Tribute to Joe Moynihan

Trooper Joseph Francis Moynihan, Jr.

In a Department where seniority is given great deference in assignments, Joe Moynihan was distinctly out of the ordinary. He could hardly be considered a seasoned veteran but with only 8 years on the Department, he had patrolled out of the Monson Barracks, conducted undercover narcotics investigations in Hampden County and when I first met him, was assigned to the Homicide Unit in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. In addition, he was a Marksman on the S.T.O.P. Team and Diver on the Underwater Recovery Team. In his spare time he fought with the boxing team and skated with the hockey team. In essence in a relatively short period of time he had accomplished more than most Troopers do in a career.

He was known throughout the Department, from the Commissioner on down, as “one of the good guys”. He barely stood 5’8”, and weighed in around 160 pounds but he had the constitution of a lion. He trained with a religious fervor.  He was in the weight room, the pool or the indoor firing range daily. In his opinion, if we were to count on him in the most difficult or dangerous of situations, he had to be battle-ready.  He was not going to let down those that put their trust in him.

In the spring of 1988, I received a call from Commissioner Bill McCabe who told me there were going to be two openings in the FBI’s Bank Robbery Task Force (BRTF) and asked if I would be interested in transferring to the Unit. He also asked me to scout up a second Trooper, but insisted it be someone with a strong work ethic and a personality that would blend in. Joe Moynihan fit the bill and was my only choice.  He had expressed an earlier desire for a change in environment.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain his position on all of the specialty teams and be able to respond at all hours to conduct death investigations. If he couldn’t be one hundred percent committed, then in his opinion, he shouldn’t be part of the team.  Working out of the BRTF would allow for a more structured schedule because he could keep “banker’s hours”.  If he left Middlesex he could retain all of his other positions.

Two weeks later, we were knocking on the door at the BRTF like two little brothers on their first day at a new school; scrubbed up, clean shaven and in our best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. There were 8 investigators assigned to the Unit; 4 FBI Agents, 2 Boston Police Detectives, and 2 MSP Troopers. We responded to an average of one bank robbery a day in the Greater Boston area. We bonded quickly and it wasn’t long until the barbs started flying back and forth. You needed to have thick skin and be able to give as well as receive.  At 31, Joe was the youngest and shortest of the group.  He was quickly tabbed “The Kid”, “The Youngster” and “The Little Guy”.  He took it in good spirit and went on the attack, nicknaming everyone else in the Unit.  He and I would occasionally take shots at one another, but between us the most important name we shared was “brother”. We always looked out for one another and had each other’s back.

Paul Cavanaugh was one of the Agents assigned to our squad.  At 6’4” and 240 lbs., he was a giant of a man.  He grew up and was educated in the city of Lynn, went to Boston College on a full football scholarship and after graduation signed on with the FBI.  At the age of 43, he had already attained legendary status in all three venues. Whenever I spoke with folks from Lynn, Boston College or Agents from the FBI in New York or Boston and they learned I worked in the BRTF, they would always ask if I knew “Cav”.  They spoke of him with reverence and always shared a memory or two of how he touched their lives. Paul talked incessantly and had a sharp and cutting wit and he pulled no punches with his opinions.  He was also one of the most compassionate, loving men I have ever met.  His nickname in the office was “The Big Guy”.

Cav was also a member of the FBI’s SWAT Team.  He and Joe had met previously at trainings and missions.  I know that when Joe was doing a little soul-searching as to whether or not to transfer to the BRTF, the fact that Cav was coming in was a key to his decision.

Internally, Joe and I reported directly to Dave Mattioli, the Captain in command of the Special Services Section.  He also oversaw the Organized Crime Unit, the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Squad (VFAS) and individual troopers assigned to various task forces throughout the state.

One evening, Joe received a call at home to respond to a location in Taunton the following morning.  The VFAS Unit had information that a man wanted for murder in Florida was staying there at his mother’s home. Joe reported as ordered. Several officers surrounded the house and attempted to gain entry.  They were rebuffed by the mother who told them he was not home.  They left, but shortly thereafter received a telephone call that the wanted man was in fact hiding in the house and his mother had just left.

The officers returned, encircled the house again and using a bullhorn ordered him out.  They could hear a voice inside and one of the Troopers sidled up next to the kitchen window where the voice was coming from.  The wanted man had called the Taunton Police and told them he was unarmed and would come out.  As he was talking on the telephone though, he pointed a shotgun out of the window where the Trooper was lying-in-wait and took aim at the cadre of officers outside.

