Whitman Knapp

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P. Whitman Knapp
File:Whitman Knapp.jpg
Personal details
Born (1909-02-24)February 24, 1909
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New York, New York
Spouse(s) Ann Fallert Knapp
Alma mater Yale University

Percy Whitman Knapp (February 24, 1909 – June 14, 2004) was a federal judge who led a far-reaching investigation into corruption in the New York City Police Department from 1970 to 1972.

Childhood and education

Whitman Knapp was the son of Wallace Percy Knapp, a wealthy German American lawyer in New York. His mother was killed in a horse riding accident in Central Park when he was only three years old. He attended The Browning School, graduating in 1927, The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall), graduating in 1927, and Yale University, graduating in 1931. He went on to Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review, graduating in 1934. He married Elizabeth Mercer shortly after graduation.


After his graduation from law school, he started working with the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in Manhattan. He remained there until 1938, when he left to become an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan under the newly elected racket-busting District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey.

In 1941, Knapp returned to private life and joined the law firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Lumbard. Within a year Frank S. Hogan, Manhattan's new District Attorney, persuaded him to return to the fold. At one point Mr. Knapp was chief of three bureaus: appeals, indictments, and fraud.

In 1950, Knapp left Mr. Hogan's office to again enter private practice. In the next few years he served as a special counsel to Mr. Dewey, who had become governor of New York State, and was a member of the commission that revised the state's criminal code.

Knapp served during 1953–1954 as special counsel to the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which looked into corruption on the waterfront.

Knapp Commission

In 1970, Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed Knapp to head a five-member commission investigating corruption in the New York City Police Department later known as the Knapp Commission. The probe was sparked by revelations from two police officers, Patrolman Frank Serpico, and Sergeant David Durk.

Looking back on the work of the Knapp Commission, Knapp said that the relatively few convictions did not matter as much as his work did, for he felt his work had changed the culture of the police so that they took the charge of corruption in their midst more seriously.

Federal judge

As the Knapp Commission was ending its investigation and was preparing to issue a report, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Knapp as a Judge of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. Knapp was quickly confirmed and was seated on the bench on June 30, 1972.


In 2004, Judge Knapp died at the age of 95 at the Cabrini Hospice in Manhattan. He served on the bench up until his death. He was survived by his third wife, Ann Fallert Knapp, a son, Gregory Wallace Knapp, and by three children from his first wife, Elizabeth Mercer Nason; a son, Whitman E. Knapp, and two daughters, Caroline Hines and Marion Knapp; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.[1]

See also


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Further reading

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Robert P. Patterson, Jr.