By raising the price of alcohol, while doing little to reduce the public’s demand for it, Prohibition had served to enrich those who were still willing to produce and sell. It also put the industry in the shadow of the law, and so created the incentives and opportunities for violence. Thus, the 1920s were the era of big-spending, flashy gangsters and headline-splashing murders, epitomized by the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. By 1930, that epoch was coming to a close. The stock market crash of the previous October and the rapidly worsening economy dampened the demand for booze, and the shrinking government revenues from income and sales taxes produced a political demand for new sources of tax revenue – and liquor was high on the list of potentially lucrative targets, if only it was legalized. Within three years, Prohibition was repealed, and its personification, Al Capone, was rotting away in prison. The .38 caliber revolver shot that killed Lingle symbolized the end of the golden age of the Chicago gangster.
Alfred J. Lingle was born of modest means on Chicago’s west side in July, 1891, the son of a small business owner. Lingle’s great talent lay in his personality: he was a “character” not easily forgotten, a warm, self-possessed fellow, and an easy confidant. Born a Jew, his family converted to Roman Catholicism when he was eight years old, meaning he could easily fit in with a variety of ethnic groups. Lingle was also fascinated with police work from a young age, and he would frequently haunt police stations and crime scenes, peppering detectives with questions.
After attending the John Calhoun North school at Adams and California streets (the school still operates today), Lingle first took a job as a stocker at the Schoelling Company, a surgical supply house. He also played semi-pro baseball for a short time. But it was not long before his talents and interests found him in a job as a crime beat reporter at the Chicago Tribune, where he first started work in 1912.
In those days, men like Lingle, who had progressed no farther than 8th grade in school, were paid to gather news on the street and feed it back to specialist writers who organized the facts and wrote the purple prose. Hence, Lingle typically had no byline, but his reporting laid the foundation for most of the big crime stories at the paper during the 1910s and 1920s (except during WWI, during which Lingle served as a Navy intelligence officer). One of his first assignments was to cover the closure of the south side “Levee” (open vice) district during 1912-13.
Lingle was successful in his work because of his ability to mix with the criminal element, and he was on familiar terms with all of the top racketeers of his period. Mossy Enright, Tommy Maloy, James Colosimo, Johnny Torrio, and Al Capone all counted Lingle as a friend. After his death, Lingle’s relationship with Capone would come under particular scrutiny. Lingle had, on several occasions, procured exclusive interviews with Capone, and “Big Al” had even gifted him with a $300 diamond-encrusted belt buckle, which he wore proudly.
Lingle was also close to many political figures and top police brass in the city. A childhood friend was William F. Russell, who became police commissioner in 1928 after scandals erupted surrounding the previous office-holder, Michael Hughes (described in this post). Some say that Lingle, through his various power connections, actually had a hand in lobbying for, and promoting Russell to the position. Lingle even had a joint stock investment fund he ran with Russell. Lingle’s close relationship with Russell (and his propensity for braggadocio) caused others to only half-jokingly refer to him as the “unofficial chief of police.” Many other key city officials, bureaucrats, and patrolmen were also among his friends.
But it’s possible to have too many friends. Lingle’s social network made him an ideal “fixer,” someone who could make deals between the underworld and those who were tasked with eliminating it. In time, the opportunities to put in a good word in City Hall for this or that gambling joint, to pass along a tip about an upcoming raid to some brothel proprietor, and to broker deals between speakeasies and the patrolmen on their beat, became too great for the $65-per-week newspaper stringer.
Like a great many others in the 1920s, Lingle also participated in the bull stock market of that decade. His bank records indicate he amassed over $85,000 in capital gains at the height of the frenzy. But, also like many others, he took a bath on Black Tuesday in October, 1929, losing most of his fortune and diving deeply into debt. But is was hard for Lingle to relinquish the lifestyle his underworld earnings and investment riches had brought him. It wasn’t easy to give up the vacations in Cuba, the high-rolling afternoons at the race track, and his luxurious suite at the city’s top hotel, the Stevens on Michigan Ave. (now the Chicago Hilton). Then there was his wife, Helen Sullivan, and their two young children, Alfred Jr. (born 1924) and Dolores (born 1925), who Lingle worshipped. He had recently put down $18,000 on a family vacation home in Indiana.
