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Around 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, 1926, a speeding Ford coupe raced through the Iowa City, Iowa streets, Motorcycle Officer Edward M. Leeney hot on the vehicle’s trail.
Leeney — a local police force patrolman — had just approached the intersection near Market and North Dubuque streets when his motorcycle, traveling at about 48 miles per hour, suddenly collided with a city streetcar.
The impact bounced Lenney’s body hard against the streetcar before winging him to the pavement several feet away. The married father of three young children suffered a skull fracture and died 10 minutes later at a local hospital.
In early July 2011, Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine decided to start looking further into Iowa City’s only case of a police officer killed in the line of duty. The Chief’s interest in Leeney had begun earlier in the year when Iowa City officers Mike Smithey and Paul Batcheller flew to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony.
According to a Press-Citizen article dated July 2, 2011, the two men went to a memorial for fallen officers while in D.C. and got a rubbing of Leeney’s name. Back in Iowa City, the police department has an old Press-Citizen article framed and hanging in the station, but efforts to locate more news articles about Leeney have proved unsuccessful.
“We’d like to pay more of a tribute,” Hargadine told the Press-Citizen for the July 2 story. “We just thought we’d like to memorialize it.”
Based on the article’s reader comments, some clearly wondered why the case would be classified “cold” (let alone a murder), rather than just a vehicular accident. The answer — precluding any ex post facto laws (any new laws making an action a crime when the action was not a crime at the time it was committed) — could be summed up nicely in today’s Iowa Code Chapter 707, Section 2, subsection 3. Boiled down to the very basics, this is how the rules play out (italics are mine):
- 707.1 MURDER DEFINED. A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either express or implied commits murder.
- 707.2 MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE. A person commits murder in the first degree when the person commits murder under any of the following circumstances:
- [Jump to] Subsection 707.2(3) The person kills another person while escaping or attempting to escape from lawful custody.
The key word in 707.1 is “implied”; Criminal Intent is implied if the results of an action, though originally unintended, are almost certain to occur. (i.e. If one tosses a live grenade into a crowd of people, someone is almost certain to be killed, even if the thrower didn’t intend to kill any particular person in the crowd.)
In Edward Leeney’s case, when a law enforcement officer must resort to chasing a fleeing suspect through a city at high rates of speed, a collision involving someone is practically inevitable. Had Officer Leeney not been chasing the Ford coupe through Iowa City that night, would he have collided with the streetcar and been killed? Not likely.
In September 1992, Iowa City Police Association Local 16 commemorated their slain officer with a recognition ceremony and presentation of a commemorative plaque to Leeney’s family.
On May 15, 2003, Johnson County’s nine law enforcement agencies participated in another memorial service for Leeney; their “Peace Officer Memorial Day” was one of many held nationwide that same day.
“We have been lucky in our departments in this county through the years,” Coralville police Sgt. John Williams — who led organization efforts for the ceremony — told the Cedar Rapids Gazette for a story published the day before the ceremony. “It is important we honor the officers across the country who were lost in the line of duty.”
Edward Leeney’s granddaughter, Cathy Hogan, attended the May 15 memorial, which included a 21-gun salute conducted by the Iowa State Patrol Honor Guard and a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Sgt. Bob Cox.
All across Coralville, residences and businesses lowered flags to half staff in observance of the revered tribute.
So far, Hargadine told the Press-Tribune, some of Leeney’s nieces have been tracked down and Sgt. Denise Brotherton also located Leeney’s gravesite. The gravestone, Hargadine said, noted that Leeney had been a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles; the chief would like the officer’s service to the city to be noted as well.
In addition to his wife and three children, Leeney was survived by his mother and two brothers.
He is buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Oxford, Johnson County, Iowa.
If you have any information about this unsolved crime please contact Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine at (319) 356-5275 or e-mail Sam-Hargadine@iowa-city.gov.