J.M. Brophy, police polygraph pioneer

Joseph M. Brophy, 87, of the Northeast, who lived a colorful life as a Philadelphia Police Department chief inspector and as the first commander of the polygraph unit, died of a stroke Sunday at Nazareth Hospital.

"Joe Brophy was among Philadelphia's finest," said Richard A. Sprague, who worked with Inspector Brophy in the 1970s in the District Attorney's Office. "He conducted polygraph tests in the trial that resulted in the conviction of United Mine Workers president Tony Boyle, who was convicted of ordering the 1969 murder of Joseph Yablonski. The FBI was so impressed with Joe's work, that they started using lie detectors again."

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Joseph M. Brophy

Born in the Northeast, he graduated in 1937 from Roman Catholic High School before working with his father in a trucking business that failed during the Depression.

He began working as an accident investigator for the Police Department before he was accepted into the Academy. He joined the force in 1942 as a patrolman.

Before enlisting in the Navy in 1944, he married Elizabeth Zibell, and the couple raised six children in the Northeast. He served stateside until being discharged in 1945 with the rank of seaman first class. He returned to the Philadelphia Police Department and rose quickly through the ranks. In 1950, he was promoted to detective, and by 1955, he was a captain. That year, he became the first commanding officer of the polygraph unit, where he worked for 10 years. During this time, he was in charge of security for visiting dignitaries, politicians and rock stars.

In 1965, he became detective inspector in command of field units. In 1969, he was chosen to be chief inspector of the D.A.'s detective staff under then-District Attorney Arlen Specter and his assistant, Sprague.

In 1970, he founded the polygraph unit in the D.A.'s office.

He returned to the police department in late 1975 and was promoted to chief inspector. He retired the following year.

In retirement, he was a polygraph expert for the former J.R. Pearce and Associates in Center City and was hired by the National Hockey League to supervise security for visiting teams at the Spectrum. "He took me to Flyers games even on school nights," said grandson Michael. "He was my hero, the best man at my wedding, and my encouragement through law school."

In addition to his grandson, Mr. Brophy is survived by daughters Judith Zielenski, Carol Swider, Donna L. Esposito, Elizabeth Brophy; sons Joseph Jr. and Richard; nine more grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; a brother; and a sister. His wife died in 1983.

Friends may visit at 9 a.m. today at St. Jerome Church, Holme Avenue and Stamford Street. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10. Burial will be in Our Lady of Grace Cemetery, Superhighway 1 in Middletown Township, Bucks County.

Donations may be made to Vitas Hospice, 1740 Walton Rd., Suite 100, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.


Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.