Thus it was that Jake Lingle increased his involvement with the criminal element. Where there was money to be made, he made it. To supplement that income, he even began double- and triple-crossing his acquaintances, working simultaneously as an agent for the police, politicians, and rival gang syndicates. Friends became enemies and enemies friends.
On the morning of June 9, 1930, Lingle left his in-town suite at the Stevens Hotel and, after stopping in at Tribune Tower to chat with his editor, he set out for the nexus of politics and crime in Chicago at Clark and Randolph streets, to see what choice tidbits he could pick up from the gamblers and sharpies who made that corner their headquarters. Next, it was a round of gladhanding and small talk with other power brokers in the lobby of the Sherman House hotel. Satisfied that he’d completed his work there, he walked east to Michigan Ave. At the corner of Randolph St., he purchased a newspaper and a horseracing publication and entered the underground tunnel leading to the train station on the other side of Michigan Ave.
The 1:30 train to Homewood was leaving in a few minutes and Lingle expected to spend the afternoon at the Washington Park Race Track. He was a big-spending gambler on the ponies, sometimes placing up to $1,000 on a single sprint. He was close with many horse owners and jockeys, and sometimes had inside information he used to turn the odds in his favor. The turf was also a great place to chat up those in the know in gangland, picking up tips he could pass on at the Tribune. So the afternoon gambling junket wasn’t purely a matter of pleasure.
As he walked through the tunnel, he lit a cigar, unaware of two men who trailed him in from the street. As he approached the far east end of the tunnel, one of them, a thin man with dark eyes and blond, wavy hair, pulled up behind Lingle and fired a single bullet into the back of his head. Lingle’s jaw clamped shut on the cigar and he fell face-forward to the ground, instantly dead.
His shooter and accomplice took off back through the tunnel, then suddenly, the man with blond hair who had fired the gun turned back and ran past Lingle’s body, leapt a railing at the train station entrance, and climbed up to the east side of Michigan Ave. Hot on his tail at this point were several by-standers who had watched in terror as the scene unfolded. Reaching the surface, they called out to a police patrolman, Anthony L. Ruthy, “Stop that man!” Officer Ruthy chased the killer across Randolph, then westward on the north side of the street across Michigan and into an alley which made a left turn and emptied onto Wabash St. At the corner of Wabash and Randolph, the shooter disappeared into the crowd and made a getaway from his pursuers. Later it was learned he entered the Taylor Trunk Company at 23 E. Randolph, nervously purchased a $5 hat, asked to use the restroom, and then left the store without his hat.
The gangland-style shooting of a humble and presumably honest news reporter with a wife and two children shocked the city. Here was a man who, to the public, appeared to have no gang affiliations, and killed in cold blood. If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. Public pressure to find Lingle’s killer and to rid the city of criminal gangs once and for all was intense.
Within 24 hours, the police rounded up 664 “wise guys” into the city bridewell, and an unsurpassed manhunt blanketed the Chicago area. One enterprising judge, John Lyle, used the opportunity of public outrage to issue largely unconstitutional, but ingenious, arrest warrants for “vagrancy” to top gang leaders, including Al Capone, on the theory that if they paid their bail, then they could be questioned on the source of their income and either imprisoned or investigated for tax evasion. Almost all of these efforts ended in little more than a waste of police and court resources, though a few notable criminals did fall into the dragnet, including labor racketeer George “Red” Barker, and Joseph Traum, an Indiana desperado. Another fallout from the killing was the resignation, under intense political pressure, of Lingle’s friend in the police force, Commissioner Russell, as well as several other top police brass.
