Title: Army Private, Spanish-American War; police detective
Birthdate: October 25, 1875
Death Date: July 5, 1924
Plot Location: Section F, Range 3, Lot 12; GPS: 39.93158* N, 075.23422* W

Screenshot (379) Swain

Truman was one of nine children whose father was a captain in the 8th Maryland Infantry during the Civil War. He grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland and had his own military experience, serving during the Spanish American War with Company D of the 5th Maryland Infantry in 1898. 

After his discharge he was a salesman living in a Baltimore boarding house. On Valentine’s Day, 1901 he married Lula Dixon and they had their only child, Bertram, the following year. The Swains made a move to Philadelphia when Truman decided to join the police department in 1905. He was a mounted policeman for six years, and in 1918 he joined the Detective Bureau.

He found his niche with the Stolen Motor Squad, where he became an expert with vehicle identification numbers. Car theft became a big problem as motor vehicles surged in popularity in those early years. When Truman joined the force, there were 77,400 automobiles in the country, but by 1918 there were over 5.5 million. He recovered more than 600 vehicles in his first two years with the squad, building such a reputation that he was asked to train the Washington D.C. police on identifying stolen vehicles.

Facing health problems in 1922, he took a disability pension although he was only three years away from full retirement. Truman and Lula bought a farm in Maryland, but he decided to return to the force in Philly in February 1924. He had just finished making payments on the farm and apparently had plans to return to farming in Maryland after getting a better retirement.

Unfortunately, he remained on the job for only five months. On July 5 at about 1:00 am, a group of men were arguing with a garage owner at 7th and Christian Streets. Police officers came by and ordered them to disperse and they did so temporarily. Just after the officers rounded a corner, gunshots were fired.

Detective Swain happened to be passing by and was the first to intervene. He stepped over a man that was shot while trying to rescue another man that was about to be stabbed, but got shot himself. The man he stepped over later gave this first-hand account.

Truman was shot four more times by the garage owner and died, but not before he killed his assailant and severely wounded his son. The officers returned to the scene too late to save the detective. Five suspects were arrested and three were detained as material witnesses. 

Later that day, Lula told a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, “This is the first time he has been in a shooting, the very first time. Now I don’t know what to do, because I am all alone in the house. My son, Bertram, and his wife went down to Maryland over the Fourth, and I am left helpless.”

At his funeral, the director of the Department of Public Safety, Smedley Butler, called Truman “one of the most admirable and bravest of our detective force.” The burial here was attended by hundreds from the department.

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

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