Police history: How LE captured notorious cop killer James 'Six Gun' Nannery

After Nannery escaped from New York’s maximum security Sing Sing Prison, he was on the run for three years, during which he killed a NY police officer

This article is reprinted from the National Law Enforcement Museum’s blog

James “Six Gun” Nannery was once considered the most dangerous criminal in America. In July 1928, he and a fellow inmate staged what was considered a spectacular escape from New York’s maximum security Sing Sing Prison where Nannery was serving a 12-year sentence for robbery and carrying a gun.

Vowing he would never be taken alive, the notorious gangster spent three years on the run. While eluding authorities, Nannery killed two people. One of them was New York (NY) Police Officer Jeremiah Brosnan who had been guarding a prisoner at Fordham Hospital in New York City when Nannery fatally shot him.

On April 27, 1931, an alert Dover (NJ) patrol officer captured Nannery. Officer Charles Ripley was patrolling on a rain-soaked day when he recognized Nannery sitting in an expensive car. Nannery had unwittingly called attention to himself by parking at a bus stop while waiting for his girlfriend to come out of a nearby drug store.

Unaware of the cache of weapons Nannery had stashed in the car, Officer Ripley approached Nannery and asked the unsuspecting gangster if he realized he’d parked at a bus stop. Before Nannery had a chance to react, Ripley pulled out the service revolver he’d hidden under his raincoat. He marched Nannery down the street where another officer, Sergeant John Valley, was stationed. Both officers took Nannery to the nearby police station where he was heavily guarded by New Jersey State Police until they transported him back to Sing Sing.

Word of Nannery’s capture at the hands of a local police officer quickly spread. NBC Radio Commentator Lowell Thomas caused a huge controversy when he referred to Officer Ripley as a “hick officer.” The reference angered many Dover residents who promptly began boycotting the radio program until Thomas and NBC apologized.

Nannery finished the remainder of his prison sentence and appeared to stay out of trouble with the law after his release. He died in 2001 at the age of 96.

See a newsreel of James Nannery after his capture by Dover (NJ) police:


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