After the murder of newly arrived Irish emigrant Sean Goggin in Worcester in 1951, Police Chief William P. Finneran made a promise to Goggin’s parents that those “responsible for this most dastardly act” would be brought to justice. Now, more than 60 years later, investigators may be a step closer to delivering on that promise.
Goggin, a native of Youghal in Cork had been in Worcester for just over a week before he was killed. Prior to that, Goggin had been in Canada for two years. He was just 20 years old when he was killed.
Detective Sgt. Mark J. Sawyer of the Unresolved Homicide Unit said last week that, “We've recently located some evidence that we believe is of probative value to us, and we believe is worth testing at the state crime lab. We are in the process of submitting that to the state crime lab. We hope to develop a DNA profile from that evidence."
The technology being used in today’s reinvestigation into the murder was not available during the 50s. Sgt. Sawyer, however, declined to name specifically what the new evidence is.
Sergeant Sawyer elaborated on Goggin’s background. “Sean came here for work and ironically he was due to start a job the following day. He was a pattern maker and was due to start a job here in Worcester."
In Worcester, Goggin had moved in with Cornelius Herlihy, the uncle of one of Goggin’s schoolmates back in Ireland. On the night of March 11, 1951, Herlihy received an odd phone call to his house, one that he assumed to be a wrong number.
At around 10:30 pm, Herlihy answered the phone to a person who said he was a Mr. Anderson, who said he would be able to ‘pay him tomorrow.’ Herlihy didn’t know anyone by the name of Anderson, and was baffled by the phonecall.
Just 15 minutes later, two men knocked on the back door of the Herlihy house on the dark and rainy March night.
"We're from Western Union with a telegram," the men allegedly said to Goggin who had gone to answer the door. At least one of them was masked, and held up a handgun and said something to the likes of ‘This is a holdup.’
"Mr. Herlihy then grabbed hold of the firearm and struggled with the assailant, at which point a round was discharged from the firearm," Sgt. Sawyer said. That round went into the ceiling.
However, when the other man fired off two shots from his .32-caliber Colt, Goggin was struck in his heart and died 15 minutes later.
Goggin’s body was flown back to Ireland for burial, despite leaving behind a still unsolved case.
Investigators have speculated that perhaps they were attempting to kidnap Cornelius Herlihy, who was the sales manager of United Dairy System Inc. The theory was that the suspects might have wanted him to open the company safe.
Sgt. Sawyer said that he was “impressed” with the investigation that was conducted in the aftermath, but takes heed to the fact that 1951 wasn’t nearly as technologically advanced as it is today.
“In reviewing the case file, I was very impressed at the investigation that was done by the investigators back then," Sgt. Sawyer said. "They did not have all the tools that we have available to us these days. They left no stone unturned."
Despite impressive investigation, the handgun that killed Sean Goggin was never recovered.
Now that the investigation is being reexamined, Sgt Sawyer believes there may be some witnesses still alive to help piece together the night of March 11, 1951. Though the perpetrators may in fact have died already, concrete evidence could put an end on the still unfinished story.
Letters from Goggin’s grieving parents John and Madge Goggin in Ireland are included in the investigation files.
"We are greatly grieved by the murder of our son in such tragic circumstances, but our distress has been added to by certain misleading statements which have appeared in the newspapers about the killing," the Goggin’s wrote in April 1951 to Chief Finneran. His parents added that their son had no connection to the gunmen.
Also in April of that year, Joseph F. Shields, consul for the Consulate of Ireland, stationed in Boston, wrote to the police chief. He discussed the concern of Mr. Goggin's parents.
“They believe that their son was perfectly innocent of any connection with anything discreditable, and they are anxious that full enquiries be made into their boy's death so that all the facts may come to light and be disclosed," Shields wrote.
Finneran responded, "Investigation discloses that your son was not involved with any gangster movement in this city, and from all appearances was an innocent victim of circumstances. Be advised that we are making every effort to try and locate the two men responsible for this most dastardly act, and you can rest assured that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law when they are taken into custody."