The overhang cave where 1976 shoot-out happened, killing
Sheriff Park Richards and his shooter John Fitzgerald
Remnants of disturbed loner Fitzgerald who
was living in the "cave" for two months
By Bob Weaver
It was a cold winter day that Calhoun Sheriff Park Richards was shot down in 1976 by a mentally ill man living under an overhang cave in a deep woods hollow at Apple Farm (Rush Run off Rt. 7).
A recent trek to the narrow, wooded hollow revealed the location where the tragic event occurred.
Richards and Trooper C. W. "Mac" McDonald had been responding to complaints about John Fitzgerald's erratic behavior, threatening to to kill people in his community.
That November day they were attempting to serve a mental hygiene complaint on the man, to take him to Spencer State Hospital for treatment.
Fitzgerald had moved to Calhoun from the Washington DC area about two years before the incident, reportedly to get away from a drug problem. Neighbors describing him as a troubled loner.
The officers, approaching the Fitzgerald habitat discovered the "holed up" man in the overhang cave with 50 chickens, living there for about two months after a barn in which he was living burned down.
A faded sign Fitzgerald posted on his
property after moving to the area about 1974
Trooper McDonald, in an interview with the Hur Herald a few years ago, described the incident:
"Park and I walked across the creek that morning to find the man, and take him to Spencer State Hospital for an evaluation."
"I took my shotgun, but there was nothing unusual, although I told Park we should separate, part of my training, before we encountered him."
"He saw us coming. He had a high-powered rifle, crudely painted red with mud caked on it, even on the end of the barrel. He was standing across the creek, cooking something over an open fire."
"He had the gun in one hand and an ax in the other," when Mac began to tell Fitzgerald why the officers were there.
With Fitzgerald about 30 feet away, the situation began to take a turn for the worse.
"He was looking straight at me, the gun pointed in my direction. I could see that mud on the end of the red barrel, but he lowered the gun and began to walk away, calmly."
Fitzgerald walked toward his cave, behind a large rock out-of-sight with McDonald following him.
"I looked for Park, but he was no longer in the area beside me."
"Coming around the rock there was Fitzgerald and Park, and immediately a shot was fired," the sheriff being the target.
"I aimed my shotgun at Fitzgerald and shot, as Park emptied his .357 at his assailant."
Fitzgerald fell dead to the ground as Richards collapsed, quickly dying.
"I went to Park's side, to see what I could do, but I knew it was over."
"I thought I shot once at Fitzgerald, but the autopsy said I fired three times. It was the worst experience of my life. It was the only time he shot a person in his career as a police officer.
McDonald ran from the scene to call for help, but radio communication was really poor at that time, and he failed to get a response. He then went to the Smith house and phoned for help.
In 2015, the hollow is filled with dense woods, spotting a deer with her fawns, the creek with water pouring over steep rocks, with remnants of Fitzgerald's habitation still visible.
READ MORE ABOUT THE EVENT:
CALHOUN HIGHWAY NAMED FOR FALLEN SHERIFF: Park Richards "A Hero In Life, A Hero In Death"
REMEMBERING: "A PURPOSE FOR EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN" - McDonald Recalls Sheriff's Tragic Death In 1976