July 19, 1920: Duluth police Chief Murphy’s smuggling trial begins

On this day in Duluth in 1920, the trial of Duluth police Chief John Murphy began. Appointed chief earlier that year, Murphy had no experience in law enforcement—he had been a yard manager for the Northern Pacific Railroad and a railroad inspector. Murphy, his chauffeur Earl Eckhard, former deputy U.S. marshal Frank Bradley, and eight others were indicted in a whiskey smuggling conspiracy and charged with transporting whiskey from Canada to the U.S. by way of the Pigeon River. The evidence—90 bottles of whiskey—had disappeared from a vault in the Duluth Police Headquarters on July 22. Taking the stand on October 23, Murphy stated that he had accidentally stumbled upon the liquor in a shack while on a fishing trip. Further, it wasn’t hard liquor, but bottles of home-made beer. Murphy said he confiscated the beer and brought it to Duluth police headquarters. On October 25 thirteen sacks of beer—allegedly taken from the police station’s vault—was introduced as evidence to substantiate Murphy’s testimony. The next day District Attorney Alfred Jaques cried foul, charging that the “beer evidence” was a hoax. His pleas fell on deaf ears. On November 10 Murphy and the others were found not guilty. Murphy tried to regain his position as chief but was denied. Warren E. Pugh replaced Murphy as Chief of Police in November 1921. Pugh had joined the force as a patrolman in 1917 and left to become a U.S. Marshall. In October, during Murphy’s trial, he joined the Duluth Police Department as a detective.

Duluth polie chief John Murphy photographed in 1919. (Image: Duluth Public Library)