Posts Tagged 'Crime'

Deadly Medicine (9-29-1982)

It was a Wednesday.  In Elk Grove Village, a 12-year-old schoolgirl awoke with a sore throat.  She went to the medicine cabinet and took the appropriate pills.  A few minutes later, she collapsed.

The paramedics were called.  They came quickly, but could not save her.  The cause of death seemed to be a heart attack or a stroke.

An isolated tragedy.  And yet . . .

poison skull.jpg

In Arlington Heights that same morning, a 27-year-old postal worker died suddenly in his home.  Later in the day, family members gathered at the house to plan his funeral.  Within a short time, both the man’s brother and sister-in-law collapsed.  They also died.

Local authorities thought these deaths might have been caused by a gas leak.  Then it was discovered that all three people had taken Tylenol from the same bottle.  That morning, the Elk Grove Village girl had taken Tylenol for her sore throat.

The remaining Tylenol capsules in the Arlington Heights bottle were examined.  They contained cyanide.


Over the next few days, three other Tylenol deaths were reported, in Elmhurst, in Winfield, and in Old Town Chicago.  The tainted capsules had been manufactured in different places.  That could only mean that someone was going from store to store, sabotaging the medicine.

The public was warned not to use any Tylenol products.  Johnson & Johnson, the maker, halted production and issued a nationwide recall of 30 million bottles.  Since only capsules had been tainted, the company offered to replace them with solid tablets.

Meanwhile, federal and state law enforcement officials converged on Chicago.  Three more contaminated bottles turned up.  People were getting scared now.  Though only Tylenol had been tainted, sales of any kind of medicine plummeted.


On October 6, Johnson & Johnson received an unsigned letter claiming responsibility for the Tylenol murders.  The letter demanded that $1 million be deposited in a particular account at Continental Illinois Bank in Chicago.  Otherwise, the killing would resume.

James W. Lewis of New York City was soon arrested.  Federal authorities claimed he had written the letter to Johnson & Johnson.  Lewis said he was innocent.Lewis was convicted of attempted extortion on October 27, 1983.  He received a 20-year prison sentence for his crime.  After serving 13 years, he was paroled.

The seven Chicago Tylenol deaths led to stronger safety standards in drug production and packaging.  But thirty-five years later, the murders remain officially unsolved.



Pierre’s Key Club (9-12-1967)

What was the news in Chicago, fifty years ago today?

Like any city, Chicago liked to have visitors who came to town and spent some money.   But the Convention and Tourism Office was probably not happy with today’s story.  A new scam was giving the city a bad name.

It worked like this.  A businessman would check into a downtown hotel, then decide to see the sights they didn’t have in Tulsa or Terre Haute—like one of those famous Chicago key clubs.  So, in the time-honored fashion, the visitor would call a cab and tell the driver to take him to “where the action is.”

The driver would tell the man that the best place was Pierre’s Key Club, at 4200 North Clybourn Avenue.  So off they’d go.

Except there was no Pierre’s Key Club.  For that matter, Clybourn Avenue didn’t go as far north as 4200.  Instead, the visitor would be treated to an expensive ride to suburban Cicero.  There he would be deposited at the door of one of several mob joints.

The venue would not have a name or address on the front.  Once inside, the visitor would be expected to fork over $10 for a key club membership.  If the man made friends with one of the women working in the club, she might agree to join him back at his hotel.  In that case, he would have to pay $25—to cover her absence from the club, of course.

The whole operation came to light because a conventioneer filed a formal complaint with the Chicago police.  He had paid his $25, and the woman from the club had never shown up at his hotel!

No doubt stifling a few grins, investigators finally traced the conventioneer’s tale of woe to a tavern on Cermak Road in Cicero.  That was outside the jurisdiction of Chicago police.  But with all the publicity swirling around, the case could not be ignored.

Now the Illinois Liquor Control Commission took over.  The owner of the Cicero tavern was called in, for a hearing on license revocation.  He said he was just as confused as the investigators.  Pierre’s Key Club?  Never heard of it!

When all was over, a few Cicero bars were shut down, for awhile.  And city cab drivers no longer touted the pleasures of Pierre’s Key Club.


Bleacher Bums (5-24-1920)

Forty-seven people were arrested today in the year’s biggest gambling raid.  The location was the bleachers at Cubs’ Park.

Club officials had been aware of the problem for some time.  The gamblers had staked out their own section of the stands.  Anybody in the park who wanted to place a bet knew exactly where to go.

