King Johnson (King Davis) was a 28-year-old African American man living in the Fairfield area of Anne Arundel County (now Baltimore City). According to census records and newspaper reports Fairfield was an integrated community. Uncommon for the area at the time as Baltimore had implemented residential segregation ordinances the previous year.
On December 23, 1911, King Johnson was playing pool in a saloon with Frank Schwab, a white man. After Mr. Johnson won the game, an argument ensued. When the saloon closed King Johnson and Hubert Chase, another African American man left. They were followed by Frank, his brother Frederick Schwab, and another white man. Upset that Mr. Johnson had called his brother vile names Frederick confronted him. Having prior encounters with Frederick, King Johnson feared for his life. He shot and killed Frederick in self-defense. Mr. Johnson was arrested later at his home peacefully and taken to the Brooklyn jail.
On Christmas morning at around 2 am, eight men entered the unattended Brooklyn jail. The lynchers brought a rope tied into a noose and attempted to remove King Johnson from his cell. Mr. Johnson put up a fight and was hit with a crowbar five times in the head. The trail of blood showed where they had dragged him across the field. There was evidence that the lynchers intended to burn Mr. Johnson but because of wet conditions they were unable. Instead, they shot him four times in the chest and pushed him into a ditch. The noose was found left behind in the jail. Mr. Johnson’s body was discovered by a paper carrier later in the morning.
The immediate investigation concluded that Mr. Johnson was shot by persons unknown. However, the governor started an investigation of his own. Governor Goldsborough hired the Burns detective agency and they immersed themselves in Brooklyn to obtain the identity of the lynchers. The methods used by the detectives were extensive and new for the time.
After a six-month investigation, four men were arrested for the murder of King Johnson. Frank Schwab, Thomas Gleason, John Gleason, and an African American man Howard Herring. Thomas and John Gleason were brothers-in-law to Frederick Schwab. Frank Schwab and Howard Herring were released after a preliminary hearing. Thomas and John Gleason were later released due to a lack of evidence.