Ghost Sniper Shoots at Bus, Fells Cop at Bridge Plaza

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Camden Courier-Post – January 25, 1928

Blue Marble Found After ‘Shot’ Knocks Officer Down at 4 AM

Windshield of Bus Strangely Shattered

Four Private Cars Also Have Been Targets; Probers Are Baffled

Probing a mystery that sounds more like fantastic fiction than serious fact, police of Camden and officials of the Camden Bridge today were conducting a vigorous hunt for a “phantom sniper.”

After four vehicles had been fired upon during the last month on or near the Federal Street Bridge across Crescent Boulevard, a mysterious bullet or other missile penetrated the windshield of a Pennsylvania bus on the Camden Bridge and spurred authorities into action.

Then at 4:30 o’clock this morning, Bridge Policeman John J. Rodgers was twice fired upon on the span. The second time, he was struck between the shoulders, spun around and knocked down.

Blue Marble Found

The missile that struck him, found a few moments later, was a blue marble. It furnished the first clue to the “phantom sniper” that police have obtained. Apparently it was fired from a powerful slingshot or an air gun, so powerful in fact that it struck Rogers with almost bullet-like force although it must have been fired from a distance of nearly a hundred yards.

Police were unanimous in the opinion that the missile which penetrated the window of the bus on the span yesterday was no such marble, but a bullet. They added, however, that there was a possibility that it might have been a steel ball bearing discharged from an air gun or slingshot such as that which was used in sniping upon Rogers.

It was learned from an official source this afternoon that bridge police will question a 15-year-old boy. It was said that he lives 150 feet of the spot where the gun was fired upon yesterday.

The boy and his father are said to occupy the third floor of a rooming house on North Fourth Street. Police have no evidence that this boy fired the shot or marble that struck Rogers, but they decided to question him on ownership of a rifle or slingshot.

Meanwhile it was revealed that still another incident in which the “phantom sniper” had appeared had taken place last night when a Philadelphia-Pennsauken bus was fired upon near the Federal Street Bridge.

At the same time bridge officials disclosed that police on the span have been bothered for the past three months by the fact that the sniper has been shooting out electric lights

Speculation and theorizing over the peculiar incidents ran riot among the police who are investigating them today. Although the slingshot or air gun theory was given considerable credence by Rogers’ extraordinary experience, other officers insisted that no instrument of this nature would discharge a bullet, ball bearing or other metal missile with sufficient force to bore through the windshields of buses and automobiles which have been fired on by the “phantom sniper.”

It was November 21 that the sniper – if he is the same who has now taken the Camden bridge as his basis of operations – first came into public notice. Former State Senator Albert S. Woodruff was fired upon from an automobile which his car was following across the Federal Street Bridge at the time.

Hear Report of Gun

On that occasion, however, the report of a gun was heard by Woodruff, whereas, in subsequent incidents, none of the near victims of the shots have heard any sound. This also strengthens the theory of the existence of air gun or other instrument more powerful than any known to police. If the missiles which have struck other automobiles were bullets, however, it is pointed out that they may have been fired from a rifle or revolver equipped with a silencer.

Since the Woodruff incident, a Riverton family has been fired upon, another automobile windshield has been penetrated, apparently by a bullet while crossing Federal Street bridge and on Sunday night, Mrs. A. D. Kohn, 319 Evans Street, Haddonfield, was cut by flying glass when her car was made the target of the sniper.

Rogers, the member of the Camden bridge police force who was struck by the blue marble early this morning, was standing on the bridge about 10 feet from the point at which the Pennjersey bus was hit by the sniper yesterday. As he leaned over to in­spect a portion of the roadway, something whistled over his head and hit the railing. He straightened up and found on the steel railing, the spot at which the missile had struck. The paint had been chipped off and the metal dented as though by a bullet.

Felled By Marble

A moment, later, he had turned toward the south when he was struck between the shoulders by the marble. With such force did the little round object hit him that it wheeled him around as would a bullet and felled him. Although he wore a heavy overcoat, a leather jerkin and thick under­wear, the missile left a severe bruise at the spot where it struck him.

Back on his feet, Rogers saw the object which had hit him rolling away. He picked it up. It was the blue marble.

A house-to-house canvas of all dwellings in the neighborhood from the roofs or windows of which the missile might conceivably have been discharged was being conducted today by four bridge policemen. The search was begun after Joseph Costello, superintendent of the bridge, and Captain Alfred Souders, head of the bridge police, had conducted a conference attended by all the span officers.

