In Louisville, Kentucky on December 29, 1865 while patrolling their beat on Water Street, Officers McFadden and Spaulding heard shots fired at a local house. As they approached the house through the alley-way, they encountered a group of Negro men and women who were armed. A scuffle ensued and Officer McFadden was shot in the head and died instantly; Officer Spaulding was not mortally wounded. Soon after the shooting, John Burdett, a soldier with the army, was arrested for the crime along with seven men and three women.
The next day on December 30th, a funeral for the fallen officer was held in the City Council Chambers where a large number of officers and citizens gathered. Afterwards, the remains were escorted to Cave Hill Cemetery and placed in the city vault to await the wishes of friends who were residing in Ohio.
By orders from Major General Palmer, John Burdett was immediately transported to a military prison. The other ten Negroes implicated in the murder were turned over to military authorities. Burdett alleged that he did not fire at Officer McFadden until two shots had been discharged by the policeman. Burdett stated that at the time of the crime, he was on duty as a guard with orders to arrest some Negro soldiers who had left their quarters without permission.
On Monday, January 8, 1866, the case of John Burdett of Co. I, 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, was brought before a military court and Burdett was charged with the murder of Police Officer Thomas J. McFadden. Burdett entered a plea of “not guilty.”
Chris Shreck, a night watchman, testified that he and Officers McFadden and Spaulding encountered two Negro men with guns and fixed bayonets. Shreck also testified that the men tried to “run their bayonets” through Officer Spaulding. This is when the melee began and shots rang out. Officer McFadden was shot through the right ear and died instantly.
Testimony by others could not positively identify John Burdett as the shooter as there were so many people coming from the house into the alley. On March 2, 1867, John Burdett was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced “to be dishonorably discharged from the service, with forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and that he be confined to hard labor for the period of five years at such as the general commanding officer may direct.”
The proceedings, findings, and sentence of the court were approved by General Palmer and the President. The Secretary of War designated the penitentiary in Albany, New York as the place of confinement for the prisoner.
Thomas J. McFadden died on December 29, 1865. His body was brought to Dayton and he was interred at Woodland Cemetery on January 3, 1866. He is located in an unmarked grave in Section 79 Lot 267.
You can visit the gravesite of Officer Thomas J. McFadden and all of the other people on the History, Mystery, Mayhem and Murder Tour at Woodland Cemetery by going to our Tour page and downloading our Woodland Mobile App.
Woodland Cemetery, founded in 1841, is one of the nation’s oldest rural garden cemeteries and a unique cultural, botanical and educational resource in the heart of Dayton, Ohio. It is the final resting place of the Wright Brothers, Erma Bombeck, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles F. Kettering, John H. Patterson, Gov. James M. Cox, George P. Huffman, George H. Mead, and Levi and Matilda Stanley, King and Queen of the Gypsy’s and more than 111,000 others who made it great in Dayton.
Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum is located at 118 Woodland Avenue off of Brown Street near the University of Dayton Campus. The Cemetery and Arboretum are open daily from 8 am to 6 pm and until 7 pm during Daylight Saving Time. The Mausoleum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. For more information, call 937-228-3221 or visit the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum website.