The Joseph P. Boyle Story – Part II

Read Part I here.

After years of abuse by Boyle and his cronies, The Memphis Police Department, tired of arbitrary treatment, revolted. On October 15, 1943, The MPD Rank and File had about had it with their poor leadership. Crump had put two new supervisors in place to ride herd over them; one of the men came from the cotton industry (a Crump crony and campaign manager) and had no police experience, and Joe Boyle. Boyle’s selection of Carroll Seabrook as Police Chief was unacceptable to the rank and file. So, after three years, the force finally had had enough of the mechanism Crump put in place in 1940.

Memphis had a Police Chief and Fire and Police Commissioner who knew nothing about operating a police department. Crump, along with his Police Chief and commissioner, was not concerned about putting completely unqualified people in command positions because he was the real power, pulling all the strings. In this case, Boyle was flying blind because neither man had ever been a police officer. The MPD was a hornet’s nest of chaos.

On that October day, there was so much controversy in the police department that the entire day shift almost “walked” away from their duties. Seabrook, having no experience in the field, was clueless and made matters worse when he refused to listen to the command staff of his police department. Seabrook had Boyle suspend two detectives, C.A. Kettlewell and M.S. Nicholson because he did not like how they managed a case. This action was the last straw for the men of the MPD. More than 150 uniformed and plainclothes officers, more than 75% of the on-duty shift, all descended to Joe Boyle’s office for over an hour. Not a single police car was on the streets. The men demanded the reinstatement of Civil Service protection, something Crump had taken away in 1935 when he put in his own “merit” system.

This program of Crump’s affected the Police, Fire, City Workers, and teachers. The Crump “merit” (read “crony”) system rewarded those who played along with him, collected poll taxes, did favors for the Crump machine, or did whatever Crump wanted. Promotions were based on currying Crump’s or Boyle’s favor and had nothing to do with competence or leadership. It was a crooked system designed to save money for the city and pad the pockets of the Crump machine on the backs of its most ardent and vital workforce.

Under Crump and Boyle, officers worked daily in the squad cars or on the beat with no days off. They thought they fairly deserved two days off a month. Simply put, the officers wanted to be backed up by competent superiors. They had never had such backing under Boyle. If they arrested someone and that person was a friend of Joe Boyle, Chief Seabrook, or the Crump Gang, they were “un”- arrested.

Police Officers and Firefighters under Boyle were required to give back to the city a day and a half’s pay a month to the Crump “war chest.” Memphis police were already making less than Atlanta and Nashville. Under Boyle and Crump, if a city worker violated an infraction and was suspended, they continued to work and were docked the time. On the positive side, the city paid their entire pension, two-thirds of their insurance (through Crump’s Insurance Company), and $40.00 a year for uniforms.

After Crump’s number one, Lieutenant Frank “Roxie” Rice’s death in 1938. Boyle became “Crump’s designated Hatchet Man” and the “Courthouse Eyes.” He masterminded a network of Memphians who were willing snitches and would sell out their own families for the favors of the Crump Administration. Most of the snitches in Memphis reported to Boyle directly. Throughout his time with the Crump machine, he maintained an index card of everyone who had caused the Crump administration a problem, voted in opposition to what Crump wanted, or made disparaging remarks about Crump. If, at any time during the Crump administration, one wanted something from Crump, one went to the Ward Boss. They would see Joe Boyle. Boyle would know if they had been loyal by checking these records, and if they had not, they would not get what they wanted.

Joe Boyle was as ruthless and cunning as anyone in Memphis. His only loyalties were to Boss Crump. He held office for forty-three years and worked as a close minion of the Crump machine every minute of that period. In the pecking order of minion status, he was initially number five after Frank R. Rice, E. W. Hale, Willie Gerber, W. T. McLain, and Charles Bryan (at different periods). As they died or moved on, his status grew. Boyle served in many various capacities during his tenure with Crump. He did not drink, play cards, or socialize with the other inner-circle members. He was utterly loyal to Crump. If Crump told him to go up on the roof of the Crump building and howl at the moon, J.B. would be up on the roof howling.

Boyle performed the duties of the acting mayor in 1946 when Mayor Walter Chandler resigned and again when mayor James Pleasants took sick while in office. The Nashville Tennessean newspaper referred to E. H. Crump  as the “puppet master.”

During the Estes Kefauver election as Tennessee Senator in 1948, Joe Boyle confiscated film from the  news photographers to try and suppress Kefauver’s advantage since Crump could not stand that candidate. If Crump did not like someone, it usually meant that Crump could not control that person or that he was too honest to fit into the Crump gang. The election of Senator Estes Kefauver would spell the slow demise of the Crump machine.

In 1948, Boyle spoke publicly against hiring Negro police officers, but when he found out that, surprisingly, Crump was for it, so like the good little minion he was, he changed his tune and liked the idea.

However, the Crump machine was beginning to fade. As both men worked more instinctively, politicians started to press against the crooked ways that had existed for many decades. A new order was forming, and it was just a matter of time before things changed radically.

(CA March 17, 1944, Pg 6)

On October 26, 1950, Boyle crossed wires with Mayor Watkins Overton when Overton wanted to give a recent Southwestern graduate and his administrative assistant, 25-year-old Guy Bates, a $100.00 raise. Boyle rejected the request while Mayor Overton was out of town. Upon his return, Overton threatened to quit over it. Overton stated publicly that Joe Boyle would not tell him what and what not he would do. The other four commissioners backed Boyle and voted the mayor down because Crump was still pulling Boyle’s strings. Overton won the last power-play by removing Boyle as his Police and Fire Commissioner and reducing him to Finance Commissioner, a much lower-level position he had held in his youth.

On the other side, there are some positive things Boyle did. He ran the pickpockets, Gypsies, fortune tellers, smut publishers, flesh shows, and the riff raft out of town. Boyle was not called ‘Holy Joe” for nothing. He instituted the $2.00 parking tickets for expired parking meters and brought in record revenue for the city. He put his traffic officers in three-wheeled motorcycles to issue these tickets. He added the pedestrian islands to many street corners so pedestrians had a place to wait for a light to cross the intersections. E. H. Crump wanted a clean, quiet, safe city. A city with clean paved streets and all city services was the best. Boyle helped make that happen.

Crump died on October 16, 1954; Boyle ran for his old position but lost because Crump could no longer back him. Boyle, due to his corruption and graft over the years, had accumulated much property, owning a lot in Hein Park and a large farm in Collierville. Without Crump’s support, Joseph Boyle saw the handwriting on the wall and faded away, never heard from again.

His stormy, ruthless reign was over.

Edited by Trish Gully

1 thought on “The Joseph P. Boyle Story – Part II

Leave a Reply