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Famous Manhunt Revisited
MAY 1999 - Members Recall Involvement - In
the annals of Massachusetts State Police history, probably the most
famous manhunt ever was that of the murderous Coyle Brothers in 1959,
forty years ago next month.
excerpts from the Book "Enforcement Odyssey, Massachusetts State
Police," by William F. Powers, the manhunt will first be described, and
then we will share the unique emotional involvement of two of our
It was June 15, 1959, a
typical spring day in the southeastern section of the state, the
gateway to Cape Cod. The tranquility did not last. Two young men walked
into a liquor store in Middleboro on the "Cape Way," route 28. They
minced no words. With drawn guns, they demanded receipts from the
manager. It was over in a moment. Only a wild shot had punctured the
telephone call brought state and local police to the holdup scene.
Events moved with unexpected swiftness. Trooper Daniel F. Sullivan of
the Middleboro barracks and Patrolman Daniel Guertin of the local
department spotted the wanted vehicle just off route 28, partially
hidden in a sandy lane. Cautious, they approached the car slowly. A
hail of bullets erupted from the vehicle. Sullivan and Guertin returned
the fire, driving the suspects from the car and into the heavily wooded
A quick check of the bandit
car brought an incredible discovery. Cowering in the trunk was a third
man. He gasped out an amazing story, one that was shortly verified. The
fugitive pair had kidnapped him in Philadelphia, holding him for ten
days while driving throughout the northeast. He had recognized his
captors during his long ordeal. They were not ordinary law breakers,
but, rather, the notorious brothers, John and William Coyle of
The Coyles were
suspects in countless armed robberies, sought by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation as well as a number of state and local enforcement
agencies. They had shot and killed a Philadelphia policeman who had
surprised them stealing a bottle of milk! The route 28 shootout
triggered one of the most dramatic manhunts in the state's history.
enforcement agency in southeastern Massachusetts joined the massive
search effort. Federal authorities actively participated in planning,
and helped coordinate search actions. Meantime, the Philadelphia Police
Department offered a $5,000. reward for John and William Coyle; dead or
The massive enforcement
effort centered in a five mile square area, snake infested and swarming
with mosquitoes. The tense operations dragged on for two days and two
nights. Many believed that the Coyles had slipped through the net; they
had often avoided capture. Troopers were unconvinced. It was an eerie
scene, especially during the long hours of darkness. Middleboro's woods
and swamps were not the best places to spend the night tracking two
There was tremendous
media coverage. Search activities caught the imagination of the public
as periodic bulletins sustained the drama.
warning, the end came on the third morning. The desperate killers had
been spotted by an alert citizen. Officers responded to the scene
within minutes, surrounding the exhausted pair in a thick wood. Shots
were exchanged. The fire fight continued for several minutes. Then,
suddenly, it was quiet as the heavy gunfire ended abruptly
Coyle lay mortally wounded in the damp grass. His brother John
surrendered meekly. Several troopers took him into custody. Among those
who were present in the final moments were Sergeant Martin A. Murphy,
and Troopers Paul Conway, John J. Powers, Donald H. Gould, Francis
Kane, Leonard von Flatern, Sanford Brodsky, Ralph Olszewski, John
McDonald. John LaCasse and Robert Enos. More than a hundred other
officers had help bring the Coyles to bay. Many had been in the deep
Middleboro woods for over two days and two nights.
brothers were returned to their native city, William for burial and
John later to be convicted of the Philadelphia's officer's murder. The
Coyles were gone. But the story of their wild escapade, and the fatal
gunfight, would endure in the annals of the state police.
Fast Forward: 1999
retired troopers who took part in the manhunt are members of our
Association, one of whom was forced to fire the fatal shots. Although
wishing to remain unnamed, he did relate the following.
"Yes, I fired the shots that brought down Billy Coyle. He had a chance to surrender, but instead, he turned and shot at me.
was just emerging from some woods when I spotted the brothers. They
were crouched down with pistols in their hands watching Lenny Von
Flaten and John McDonough searching along the bank of a cranberry bog.
I yelled, 'drop your guns,' one Coyle (William) turned and fired at me.
But I was in the shadows of the trees and he really couldn't get a
clear shot, while he was in bright sunlight giving me a good target. I
emptied my .38 special. I had scored expert on the range ... I didn't
hesitate once he fired at me...I had no choice."
recalled being promptly joined by John LaCasse and several other
troopers who responded to the shots and immediately surrounded the two
brothers - one dead; the other, John Coyle, quickly surrendering.
Bob Enos Had Personal Connection
Now comes an amazing revelation, which was not included in the published description of the manhunt.
father-in-law of Bob Enos, a young trooper who was involved in the
search, had been shot by the Coyle brothers during a robbery attempt
the previous December.
"One of the
brothers was AWOL from Otis Air Base at the time and the two hooked up
together seeking money," said Enos. "My father-in-law, Arthur Lee,
worked at the First National Store in Buzzards Bay. When they pointed a
gun at Arthur, he thought they were kids just fooling and he told them
to get lost. They shot him in the side; and when he collapsed, dragged
him into the freezer where they left him ... nice kids.
Arthur eventually recovered from the shooting, you can imagine my
feelings when I found myself seven months later involved in the hunt
for the same Coyles. I was ready to search the woods and cranberry bogs
indefinitely, if necessary.
never talk publicly about who actually brought Billy Coyle down and I
will respect his wish to remain anonymous. I can confirm that he was in
a situation where he had no choice. In fact, he actually used his own
coat to cover the body of the dead Coyle brother."
Enos is now retired from the State Police and living in Sagamore Beach,
where he commutes each day to his job as director of security at
Stern-Leach, an Attleboro gold firm.
And in Pennsylvania, John Coyle continues to serve his life sentence for the murder of a police officer.
An amazing story from the ranks of our amazing and diverse membership.