Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Death of Jake Lingle

During the 1920s, a series of increasingly spectacular acts of violence enraged the public and each led to at least a short-term increase in police enforcement against criminals. But none was so prominent and far-reaching as that which followed the murder of Jake Lingle, Chicago Tribune reporter, close to here in the tunnel under Michigan Ave. at Randolph St., on June 9, 1930.

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 Within three years, Prohibition was repealed, and its personification, Al Capone, was rotting away in prison.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.

(Pictured: Jake Lingle)

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.
The Tribune also helped fund the investigation into the killing by the State’s Attorney’s office, contributing office space and the services of their corporate counsel, Charles F. Rathbun. Rathbun’s presence on the investigative team also helped insure that evidence unfavorable to the paper never saw the light of day. Pat Roche, lead detective in the State’s Attorney’s office, and Rathbun, lead a year-long focused manhunt for Lingle’s killer, which took them on investigative journeys as far as Havana and Los Angeles.

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.

(Pictured: Leo V. Brothers)

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.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jeff Fort Family Tree

As discussed in previous posts (here, here, here, and here), Jeff Fort was one of the most notorious gangsters in Chicago history. Like better-known Italian mob leaders such as Colosimo, Torrio, and Capone, he perceived arbitrage profits from government policy (primarily drug prohibition in Fort's case), then developed and managed a huge criminal distribution and marketing enterprise to exploit them. Also like other top gang leaders, he used ingenious methods to distract law enforcement and to massage political and community perceptions, and became a controversial community leader.

Fort was critical in establishing several important gang entities, including the Blackstone Rangers, the Black P. Stone Nation (a collection of local affiliated "stone" gangs), the People Nation (a national cartel of gangs including the BPSN as well as other lage organizations including the Vice Lords), and the El Rukns (a religiously-motivated gang). While the Italian mob in Chicago is today a mere shell of its former self, Fort's gangs, with the possible exception of the Rukns -- whose influence is nevertheless still felt -- are going strong.

It is not uncommon for gang members to draw their family into a criminal organization. Without the ability to enforce employment contracts through the court system the way legal businesses do, trust becomes a next-best substitute for formal contracts in underground industries. Ethnicity and common background engender some level of trust -- hence the fact that most gangs are composed of members of the same race or ethnicity -- but family ties are even stronger. Shirking and disloyalty to the gang in such cases thus means turning one's back on loved ones. In addition, family members of prominent criminals may face discrimination in the labor market (would you think twice before hiring someone named "Gotti"?), so non-gang opportunities become relatively scarce.

The Fort family exemplifies the role relatives play within a gang. Jeff Fort had seven brothers and three sisters, most of which are known to have been active in his criminal enterprise. He is believed to have fathered at least seven children, and two of these rose to leadership positions in the gang. In addition, nephews and even grandchildren have also been connected with criminal activity.


  • Andrew Fort (born c. 1959)
Active in developing the drug sales operations of the El Rukns in the 1970s and 1980s after Jeff Fort's release from prison in 1976. In 1986, convicted of the April 1985 murder of Robert "Dog" Johnson on Stony Island and 67th Place. Johnson, a former Rukn, had left the gang to deal drugs independently and was allegedly killed by Andrew Fort in a territorial dispute.

(Pictured: Andrew Fort, being arrested for marijuana possession in 1979 at the El Rukn Temple)

  • Bennie Fort (born c. 1949)

Active in the Blackstone Rangers and BPSN during the 1960s and 1970s. Served two years in prison between 1968 and 1970 for aggravated battery. After release, rejoined gang and was among top leadership during Jeff Fort's first prison sentence, 1972-76. He apparently continued to be active in the El Rukns during the 1980s, and in 1982 was involved in a physical altercation with a woman in a dispute over ownership of a television set. The woman called police, and while accusing Bennie Fort of aggravated battery, also fingered him as the killer in a murder a few months before, a bar fight that ended in the death of Darryl Poindexter. Fort went on trial for the slaying, but after some witness intimidation by his brothers Eugene and Johnny Lee (see below), was acquitted. He did serve two years in prison for the woman's battery, however.