Joe let his training and instincts take over.  Armed only with a semi-automatic pistol, he kicked in the rear door that adjoined the kitchen.  The wanted man wheeled, aimed his shotgun at Joe and fired one shot.  It was the last move he would ever make.  Joe responded with a fusillade of bullets, fatally wounding the man before he could take another breath.  It was the first time a member of the S.W.A.T. Team had killed an assailant in their 15 year history.

In the aftermath, Joe downplayed his actions.  He did not want attention, praise or press. In his opinion he did not choose to take the man’s life, the man made that choice when he took aim at fellow Troopers. He simply wanted it known that he did what he was trained to do, nothing more, nothing less. On the night of the shooting he called his S.W.A.T. Team leader and thanked him for the quality of his training. Once it was apparent that Joe’s mental state was fine and he was cleared for duty, the folks in the office were not about to cut him any slack.  It was business as usual and the events of a few days earlier were quickly “yesterday’s news”.

The “new” BRTF, quickly became a group of hard-working, fun-loving men and women.  Unfortunately for me, it only lasted a year.  I was re-assigned back to the Academy to assist the Commandant in preparing for legislative committee meetings regarding the State Police training methods.  Shortly after I left, Cav was re-assigned as the Bureau’s Public Affairs Officer for the Boston office.

Joe hung in for a little while longer.  He had requested a transfer to the Airwing Unit and his assignment came through in the fall of 1989.  After I left the BRTF, we talked or saw each other a couple of times a week.  I went back to the Academy and saw him when he was working out or we would get together for a couple of drinks after work.

Shortly thereafter, I ran for the President of the State Police Association (SPAM) and enlisted Joe’s help in campaigning.  He had credibility and contacts statewide and worked fervently and passionately on my behalf.  With his help I was elected in November.  As my term went on, Joe proved at times to be my voice of reason and a sounding board.  That year we fought a tough legislative battle to consolidate several police agencies.  There was a lot of tension and disagreement in the ranks as to how we should approach the legislation.  The great majority wanted consolidation, but on “our terms” and were unwilling to make any concessions.  Joe was my constant source of support.  There were times I thought he fought harder to support my agenda than I did.

As President of SPAM I had a seat and a vote on the Nomination Committee for the George Hanna Awards which meant a lot to me.  Trooper George Hanna was my Academy classmate and friend.  He was gunned down during a “routine traffic stop” in Auburn in the winter of 1982.  In George’s honor, Governor Michael Dukakis created a series of annual awards for valor and bravery.  It remains the highest honor a police officer can receive in the Commonwealth.

Commissioner McCabe nominated Joe for the bravery he exhibited in saving the lives of the officers at the scene in Taunton.  I was pleased to make the presentation to the Board and after the silent balloting was cast, Joe was awarded the Hanna Award for Valor.  I was thrilled for him.  Like all Board members, I was also sworn to secrecy.  The honorees would be told to come to the State House in early July, but none of them would know what award they had been bestowed until that day.

One afternoon in the beginning of June, I met with Joe. During our conversation, he told me that he had been asked by the F.B.I. Special Operations Team to join them for a week’s training in Maine. His request was denied by the Department due to budgetary constraints on out-of-state travel, so he took vacation time and planned to travel at his own expense.  He said he might go from there to the White Mountains and extend his vacation for another week or so.

I was concerned because I knew that if he lengthened his vacation he would be away at the time of the Hanna Awards.  I hinted that he should be around for the beginning of the month and he asked “why?”  I said I thought it would be a good idea.  He asked again “why?”  I replied that it was important that he be in Boston during the first week in July.  He pressed me and I finally said, “That’s when they are giving out the Hanna Awards and you should be around.” He stayed on me until I broke down and told him of his nomination and that he had been voted the Medal of Valor. He stared at me in silence with a dumbstruck look I had grown accustomed to.  I said, “Joe what’s the matter?  You don’t look very happy.”  After a second he answered, “Happy?  I’m speechless. This is the proudest moment of my life”, as tears welled up in his eyes.  “No Joe”, I said, “the proudest moment of your life will come when you receive the award in the State House in front of your peers and your mother by your side”. We embraced for a moment and then I swore him to secrecy.  In one respect I felt awful that I had breached the Code of Secrecy of the Nominating Committee but on the other hand, I felt great that I got to break the news to him. He assured me he would be back in plenty of time.

On Monday night, June 18th, Joe flew out of Worcester Airport in a single engine Piper Cherokee he borrowed from his friend Ted Budzyna.  He touched down at Beverly Airport and picked up Cav and headed north to Greenville Maine.  There was a small airport there on the shore of Moosehead Lake. The plan was for Joe and Cav to join up with the others on Tuesday morning.  Cav’s oldest son had graduated from college on Sunday and he wouldn’t have been able to make the trip if Joe hadn’t held back for a day and provided the air transportation.

