A chance reunion
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS A Daniel Faulkner pin on Chip Burnett's cap helped spark a reunion 37 years in the making.
It's a damp, chilly night in March of 1975, and veteran Philadelphia police officer Jack Bowen is lying on the cold, gritty floor of Cal & Nell's bar, just inside the front door. He's bleeding and in agony from gunshots to both hips. Three feet away, the would-be robber who had fired the shots is also on the floor, his eyes open and the sawed-off shotgun lying nearby.
Suddenly, Bowen feels a tug, and the pain in his hips ratchets up to excruciating. He feels himself being pulled out of the bar and onto a stretcher.
Months later, then-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neill at a special ceremony praises the bravery of Charles "Chip" Burnett, the young rookie cop who pulled Bowen to safety.
The incident fades from the public eye; life goes on for Bowen and Burnett, who remain strangers.
Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. It's early in the afternoon, and Burnett, now 59, is sitting in the waiting room of St. Luke's Urgent Care in Jim Thorpe.
Burnett looks up as an older man wearing a Phillies cap walks in.
"I like your Phillies hat," he said to the man.
"Thanks a lot. I'm a Phillies fan," the older man replies.
Burnett is reading a book, Harry the K, about the late Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.
"If you're a Phillies fan, you'll enjoy reading this book," he tells the man in the Phillies cap.
Burnett is wearing a gray cap with a button bearing a photo of Daniel Faulkner, a 25-year-old Philadelphia police officer who was gunned down while making a traffic stop on Dec. 9, 1981.
The older man's wife spots Burnett's pin, and mentions it to her husband.
Burnett asks how they know about Faulkner.
"I'm a retired Philly cop," the older man replies.
"Oh, yeah?" Burnett says. "So am I."
"Where did you work?" the older man asks.
The older man worked in the 9th precinct; Burnett in the 6th.
"When did you retire?" Burnett asks.
"1975," the older man says. "I got shot, and I retired."
The realization of what is happening begins to click into place.
Burnett asks where the incident had happened. When the older man answers, "in North Philadelphia, at a bar at 15th and Melon," Burnett knows.
"What's your name?" Burnett asks, his excitement building.
"Jack Bowen," the older man replies.
"Holy (expletive). I'm Chip Burnett! I'm the guy that dragged you out of the bar after you got shot!"
"Holy (expletive)!" Bowen shouts.
Urgent Care patients, already drawn into the unfolding drama, are riveted. One of the nurses calls a woman who was waiting to see the doctor. The woman tells the nurse she wants to wait to hear the end of the story.
The chance reunion left both men reeling.
"If Jack wasn't wearing a Phillies hat, I never would have said anything to him," Burnett says. "We would have sat in the same room and never known anything."
The reunion stunned the 75-year-old Bowen, who was so moved he had to step outside the Urgent Care Center to compose himself.
"It just feels so wonderful," Bowen says.
"All these years, he had no idea who pulled him out," Bowen's wife, Micki, says. Since finally meeting Burnett, she said, her husband has been "ecstatic."
Burnett shrugs off any accolades.
"I didn't do anything more than anyone else would have done," he says. "Jack would have done the same thing."
On a recent day, Burnett, Bowen and Micki sit at Burnett's kitchen table. Their conversation takes them back to March 24, 1975.
Bowen was working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. He was standing on an overpass on 17th Street late that evening, chatting with another officer, when his radio crackled with a report of three suspicious males at Cal & Nell's, some blocks away at 15th and Melon streets.
"It doesn't sound like anything," he recalls telling the officer.
The call came toward the end of an uneventful shift. The day had started out as any other. Bowen had puttered around the house for a bit, then sat on the small front porch of his row house, chatting with a neighbor before getting ready for work.
That day, he was assigned to work the beat of a colleague who had been given the day off.
"I knew the area, but I didn't know the people well," Bowen recalls. A police officer for 13 years, Bowen was working the beat alone.
His shift included responding to a domestic dispute and also taking a little boy to Hahnemann Hospital.
"I didn't know I'd be going back there myself soon," he says.
It quickly became clear the suspicious activity was a robbery in progress.
When Bowen arrived at Cal & Nell's bar, he walked through an alley to the back entrance. He knew the other officers who had also arrived, "and I knew they were new. So I figured, I'll get this checked right away and then I can go to the front," he says.
The door was locked, "and it was pretty solid," Bowen recalls. He reported the back door as secure, then went around to the front.
Bowen learned the sergeant was on his way. There were three policeman by the bar's front door.
"I knew that two of them were rookies. They were the same age as Chip was at that time," he says.
"They had their guns out. I peeked in the (door) frame the door was open. There were two guys at the end of the bar and there was a gun on the bar.
"I said, let's take these guys. What are you waiting for?"
There was a man standing by the cigarette machine, to the right, just inside the front door.