Televisions were bad news for Bennie Fort. In June 1988, a fellow El Rukn, Perry Squire, sold a broken TV to Fort for $40. Fort managed to repair it, and when Squire saw his broken set working again, he insisted it be returned to him. Fort refused, but a few days later, the television was stolen, and Fort confronted Squire about it. An altercation ensued, during which Squire stabbed Bennie Fort to death.

  • Eugene Fort (born c. 1951)

A low-level enforcer in the Rukns. Along with Johnny Lee Fort, he was involved in intimidating witnesses during Bennie Fort's 1983 murder trial. On July 14, 1983, the day after police arrested Bennie Fort, Eugene and Johnny Lee Fort allegedly broke into the home of the woman who had accused him of the killing and threatened to kill her.

  • James Fort (born c. 1962)

Drug dealer in the Rukns. Convicted of crack cocaine distribution and imprisoned in 1994.

  • Johnny Lee Fort (born c. 1947)

The oldest of the brothers and the namesake of his father. Despite age, does not appear to have held high office in the gang, though together with Eugene Fort, was involved in intimidation of witnesses in Bennie Fort's 1983 murder trial (see above).

  • Lawrence Fort (born c. 1960)

Ran one of the El Rukns' ancillary businesses in the 1980s, a security firm known as Security Maintenance Services, Ltd. The firm was unlicensed, and Fort was arrested as part of a police sting operation at McCormick Place. Pled guilty in the case to operating a security firm without a license, and carrying an illegal firearm.


  • Pee Wee Fort (born ?)

Active in El Ruks during 1980s. In 1985, Yonava Eason and two girlfriends were walking down a street when they saw Andrew Fort (above) and David Carter, both El Rukns, open fire on Robert "Dog" Johnson. Eason picked Carter's photo from a lineup, but when asked to testify in court, recanted her identification. Andrew Fort was convicted, but without Eason's testimony, Carter went free. Later, in 1991, Eason admitted she had changed her testimony after being threatened out of court by Pee Wee Fort, who told her she "better not testify". "My family was more important to me than telling the truth in that courtroom that day," she said.

Carter was convicted of murder, but eventually had his sentence reduced to 8-1/2 years on narcotics distribution charges, based on prosecutorial misbehavior. Prosecutors in the case had allowed gang snitches to use drugs, liquor, and to have sex with their wives and girlfriends while under state guard.
  • Merriam Rice (neĆ© Fort) (born ?)

No known gang activities in Chicago. Today is an anti-gang activist, working alongside former Gangster Disciples leader K.G. Wilson in inner-city Minneapolis, who is involved in street preaching and anti-violence community organizing. See this article for details. The Disciples are the chief Chicago rivals of the BPSN, and form the core of the "Folk Nation", a gang cartel organization rival to Fort's "People Nation"; hence, Rice's work with Wilson is significant. Wilson said,

I heard Jeff Fort had a sister here. I introduced myself and told her to come out with me. She did, and she's been with me ever since. Here I am, an ex-chief of the Black Gangster Disciples, and God gave me the sister of Jeff Fort. I think that allows us to show people that this gang thing is garbage.

[Thanks to Otto Sotnak for the tip about Merriam Rice, which inspired this post.]

  • Antonio Fort (born c. 1966) (also known as "Prince Akeem")

Believed to have been among top Chicago-based leadership of the El Rukns during the 1980s (Jeff Fort commanded the gang from prison in Beaumont, Texas, for most of the period), Antonio Fort was the target of the arrest warrant police used to infiltrate and eventually demolish the El Rukn Grand Major Temple and mosque headquarters on 39th and Drexel in 1989. Antonio Fort was apparently not fully loyal to the gang (possibly under the influence of a substance abuse problem), leading Jeff Fort to direct "drummings" [beatings] of his own son by fellow gang members as punishment on at least two occasions.

