Salem Gun Discussion Stirs A Memory

The Great Palfrey Court Shootout of 1972 left an impression on me.


Last week's in different North Shore communities created a small conversation here on Patch. Here in Salem, the gun issue has become more visible as a result of the shooting on Ropes St., last June 25, and a series of gun related incidents over the last year.

There are six communities on the North Shore that have issued more gun licenses than Salem. Four of those cities or towns have populations smaller than Salem. Of the 20 communities listed, 19 have a larger percentage of their citizens licensed to carry firearms. I feel that these numbers reflect that the Salem Police take their licensing responsibilities very seriously and perhaps do not issue permits as readily as some others.

The discharging of firearms or chemical propellant, whether licensed or not, is nothing new in Salem. 

In the early summer of 1972 a few friends and I were camping out in my backyard on Palfrey Court, a small, dead-end street by Derby's Wharf. We had cooked some burgers, stayed up to midnight and then settled into the tent for the night.

Sometime around 3 a.m., three gentlemen decided to break into the St. Joseph's Polish Society located on the corner of Derby Street and Palfrey Court. Their objective was a rather large and heavy floor safe kept in a back room behind the bar. They apparently had a little trouble loading the safe into the back of the station wagon which was backed up to the St. Joe's rear entrance. Dropping it noisily to the ground one time too many, they woke my father who was sleeping in the front room on the second floor of our house.

Seeing what was happening my father, who always carried sidearm and possessed a constables badge (an old-school political perk at the time) decided his duty required more than just a call to the police. He first tried to put on my mothers pants while also waking her and instructing that she call the Salem Police. The pants didn't fit very well, so he being a man of action, ran down the stairs and into the street wearing only his shorts and a t-shirt. In his right hand he brandished a .357 revolver.

Once he hit the street he gave the transgressors the courtesy of a single loud command. "Freeze," he shouted. That woke me and I sat up in the tent. The night air was suddenly filled with the sound and flash of gunfire. Three successive booms were accompanied by cursing, screaming, and then screeching tires. By now I was out of the tent with my pals and just in time to see my old man, in a crouched stance fire off three more shots at the fleeing vehicle.

He yelled something up to my mother who then threw his pants to him from the window. After putting the pants on, he jumped onto his Moto Guzzi motorcycle and took off in hot pursuit. The last I saw him he was turning right off Palfrey Court the wrong way onto Derby Street.

The three would-be thieves were not very familiar with Salem and ended up crashing their vehicle right in front of the old police station on Central Street where they were arrested. I am sure they were quite happy to be safe from their pursuer.

My father fired six large caliber rounds that night. Two hit the house at 159 Derby Street, one seemingly ricocheted off of an iron L-bracket mounted in the wall of St. Joe's and embedded itself in the side wall of the West India Goods Store, and a fourth was found in the back seat of the station wagon. The fates of the last two rounds remain a mystery.

What is not a mystery is how fortunate my father was that he did not kill someone that night. Not a one of the three failed safe crackers was armed and a family lived in the large yellow house he peppered with bullets. The City Marshall (this was before we had a Police Chief) pulled his firearms license. A prudent move.

Over the years I had many conversations with my father on this incident. He always maintained that what he did was right. I was firm in telling him that what he did was crazy and dangerous. We agreed to disagree in many a animated and colorful discussion.

The Salem Police, as they did back in 1972 when they took my father's permit away, continue to do a diligent and responsible job in issuing gun permits. I have faith they will continue to do that and wish them luck in their daily and under-maned efforts to keep the city safe.

Don Nadeau March 19, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Thank you, William, for sharing your fascinating Salem stories!
Dawn Cerbone March 19, 2012 at 03:46 PM
He was wrong to fire blindly. The real problem with guns is that it is usually the illegal ones that kill people in the hands of criminals.
Jared Robinson March 19, 2012 at 08:00 PM
exactly. I'm never worried about the guy with a CCW permit... it's the ones that walk around without a permit that worry me
bobhc2 April 09, 2012 at 01:11 PM
As he was wrong to fire blindly, people forget that the 2nd amendment is what built this country and forget to respect firearms as a tool and not a game. Also as for criminals, they usually have guns that were bought on the black market usually from out of the country. So the guns that legal gun owners own who are responsible don't walk around like wyatt Earp and brandish their arms they keep them as a LAST LAST resort to protect life and home and generally for sport target shooting, which can be a fun and relaxing activity for some who do it safely in a controlled manner. So please make note of how criminals get guns, not usually from gun stores or legal methods. I do agree that the police should question who they are giving them too i.e the mentally ill or criminals. That is why they require a 8 hour course in safety of how, where and when to use a gun. I am also a supporter of the police and would always call them first!


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