Title: Retired police detective
Birthdate: April 26, 1880
Death Date: December 24, 1935
Plot Location: Section G, Range 5, Lot 5

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John’s early years are not documented but his first marriage probably took place in 1909. He and Florence had a son in 1910 and fraternal twins, Florence and John Jr., in 1916. The family lived near 53rd and Greenway in the Kingsessing neighborhood. John began his career as a police officer on March 20, 1911, working out of the 32nd District station at 65th and Woodland Ave.

That was still how the family was listed when the 1920 census was taken in February, but Florence died in April. He buried her at Mount Moriah, then married Miriam Guyer Hunt later that year. They moved three blocks to 1308 South 50th. She had lost her husband in 1918 and brought her two daughters to the family who were just a few years older than the twins. Later that year John was thrilled when his promotion to detective was approved.

In the 1930 census the Rodgers family was counted at the same address with John’s same occupation, along with his wife, the twins, and his step-daughters. What wasn’t recorded was that John had a daughter, Jacqueline Rodgers in February, 1929 and a son, William, 13 months later. 

The marriage fell apart, and apparently he left to live with the mother of these young children. She was Eloise Downs, born in 1912, and was also married at the time, to someone named Johnston. It wasn’t long after this that John retired on his police pension. They had another daughter, Adele, in 1933, the same year they were married. He was 53 and she was 21.

It was destined to fail as their difficulties quickly escalated. Perhaps his exposure to violence as part of his former career spilled over to his domestic life. In February, 1935 John was sentenced to nine months in prison for threatening his wife and brandishing a pistol. She and the children moved in with her mother, Nell Downs, in the Elmwood Park neighborhood in Southwest Philly.

After his release, Eloise told neighbors she thought she should ask for police protection. John was sending menacing letters, making threats to the family if she didn’t return to him by Christmas. He made good on those rants on Christmas Eve. Harry Downs, the 18-year-old brother of Eloise, answered the door that night as his mother was preparing a holiday meal and Eloise was decorating the tree.

John entered the home with his hat in his hands, then pulled his pistol from his hat and shot Eloise twice at close range. He yelled to Harry, “Get out of the way, this isn’t for you.” He went to the kitchen and shot Nell Downs four times in the back. Then he went upstairs and shot Jackie, Billy, and Adele before turning the gun on himself.

Harry ran next door to call the police but when he returned four people were dead. William and Adele only survived a few hours.

It’s difficult to imagine the trauma and sadness endured by Harry and the other family members and friends. John’s daughter, Florence Rodgers, signed each of the death certificates, relatives stepped in to ease the burden of six funerals, and all were buried here at Mount Moriah.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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