In the early 1990s, Antonio Fort is believed to have led a large Stones set the South Shore neighborhood (colloquially known as "Terror Town" during the gang's reign). Between 1992 and 1996, he served a prison sentence for conspiracy to purchase cocaine in Evanston. His release may have created a power struggle in the gang; in any case, his body washed up on the shore of Wolf Lake, separating Illinois and Indiana, in March, 1997.
  • Watkeeta Valenzuela Fort (born c. 1970) (also known as "Prince Watkeeta")

In the power vacuum left after the government takedown of the Rukns in the late 1980s, Valenzuela came to power, leading one of the major Stones sets which controlled the Englewood neighborhood, with headquarters at 54th St. and Bishop St. (pictured at the top of this post). Valenzuela led the Stones in violent clashes with the Gangster Disciples gang, which also tried to move in on Rukn territory on the South Side during the early 1990s. In March, 1997, he pled guilty to running a cocaine trafficking operation, telling the court "I was born into this. I had no other choice."

Valenzuela is believed to have remained the closest of his siblings to father Jeff Fort, and to have incorporated much of the quasi-Islamic religious aspects of the Rukns in the 1990s Stones sets. His followers called themselves "Moes", a reference to the "Moorish Science" tenants of the Rukns. That name is still common among some factions.


  • Eugene Fort, nephew and son of Eugene Fort, brother (born c. 1972)

Active in Minneapolis crack trade during the early 1990s. Was chief suspect in 1990 murder of 11-year old boy Marcus Potts, who was at home alone while his house was being burglarized. A trail of footprints in the snow from the boy's home led police back to Eugene Fort's house, where traces of the boy's blood were found. However, the evidence was not strong enough to convict in court, and so the case was not brought to trial for 15 years, when DNA testing technology had advanced to the point where the blood could be more authoritatively matched. Eugene Fort was convicted of murder in 2007, though a new trial was briefly considered in 2007 based on the apparent jailhouse confession of his cousin Paul Rice. However, Fort's conviction was upheld.

  • Paul Rice, nephew and son of Merriam Rice, sister (born ?)

After the conviction of his cousin Eugene Fort in the murder of an 11-year old boy, Rice supposedly bragged to jail inmates that he had "killed a little boy" on at least two occasions. On this basis, Eugene Fort received a hearing to determine whether a new trial was warranted, though Fort's conviction was subsequently upheld.

  • Antonio Fort, grandson and son of Antonio Fort, son (born c. 1987) (also known as "Peanut")

Allegedly involved in 2002 mob beating that made national news. Jack Moore and Anthony Stuckey were driving drunk and high through the Oakland neighborhood, and crashed their van into a house on Lake Park Ave., where three young women were sitting. The crash injured the women, killing one. A crowd of men who were nearby at the time of the wreck dragged Moore and Stuckey out of the van and beat them to death on the street. A police officer who arrived on the scene to break up the violence claimed that Antonio was a leader of the vigilante mob, and had personally attacked Moore and Stuckey.

At trial in 2003, Antonio Fort testified that he arrived on the scene after the violence had already begun, and that he left quickly when he heard his mother calling him. Fort was acquitted. Reports indicate he is not closely associated with the Stones.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monroe Street

Perhaps second only to Wells St., Monroe St. was the home of vice in pre-Fire Chicago.

In the earliest years of Chicago's history, Monroe street was entirely rural, with many farmhouses. It may well have been Monroe that inspired one of the earliest town ordinances, passed in 1833, which imposed a fine of $2 on anyone allowing a pig to run loose in the city "without a yoke or a ring in its nose" (pigs were forbidden on the street entirely, nose ring or not, in 1842).

