Title: Gangster bodyguard
Birthdate: April 15, 1896
Death Date: February 25, 1927
Plot Location: Section D, Range 2, Lot 14
John’s parents, John and Emma, met and married when they were both in their mid-30s and she gave birth to John Jr., Eva, and Annie. They lived in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia where he was a house painter.
John Sr. died on December 23, 1913. On January 14, 1914 John Jr. was convicted on a burglary charge and sent to prison at age 17. How long he was at the Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon is unknown. At 21 he registered for the draft where his physical condition was described as “stout” and he listed his occupation as “felon.” However, the 1920 census shows John living in the barracks at the Frankford Arsenal employed as a corporal in the United States Army.
The next big life event was marriage to a girl named Rose, followed by employment as a bodyguard to Michael J. Cusick, also known as Mickey Duffy. An ex-con who prospered in the 1920s as a beer bootlegger, Mickey also opened a couple of night clubs and ran a numbers racket (illegal gambling) from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
On February 25, 1927, Mickey and his wife were leaving one of his clubs at 23rd and Chestnut Streets with John at his side, as always. Mrs. Duffy was already in the car when a sedan drove by and a hail of gunfire rang out, the first instance of a Thompson sub-machine gun being used in Philadelphia’s underworld. John was killed instantly while Mickey and the club’s doorman were shot but survived.
Police told reporters that Mickey was most likely the target, but John was formerly with another gang and his alliance with Mickey might have marked him as a traitor. He also had a long police record, including a connection to a holdup of the Belmont Trust Company.
Mickey paid for an unusual marker at his friend’s grave, shown above, with a personal comment, “Always to be remembered by your pal, M.J.D.” He may have also paid for the funeral and bought the plot, which was not far from where Mickey would be buried, with much more fanfare, four years later. Read more about Mickey’s life and death here.
John’s father was also buried here, on the Yeadon side in Section 115. His mother lived the rest of her long life in Atlantic City with one of her daughters. John’s wife, Rose, signed his death certificate and listed his occupation as “salesman,” but the rest of her life remains a mystery.
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