Immediately after the killing, partially out of sympathy and partially for headline-grabbing purposes, Lingle’s employer, the Tribune, posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of his shooter, and other city papers added an additional $30,000 on top of it. When, a few days, later, however, competing papers began learning – and printing – the details of Lingle’s close associations with mobsters, his political “fixing” activities, and his lavish lifestyle and gambling habit, the Tribune maintained that no one at the company was aware of any of Jake Lingle’s darker side. In fact, Lingle had frequently bragged about his friendships with gangsters, although he also told friends that he had inherited hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy relatives.
Frank Wilson, an IRS agent investigating the Capone case, claimed in his autobiography that Col. Robert McCormick, proprietor of the Tribune, had personally arranged a meeting between Lingle and Wilson, scheduled for the day after the murder. If true, this implies that McCormick was well aware of Lingle’s underworld connections; however, McCormick always denied the accusation, and other sources claim that Wilson only contacted McCormick after the murder.
In any case, Lingle’s death created a scandal for the paper. Mayor William Hale Thompson, a long-time target of the paper’s editorials, took the opportunity for a pot shot at the Tribune, referring to it jokingly as the “Lingle Evangelistic Institute.” The Tribune tried to quash the furor by separating themselves from Lingle; they even published Lingle’s entire checking account register in a full two-page spread in an attempt at openness – while at the same time covering up what anyone at the paper might have known about the large and frequent sums entering and exiting the account. In an exculpatory editorial, the paper wrote,
Alfred Lingle now takes a different character, one in which he was unknown to the management of the Tribune when he was alive. He is dead and cannot defend himself, but many facts now revealed must be accepted as eloquent against him.
He was not, and he could not have been, a great reporter. His ability did not contain these possibilities. He did not write stories, but he could get information in police circles. He was not and he could not be influential in the acts of his newspaper, but he could be useful and honest, and that is what the Tribune management took him to be. His salary was commensurate with his work.
The reasonable appearance against Lingle now is that he was accepted in the world of politics and crime for something undreamed of in his office and that he used this in undertakings which made him money and brought him to his death. He has paid the penalty of it if he was enticed into this pool and the Tribune regrets it for the boy’s sake and for the sake of the profession.
The occurrence, although not unusual, is always tragic.
So who killed Jake Lingle, and why? The answer remains shrouded in mystery after 70 years, but here are the known facts. Lingle’s killer dropped his revolver at the scene of the crime. The serial number on the weapon had been filed down, but careful forensics were able to recover it, and the gun was traced to a sale at the sporting goods dealership of Peter Von Frantzius at 608 W. Diversey Pkwy. Frantzius was a popular arms dealer to the underworld, and his shop had also supplied the weapons used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Von Frantzius’s records showed the firearm had been sold to Frank Foster (born Frank Citro), known to police as a member of the Northside Gang, although there were indications Foster had recently switched sides, becoming a gunner for the rival south side Capone syndicate. Foster was arrested in Los Angeles on July 1, and extradited to Illinois.
Upon seeing Foster, several witnesses, including Officer Ruthy, who chased the shooter through the Loop, declared he was the killer. However, other witnesses disagreed, and Foster had a reasonably plausible alibi. The State’s Attorney’s office suspected he was not their man, but kept him in legal limbo while they continued their frantic search.
Finally, based on underworld gossip and a close resemblance to the witness descriptions, police arrested one Leo V. Brothers, a member of the St. Louis-based Egan’s Rats gang, which was a Capone affiliate in that city. Brothers was a labor union slugger, and was wanted in connection with a murder that took place during struggles between rival factions of a taxi drivers’ union. He had escaped to Chicago with a recommendation to one of this city’s top labor racketeers, Thomas Maloy, and had found work as a bouncer at the mob-controlled Green Mill saloon on Broadway and Lawrence Aves. (the bar still exists today). At his arraignment, Brothers curiously refused to plead either guilty or innocent, instead only saying “On the advice of my attorneys, I stand mute”. Many found it suspicious that Brothers, who was ostensibly destitute, was supported by a “dream team” of five top defense attorneys, led by the inveterately corrupt Louis Piquett, who would go on to greater fame as John Dillinger’s attorney and sometimes partner-in-crime.