So today undercover cops infiltrated the open-air casino.  They wore various disguises—“teamsters, sailors, soldiers, ice wagon drivers, sewing machine agents, bootblacks, farmers.”  They ate peanuts and drank pop like ordinary fans.  They watched the gamblers operate.

The Cubs were playing the Phillies.  Betting started as soon as the umpires announced the batteries.  Once the gamblers knew who was pitching, they could calculate the odds and accept wagers on the outcome of the game.

When play got underway, the action in the bleachers was even more intense.  Now there was betting on each pitch.

“Ten cents says he swings!”

“A dollar the pitcher changes his windup on the next one!”

“Two bits they send in a pinch-hitter the next time around!”

“Who wants ten dollars on the runner?  Ten dollars says he streaks down to second!”

At the end of the first inning, the undercover cops all stood up.  In one voice, they announced: “You’re all under arrest!”


The gamblers went meekly.  One of them tried the sympathy angle.  “Do you want to break up a home?” he pleaded to the nearest officer.  “My wife will get a divorce if she finds out about this.”

The cop was unmoved.  “Six bits says she finds out,” was his answer.

At the Town Hall Station, the 47 gamblers were charged.  They were each released on $25 bond.  Four of them didn’t have enough money.  They’d have to spend the night in jail, and probably lose their night-shift jobs.

Then one of the other accused stepped forward and posted their bond.  He didn’t know any of the four, but that made no difference.  “I have faith in human nature,” the Good Samaritan said.  “I’m betting they show up in court.”

What happened next?  The papers lost interest in the story, and nothing more was reported.  The final decisions are buried somewhere in a set of musty court files.

Cubs’ Park is now called Wrigley Field.  Is there still gambling in the bleachers?

Wanna make a bet on it?


Chicago’s April Fools

What do Rod Blagojevich, Paul Harvey, and Jack Dempsey have in common?  They’re all on my list of Chicago’s April Fools—people who made foolish decisions, and should have known better.  Last night I was on Justin Kaufmann’s “The Download” on WGN-Radio, and talked about all of my April Fools.  Here’s the link—

Professor Moriarty Comes to Chicago (3-28-1901)

Adam Worth ran a criminal ring in England during the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. A London detective once called him “The Napoleon of the Criminal World,” and Worth is thought to be the model for Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty. And though Holmes never had any dealings in Chicago, the real-life Moriarty did.

Adam Worth

Adam Worth

Born in Germany in 1841, Worth grew up in Massachusetts. He eventually settled in London, posing as an American financier with social connections.  During the 1870s he put together an elaborate underworld organization, specializing in high-end burglaries of his unsuspecting society friends. Scotland Yard suspected him, but could prove nothing.

Then, in 1876, Worth’s brother was arrested on forgery charges and needed bail. At the time a famous Gainsborough painting, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was about to be offered at a London auction. So one night Worth simply got a ladder, climbed through a window at the auction house, cut the painting from its frame, and made off with it.

As it turned out, the charges against little brother were dropped. Rather than fence the stolen painting, Worth decided to keep it.

Georgiana became Worth’s constant companion. He usually kept it in the false bottom of a suitcase as he traveled. At some point he smuggled the painting out of England and put it in storage in the United States. That’s where Georgiana was in 1893, when Belgian authorities convicted Worth of a string of robberies and sent him to prison.

By 1899 Worth was out of prison. His crime ring was in shambles and his fortune was gone. Using the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a go-between, he began negotiating a “no-questions-asked” return of Georgiana to the auction house. After nearly two years haggling, a price of $25,000 was agreed upon. The transfer was to be made in Pinkerton’s headquarters city, Chicago.

"Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire"

“Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”

Morland Agnew of the auction house came over from London, arriving in Chicago on March 27, 1901. As instructed, he checked into the Auditorium Hotel. The next morning, accompanied by William Pinkerton of the detective agency, Agnew cashed a bank draft for the ransom. The money was put in the safe at the Pinkerton office. Then the two men went to the hotel to wait.

At 1 p.m. a messenger arrived at Agnew’s hotel room, carrying a parcel wrapped in brown paper. After Agnew identified himself, the messenger handed him the parcel and left. Inside the parcel was the long-lost Georgiana.

Within hours Agnew was on the train to New York, and from there the ship to England. Not until the painting was safely back in London was the news released to the world. Then the Chicago papers ran the story on the front page for a week.

