Posts Tagged 'Crime'

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—  http://wgnradio.com/2017/03/30/exploring-the-history-of-chicagos-most-notable-fools/

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mickey Finn’s Special (12-16-1903)

If you are a sophisticated drinker, you know about Manhattans.  Obviously, that cocktail was inventing in New York City.  Here in Chicago, we can lay claim to devising our own famous mixed drink.

On this date, the city was learning about the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden.  The Lone Star was one of the dives of Whiskey Row, on State near Eleventh Street.  Mickey Finn, a little gnome ex-pickpocket, owned the place.  Today one of Finn’s barmaids—Gold Tooth Mary Thornton—was testifying before a special commission.

12-16-mickey%20finns

Gold Tooth Mary said there was a sign at the Lone Star inviting customers to “Try a Mickey Finn Special.”  This cocktail was a mixture of raw alcohol, snuff-soaked water, and a white liquid supplied by a voodoo doctor.  Anybody who drank a Special was knocked out cold.  The victim was then dragged into a side room, where he was stored until Mickey got around to robbing him.  After that he was dumped in the alley.

Mary and her colleagues got a percentage of Mickey’s take.  That was just as well, since their customers weren’t in any condition to give the ladies a tip.

not-mickeyMickey had all the angles covered.  Some people would drink only beer, so he had another concoction called the “Number Two” that he poured into the beer.  According to Mary, her boss had no fear of the police.  Mickey boasted that he was in tight with Alderman Kenna, and that he always saved the best cigars for the local cops.

This time, friendship and stogies did him no good.  Because of all the publicity, city officials revoked Mickey’s liquor license.

Mickey thought he had been given a bum deal.  Gold Tooth Mary’s story didn’t make any sense.  “I’d lose money feeding dope to the guys that blow in here,” he claimed.  “I wouldn’t get enough money out of their clothes in a year to pay for the dope.”

With the Lone Star closed, Mickey left Chicago.  He later returned and operated another saloon.  By that time he was so notorious that he didn’t dare try any funny business.

But Mickey had the last laugh.  He sold his secret formula to a half-dozen other saloonkeepers, and from there it spread throughout America.  Today, any kind of knockout drink is called a Mickey Finn.

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Annie Oakley Busted in Chicago!

During the 1880s and ‘90s, Annie Oakley was the star attraction of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. She was a pretty young lady, a sharpshooter who could hit a dime tossed in the air thirty feet away, or split a playing card edge-on.  Once she shot the ash off a burning cigarette held in the mouth of the German emperor.  “Little Miss Sure Shot” was known and loved by millions of fans on three continents.

Then, in the summer of 1903, came the shocking news. Annie Oakley was in jail in Chicago!

The August 11 issue of the Chicago American told the story.  A scruffy-looking woman had been arrested for stealing the pants of a man who’d befriended her.  While in custody she’d admitted that she was the famous Annie Oakley.  She had stolen the pants to support her cocaine habit.

oakley-poster

“An uncontrollable appetite for drugs has brought me here,” she told the judge when arraigned at the Harrison Street Police Court. “I began to use it years ago to steady me under the strain of the show life I was leading.  Have pity on me.”

The judge was unmoved. He imposed a fine of $45 on the woman, committing her to jail until it was paid.  “A good, long stay [there] will do you good,” he said.

The story was soon out on the wire services around the country. It was read with particular interest by Mrs. Frank Butler of Nutley, New Jersey.  She was the real Annie Oakley.

Oakley immediately started writing to the newspapers, exposing the impostor. After investigating the matter, the Publishers Press wire service issued a retraction.

The woman in Chicago turned out to be Maude Fontanella, who’d once performed in a burlesque Wild West show as “Any Oakley.” After her arrest, Fontanella had “accidentally” told a matron that she was the noted sharpshooter.  The matron had tipped off an American reporter.  The reporter had interviewed Fontanella, and she had conned him as well.

Now the papers began printing retractions. Apologies poured in to Oakley.  That was not good enough for her.   She decided to take legal action.  Perhaps having to pay out money would make the press more careful in their reporting.  She felt that she was being reasonable in taking this approach to the insult.  “In the South they simply kill the man who slanders the good name of a woman,” she told a reporter.

Over the next seven years, Oakley brought suit against fifty-five newspapers. She traveled from city to city to personally testify.  William Randolph Hearst, whose American had printed the initial story, hired a detective to look for any dirt that might be used against Oakley.  Nothing was found.

In the end, Oakley won judgments or settlements from all but one of the fifty-five newspapers. The total awards came to $625,000—the equivalent of $25 million today.  Taking into consideration legal fees, travel expenses, and missed income, most historians conclude that Oakley had actually lost money in her pursuit of justice. But her reputation had been restored, and the case is considered a landmark in celebrity libel law.

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The Chicken Thieves (10-25-1908)

There had been a series of chicken thefts at the South Water Market, so when the night watchman heard the excited clucking coming from a basement, he flashed his light down the steps toward the noise. What he saw was two large brown bears, calmly eating chicken.

The watchman called the fire department. The firemen came, took a look down the stairs, and said they only fought fires.

South Water Market---now Wacker Drive

South Water Market, 1908—now Wacker Drive

Now police were summoned. After surveying the situation, the cops suggested that the owner of the bears should be contacted. The owner arrived, went down into the basement, and kicked the larger bear in the rump. The bear galloped up the stairs and into his cage, followed quickly by his smaller buddy.

Thus the story was reported in the next day’s Tribune, but no mention was made of what two bears were doing in the middle of a large city in the first place. Perhaps they were a common household pet in 1908.

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