In the late afternoon of Friday, June 22nd, I received a telephone call from the Commissioner.  “Did you know the “Little Guy” missed a detail at Logan this afternoon?” he asked.  “No”, I answered, “but I know he was in Maine with the F.B.I., maybe they were a little late getting back.” He replied, “Joe missed his day shift at the Airwing too. If half the guys on the job did this I’d expect it.  But not him.  We know him better.  Can you make a few calls and find out what happened?”  I had already broken into a cold sweat.  I knew the Commissioner was right.  I hung up the phone and searched for my book of telephone numbers.

I called an Agent friend who I knew was on the trip.  He said he was just about to call me.  They had arrived back in Boston earlier in the afternoon and neither Joe nor Cav ever made the rendezvous on Tuesday.  Cav’s wife had called the office looking for him and they didn’t know what to tell her.  It was clear that something bad had happened.

We decided to backtrack and find out what had happened to the flight.  A flurry of phone calls commenced to the Airwing, Ted Budzyna, the FAA, the Greenville Airport, etc.  Within an hour, we learned that the flight had never landed at Greenville Airport.  The Airport had been socked in a heavy fog all of that Monday night and well into Tuesday.  The FAA researched its logs and found that on late Monday night the Boston Control Center had contact with a pilot who indicated he was having difficulty activating the runway lights at the airport.  They had lost the flight on their radar and assumed the flight had landed safely.  Most importantly, we could find no one who had any contact with them after they left on Monday night.

The word of their disappearance spread like wildfire throughout both agencies.  My telephone and pager were going off non-stop.  Everyone wanted information and they wanted to search for them.  It was a warm Friday night and the weather forecast called for a sunny, clear weekend.  Nelson Mandela was making an appearance at the Hatch Shell in Boston on Saturday and the State Police had committed the largest number of personnel to a Security Detail in their history.  Included in that Detail were the S.T.O.P. Team and the Underwater Recovery Unit. Many Troopers and Agents had made vacation plans that would take them away through the 4th of July.

I called the Commissioner with an update and told him about the groundswell of people from both agencies who wanted to go to Maine to search.  I also told him I wanted to make sure we had his permission. SPAM would coordinate and finance all travel, lodging and meals so that we would present as one organized group.  He agreed but insisted that nobody beg off the Mandela Detail without finding a replacement and we couldn’t short the minimum patrol manning from the barracks.

Marty Fay was the SPAM Treasurer and was working a detail at the stadium in Foxboro. Marty was a friend of Joe’s and was tremendous at organizing events.  I told him to open the checkbook for both agencies.  We would need transportation, lodging, food and equipment.  Within an hour he had rented a bus. The plan was to let everyone know by word of mouth that a bus would be leaving from Framingham at 5:00 a.m. with an unknown return date or time.  That was the best we could do on short notice. Marty left shortly after midnight on the four and a half-hour trip to start making arrangements in Greenville.

The Commissioner and members of the Command Staff contacted State Police and the Wardens Department in Maine and they agreed to meet us in the morning and coordinate search efforts.  F.B.I. Boston and Bangor Maine were called and advised of the transportation and search plans.

At 4:00 a.m., I went to Norwood Airport and met with Major Bob Morse who would be the Department’s highest ranking officer and designated liaison with the Maine authorities.  We flew along with two of our pilots, Donald Cody and Clem Tourigney in the Department’s fixed wing airplane for Greenville Maine. The flight up was clear and calm and took little more than an hour. As we neared the Airport in Greenville, the pilots started to point out various locations where they thought Joe’s plane may have crashed in the fog. I was trying to concentrate on finding them alive but from that vantage point survival didn’t seem like a likely option.

When we landed we were the only ones around but within a couple of hours the area was a beehive of activity.  Marty met with local police officers who guided him around the area.  He went to a small family style restaurant and after he explained our needs they signed on to help. They would serve us three meals a day for a minimum of one hundred people. They closed down to the general public, to accommodate us.  Next, he drove around to every hotel and Bed and Breakfast and booked every available room within ten miles.  He then went to the local dry goods and outfitting store and started a running tab for anyone needing bug spray, socks, boots, rope, etc.