By the 1840s, Monroe was home to many fine mansions, primarily country-style homes. The architectural vogue in those days was a Chicago version of Palladian, mixing the classical Greco-Roman columns with aspects more familiar to southern plantation estates. The area near Wabash Ave. was known as "Garden City", likely inspired by the city seal ("Urbs in Horto"), but also indicative of the greenery that covered the Loop in those early years. Standing at Monroe and Wabash today, with the clash and clatter of the elevated train passing overhead and darkened by the hulking shadows of steel tracks and skyscrapers, it is difficult to picture the bucolic setting in which early Chicagoans once resided.

But while Wabash and Michigan Ave. retained their large estates up until the Fire, the 1850s saw Monroe St. in decline. Lumberyards sprouted at the west end of Monroe, near the river, and just on the other side of the river. 1850 saw the city's first gas works plant, the Chicago Gas Light and Coke Company, built at the corner of Monroe and Wacker Dr. (then known as Market St.). The presence of a big, dirty, industrial factory lowered surrounding property valuesSeptember 5, 1850 saw the city lit by gas for the first time, and by the end of the year, a series of pipes connected the factory to 112 street and bridge lamps around Chicago.

Another cause for Monroe street's diminishing reputation was the establishment, in 1856, of North's National Amphitheater, one of the city's first commercial venues for amusement, on the north side of Monroe, between Wells and Clark streets. The Amphitheater played host to traveling circuses, carnivals, and other troupes, and the characters who worked in these events were considered unsavory, and frequently stood accused of drunkenness, vice, as well as more serious crimes.

One 1850s newspaper review of a show indicated the precarious position Chicagoans were still in with respect to Native Americans on the plains:
"The Iroquois Indians are a novel feature, and go through their dances, and other aboriginal barbarities, with as much unction as their white brethren of the sawdust. It is also cheering to know that they entertain a high opinion of their audiences, and are invariably in favor of peace."
Levi J. North, the proprietor of the Amphitheater, was one of the 19th century's most famous horsemen. After performing in traveling shows up and down the East Coast, the Caribbean, and in Europe, where he was famed for an act involving galloping bareback, while holding aloft an infant child, North came to Chicago and built the Amphitheater.

(Advertisement of show at North's Amphitheater, Jan. 5, 1859).

Like most great riders, North was relatively small of stature, standing less than five and a half feet, and had long, flowing blond hair, which trailed behind him as he sped around the circus ring. In his later years, one commentator wrote that "He was born on a horse, has always lived on a horse, will die on a horse, and have a horse for a monument, and will rest uneasily if the monument is not trained." He was said to have been the first rider to ever turn a somersault on horseback.

While in Chicago, North also became involved in politics, running for and winning a seat as alderman of the third ward. The election was disputed, since North had only moved into the ward ten days before the election, but he was eventually allowed to keep his seat. After some years, however, misfortune befell the great rider when the theater burned, and the insurance company simultaneously went bankrupt. North rebuilt the circus ring and began performing again, earning $50 per night, which he continued in Chicago and in touring companies for over a decade before retiring in 1870 and moving to New York City. The Amphitheater was demolished in 1864 and the property rebuilt for commercial use.

With the poverty and criminality growing on the street, wealthy residents increasingly moved away from Monroe, lowering property values and attracting even more itinerant and criminal elements, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Cigar stores and houses of prostitution, including most famously Madam Lou Harper's "Mansion" between Wells and Franklin, and Francis Warren's troupe of streetwalkers, who resided between Clark and LaSalle.

The 1850s and 1860s saw masses of poor immigrants, primarily from Ireland, building a shantytown of low, tumble-down buildings centered around Monroe and Wells St., known as "Mrs. Conley's Patch". Longtime alderman and world-renowned dandy "Bathhouse" John Coughlin, was raised there. However, "the Patch" was also notorious in its day, not only for the decrepitude of its dwellings, but also for the depravity and dark crimes of some of its residents.

