Cornwall - Mar. 6, 2011 - Cornwall police Sgt. Thom Racine has completed thousands of investigations in his 30-year police career, but few have been as rewarding as this one.
It's not an actual criminal case, but rather a personal quest to honour the century-old memory of fallen Cornwall police officer Special Const. John Robert Davey.
Davey was shot in the chest and killed while attempting to arrest an armed drifter in Cornwall on Sept. 6, 1892. It was just his first day on the job. The 47-year-old left behind a wife and three children. Davey had help from Louis Lafave, a good Samaritan who also attempted to subdue the drifter. Lafave was also shot, but he survived.
Racine began researching the story of Davey's death as part of a larger project to write a book on the history of the Cornwall police service. The deeper he dug into Davey's story, the more he became consumed by it.
"It gripped me. Within a couple of weeks I was hooked," he tells OurHometown.ca. "I had to get to the answer of everything."
At first, Racine had little more than some dated newspaper articles and court documents to work with. He thought he'd be able to find a picture of Davey somewhere in Cornwall, but it wasn't to be. To further complicate things, there were no remaining family ties to Davey in his hometown.
Undaunted, Racine spent countless hours - most of it on his own time - conducting Internet searches, making phone calls and sending emails to complete strangers all in hopes of uncovering the lost branches on the Davey family tree.
Early into his search, he connected with members of the Lafave family in Glengarry, and that eventually lead him to Janice Haer in New Jersey. Racine said it was a "eureka" moment when he called up the 60-year-old woman and they had a 45-minute conversation about her great grandfather Louis.
Racine then set his sights again on Davey, whose three sons had moved to the United States - one to New Hampshire and two to Buffalo - after the tragedy involving their father. One day, he called a library in Manchester, New Hampshire, and he found a personable library employee who agreed to help research the family tree. Before long, he found himself talking to one of Davey's ancestors, Catherine Tobin. Much to Racine's surprise, the 78-year-old had a picture of Davey from his days in the 59th Stormont Dundas Militia which had been passed down the family line. She emailed a copy of it to Racine a few days later.
Through the work, Racine has become an unofficial expert on Davey, rhyming off facts about his life and his family tree with little effort. However, tracking down the fallen officer's ancestors is only part of the story.
Racine is planning to hold a memorial service and dedication service for Davey in September, and the Davey and Lafave ancestors are expected to be in attendance.
He's also pushing to have Davey's name added to the National Memorial for Fallen Police Officers on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
To preserve Davey's memory, Racine has asked the City of Cornwall to consider dedicating the section of Ninth Street between Pitt and Sydney Streets - the site of the fatal shooting - John Davey Memorial Way. Also, the Cornwall Police Association is planning to purchase a new tombstone for Davey's unmarked grave at St. Columban's Cemetery to coincide with the September memorial.
While it was personally gratifying to see the story come together, Racine said he's even happier that he's been able to raise awareness about an important story in Cornwall's history.
The veteran cop takes pride in knowing that future generations of Cornwallites will now be able to hear the story and see the picture of the man who gave everything in defence of his community.
"It may sound strange, but when I look at that picture (of him), I see him staring back out at me and saying 'Way to go'," Racine said.
Racine will be sharing his story about Davey in a special lecture this Wednesday at Aultsville Theatre, at 11:30 a.m. The event is open to all, and those attending are asked to bring a non-perishable food item in support of the college's Student Emergency Food Bank.