Brothers went on trial in the spring of 1931. The prosecution produced seven eye witnesses who fingered Brothers as the shooter. The defense pointed out that a number of these witnesses were on the payroll of the State’s Attorney, and that their descriptions to police at the time of the murder differed in several important details. The defense also produced eight witnesses of their own, including Officer Ruthy, who had chased Lingle’s killer through the Loop, who claimed Brothers was not the man they saw.
In the end, however, the prosecution’s witnesses were more believable to most jurors, and Brothers’ checkered past in St. Louis made him a plausible assassin. One lone juror held out from the other eleven in returning a life sentence in the trial, however. Other jurors later claimed his man stubbornly refused to even discuss the matter, and so ultimately, the jury found Brothers guilty and sentenced him to only 14 years. At sentencing, Brothers proudly told reporters, “I can do that standing on my head!” Some intimated that Piquett or some wealthy supporters of Brothers behind the scenes had paid off the dissenting juror.
Regardless of whether Lingle was shot by Foster, Brothers, or someone else, it does little to answer the more important question of why Lingle was killed. One prominent theory, promoted by Roche and Rathbun, and supported by a former Northside Gang associate, Julian “Potatoes” Kaufman, is that Lingle was killed in a dispute over a ritzy gambling resort, the Sheridan Wave Club, located at Sheridan Rd. and Waveland Ave. According to Kaufman, he managed the Sheridan Wave for four years in the late 1920s. During that time, the club catered to an exclusive clientele, high-rollers whose large bets brought in boffo profits for the gang. So lavish was the Club, it is said that all drinks and other amenities were provided to customers gratis and at will while they placed bets.
In June, 1929, under public pressure to fight organized crime after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, police Commissioner Russell ordered the Sheridan Wave’s closure. Jack Zuta and other higher-ups in the Northside Gang itched to reopen it, and pressured Kaufman to get Lingle to talk with Russell about the possibility. Some sources claim that Lingle demanded a cut of the Club’s revenue. According to Kaufman, during one meeting with Lingle, Zuta showed up, and Lingle turned to him and said “Don’t speak to me, you lousy pimp.” Zuta was, in fact, a slimy pander, the Northsiders’ equivalent to the Capone syndicate’s Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik. In any case, Zuta began to see Lingle as uncooperative.
One ambitious gang underling, Grover Dullard, had run the craps table at the Sheridan Wave, and he had heard Lingle was the sticking point in keeping the Club closed. In Kaufman’s account, Dullard was looking to prove his worth to the gang, and saw Lingle’s murder as a way to impress Zuta. He told everyone he would “take care of” Jake Lingle.
Did Grover Dullard – either on his own, or at the request of Jack Zuta – hire someone to kill Lingle (or do the job himself)? It was well-known and substantiated that a deep mutual dislike existed between Lingle and Zuta, as well as Zuta’s partners, the Aiello brothers. In fact, within a half hour of Lingle’s death, police raided the Aiello bake shop and headquarters on Division street, arresting Carl and Dominick Aiello for questioning (the most prominent Aiello, Joe, was nowhere to be found). Zuta himself was brought in a few weeks later.
Since police headquarters were on the south side at Michigan and 11th St., in the middle of Capone syndicate territory, when Zuta’s questioning was completed, he pleaded for a police escort to the north side. The officers obliged, but during the drive through the Loop, the car was attacked by gunmen, who after firing indiscriminately into a crowd and killing a street car driver, sped away Hollywood-style, blowing a smoke screen behind them along State street.
