Fruitful search

Re­l­at­ives are tracked down for ce­re­mony to hon­or of­ficer who died 54 years ago.

Tom O’Neill com­forts Eileen Mar­tinez at the Po­lice Plaque Ded­ic­a­tion Ce­re­mony for Po­lice­wo­man Stella Do­nahue and Po­lice­man Daniel Mee­han on Wed­nes­day, May 25 at Sandy­ford Rd and Brous Ave. Do­nahue was O’Neill’s sis­ter and Mar­tinez’s moth­er. Kev­in Cook/for the Times

Eileen Mar­tinez re­calls her moth­er, Stella Do­nahue, lov­ing her job as a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer.

“She wanted to make a dif­fer­ence in this world,” her daugh­ter said.

Do­nahue and her part­ner, Daniel Mee­han, worked for the ju­ven­ile aid bur­eau.

On Jan. 11, 1957, they were in­vest­ig­at­ing mis­be­hav­ing teen­agers when their patrol car went onto a me­di­an and struck a tree near Sandy­ford Av­en­ue and Roosevelt Boulevard. The of­ficers were taken to Naz­areth Hos­pit­al, where they were pro­nounced dead on ar­rival.

Mee­han, 31, was a six-year vet­er­an of the de­part­ment. A Navy vet­er­an of World War II, he was sur­vived by his wife of two years.

Do­nahue, who lived at 6224 Has­brook 

Ave. in Lawndale, was 30 and had served for four years. She left a hus­band, Ray­mond, and her chil­dren, Eileen and Ray­mond. She was bur­ied at Holy Sep­ulchre Cemetery in Chel­ten­ham.

“I was heart­broken,” her daugh­ter re­called.

The chil­dren at­ten­ded St. Wil­li­am Gram­mar School, then St. Timothy while liv­ing with a grand­moth­er on Stirl­ing Street in May­fair. Both gradu­ated from Car­din­al Dougherty High School.

Today, Eileen is mar­ried with four sons and liv­ing in Ken­tucky. Her young­er broth­er, who has three sons, is a pro­fess­or at a Ja­pan­ese col­lege.

Un­til the last couple of weeks, neither knew that at­tor­ney James J. Binns and Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice Lodge 5 were plan­ning a me­mori­al plaque ded­ic­a­tion for the two fallen of­ficers on May 18 at Sandy­ford and Brous av­en­ues.

“We were sty­mied,” Binns said, adding that re­tired Chief In­spect­or Jim Tiano and Capt. Den­nis Galla­gh­er usu­ally suc­ceed in find­ing long-lost re­l­at­ives.

Linda Abby Fein was the spon­sor for Do­nahue’s plaque, want­ing to hon­or someone who was the first fe­male po­lice of­ficer killed in the line of duty in Pennsylvania and the sev­enth na­tion­ally.

Fein con­duc­ted ex­tens­ive on­line re­search. She read a por­tion of the book True Heroines and viewed the ob­it­u­ary of Ray­mond Do­nahue, who died on Jan. 11, 2010, ex­actly 53 years after his wife. He still lived on Has­brook Av­en­ue.

A week be­fore the ce­re­mony, Fein was able to loc­ate a phone num­ber for Mar­tinez. Binns called the num­ber and left a mes­sage, and Mar­tinez called back ec­stat­ic that her moth­er was go­ing to be re­cog­nized more than 54 years after her death.

“It was shock­ing,” she said of the call. “It was a bless­ing out of the clear blue sky.”

No sur­viv­ors of Mee­han have been loc­ated.

The plaques were the 95th and 96th since the pro­gram began a dec­ade ago.

Mar­tinez, 64, met Fein for a cheesesteak din­ner at Campo’s the night be­fore the ce­re­mony. Fein, a re­tired lib­rar­i­an who lives in the Holme Circle area, was de­lighted that Mar­tinez dropped everything in Ken­tucky to make the trip to Phil­adelphia.

“I didn’t real­ize how much this meant to her,” she said.

Mar­tinez was joined by her hus­band, uncle Tom O’Neill (Stella’s broth­er) and oth­er re­l­at­ives.

The of­fice of state Sen. Tina Tartagli­one presen­ted a pro­clam­a­tion, and Deputy Po­lice Com­mis­sion­er Richard Ross and FOP Lodge 5 re­cord­ing sec­ret­ary Bob Bal­lentine handed roses to each fam­ily mem­ber to place on the plaques.

“We are so, so deeply touched,” Mar­tinez said. “There are no words to say about what these people have done.”

Back in the 1950s, fe­male po­lice of­ficers were of­ten re­ferred to as “cop-ettes” and were fre­quently as­signed to the ju­ven­ile aid bur­eau. The Phil­adelphia In­quirer de­scribed the bur­eau as one that sought out tru­ants, curfew-busters, run­aways and “troubled girls who mixed li­quor and men.”

In­deed, Do­nahue, Mee­han and two oth­er male of­ficers were con­duct­ing a so-called “mor­als in­vest­ig­a­tion.” They worked un­der­cov­er, as the Phil­adelphia Bul­let­in re­por­ted, to veri­fy re­ports that “teen­age girls were drink­ing in tap­rooms, then slip­ping away with men to the second floor of a busi­ness after the bars closed.”

Do­nahue was driv­ing her 1956 Mer­cury at the time of her death. She and Mee­han were on their way to Lin­ton’s Friendly Res­taur­ant, on Cottman Av­en­ue, to meet the oth­er of­ficers at about 4:50 a.m. when the ac­ci­dent happened.

The ce­re­mony al­lowed Mar­tinez to re­call a lot of happy memor­ies of her mom.

“We are so very, very proud of her,” her daugh­ter said. “She was beau­ti­ful in­side and out. She was a won­der­ful, lov­ing moth­er. My moth­er is gone, but will nev­er, nev­er be for­got­ten.” ••

Any­one in­ter­ested in spon­sor­ing a plaque can con­tact James Binns at 215-275-3000.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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