Unlocking History

Shanghai river policeman Munz ends up in SQ

Boats and pier.
Shanghai harbor, undated.

When a CDCR employee asked about ancestor Joseph Munz, who was incarcerated at San Quentin in 1904, Inside CDCR did some digging. Provided with a mugshot and inmate number, it didn’t take long to gather some details.

Joseph Munz worked in Shanghai, China

Those who walk the toughest beat in the state deal with people who made very poor choices. From car thieves to thrill seekers, the crimes are varied. Joseph Gustav Munz, a police officer, almost sparked an international incident through his poor choices and actions.

Munz, an American citizen, was a police officer who patrolled the river in Shanghai, China. Munz didn’t get along well with the local population and it showed through his heavy-handed approach. When methods ended up claiming the life of another, his 1904 case strained relations between China and the U.S. He was found guilty by the American Consular Court.

The American Consul and two members of the court requested President Theodore Roosevelt pardon the policeman.

To help calm the situation, Munz was loaded on a boat to serve his sentence in San Quentin.

Actions lead to five-year sentence for Joseph Munz

Joseph Munz photo from San Quentin.
Joseph Munz, 1904, San Quentin.

Munz went to work in Shanghai, China, patrolling the harbor, rivers and creeks as a police officer. He apparently didn’t have much respect for the Chinese. In the course of his duties, he tended to be heavy handed and even brutal.

Munz arrived on the USS Princeton in 1901, quickly accepting an appointment as a river policeman. He was “prone to beat his way through Chinese in his way,” according to the book “Bargaining with the State from Afar: American Citizenship in Treaty Ports China 1844-1942” by Eileen Scully (2001).

The officer’s brutality landed him in the Shanghai consular court in 1904 as documented in a Chinese newspaper.

“The defendant was a constable in the River Police at Shanghai, particularly charged with the duty of keeping clear the channel (along) Soochow Creek. When he went on duty on the morning of the 13th October a rice boat was lying near the North Tibet Road bridge in such a position that it obstructed the navigation of the creek. Munz ordered it to be moved. Accordingly the crew moved it a little way up the stream and anchored again,” reported the North China Herald, Nov. 4, 1904.

“It is admitted that when he first ordered it to be moved, Munz struck one of the boat (men) about the head with a light bamboo stick, causing (his) nose to bleed, but inflicting no serious damage. The second time, Munz threatened (them) with the bamboo and then took his boat to the shore side of the rice boat so that (they) could not escape. He then went on board the rice boat and ordered it to be moved.

“One of (them) went to the oar and Munz seized the second (man) by the clothing with his left hand, struck him several times in the lower part of the left side with his right fist and then kicked him once or twice and left the boat and went about his ordinary duties. The man who had been struck fell into the hold and died within five or ten minutes thereafter. These facts seem to us to be undisputed.”

American authorities refused to believe Munz killed the man with punches and kicks. They demanded an autopsy but Chinese authorities refused, arguing it went against their customs and beliefs. Without knowing the condition of the deceased man’s internal organs prior to the altercation, the Consular Court indicated they were forced to find Munz guilty.

“The deceased died on account of his spleen having been ruptured by the blows given by defendant Joseph Munz. The crew of this rice boat were disobeying the lawful commands of Munz in his (duties as) River Police. They did not move the boat from the navigable channel when ordered. Nevertheless, the constable had no right to strike any man except in self-defense. I judge and sentence him (to) imprisonment with hard labor for 18 months from this day in the prison for American convicts at Shanghai, China. Or, at such prison as may be designated by the U.S. Government through its proper officers,” said the Consul General, according to the newspaper report.

American officials try to enlist U.S. President’s help

American Consul John Goodnow thought it best Munz serve his sentence in the U.S. so as not to further aggravate the situation.

Two assessors also hearing the case with the consul dissented and forwarded their petition for a pardon to President Theodore Roosevelt. They said the Chinese were “extremely ignorant, stupid, obstinate and averse to any interference and control,” according to the book. “Consul Goodnow endorsed the request but suggested that Munz, ‘a man of most excellent character,’ ought not be permitted to return to China until expiration of his sentence lest Chinese be provoked.”

According to the Journal of American-East Asian Relations, published in 2000, this was “two years before the establishment of the non-consular U.S. Court for China, and the case was heard by U.S. Shanghai Consul General John Goodnow, sitting together with two local Americans acting as ‘assessors.’ After a verdict of guilty, these assessors wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt asking that Munz be pardoned. (Munz was to be barred from returning) to Shanghai until his unserved sentence expired, so as to avoid provoking the Chinese.”

Since this was during a time long before the establishment of the federal penitentiary at Alcatraz, inmates under federal jurisdiction were sent to San Quentin.

Joseph Munz returns to China after San Quentin sentence

When Munz was released from San Quentin, he made his way back to Shanghai, China, and ended up in trouble once again.

The U.S. District Attorney initiated a preliminary hearing in the consular court against him for wounding Sun Kau-sz after he struck her over the head and wounded her male companion. Although the case was sent to the higher US Consular Court, the charges were later dropped for unstated reasons.

According to the North China Herald’s Aug. 7, 1909, edition, Munz brutally attacked multiple people that night.

“Joseph Munz was charged with having feloniously and unlawfully wounding Sun Kau-sz by striking her on the head with a gun on (Aug. 2). Further with having feloniously and unlawfully wounding Sun Tsau-yin by striking him on the face with a gun in accused’s house at the same time, thereby causing both complainants grievous bodily harm. Mr. A. Bassett prosecuted, and Mr. F. M. Brooks appeared for the prisoner. Inspector Bourke represented the Police. On being charged, (Munz) pleaded not guilty.

“Sun Tsau-yin … said that accused assaulted him the previous night. Witness was talking with others in front of accused’s house when (Munz) walked on to the veranda and threw water on them. Accused then descended and assaulted witness and his wife with the air-gun produced. Witness’s wife was struck on the head and she was now in the hospital. After striking the woman, (Munz) pulled witness by the hair, dragged him into the house, and assaulted him also. Some ladies in the house told accused not to assault witness any more, and Munz then ran out of the house and assaulted everyone he met. Witness’s right leg was bitten by accused’s dog,” the newspaper reported.

‘He broke his gun using it to pistol-whip people. He also brandished an ax, but didn’t use it.

“At the time of the assault there were five or six (people) looking on. Witness did not strike defendant; no one struck him. Zau Sang-ming, a member of the Paoshan Police Force, said that he was on duty in the alleyway near accused’s house, the previous night. A Kompo man and woman began to quarrel about some beds. Witness went up to try to settle the matter, when some water was thrown over them. Some natives then knocked at accused’s back door. Accused came out and assaulted everyone who came in his way. (The officer) ‘settled the trouble’ and went off to the station to report that the foreigner had a gun outside the Settlement. After going fifty paces, he heard that there was more trouble so he returned and found the Kompo woman lying on the ground suffering from head injuries,” the newspaper reported.

What happened to Munz after this isn’t clear, but he most likely returned to the U.S.

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

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