Dillinger Wannabe (8-18-1955)

It was Chicago’s biggest manhunt since Dillinger.  And it ended on this date, when police captured Richard Carpenter.

Born in 1929 and raised in Chicago, Carpenter had a long record of trouble, including a dishonorable discharge from the Army, and a 1951 arrest for accidentally shooting his mother.  He drifted through a series of jobs.  Convicted in a holdup, he served time, then escaped.

Richard Carpenter

Richard Carpenter

By the summer of 1955, Carpenter had been a fugitive for eighteen months.  Chicago police considered him a prime suspect in a series of 60 robberies on the North and West sides.  It was all small-time stuff—saloons, grocery stores, isolated pedestrians.

On August 16 a police detective recognized Carpenter on a subway train and arrested him.  At the Roosevelt Road station, a block from police headquarters, Carpenter pulled out a gun, shot the detective dead, and got away.

The next evening, another cop spotted Carpenter at the Biltmore Theater on Division Street.  There was more gunfire and an officer was wounded.  Carpenter escaped out the emergency exit.

Carpenter had been hit in the leg during the shooting.  He broke into a truck driver’s two-flat on nearby Potomac Avenue, holding the family hostage.  Meanwhile, a city-wide search was underway.  It was the early days of television, and the new medium breathlessly reported on the hunt for “Cop-Killer Carpenter.”

By the evening of the 18th, Carpenter had been holed up on Potomac Avenue nearly 24 hours.  He let his guard down.  He let the truck driver’s wife take the children out for some fresh air.  Then he allowed the truck driver to step out.

The truck driver immediately alerted the police.  The building was surrounded.  Searchlights filled the sky, a helicopter hovered overhead.  Two thousand people gathered on the street.  The bull-horn blared: “Carpenter!  Come out with your hands up!”

The siege on Potomac Avenue

The siege on Potomac Avenue

Carpenter tried to get away, jumping into the open window of an apartment next door.  More gunfire.  But this time, the police got their man.  If Carpenter thought he’d become a bad-boy folk hero like Dillinger, he was mistaken.  As the cops led him away, the crowd on Potomac  Avenue shouted “Kill him!  Kill him!”

Richard Carpenter was convicted of murder and died in the electric chair in 1958.




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