Family honors Detroit police officer 100 years after he was killed in line of duty

Tim and Marsha Jimines, relatives of Det. Sgt. Daniel James Coughlin, a Detroit police officer who was killed in the line of duty on Jan. 4, 1923, point out his name on the First Responder Memorial of Wayne County in Edward Hines Park in Plymouth Township during a visit on June 9, which would have been Det. Sgt. Coughlins' 151st birthday. (Courtesy photos)

Det. Sgt. Daniel James Coughlin was shot by Detroit's infamous Purple Gang in 1923; a century later, his family hasn't forgotten

DETROIT — For the Coughlin family, the month of All Souls capped a year of remembrance for their patriarch, who 100 years ago gave his life in the line of duty with the Detroit Police Department.

Det. Sgt. Daniel James Coughlin, 50, had come to the aid of an assault victim at the Frontenac Hotel in downtown Detroit when he was shot and killed Jan. 4, 1923, by suspected members of the Purple Gang. The mobsters ruled the city’s underworld with a vengeance for 20 years, reaching the highest ranks of organized crime fueled by the chaos of Prohibition.

Coughlin was survived by his wife, Agnes, and seven children. Two years before his death, his son James, 5, died after being struck by a car.

“On Jan. 4, we had a Mass said for the intention of Det. Sgt. Coughlin at St. Michael (the Archangel Parish in Livonia)," said Patrick Coughlin, his great-grandson. "Even though it was a sad day, we thought it was the best way to remember him on the hundredth anniversary of his death.”

On June 9, which would have been the patriarch's 151st birthday, extended family gathered in Plymouth Township at the First Responder Memorial of Wayne County in Edward Hines Park.

Family members gather June 9, which would have been Det. Sgt. Coughlin's 151st birthday, at the First Responder Memorial of Wayne County in Edward Hines Park in Plymouth Township. Pictured are (back row, left to right) Patricia Coughlin, Richard Petty, Patrick Coughlin, Sherry Wallen, Mike Helfrich, Tim Jimines, (front row, left to right) Betty Petty, Kit Clements and Marsha Jimines.
Family members gather June 9, which would have been Det. Sgt. Coughlin's 151st birthday, at the First Responder Memorial of Wayne County in Edward Hines Park in Plymouth Township. Pictured are (back row, left to right) Patricia Coughlin, Richard Petty, Patrick Coughlin, Sherry Wallen, Mike Helfrich, Tim Jimines, (front row, left to right) Betty Petty, Kit Clements and Marsha Jimines.

Daniel Coughlin was born on June 9, 1872, to Irish immigrants Keiran and Catherine Coughlin. His wife, Sarah Agnes Murphy, was born Nov. 21, 1876. The family also commemorated her 147th birthday this year.

“She must have had such strong faith, managing to provide for her children — and she had already buried one," said Patricia Coughlin, Patrick's wife. "She is a hero in my eyes.”

A century later, the family is heeding the words of Fr. Robert Benson, cousin of Det. Sgt. Coughlin, who preached at his funeral at St. Leo Church in Detroit. The Detroit Times reported that “Fr. Benson urged his auditors not to forget Dan Coughlin this day, tomorrow or next day.” Selfishness is the prevailing sin of the age, Fr. Benson said, and it was selfishness that prompted Coughlin’s slayers. The article reported St. Leo Church was so crowded that many had to stand.

The article continued to say a prayer service took place before the solemn high Mass, during which "hundreds had gathered in front of the modest house" to pray.

“A procession led by mounted police, followed by a platoon of uniformed men and detectives, marched to the church,” the Times stated. Det. Sgt. Coughlin was laid to rest at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Three generations of Coughlins served the Detroit Police force with honor. Son Keiran followed in his father’s footsteps, as did Daniel, Keiran’s son.

Elizabeth Coughlin Petty, 90, of Farmington joined relatives who met at the First Responder Memorial to honor their forebear.

“We didn’t know my grandfather, but we always talked about him,” Petty said. “My brother Dan served, too. He was an officer during the 1967 riots. They were so brave to be on Detroit’s police force, taking care of everyone. They never knew what was going to happen to them.”

An article in the Detroit Free Press the day after Det. Sgt. Coughlin was killed memorialized the Detroit police officer, who gave his life responding to a reported assault.
An article in the Detroit Free Press the day after Det. Sgt. Coughlin was killed memorialized the Detroit police officer, who gave his life responding to a reported assault.
Remembrances posted to the End of Watch website memorialize Det. Sgt. Coughlin. Family members, including those who never met him in person, say it's important to remember those who gave their lives for others.
Remembrances posted to the End of Watch website memorialize Det. Sgt. Coughlin. Family members, including those who never met him in person, say it's important to remember those who gave their lives for others.

Great-granddaughter Sherry Wallen echoed those sentiments.

“Even though we never met him, we still honor Det. Sgt. Coughlin,” Wallen said. “We are definitely proud of him and the family tradition carried on by his son and grandson.”

Law enforcement officers from across the nation, in publications including Bars & Stripes, remember their fallen comrades despite the passage of time. A 2010 article noted the “End of Watch” for Det. Sgt. Daniel Coughlin:

“On Jan. 4, 1923, Det. Sgt. Daniel Coughlin was shot and killed after he and three other officers responded to an assault call at a downtown hotel.” Coughlin was the first to approach four suspects in a parked automobile, and was fired upon as he questioned them. “He fell into the vehicle after being shot. As the suspects sped off, an officer fired at the vehicle, wounding one man. A police chase ensued. Det. Sgt. Coughlin’s body was found in the stolen car, abandoned by the suspects, a short distance away.”

Det. Sgt. Coughlin served the department for 18 years. In a front-page account the day after his death, the Detroit Free Press reported that Det. Sgt. Coughlin “had a meritorious record in the department, twice being cited before the police commission for the capture of escaped convicts. He also was commended for the recovery of stolen automobiles. He was one of the best-known members of the department.”

An anonymous United States Border Patrolman is among dozens to recognize Det. Sgt. Coughlin on a website honoring slain first responders: “On the 100th anniversary of your death I would just like to say thank you Det. Sgt. Coughlin for your service and sacrifice for the citizens of Detroit. And to your family and loved ones, I wish to extend my deepest sympathy.”

Great-granddaughter Dorothy Coughlin-Fauver wrote: “Great-grandfather, you were taken too early, and my father, your grandson, never told me about what happened until I was in my 30's because it bothered him so much, even though he went on to serve the Detroit Police Dept. for 13 years. Your service was an inspiration for many.”

Patrick Coughlin was grateful to discover the website several years ago, as it enabled the family to publicly pay tribute to their forebear.

“Though we never had the privilege of meeting, you are a part of me,” wrote the proud great-grandson. “I’m told that I resemble you. I’ll always remember you for the hero that you are. Eternal rest grant unto you, and let the perpetual light shine upon you.”



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