Posts Tagged 'Crime'

Your City Council at Work (2-19-1894)

Today Chicagoans were given a lesson on how their city council did business.  The story in the Chicago Record didn’t read like any civics textbook.

In 1894 Chicago had 35 wards, each represented by two aldermen.  The aldermen served two-year terms.  Their pay was $150 a year.

(That $150 is equivalent to about $3,700 today.  To convert 1894-dollars into 2018-dollars, multiply by 25.)


According to the Record, most of the aldermen could be bribed.  The paper did say there were some honest men in the council.  There had even been times when the honest aldermen were in the majority.  That was not the case in 1894.

Anybody who needed some kind of business permit had to pay bribes.  There was a definite price schedule.  If a coal company wanted to build a track-connection to a freight railroad, it cost $1,000.  For the same track, a brewery had to fork over $2,500—because a brewery made more money than a coal company. But the aldermen got their largest payoffs from granting city franchises.

A franchise was a legal monopoly.  They went to transit carriers or utilities.  Since any company that held a city franchise earned big bucks, the bribes were stupendous.  A few years before, when a certain railroad franchise was up for renewal, four aldermen had collected $25,000 each.

If you were going to pay bribes, you had to pay each alderman individually.  That way there were no witnesses.  Of course, with forty or so men in on the deal, that took some time and effort.


One businessman came up with a more efficient method.  He left packages of currency marked “$1,000” in the men’s washroom at City Hall.  Then, one by one, each alderman would come in to pick up his share of the loot.

The system worked until an innocent citizen wondered into the washroom.  The man found one of the discarded “$1,000” wrappers on the floor.  He chased down the alderman who had just left, gave the alderman the wrapper, and said “You lost something.”

The alderman laughed and said “Thank you.”  Then he tore up the evidence.

The Chicago Record expose gained considerable attention.  It also led to permanent reform.  From that day to this, there has never been another case of a Chicago alderman accepting a bribe in a public washroom.



The Yellow Kid Rides Again (1-25-1931)

Chicago’s most illustrious con man went through the indignity of a police lineup today.  The Yellow Kid didn’t like it.

Joseph Weil was born in Chicago in 1875.  At an early age he decided that honest work was beneath him.  He started his road to fame by peddling worthless patent medicines.

Yellow Kid Weil, 1931

He eventually worked his way up to the big time.  Weil was involved in land swindles, stock frauds, race-fixing, and other assorted ventures.  Along the way he acquired the nickname Yellow Kid, after a popular cartoon character.

Now, in 1931, he was in Chicago police custody.  Weil was charged with bilking a Michigan man out of $15,000 in a mining deal.  The cops were using the opportunity to parade the Kid through their daily lineup, to see if other victims might recognize him.

“And here, ladies and gentlemen, we have no less a distinguished personage than the Yellow Kid,” the officer in charge announced.

The Kid bowed.  Nobody in the audience had any charges to make.

Then the Kid went on the offensive.  “Sure, I am a con man—the best,” he said.  “But I’ve always taken from those who can afford the education.”  He claimed that he only cheated the dishonest rich.  He wasn’t one of those “smug hypocrites who rob the poor, then sit in church pews.”

Besides, the Chicago police were treating him shamefully.  Yesterday they had shipped him all the way to Rockford for a lineup there.  “They exhibited me to a farmer who lost two cases of eggs,” the Kid complained.  “The value was $8.50.  I have never been so humiliated.”

His discourse over, they took the Kid back to his cell.  His brother Ike arrived with a change of clothes.  Ike was a former court bailiff.

The Kid beat this particular rap.  He continued his career, with occasional interruptions for prison time, until old age caught up with him.  He died in a Chicago nursing home in 1976.  Paul Newman’s character in The Sting is based on Yellow Kid Weil.

Weil might have retired, but he never completely mellowed.  A Chicago reporter attended the Kid’s 99th birthday party in the nursing home.  There was cake, and singing, and much senior good fellowship.

When the party was over, and he thought nobody was watching, the Kid swiped the extra box of candles.


The Municipal Razor (1-15-1925)

Crime was on the minds of Chicagoans today.  And people were talking about the solution offered by a visiting French priest.

Chicago was earning a reputation as the wildest big city in the world.  Since 1920 robberies had gone up 35 percent, while the number of rapes, bombings, and arson cases was rising at an alarming rate.  In the past two years alone, murders had doubled.

Many blamed the crime problem on the Prohibition Act.  Alcoholic beverages had been banned in America, and bootlegging gangs were now in control of the liquor trade.  Violence was part of their business.  Everyday citizens were also losing respect for the law.

Still, Prohibition wasn’t going to be junked any time soon.  So what could be done about Chicago’s crime?  Abbe Ernest Dimnet had an answer.

Dimnet was the canon of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  He was a respected French author whose books were becoming popular in English translation.  The abbe was stopping in Chicago on a lecture tour.

Mayor Lewis Shank of Indianapolis was also in town to give a speech to a business breakfast.  Shank had said the way to fix Chicago crime was to hire smarter policemen.  Dimnet thought that was only part of the cure.

“In France,” he said, “we would be horrified at such a crime wave that has deluged dry Chicago.”  Besides good police, the city needed good judges who were not afraid to enforce the law.  And there was one more thing.

Chicago needed a guillotine.


Dimnet admitted that executions were not exactly civilized.  “However,” he went on, “there is something in the utter finality of the descending blade of a guillotine that inspires a healthy respect for the law.”  This was a far better way to deal with criminals than putting them in prison.  Because of bleeding-heart reformers, many prisons had become as posh as a bachelor’s hotel.

To be an effective deterrent, Dimnet said that the executions must be public.  He thought the best location for the “municipal razor” would be in Grant Park.

Abbe Ernest Dimnet returned to Paris unharmed by his visit to Chicago.  A few years later he wrote a best-selling self-help book in English called The Art of Thinking.

Prohibition ended in 1933.  Chicago never did erect a guillotine in Grant Park.  Instead, the city used the site for Buckingham Fountain.


Best Wishes from Leo (12-29-1923)

Today some 160 Chicagoans received New Year’s greetings from Leo Koretz.  The cards were inscribed with verse:  “If I could be transported/ This moment to your door/ I’d bring you smiles by dozens/ And good wishes by the score/ –Leo Koretz”

Leo Koretz

Those 160 people certainly knew Leo Koretz.  He’d convinced them to invest $10 million to develop oil land in Panama, then disappeared with the money.  His plan turned out to be a giant con.

So where was Leo now?  The cards had been mailed in Chicago.  As it turned out, he was in Nova Scotia, living it up with assorted women.

Koretz was extradited, convicted of his swindle, and sentenced to state prison.  He told reporters he’d never serve his time.

Before he could be transferred from the county lockup, one of his lady friends brought him a five-pound box of chocolate.  Koretz ate it in one sitting and keeled over dead, as he’d planned.  He was a diabetic.


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?