors among the attackers, they were arrested by the day’s end. Each might have been hanged at the time as the death penalty was not abolished until 1976. In fact, years before, in 1925 Paul Kowalski was hanged in Hamilton’s Barton Jail after his murder of a police officer.

However, this quintet avoided the hangman. Four of the crew pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the fifth to assaulting an officer.

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