State Police and Wardens from Maine starting arriving with maps and guide gear.  They knew the area and the people and were helpful in getting local assistance as well.  It was clear that we would never survive in the area without guides.  The brush was so thick in some places that it was impassible and in others it would take hours to traverse a short distance.  Comparatively speaking, we were an urban police department whose idea of a thickly wooded area was a well-marked and groomed horse trail in a State park.

The bus arrived around 10:00 a.m., 60 Troopers disembarked.  It was a motley crew adorned in all sorts of clothing and rough weather terrain gear.  The sight was more akin to the clown car at the circus than a finely trained, highly organized band of Troopers. There were close friends and casual acquaintances in the crowd.  Earlier that morning they had packed their bags and kissed their family members goodbye; vacation and week-end plans would be postponed until they returned.  A more important mission had to take precedence: they had to search for a couple of friends who were missing and bring them home to their families.

The bus was followed by several cars of Troopers and Agents from throughout the state.  When a roll call was held there were over two hundred volunteers.  After a quick briefing, they broke into squads, each headed by one or two wardens and local, experienced guides who had volunteered their services.

A Command Post was established staffed primarily with people familiar with aircraft and the mountainous area around Greenville.  They plotted out areas to be searched and created grid maps and supplied walkie-talkies to the guides.  Slowly, the squads trooped off on foot or in the back of pick-ups to conduct their searches. Truthfully, there wasn’t one of us that believed we would find them alive, but in our hearts we held out hope that we would come into a clearing and find the two of them napping or sitting by a campfire awaiting our arrival.  If there was no hope of finding them, it would have been near impossible to soldier on.

The first day brought no results so we headed off to the restaurant for a hot meal, a few drinks, and room assignments.  We were joined by reinforcements who had come north at the close of the Mandela Detail.  Everyone was sore and ached, but we all echoed the same mantra: we would search the next day and the next, until we found our Joe and our Cav and brought them home.

The three major Boston news stations had picked up on the story and dispatched film crews and reporters to Greenville earlier in the day.  They were good people and knew both Joe and Cav from previous assignments. They were welcomed into the search area.

On Sunday morning, we mustered at the Command Post for a second day of searching routes that had not been completed and new areas were mapped out for further exploration.

The pilots gathered earlier in the morning and brainstormed.  They had listened to the radio transmission between Joe and the Boston Control Center and had plotted out his logical flying altitude, speed and flight path based on his training for landing at airstrips where there was no visibility.  Joe was only qualified to fly visually and was not aided with instruments.  Their best determination was that the flight would have gone down in an area near Oak Ridge, approximately four miles east of Greenville.

The F.B.I.’s Special Operations Team was dispatched to Oak Ridge.  As the morning turned to afternoon there was still no sighting. The searchers stopped to eat bag lunches.  There was still a little optimism in the air but people were clearly growing more and more concerned.

At 1:30 p.m., word was communicated by walkie-talkie that the wreckage had been located on Oak Ridge.  Everyone was ordered to return to the Command Post.  Nothing else was said, nothing else needed to be said.  Where there had been conversation and laughter a minute before, there was now quiet. The silence only punctuated with an occasional curse or deep sigh. Our boys were found and we knew they were dead.

Their bodies were removed from the scene with great reverence and taken to a nearby funeral parlor.  I called and spoke with Joe’s mom and sister and broke the news. Troopers Billy Coulter and Don McPhee had been at their side in Framingham since Friday evening and remained there to offer support and assistance.  Agents called Cav’s wife, Debby.  After the initial calls were made the television crews went live and reported the information to Boston viewers.  A bus loaded with fifty additional officer volunteers was stopped as it pulled away from the Training Academy in Framingham.

The returning searchers stood alone by the lake’s edge lost in their memories or they mulled about in small groups sharing stories and thoughts.  There was relief they were found, but there was an air of sadness thicker than the midnight fog that took Joe and Cav from this life.  People spoke sense and nonsense at the same time. There were anecdotal memories passed back and forth.  There would be smiles followed by tears and choked back words.  Eventually, everyone returned to the restaurant for dinner and much needed drink.  That night I witnessed and was part of a display of love and camaraderie like none I had ever experienced before or since.  It was a demonstration of the deep connection we in law enforcement share with one another. It was not about the department name on the badge, it was about the quality of the person who earned and carried the badge.  It wasn’t about who was missing, it was simply that one or two of us were missing and needed to be found and returned to their loved ones.  We all understood our mission and signed on to it without hesitation and thankfully our families did as well.

The buses and cars left late in the evening and returned back to Framingham.  I stayed behind with Joe’s friend and the owner of the airplane, Ted Budzyna.  We had our friend Joey now and we weren’t going to leave for home without him.  In the morning we drove to the funeral parlor to accompany Joe’s body back to Framingham.  Similarly, agents were there to bring Cav home to Lynn.

