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Forgotten no more

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Heath Springs hero takes rightful place on law enforcement officers memorial

By Greg Summers

For a little more than 121 years, the name of John M. McManus has been carved in stone in a family cemetery tucked away in Taxahaw.

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The story behind  that headstone, and  what happened about 4 p.m. Oct. 25, 1892, when the 30-year-old town marshal encountered six whiskey bootleggers passing through Heath Springs, has been mostly forgotten outside his family.

That’s the day McManus was gunned down in the street in the line of duty.   

McManus’ legacy is forgotten no more. From now on, it will be remembered. 

His name has been etched in granite and added to the law officers monument at Lancaster County Courthouse Memorial Plaza.

His family, as well as an overflow crowd of law officers and emergency workers from various agencies, gathered inside the historic courthouse on Wednesday, March 12, to honor him.

“You know, I must’ve told that story a thousand times,” said the Rev. Donald McManus of Concord, N.C., who is McManus’ great nephew. “I am delighted that John McManus is finally being honored after 120 years and I am thankful for everyone who had a part in it.”

McManus recalled as a youngster walking to the back of family property with his grandfather and stopping by the somewhat overgrown cemetery.

“The one name that always caught my attention was John M. McManus,” he said.

Labeled as an overly-inquisitive child “who asked too many questions,” Donald McManus said he finally asked his grandmother about John McManus.

“She said, ‘He was a policeman in Heath Springs who was only 30 years old when he died.’ She said, ‘Bootleggers shot and killed him.’ By the way, I’m a pastor in Concord and I’m gonna look these people up and see if I can’t do something about this,” he said.  

McManus said if he had not asked that question, he would have never met the Raos.

“I would have not known the story,” Donald McManus said. “It’s wonderful how you go here or go there, meet people and everything changes.”

For Sal and Lois Rao, getting James McManus his due became a borderline obsession.

For good reason, too. 

Their son, S.C. Highway Patrol Senior Trooper Mike Rao died in 2002 after he was struck by a pickup on I-95 in Clarendon County while assisting a stranded motorist.

The Raos have become champions to make sure that law officers killed in the line of duty – those who can no longer speak for themselves – have a voice, said Marsha Trowbridge Ardila, administrator for the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame in Columbia. Around the state, “RAO” has become synonymous with “Remember All Officers.”

The Raos were instrumental in the push for the local monument that now bears McManus’ name, as well as a statewide marker in Columbia.

“God can always make something good come from something bad,” Lois Rao said.

“After all this time of trying to find the right McManus family, we were able to get him recognized and honored the way he should have been years ago,” Sal Rao said. “Families just like this helped us get through a tough time.” 

Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said honoring McManus, as well as his family, for giving his life in the line of duty was long overdue. 

Faile said the circumstances that led to McManus’ death is no different than what law officers face today. 

McManus’ only goal that day was trying to quiet Concord, N.C., bootleggers W. Henry Bost, Masten Bowles (or Bolles), along with a man named Wyatt and an unknown man in downtown Heath Springs. 

The bootleggers were on the way to Kershaw with three wagons loaded down with barrels of whiskey.

When McManus told the rowdy and drunk men they had violated a town noise ordinance and had to pay a $5 fine, Bowles cursed and threatened the town marshal. 

“The men were drunk, liquored and cared nothing about him,” Faile said. “Officer McManus stepped into the street and said, ‘Not today, not in my town.’ He was attacked and fought back before being blind-sided by a coward’s bullet.”

The incident ended in a single gunshot when Bost alledgedly shot McManus. The county coroner later testified the officer was killed almost instantly by a gunshot to the neck that broke his back and severed his spinal cord.

Bowles gave up and Bost drove off on one of the wagons, but was later arrested that night by a Kershaw posse.

Bost, 21, was charged with murder and Bowles, 35, was charged with accessory before the fact. 

According to sworn eyewitness testimony, Wyatt, who had walked back to another wagon to get the money to pay the fine, was not charged. Neither was the “unknown man.” 

Faile said unfortunately justice was never served in McManus’ death. Bowles and Bost were tried for McManus’ death in June 1893, but a mistrial was declared after a jury couldn’t reach a decision. 

There was conflicting testimony about who killed McManus. 

Their attorney called it a case of mistaken identity, saying the fourth, unknown man, by then identified as Forbes, shot and killed the town marshal.

Eyewitnesses testified at the trial of Bost and Bowles that Forbes was riding in the wagon with Wyatt.

Bowles and Bost were scheduled to be retried in October 1893, though records remain sketchy if the retrial ever happened.

That notion of getting away with murder deeply disturbed Heath Springs Mayor Ann Taylor.

“It’s just terrifying. They killed this man and didn’t have to pay for their crime,” she said. “How they went free, I just don’t know or understand.”

Taylor said in questioning Heath Springs residents, little or nothing was known about John McManus. 

She lauded the Raos for making sure his story was not forgotten.

“Nobody remembered,” she said. “I searched through all the records and didn’t find anything.” 

Lancaster Police Chief Harlean Howard said McManus was a public servant in every sense. Law enforcement officers, she said, give of themselves on a daily basis to keep their respective communities safe.

“His ultimate sacrifice is a testament to his dedication and devotion to service for others,” she said. “On this day, we humbly commemorate and honor his act of valor.” 

S.C. Highway Patrol Col. Mike Oliver led an emotional call to remembrance for the nine local officers who gave their lives in the line of duty.

As Oliver called each name, Lancaster Police Department Pvt. Chantel Johnson rang a bell once. She was flanked by S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Jamie Green, who gave a solemn salute for each fallen officer.

“You are a part of our family, too,” Oliver said to John McManus’ descendants.

 

Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156