Adam Worth in disguise had been the messenger returning the painting. Less than a year after collecting the ransom, he was dead of natural causes. But in a twist worthy of Conan Doyle himself, the real-life Moriarty’s son refused to take over the family business.  Instead, he found a new career—as a Pinkerton detective.


The Gambler, His Wife, and Her Lover (2-21-1907)

Michael Cassius McDonald had spent much of his 67 years staying one jump ahead of the law.  Today his young wife was in the custody of the law.  The charge was murder.

McDonald was Chicago’s gambling king and a Democratic Party king-maker for decades.  But as he grew older, he sought a veneer of respectability.  He moved from the West Side to a mansion on fashionable Drexel Boulevard.  And he shed his first wife in favor of a rabbi’s daughter named Dora Feldman, thirty years his junior.

Mike McDonald (right) greeted by a reporter

Mike McDonald (right) greeted by a reporter

Time passed.  Dora grew bored with her husband.  She took up with a decorative young man a dozen years younger than herself.  His name was Webster Guerin.  He called himself an artist.

About 10 o’clock on this particular morning, Dora arrived at Webster’s studio in a Loop office building.  She seemed agitated.  Webster took her inside one of the rooms to calm her.  There was shouting.  Then a single gunshot.

People came running.  When the door was forced open, Dora was found standing over Webster’s body, screaming.  A pistol lay on the floor.

The police took Dora into custody.  Now the questions began.

Dora Feldman mcDonald

Dora Feldman McDonald

Did Dora murder Webster?  Did she kill him by accident during a struggle?  Did Webster commit suicide?  The gun was Dora’s—and it had been a present from Webster!

Motive?  Was Webster breaking off the affair?  Or was Dora breaking up with Webster?  Dora had given Webster money for years—was it blackmail, to keep their relationship quiet?  How much did Mike McDonald know about his wife’s Cougar play?

Old Mike stood by Dora.  He went with the blackmail story.  Dora had told him she was paying hush-money to someone, but said she could handle it.  Of course, Mike had never dreamed it would turn out this way.

The gambling king used all his influence to delay a trial.  Dora was placed in a private sanitarium.  Then Mike’s health went into decline.  By August he was dead.

McDonald left $25,000 to pay for his wife’s legal defense, a princely sum in 1907.  The money was well spent.  When Dora was brought to trial for murder, it took a jury only five hours to acquit her.

Dora Feldman McDonald eventually left Chicago.  She moved to California, married a doctor, and lived quietly.  She died in 1930.


Horse Butcher for the World (1-19-1952)

If you’re getting ready to eat, maybe you’d better bookmark this one for later.  You have been warned!

All set?

As 1951 turned into 1952, many Chicagoans noticed that their meat was tasting—well, different.  And now, a couple of weeks into the new year, the reason was clear.  They’d been eating horse meat.

So much for moving to Chicago!

Guess we cancel that trip to Chicago!

Federal officials had been looking into meat sales around Chicago.  Today the papers reported that another state meat inspector had been fired for refusing to co-operate with the feds.  That made seven.

The investigation had started with a packing plant in Lake Zurich.  The feds claimed the “pure beef” shipped from there was actually 40% horse.  The plant had processed more than 10,000 pounds of meat a week.  Most of it wound up in Chicago.

Simple economics was the reason.  In 1952 beef sold for 59 cents a pound.  A pound of horse meat went for 14 cents.  The feds had shut down the Lake Zurich plant, but other area packers were still under suspicion.  And the Chicago mob seemed to be behind everything.

State meat inspectors had been bribed to look the other way.  Any retailers who complained about getting strange meat were warned to keep their mouths shut.  As a result, Chicagoans had consumed up to 4.5 million pounds of horse meat in the past two years.

News of the scandal had immediate impact.  Hamburger sales in Chicago dropped 50%.  Fruits and vegetables were suddenly in demand.  Meanwhile, city food inspectors became hyper-vigilant.  The world-famous Blackhawk Restaurant was found to be serving horse meat, and had its license pulled.
No thanks---I'll just have a salad!

No thanks—I’ll just have a salad!

There was also political fallout.  Governor Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat, was running for re-election.  The parade of disgraced meat inspectors didn’t do credit to his administration.  Though the governor wasn’t involved in the scandal, the Republicans were now making jokes about “Adlai-burgers.”

The horse meat probe led to several indictments.  In the end, only a few people did any prison time.  The Blackhawk reopened, and Adlai Stevenson wound up as his party’s nominee for President of the United States.  He lost that election, but horse meat was not a factor.

And that sound you now hear is your vegan friends . . . laughing.