This is the first in a series of articles I wrote for the Gettysburg Times about the murder of Pennsylvania State Trooper Francis Haley and the hunt for his killer.
With just five months with the Pennsylvania State Police and only two days at the substation in Chambersburg, Private Francis Haley could still feel a sense of newness and wonder with the job. It was a feeling he would lose all too soon.
Around 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 14, 1924, the report came in to be on the lookout for a lone man in a touring car with New York plates who was wanted as a suspect in the robbery of the Abbottstown State Bank. Upon fleeing the scene, the bank robber had last been seen heading in the direction of Gettysburg along Lincoln Highway.
Around 2 p.m. that day, H. F. Stambaugh, the cashier at the Abbottstown State Bank had found himself alone in the bank enjoying a lull in the busy day. A man had entered the bank wearing a grayish suit and slouch hat, but what alarmed Stambaugh was that he had a red bandanna pulled up over his nose and a pistol.
The robber demanded all of the money in the cash drawer, which amounted to $1,000 (around $13,500 today). He then told Stambaugh to get in the vault. As the cashier walked into the bank vault, he heard something that made him turn around. He saw that the robber had run off.
Stambaugh ran to the bank door. He didn’t see anyone on the town square, but he did see a touring car head off down Lincoln Highway driven by a lone man.
The cashier had quickly reported the robbery and the alert had been sent out shortly thereafter.
Private Haley mounted his motorcycle and headed out from the Chambersburg substation alongside Sgt. Merrifield. They headed east along Lincoln Highway watching the cars around them. As they passed through Fayetteville, Merrifield turned off to patrol along a different road.
Haley knew that the odds of finding the robber so far away from Abbottstown were slim. He had certainly had many opportunities to turn off the highway before reaching Chambersburg. Still, Haley was new enough on the job that the general acceleration of events still thrilled him.
He was driving by the Graeffenburg Inn near the border between Adams and Franklin counties around 3:30 p.m. when he noticed a touring car approaching him from the east. Then he noticed that the car had New York license plates.
The car passed him, but Haley turned his motorcycle around and hurried to catch up to the car. He drew abreast of the car and waved for the driver to stop.
“Pull up to the side of the road and stop,” Haley ordered the driver.
Instead, the driver drew a .32 automatic and shot Haley at point blank range. Haley hadn’t sensed any danger and hadn’t even had time to attempt to draw his pistol. The driver’s bullet passed through Haley’s right hand and then into his right breast where it also hit his heart before lodging in a rib.
“The momentum of the motorcycle carried the trooper along for a distance of about 25 feet. He then fell off onto the highway, face downward,” the Gettysburg Times reported.
People sitting on the porch of the Graeffenburg Inn had seen the entire shooting. They rushed to Haley’s aid as the car sped off towards Fayetteville.
As the witnesses tried to stop the blood flow, Haley said, “Get that man! I’m shot!”
And then he died; the 11th Pennsylvania State Trooper to be murdered in the line of duty. All of the previous murderers had been captured and the Pennsylvania State Police would make sure that Haley’s killer was also caught. His death set off the largest manhunt in Pennsylvania history to that point.