Many people in Rockford wondered if John Germano had some premonition on the night of April 17, 1938. John Germano, a Winnebago County Special Deputy Sheriff, was scheduled to be on a desk that evening. John learned that Deputy Sheriff Clarence Wollan was assigned to issue an arrest warrant for Albert Laws for disorderly conduct. This was usually a routine assignment, but for some reason, John felt that this particular call was anything but routine and he offered to accompany Wollan.
The decision to arrest Albert Laws originated from a report filed by a Roscoe farmer, E. Barber, who came into the office with an unbelievable tale. Barber told police that several months prior to April, Albert Laws had rented a room from Barber and his wife. Laws then took over the house and held the family hostage for the past several months by using threats and violence. Laws would allow Barber and his wife to attend to business and run errands but with the threat that their other family members would be hurt or worse if they told anyone or failed to return home. Barber finally decided to attempt an escape and reach the police when his young wife threatened suicide. Barber said that his wife and little girl were at the house with Laws, a man who Barber claimed could be very violent.
Barber accompanied the two officers to his farm in Roscoe at around 9:00 p.m. on April 17. Deputy Sheriff Wollan would later state though they were aware there could be danger, neither of the men were prepared for what followed.
As they stepped onto the porch, Germano told Wollan that they shouldn’t stand close together and he stepped forward to knock on the door as Wollan retreated to offer cover. There was a light on inside the home and they heard the bolt slide on the lock for the door. Germano started to ask if Laws was home when suddenly gunfire erupted from the doorway. Germano grabbed the shooter’s wrist and held on while two more shots were fired. He returned fire and Wollan also fired his weapon but Laws fled back into the house uninjured. Germano was hit by a bullet during the exchange. The fatal bullet entered the left side of John Germano’s chest just below his heart and traveled all the way through his body and exited the right side. Wollan helped Germano back into the car and rushed back into Rockford to St. Anthony’s Hospital. Germano died shortly after he arrived.
Mrs. Barber narrowly missed being hit by the gunfire during the shootout. She was with her little one year old daughter in a bedroom directly behind the room where the shootout took place. One bullet came through the wall and struck a mirror. Mrs. Barber felt the bullet graze through her hair as she was attempting to climb out the window. She was terrified when Laws came charging into the room to grab a shotgun he had there. Mrs. Barber thought that he would shoot her and her daughter but Laws told her to climb out the window and see if the cops were still there. She grabbed her baby and crawled out the window but instead of doing as Laws requested, she ran to a neighbor’s house to take shelter.
Wollan returned to the Sheriff’s office to call in reinforcements. Sheriff Paul Johnson and Chief Deputy Roy Julian accompanied Wollan back to the farm in Roscoe. They were joined by several other men and using flares to light the way, began the manhunt. The group of men was heavily armed and they searched the countryside surrounding the Barber home. Two hours later, one of the men stumbled on Law’s body. He was lying on his back in the middle of a field. Coroner Warren C. Ives would later determine that Laws had committed suicide with the shotgun he retrieved from the house.
John Germano was born on August 8, 1905 in Italy and his family moved to Rockford when he was 5 years old. He married Ida Gatti and they eventually settled into a house at 1116 Kent Street. They had a little 3 year old boy, John Anthony at the time of his death. John had been involved with the Sheriff’s department for over four years and was also a truck driver/deliverer for the Register Republic and Morning Star newspapers.
John Germano was well loved for his loyalty and generous nature. The newspapers had articles for days written by friends, businessmen, and fellow officers that told of Germano’s dedication to his family, fellow officers and co-workers. The papers also stated “Germano held the confidence and good wishes from people from all walks of life.” His funeral was attended by hundreds of people and over 300 floral dedications were received. The community held several dinners and dances and donated the proceeds to Germano’s wife and another officer’s family who was killed in the line of duty.
Kathi Kresol is a local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events.