"He wasn't moving, and he was standing like he was scared to death," Bowen recalls. The man, who was on the small side, about 5-feet, six-inches tall, had his arms held up across his chest.
"I was expecting him to be one of the customers," Bowen says, "because the other two guys were grabbing bottles of booze. I looked at the guy, and my mind registered, 'customer'. He looks scared to death, and with that I said 'let's take 'em'.
"I took two steps in, and he just lowered the shotgun as soon as I cleared the door," Bowen says, his voice tense.
He didn't even see the sawed off shotgun until the man, later identified as James Williams, standing about three feet away, pulled the trigger, shooting Bowen in the hip.
"It knocked my legs out from under me. I went down onto the floor. I was lying on the floor, completely conscious of everything that was going on around me," he recalls.
Bowen watched as Williams raised the gun again.
As Williams fired, hitting his other hip, Bowen squeezed off two shots from his .38 caliber service revolver, dropping the gunman.
Bowen also fired at the man standing at the end of the bar. The man, later identified as Theodore Lumsden, went down on one knee. But it turned out, he had not been hit.
Bowen, in agony, looked up to see Lumsden aiming his gun down at his head.
"I tried to get up and I couldn't," Bowen remembers. He recalls Lumsden saying "I'm going to blow your mother (expletive) brains out."
Lumsden fired a shot, but was looking at the door and missed.
Lumsden ran "out the door, up 15th Street, over Fairmount Avenue. Everybody was following him and shooting at him," Bowen says.
Burnett, who had been patrolling in the 6th precinct, just across Broad Street, arrived as Bowen lay suffering.
"When I heard the call come out, it just didn't sound good. I was only a few blocks away, so I thought, let me head up there just in case something goes down," Burnett recalls.
The young officer, all of 23 years old and with less than a year of street experience under his belt, knew he had to get the downed cop out of there.
"I knew there were three bad guys in there with guns," Burnett recalls. "Jack needed help. I kind of crawled in because I didn't want to walk in and be a bigger target."
"He thought the guy lying on the floor was still alive and still had the shotgun aimed at me," Bowen says.
"When I crawled in, the first thing I did was look at the cigarette machine. There was the guy lying down on the ground, eyes wide open, with the shotgun," Burnett recalls.
He began pulling on Bowen's legs to get him to safety.
The tugging triggered waves of agony for Bowen.
"But what could I do?" Burnett says.
He pulled Bowen out of the bar and onto a stretcher. Two cops took the front end of the stretcher and Burnett took the back.
"I weighed about 140 pounds," he says. Bowen was well over 6 feet tall and weighed at least 260 pounds.
As they carried Bowen to a waiting ambulance, Burnett tripped on the curb, dropping the stretcher and dumping Bowen onto the pavement.
"Jack rolls off the stretcher, we kind of roll him back on ... I felt terrible," he recalls.
"I laugh now," Bowen says with a chuckle.
Lumsden was soon caught. The third man, Lloyd Thomas, had run into the basement, where he tried to mingle with bar patrons. But the owner knew his customers, Bowen says, and quickly picked Thomas out of the crowd.
For decades Bowen wondered who the young officer was who had rescued - and dropped - him. Burnett, like most rookies in those days, was awed by veteran officers, and so didn't dare visit him in the hospital.
Bowen was hospitalized for three months, and never fully recovered from his injuries. The gunshots destroyed about one-third of his intestines and severed his sciatic nerve.
To make matters worse, while he was bedridden, a woman called the hospital, asking "what room the officer who shot the black man" was in.
"She threatened to kill me," he says.
When Bowen had healed sufficiently, the police department put him on desk duty for a year.
That didn't sit well with Bowen.
"I wanted to be a cop," he says. "Now, I can't."
LIFE GOES ON
After a year of desk duty, Bowen left the department and started a used car business. In 1980, he and Micki moved to Albrightsville. The move, Micki says, was prompted by the expected arrival of their son.
"I said I would never raise a kid in the city," she said. That child, Derek, is now 29 and a computer engineer.
As the Bowens were settling into life in the Poconos, Burnett and his wife Kathy were bringing their three boys to Jim Thorpe for holiday train rides in the late 1970s and 1980s, and visiting his sister, who belonged to the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and who lived in Lansford at the time.
In 2003, when he retired, the Burnetts moved from Philadelphia to Jim Thorpe.
"I just wanted to move out of the city, too," he says.
The Burnetts' son, Sean, is now a police officer in the Kensington area of Philadelphia. Another son, Brian is a beer salesman, also in Philadelphia. A third son, Patrick, teaches school in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
As the men catch up on old times, talk circles back to March 24, 1975.
Burnett downplays his role in the events of that day.
"Jack was just one of the guys ... he did a good job in the police department. He's a hero, as far as I'm concerned. What I did was nothing anybody would have done the same thing," Burnett says.
Bowen gives him a look. "Not everybody, Chip," he says.