Chiefest among these was the city's first -- and perhaps greatest -- king of vice, Roger Plant. I have already covered Plant's exploits to some degree in this earlier post. A Yorkshire-born Englishman, Plant arrived in the city about 1857. Legend has grown around Plant, who was always tight-lipped about his personal history, such that it is impossible today to discern fact from exaggeration, but purportedly Plant had been convicted of a felony in England and was scheduled to be exiled to Australia when he escaped and made his way to Chicago.

By 1858, Plant had built "Roger's Barracks", a set of poorly-constructed shacks centered on the northeast corner of Wells and Monroe. The Barracks, later known as "Under the Willow", so named after a single sad willow tree which stood on the corner, was the center for all vice in the city up through the end of the Civil War. It was Plant who popularized the catchphrase "Why Not?", which was emblazoned on each of the blue window shades in the complex.

Plant himself was diminutive, at just over five feet tall and no more than 100 lbs, but he was apparently a vicious fighter, skillful with pistol, knife, and club, but especially with his fists and teeth. The only one who could ever whip him, it is said, was Mrs. Plant, a mountainous woman weighing at least 250 lbs. Plant kept order in the saloon on the premises, and operated as a fence and a bail bondsman, while his wife ran a brothel with no fewer than 80 inmates, rented out cubbies on the property for use by streetwalkers, and made a trade in "white slaves".

During the war, Under the Willow ("that shadowy haunt of sin", as the Tribune put it), played host to battalions of soldiers and was rarely empty at any hour. It was a fearsome place, however, with many men finding themselves robbed, beaten or knived, and discarded in the alleys (oftentimes by Mrs. Plant herself) after imbibing too much or falling asleep in one of the decrepit cribs.

Some of the permanent residents of the Plant complex included Mary Hodges, an apparently fantastically talented shoplifter, who it is said (again in tall tale fashion) would drive a cart into the shopping district several times a week to bring back her takings. Another was Mary Brennan ("an audacious old sinner", as the Tribune described her), who was herself a thief, but also the trainer of thieves and pickpockets. Mrs. Brennan's two daughters were caught breaking into a home whose owner was away on business one afternoon in 1866, and as punishment, were placed in the Catholic Asylum, separated from their mother until adulthood.

Another long-time tenant was Lib Woods. Miss Woods arrived in Chicago in 1855, and was described in 1860 as "one of the gayest, prettiest, most fascinating creatures that could be found among her class in this city....with a splendid head of hair that made her rivals all despair. It hung down below her waist, in long, glassy ringlets."

Woods was girlfriend to Billy Meadows, a successful prizefighter. But when Meadows took sick and died in 1861, Miss Woods' decline into dissipation was quick. She took up residence at Under the Willow as a prostitute shortly after, and was then seized with smallpox, which disfigured her beautiful features. She was frequently drunk and became increasingly violent as she aged. She died a sad death in 1870, found in a gutter of Wells street.

Roger Plant was also notorious for paying off the police to keep the heat away from Under the Willow and his other nefarious doings. In October, 1866, he was arrested for robbing a man he had helped bail out of the bridewell of $25. A few days later, the police discharged him, much to the uproar of the city's more righteous denizens. Most likely, the increasingly wealthy Mr. Plant greased a few palms on his way out of the police house. In a later committee investigation before city council, Plant was directly asked whether he had every paid off the police, and, displaying honor among thieves, he refused to perjure himself -- he "took the fifth" and was eventually dismissed for being unwilling to answer questions.

Within a few years after the war, Plant had amassed such a fortune as allowed him to depart his vile surroundings for a country estate outside of Chicago, and by 1871, the Tribune reported that "Roger is now a member of the church in good standing, drives an elegant team, and lives like a Christian."

Plant had many children, by some counts as many as fifteen, and a number of them went on to establish their own houses of vice in the Custom House Place district during the 1880s and 1890s, including daughters Kitty and Daisy Plant, and son Roger Plant, Jr. Many other former tenants not related to Plant also went on to develop vice businesses as well. He is rightly known as the father of vice in Chicago.