Jack Zuta survived the hit, but met his end only a month later while on vacation at a resort near Delafield, Wisconsin. He was plopping nickels into a jukebox on the dance floor when he turned around and was met by a barrage of bullets from five men who had infiltrated the hall. Some theorize the killers were Capone’s men, and their purpose was to avenge Lingle’s death. Others believe Zuta was killed by his fellow gang members, who believed he was talking to police.
An alternative theory of Lingle’s death claims he was offed at the order of a relatively minor, but interesting, hoodlum, John J. “Boss” McLaughlin. A former state legislator, McLaughlin had moved easily across the blurry line between politics and crime, and was at the time building a series of gambling enterprises. Supposedly, he had threatened Lingle just days before his death after a police raid at his headquarters at 606 W. Madison, “I’ll catch up with you, and it won’t be long either”. McLaughlin believed Lingle was going to keep police Commissioner Russell off his gaming centers.
A third theory is that Lingle was actually a victim of Capone. Though Lingle and Capone were known to be friends, some sources claim Lingle had been paid a large sum of money to help Capone win political support and police protection for a number of dog tracks the syndicate planned to open in Illinois. Lingle had failed, the theory goes, and had lost the money gambling or in stocks. Then there is IRS agent Frank Wilson’s statement, alluded to earlier, that he was planning to meet with Lingle to discuss Capone’s tax issues. In addition, a number of witnesses at the scene of the crime identified Sam “Golf Bag” Hunt, a noted Capone gunman, as being present.
Alternatively, some claim Foster, who had recently begun working with Capone, was the killer, and that Capone’s gang arranged for Brothers to take the fall in order to help him escape his murder charge in St. Louis (which he eventually did). Hence Brother’s odd non-plea at his arraignment, and irrational exuberance at having been sentenced to 14 years after his conviction. However, the truth is that Jake Lingle’s tracks in the underworld were simply too complex to trace precisely, and the reason for his death is likely lost completely to history.
Leo Brothers served eight years and three months of his 14 year sentence at Joliet penitentiary, after being released early for good behavior. He was immediately re-arrested for the taxi murder in St. Louis, but the evidence had grown cold and he couldn’t be convicted. He went back to work in the tax racket in St. Louis, working his way up to a position of authority in the industry, until he was shot at his home in a gang hit in September, 1950. He died shortly after.
Frank Citro (Foster) also continued working in organized crime, returning to Los Angeles, where he died of a heart attack in April, 1967. A few months after Brothers was sentenced in 1931, Officer Anthony Ruthy was shot and killed in the line of duty by a fleeing bank robber. Coincidentally, Ruthy was killed less than 100 ft from where Lingle met his end, near the corner of Michigan and Randolph. Grover Dullard was a prominent Chicagoland bookie, and ran with a violent gang of gamblers into the 1940s. Julius “Potatoes” Kaufman moved to New York City, and then to Miami, where he continued running casinos. Peter Von Frantzius was charged with accessory to murder before the fact in the Lingle killing, but the charges were eventually dropped. He continued operating his sporting goods business until his death in 1968.
Lingle was shot at the east side of the tunnel under Michigan Ave., where it rose out of the ground and fed into the old Illinois Central railway tracks. That spot no longer exists today, since the train station has been moved underground. The tunnel under Michigan Ave. has long since been renovated and rerouted slightly, although it still passes close to where it lay in 1930 (see photo at the top of this post). Where the IC station once stood, today is the beautiful Millenium Park, built largely at taxpayer expense and only $130 million over budget and four years late for the millenium (it opened in 2004). Nevertheless, the park boasts a Frank Gehry-designed band shell, a fountain with a constantly-changing electronic image of a man or woman spitting, and "the bean". The spot pictured below at the southeast corner of Michigan and Randolph is Wrigley Square, featuring the "Millenium Monument", a set of greek columns that is a replica of a similar monument that stood on the spot in 1930.