Mike Martin Haunts the Cambridge Police

In March, 1920, the Cambridge (MA) Police Headquarters renovated their facility at Central Square. The department had been formed in 1859; and the facility at Central Square had been in use for almost as long. Painters arrived and moved a cabinet containing a “rogue’s gallery” (mug shots of notable criminals) from its place leaning against a wall. To the horror of the building’s occupants, the unveiled wall behind the cabinet revealed a terrible, leering face. It isn’t known who it was that first theorized that the image was that of Mike Martin (whose only previously published portraits were roughly-drawn engravings), but consensus affirmed that the visage belonged to no one else.

Clearly, the situation called for expert advice. The Boston Globe of March 17, 1920 reported:

“…apostles of the occult, Ouija board experts, mediums, and others who delight in delving among the mysteries of the spirit world have been making daily pilgrimages to Police Headquarters. They have either made strenuous efforts to solve the mystery of the picture on the wall or to establish some sort of spiritualistic communication with the famous Mike himself.

“…Prof. John Percy Clapp, an expert on occultism, who was formerly associated with Appleton University, visited the headquarters and tried to arrive at a scientific explanation of the appearance of Mike Martin’s face upon the wall.

“According to the police, the best the professor could do was to establish communication with Mike via the Ouija board. Mike sent the following message to Chief of Police McBride:

“‘Dear Sir — Back again. They can’t keep a bad man down. Down below, I mean. I told then 64 years ago I’d be back and here I am. I’m Mike Martin. Them Cambridge police that caught me then are all dead now–all but two–and most of them I have settled accounts with down here, where I am an over-boss. But they is still two alive, and they noes it, but even after there dead I’ll keep coming back. On my way over to the unveiling of my picture Thursday I stopped at the Manhattan Market. But they no all about that.

“At this point the message broke off abruptly and despite the frantic efforts of Prof. Clapp communication could not be reestablished.

“Despite Mike’s warning to return again and haunt the police, the officers are not worrying very much. They figure that as it took 64 years for Mike to make his first appearance as a ghost, if he takes as long to make his second appearance, he will have to haunt a coming generation.

“According to Lieut. McMenimen, one of the oldest members of the force, who remembers Mike Martin, Mike’s oath was to the effect that he would haunt the Cambridge police to the end of eternity. So you never can tell.”


One might wonder if the Cambridge police were spooked by a different “Mike Martin,” but the Boston Globe removed that doubt a few days later with a column explaining Michael Martin’s crimes and offering a lengthy summary of his confession. Still, it is hard to understand why they thought that Martin had met his fate 64 years earlier, rather than 99.

The Cambridge Police played no role in Michael Martin’s capture, imprisonment, or execution. He was apprehended in Springfield, Massachusetts, ninety miles from Cambridge. He was taken back to face the highway robbery charge by officers of the Middlesex County sheriff, and lodged in the county jail, where he was hanged. In his confession, Martin thanked the Sheriff, General Austin, for “his great kindness and attention to me during my imprisonment.”

The Cambridge Police Department was not organized until 1859. One suspects the real story here is “Prof. John Percy Clapp,” whose boldness Michael Martin might have applauded.

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