On Thursday afternoon May 15th, the San Mateo Police Department did something a little different for their daily Swing-Shift Briefing.
May 15th was National Peace Officers’ Memorial Day, and as a tribute, scores of SMPD staff showed our support for all fallen officers by honoring Sergeant Gordon Joinville, the only San Mateo Police Officer ever killed in the line of duty. Sergeant Joinville was tragically gunned down in the area of Fifth Avenue and Claremont Street on the afternoon of May 23rd, 1968. His killer, Zachary Lillard, was later apprehended and was imprisoned for the remainder of his life.
SMPD began their memorial ceremony with a procession of patrol cars that traveled from the Police Department to the site of Sgt. Joinville’s murder. Officers were assembled next to a memorial for Sgt. Joinville on Fifth Avenue. Chief Susan Manheimer addressed the officers, thanking them for their attendance, and for keeping the memory of all fallen officers, especially Sgt. Joinville, in their hearts and minds as they patrol the City of San Mateo and keep its community safe from harm.
Chief Manheimer then asked Officer Brendan Boyle to provide the officers with the story of the events surrounding Sgt. Joinville’s murder. Here is a summary:
In the days prior to the shooting incident, San Mateo Police were alerted to suspicious activity involving an individual who had expressed an interest in buying a large amount of starch from a local chemical manufacturer in a building where the 24 Hour Fitness is now located at Fifth Avenue and El Camino. In those days, such chemicals were used in the manufacture of LSD, a powerful hallucinogenic drug. Sgt. Joinville was assigned by SMPD to conduct surveillance on the purchaser, who aroused suspicion due to his desire to remain anonymous in the purchase.
After watching the suspect pick up the 100 pounds of starch, Sgt. Joinville began to follow the suspect vehicle in his unmarked police car. The suspect soon started making evasive maneuvers, and it became clear that he was trying to “shake the tail” of Sgt. Joinville. Sgt. Joinville, not wanting to lose the suspect, initiated a traffic stop on the suspect vehicle, a Green Karmann Ghia, in the area of Fifth and Claremont.
Unfortunately, at that same moment, SMPD officers were also responding to a reported armed robbery just blocks away, and Sgt. Joinville was unable to get valuable information to radio dispatchers about his traffic stop. He had the heroic presence of mind to quickly write down the vehicle information in his notebook before making contact with the suspect. At some point during the contact, the suspect was able to attack Sgt. Joinville, shooting him twice at nearly point-blank range, and tragically killing our beloved sergeant.
Two boys found Sgt. Joinville shot in his car, and quickly rode their bikes to a nearby service station, where they notified attendant Bob Reed, who used the boys’ bicycle to ride quickly back to the scene. Mr. Reed used Sgt. Joinville’s car radio to broadcast “there’s a police officer who’s been seriously hurt – send an ambulance right away!” Sgt. Joinville’s death was later pronounced at the nearby Mills Hospital.
The notes Sgt. Joinville left describing the suspect vehicle were later located by detectives. This led detectives to the suspect, Zachary Lillard, then a 32 year-old man wanted already for crimes in San Jose and San Francisco. Officers all over the area embarked on a massive manhunt for Lillard, and he was ultimately located in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. Lillard was convicted and sentenced to death – a sentence that was later commuted to life in prison. Lillard died in prison in 2003.
Sgt. Joinville left behind a wife, Margaret, and two small children. The SMPD Family keeps in contact with Mrs. Joinville to this day. We at the SMPD will never forget the sacrifice that our hero Gordon Joinville made in the name of public safety for the citizens of San Mateo on that fateful day in 1968.
During the May 15th Memorial Ceremony, Lieutenant Monaghan passed on the gratitude of Margaret Joinville to her SMPD family for keeping such honorable memory of her husband, and passed on her wishes for the safety of all SMPD personnel as we carry on Sgt. Joinville’s tradition of keeping this community safe.
“Sgt. Joinville gave a very special kind of public service. We can be quite sure it is not pay, popularity, or acclaim that attracts such men to the job of policing a community. It is only a very fine sense of concern for, and dedication to their neighbors’ well-being that can explain the risks these officers take in protecting life and maintaining law and order.”
– Pastor Bernard Cronin, speaking of the dedication of Sgt. Joinville and the San Mateo Police during Sgt. Joinville’s eulogy in 1968Significant Details in the summary above on Sgt. Joinville’s tragic death were drawn from the webpage established by Mr. Bob Leuten, who has compiled an extensive article on this part of San Mateo’s history. More can be seen here: http://www.leuten.com/Joinville.html