Martin J. Durkin – 1925

By | November 12, 2016

The first FBI Agent to be killed in the line of duty


An artist’s impression of one of Durkin’s disguises


Martin James Durkin was a car thief by profession with links to the underworld. His modus operandi was to steal only top of the range models such as Pierce Arrows, Cadillacs and Packards. On 11 October 1925, when the FBI learned that Durkin was intending to hide a stolen car in a Chicago garage, they authorized 27-year-old Special Agent Edwin J. Shanahan, a five-year veteran of the force and native of Chicago, to capture him. Durkin was also wanted for the attempted murder of four policemen he had shot during previous attempts to arrest him.

Special Agent Shanahan and policemen from the Windy City’s police force lay in wait at the garage for Durkin to appear. He failed to turn up and it seemed as if the day had been wasted on misinformation. The police had left when Durkin rolled up in the car. Shanahan, who was alone at the time, stepped forward to arrest him but was unaware that Durkin had a revolver on the passenger seat. Durkin shot the G-man in the chest, killing him almost immediately. Edwin Shanahan thus became the first FBI agent to be killed in the line of duty.


Chicago, Illinois, USA


Sunday 11 October 1925


On 2 November 1925 police arrived at Durkin’s girlfriend’s home to arrest him but Durkin murdered Sergeant Harry Gray as he attempted to apprehend him. Durkin was arrested on 20 January 1926 in a railroad carriage near St Louis, Missouri. Durkin was sentenced to 35 years in Joliet Prison for Shanahan’s murder and received an additional 15 years on car theft charges. In 1946 he was taken to Leavenworth Federal Prison. Durkin was released from prison on 28 July 1954 and died in 1981.


It was not a federal offence to kill a Special Agent of the FBI until 1934, so Durkin was tried in state court for Shanahan’s murder.



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