At the conclusion of the autopsy, we began our final journey home.  With a Maine State Police cruiser to our front and rear, we headed onto Route 95 south.  As we passed from Maine into New Hampshire, there were two New Hampshire State Police cruisers to pick up the escort.  At the Massachusetts line, we were met by two of our own. For reasons I cannot explain, I felt a certain warmth come over me.  I felt as though a pair of arms had wrapped themselves around me.  We were coming home and our boys and girls were here to meet us.

As we proceeded down Route 95 encased between two marked cruisers with blue lights and sirens blaring, I noticed that to my left, in the center strip there was another cruiser.  A Trooper stood at attention and saluted as we passed.  He then fell in behind the entourage.  The scene repeated itself over and over.  At some locations there were local police cruisers as well.  The word had spread quickly.  Before long there were ten or more cruisers to our rear.  As we approached the turnpike tolls at Route 128 I looked up and saw a sea of French and Electric Blue.  The entire day and evening shift lined the far side of the toll booth.  As we passed, they all snapped to attention and saluted.  By this time, the noise from the sirens was deafening.  I knew it was extreme and a bit overdone but I knew that Joe would have loved it.  As we pulled into the driveway at the funeral parlor, everyone left their cruisers and came to pay a quick respect before returning home or to their duty assignments.

The days that followed remain somewhat of a blur.  The plans for the wake and funeral were completed before our arrival.  Joe was to have a full State Police Funeral on Thursday.  Cav would have the F.B.I.’s equivalent the same day.  We were saddened that they were to be held simultaneously, but each family understood and respected the other’s needs and wishes.

Governor Dukakis called to offer his condolences and asked Mrs. Moynihan if he could eulogize Joe at the funeral.  He told her that Joe had flown him in the State Police helicopter on many occasions and they always had spirited conversations.  He added that he also had a special presentation he wanted to make. She agreed. I was asked to deliver the second eulogy.

On Thursday morning, seven hundred Massachusetts State Police Officers and hundreds of officers from other states and local cities and towns stood in front of St. George’s Church and saluted in silence as Joe’s body was removed from the hearse and carried in.  For a little guy, he seemed to weigh a lot that day. At the same moment, forty miles away at St. Pius Church in Lynn, Paul Cavanaugh was being laid to rest with the same pomp, circumstance and military- style funeral.

The ceremonial Mass and service was exceptional.  Trooper Dan Clark sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings”, and “Lift Me Up On Eagles’ Wings” and the Governor and I did our best to eulogize our friend. The Governor spoke first.  He talked about the times Joe had transported him by air to different events and how at ease he felt with Joe at the controls.  He smiled when he mentioned that Joe always had a few words of advice for the Governor regarding the future of the Commonwealth.  He spoke of Joe’s bravery at the scene in Taunton and how he had saved the lives of his fellow officers and then he presented Mrs. Moynihan with the Hanna Medal of Valor.  He explained to all how saddened he was that he could not have placed it around Joe’s neck.

I tried to be light but solemn, the way Joe would have liked it.  As I neared the end of my talk, I turned to the priest and told him I was about to confess to a transgression.  I did not want to be forgiven, I said, because I was glad for what I had done.  I then went on to tell of my meeting with Joe a week before the fated flight when I breached a trust and told him of the award.  I told Mrs. Moynihan and the congregation of his reaction and the feeling of pride that overcame him.

At the graveside service that followed at St. Steven’s Cemetery, there were prayers, a 21 gun salute followed by Taps and the State Police Airwing did the traditional low-altitude flyover in the missing pilot configuration.  It chilled the crowd and brought a fitting end to the ceremony.

A quarter of a century has passed since Joe and Cav left this world.  I remain friendly with Ted, Joe’s mom, Genevieve and sister, Maryanne.  In the months that followed Joe’s death a group of us started a Trust to raise money through a golf tournament and raffle for college scholarships to be issued in Joe’s name.  That initial effort remains alive today in the renamed Air Wing Scholarship Trust Fund.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised and more than 100 scholarships awarded.

A framed picture of Joe sits well positioned in a bookcase by the side of my desk.  His presence is always felt as he watches over my shoulder and covers my back.  I think of Joe almost every day and I thank God for the time He allowed all of us to spend in his company.  Joe undoubtedly made me a more understanding and compassionate person and he taught me lessons about loyalty and camaraderie that remain with me to this day.

Respectfully submitted,
Bill Powers

58th RTT