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Heroes Roll Call: Watchman James Osborne


The Cleveland Police Museum is honored to tell the stories of our Fallen Officers on the anniversary of their End of Watch.

Growing trade and commerce, combined with an influx of immigrants from Europe, helped the small frontier settlement of Cleveland grow into a bustling city.  This growth necessitated an organized system of law enforcement.  In 1836, the City Marshal’s Office was established, with his assistants known as Watchmen.  By the 1850s, the Marshal’s and his watchmen contended with the increasing lawlessness of the growing community.


On November 20, 1853, Watchmen Osborne and Wilcox patrolled on Superior Street Hill.  John Howly stabbed Osborne in the neck from behind in an unprovoked attack. Despite a “very severe wound,” Osborne helped Watchmen Wilcox apprehend the assailant.  John Osborne succumbed to his injury on December 1.

Over five hundred people attended the trial of the assailant, John Howly, who provided no explanation for his actions and showed “apparent indifference to his fate.”  Convicted of first degree murder in June 1854, Howly became the first white man sentenced to death by hanging in Cuyahoga County. 

“A peaceable and unoffending citizen of the city,” Osborne was the first Cleveland law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty. Shortly after his death, the Cleveland City Council appropriated $300 to support his widow Isabella and his two sons Thomas and John.


November 21, 1853 Plain Dealer
December 2, 1856 Plain Dealer
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