By the time of Roger Plant's retirement, Under the Willow extended halfway down the block on both Monroe and Wells streets, and the centerpiece of the property, rebuilt after the Great Fire, was a four story building. Plant continued renting the property for large sums into the 1890s, until it passed out of the family's hands in 1908, purchased by the city's top sporting man, J.J. Corbett for the sum of $100,000.

After the Fire, most of the residents of Mrs. Conley's Patch, having had their homes destroyed, moved to the south side, where many of the neighborhoods to this day still have substantial Irish populations. The west end of Monroe street was redeveloped largely as a warehouse district, while business and commercial buildings arose closer to the Lake.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Apartment

In April, 1963, Martin Luther King wrote in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" that
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
In January, 1966, Dr. King brought civil disobedience to Chicago to support "open housing" and the end of neighborhood segregation in the city. After years of marches through Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, the "Chicago Freedom" movement was the first major action of the civil rights movement in the north.

During the spring and summer of 1966, Dr. King lived three days a week in a slum apartment on this site, at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. "You can't really get close to the poor without living and being here with them," he said.

Dr. King moved in on January 26, 1966, and began paying $90 per month in rent to the landlord, Alvin Shavin & Associates. The building was a three floor walk-up with six flats, and Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, lived on the third floor.

Aides to King had selected the apartment with the goal of obtaining a home in what they called a "typical ghetto apartment". The fact that the ultimate tenant would be the world-famous civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner was kept secret from the landlord, as well as from the press, in order to avoid either an attempt to keep King out of the building, or, contrarily, any attempt by the landlord to clean up the building in order to avoid embarrassment.

In fact, the landlord did clean up the apartment substantially before he moved in, though it remained very dreary. The Tribune described it:
From the green painted entranceway of Dr. King's new home, up the three flights of bare wood stairs, to the partment on the right side of the third floor landing, poverty is everywhere.

If Dr. King toured his new home yesterday he could hardly be impressed. Tho it was freshly painted, there seemed to have been little pains taken to make it comfortable. In the white painted living room, including the fake fireplace, there was only one sofa. A chair and small table were nearby. In the large bedroom, painted gray, there is a new Hollywood-type bed. An adjoining bedroom, also painted gray, has a similar bed as well as a folding bed which could be stored in a closet. The yellow-painted kitchen contained only a sink. There was no stove or refrigerator. The unwashed kitchen windows looked out over a row of roof tops, cluttered with debris. Next to the kitchen is a bathroom. The tiled floor is cracked and seemed to be symbolic of the apartment's roundown condition. Across from the washbowl is bathtub, dirty and stained with age.

Mrs. King, dressed in a Persian lamb coat with mink-trimmed collar, admited she had some trepidation about living in the apartment: "I hear the accommodations are
not the best."