Yesterday’s mysterious incident on the Camden bridge occurred as the Pennjersey bus bound for Pennsauken from Philadelphia with seven passen­gers aboard was rolling down the incline of the bridge towards the toll booths at 3:38 o’clock.

Five of the passengers were women and two were middle-aged men. The driver was Franklin Copeland, 29 years old, of 244 South Fifty-fourth Street, Philadelphia.

The bus passed George Clarke a bridge patrolman, at a point about 173 yards from the end of the incline, and perhaps 225 from the tollbooths. ­The policemen and the bus driver are well acquainted.

The driver waved, and the policeman, making a megaphone of his hands yelled “Howdy, Fats.”

Passengers In Uproar

The next instant Copeland heard a sudden buzz and then as if by magic a small hole appeared in the glass before his face. Tiny bits of glass fell upon him.

He yanked on the brakes. Passengers were half thrown from their seats and cried out to know what was wrong.

Clarke came running over. He saw the small hole at once, and instantly scanned the bridge walk to find the source. There was no one in sight but a little girl who strolled on.

The bus went on to Pennsauken and bridge patrolmen took up the mystery. Four patrolled the walks, scanning the skyline on either side to see from which houses a shot might have been fired. Others searched the roadbed, seeking the bullet.

City police were called. Detectives George Ward and Louis Shaw came and examined the skyline and searched one house. They found nothing.

Detectives at Odds

The bus came back and a minute examination of it and the hole in the windshield began. When it was over investigators were divided between two theories and completely mystified.

The hole, the detectives said, seemed to have been made by a steel jacketed.22 caliber bullet. Some bridge policemen said it might have been from a.25 caliber automatic and some said it could have been a.22.

Copeland declared he was positive that there was no automobile directly ahead of him on the bridge – that the nearest was past the curve. No pedestrian except the little girl was in sight.

According to the detectives, it is out of reason that the missile was fired from a house on the south side of the bridge. The glass would have splintered because of the angle from which the bullet would have entered, they declared.

Crank Suspected

That brought up the theory that the missile was fired from within the bus. Lieutenant Gregory Love, of the Bridge Police, suggested that a “crank” using a pistol equipped with a silencer might have fired the shot. A further search was made of the interior of the bus, and on the glass alongside the driver, near the partition at the back, was found a half-inch long scratch. No bullet or other missile was found.

The inside of the glass was chipped and the outside smooth. Generally, detectives said, a bullet will chip at the point of exit, not entrance.

Bridge Policemen John Batting, John Cox, John Curry, and Sergeant Michael Bachmeyer, aiding in the investigation, admitted themselves completely bewildered.

One Card Shy

Then the driver began looking among the cards signed by his passengers as witnesses. He was one card shy.

“Do you know?” he said slowly, “I don’t think that man gave me the card after all.”

When he found the card signed Mrs. Harriet Billingsley, 30 East Cedar Avenue, Merchantville he recalled that she had told him that a moment be­fore the bus stopped she thought she saw a flash on her right – the south side.

Other women who gave their names were Eleanor Montgomery, 217 North Forty-seventh Street; Mrs. C. Schmidt and Mrs. T. Van Newkirk, both of 1110 North Twenty-sixth Street.

City Police Drop Probe

City Detectives George Ward and Louis Shaw said this afternoon that they would make no further investigation into the incident of the motor­bus on the Camden span yesterday. Both declared they were convinced that a shot was fired from inside the bus.

“We are convinced that no sniper fired the shot that went through the windshield,” Ward said. “We believe the shot was fired inside the bus.”

“There were two men in the bus at the time the bullet went through the glass. These men refused to give their names to the driver of the bus. Bridge police were on the job but I believe that it they had searched these two men they would have found a.25 revolver on one of them.”

“One of these men sat directly behind the driver. There are marks on the woodwork there to show where the man rubbed the revolver when he put it beside the driver’s face and fired the bullet through he glass.”

“The glass was shattered on the inside which shows that the bullet was fired from the inside. If the bullet had entered from the outside the glass on the outside would have been shattered,” Ward said.

Members of the bridge police – former service men and experts on firearms – discredited the theory of the two city detectives. They declared that the city detectives were wrong in the matter of the shattered glass and that the conditions would be just the reverse.

Bridge Patrolman Crane, who was standing near the bus when the shot was fired, declared today that the driver of the bus asserted he heard no report of a pistol. If the pistol had been fired near his head, he naturally would have heard it, Crane said..


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