(Pictured: Dr. Martin Luther King and wife (center window) waving from their apartment at 1550 S. Hamlin.)
Dr. King's purpose in Chicago was primarily to lead a movement for "open housing". Although a 1948 Supreme Court decision had ruled that neighborhood restrictive covenants were unenforceable, Chicago and many other cities remained de facto segregated through social stigma and intimidation. Blacks therefore faced serious difficulties in moving out of slum conditions like those in North Lawndale, where King's apartment lay.
Immediately after moving in, Dr. King announced a plan to lead rent strikes against "slumlords" like Shavin and Associates, "which have created infamous slum conditions directly responsible for the involuntary enslavement of millions of black men, women, and children. Our primary objective will be to bring about the unconditional surrender of forces dedicated to the creation and maintenance of slums." King planned to organize tenants into a "union" of sorts, and use collective bargaining to lower rents and force improvements in substandard housing. Returning to his theme of higher law, King told reporters, "It may be necessary to engage in acts of civil disobedience in order to call attention to specific problems. Often an individual has to break a particular law to obey a higher law, that of brotherhood and justice."
(Pictured: Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King, in their Chicago apartment)
It is unclear, however, how an attack on landlords in Black neighborhoods would solve the problem of discrimination in housing in white neighborhoods. If anything, the use of political force to reduce rents could have the primary effect of reducing the supply of cheap housing and minimizing the incentive of landlords to improve property in order to achieve higher rent.
King's initial tactics along these lines also backfired politically. His first target was a decaying brownstone at 1321 S. Homan, a few blocks from his own fetid apartment. On February 23, 1966, King and twenty members of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference announced they were taking over the building, which was in a serious state of delinquency with city codes, as a "trusteeship". Tenants, he announced, would pay their rents to the SCLC instead of to the landlord, and their rents would be used to improve the building.
Naturally, the landlord was none too happy about the scheme. It turned out that he was no slimu Leona Helmsley-type character, but instead an elderly, debilitated man, who himself had few means of support. When told about King's actions, the property owner, 81-year old John Bender, from his wheelchair, told reporters that the building was a "white elephant," and that he hadn't seen a cent from it in the years he owned it. In fact, he said, he had lost $25,000 in the investment, and he would be more than happy to give it to Dr. King or anyone else, provided they simply pay the $150 a month mortgage.
Public opinion swung towards Bender. King's actions were a violation of Bender's property rights, and were illegal -- at least depending on one's definition of law. "I won't say that it is illegal, but I would call it supra-legal. The moral question is far more important than the legal one," said King.
But the courts didn't agree. In April, 1966, Chancery court issued an injunction against the SCLC and handed the property back to Bender, who promptly died within the month. The property fell into the hands of a court-appointed receiver, who did little about the code violations. The building still stands, more than 40 years later, as dilapidated as ever.
Open housing wasn't King's only goal during his time in Chicago. In a June rally at Soldier Field, King declared a number of others: school desegregation in Chicago, a city income tax, a $2/hr minimum wage, Black history courses in all public schools, and an expansion of the elevated trains to O'Hare airport and the Northwest side (in order to allow Blacks to reach these primarily-White neighborhoods). The Soldier Field rally was also notable for the appearance of a number of Chicago street gangs, including the Blackstone Rangers. The Rangers unfurled a huge banner that read "Black Power", the slogan of the more radical element in the civil rights movement, and one that King was uncomfortable with.
Dr. King's relationship with street gangs in Chicago was one of wary acceptance. After a perceived snub during the Soldier Field rally, the Conservative Vice Lords, who were also in attendance, stood up and walked out, and were followed by the Rangers and another major gang, the Gangster Disciples. King's apartment was just a block away from CVL, Inc. headquarters on 16th street, so it may have been a desire for peace that lead him to invite CVL leadership to a meeting a few weeks later at his apartment. He told them that SCLC needed help from gang members, needed them to be his "troops" on the ground, and street gang members were a part of King's efforts in Chicago throughout that summer, despite the discomfort they inspired in many SCLC members. King was probably right; if he were to lose the support of street gangs, who controlled the streets in many Black neighborhoods, he would likely lose the support of Blacks in the city generally.
While King's "trusteeship" takeovers of slum dwellings were generally unproductive, his marches against discriminatory real estate agents were far more successful. In July and August, 1966, the SCLC led marches through all-White neighborhoods on the Southwest side, including Gage Park, Bogan, and Evergreen Park. These events invariably turned violent. In one August march, crowds of white residents blocked the marchers path along Kedzie Ave., between 63rd and Marquette Rd. Dr. King arrived on the scene and, as he got out of his car, was pelted on the back of the neck with a rock. Falling to the ground, he steadied himself, saying "I have to do this -- to expose myself -- to bring this hate into the open. I have seen many demonstrations in the south but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I've seen here today."
For its part, the Chicago Tribune was openly hostile to Dr. King and his efforts throughout his time in the city. In one particularly inflammatory editorial, the paper wrote
These "rights" leaders and the foggy clergymen who abet them on are not heroes. For all their pious protestations of nonviolence, they are working hand in glove with the criminal element to create confusion and turbulence and to compound the danger to Chicagoans. They can no longer even pretend to be ignorant of this link. Chicago has already paid too high a price for this deliberate campaign of sabotage. Causing violence to achieve political ends is criminal syndicalism, a statutory crime in many states. There are other laws, in addition, against inciting violence. If the marchers keep up their sabotage, it will be time to indict the whole lot of them.
Mayor Daley took a more nuanced approach. While publicly respecting Dr. King's efforts, he also worked to undermine them by emphasizing the city's own efforts to improve conditions in Black neighborhoods, implicitly implying King's work was unnecessary. Nevertheless, Daley too was troubled by the increasing violence associated with the marches on the Southwest side. When King announced the next target would be suburban Cicero, elements in various White Power groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, made it clear that they would confront and oppose any civil rights march in the city.
Daley and others pleaded with Dr. King to cancel the march in Cicero, to no avail. Finally, just a few days before the event, a compromise was achieved. Mayor Daley, the Chicago Real Estate Board, and a number of other city leaders signed a statement agreeing to the principles of open housing, and promising to end "steering" practices, by which Black residents were discouraged from purchasing property in white neighborhoods. In return, King postponed the march in Cicero indefinitely. (More radical elements were not dissuaded, however, and a smaller march did take place in Cicero in September, and in fact, it was marked by violence).
Having apparently brought the city on board with the principles of open housing, Dr. King declared victory in Chicago, and moved on to new challenges, leaving an affiliate, Jesse Jackson, to continue the SCLC's operations in the city under the banner of Operation Breadbasket.

When King was assassinated in April, 1968, riots erupted on the West and South sides of Chicago, with burning and looting throughout these neighborhoods. One of the buildings burned in the riots was the one where King had lived at 1550 S. Hamlin. The building survived, however, at least to some degree, and remained a burn-out for another decade. It was demolished in 1979.
The property remained an empty lot for the next thirty years. In spring, 2009, developers announced plans to build a $17 million complex called the "Dr. King Legacy Apartments," including commercial space and an "exhibition center". A sign was planted indicating the complex would break ground in fall, 2009. As of November, 2009, there is no sign of any construction, and the sign is gone.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shoot It Out? The Death of Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton, Illinois Chairman of the Black Panther Party, was living with his girlfriend and other Panther friends in the first-floor apartment of this building at 2337 W. Monroe St. on December 4, 1969. At 4:30 a.m. that morning, 14 officers from the state’s attorney office served a warrant to search the premises for illegal weapons. A shoot-out followed, in which Hampton and Peoria Panther chapter leader Mark Clark were killed. But after the sound of gunfire died down, investigations into the incident would shake the foundations of law and order in Chicago, destroy the career of the city’s brightest rising political star, fill newspaper headlines for over a decade, and create a scandal that reached all the way to J. Edgar Hoover’s desk at the FBI.

Fred Hampton’s family came to Chicago after World War II from Haynesville, Louisiana, part of the great migration of southern Blacks into the industrial cities of the North during the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Initially settling in suburban Argo, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hampton both found work at the famous Corn Products plant in that city. The Hamptons’ first child was a daughter, Delores, and shortly after arriving in the Chicago area, their first son, Fred, was born, in August, 1948. A few years later, Iberia Hampton would give birth to a third child, William. The family lived briefly in Blue Island, but then made their permanent home in Maywood, at the time a mixed-race working-class suburb with solid schools and easy access into Chicago.

Growing up in Maywood, Fred Hampton was a good student, and active in sports, playing on the baseball, football, basketball, and wrestling teams at Proviso East High School. It was while attending Proviso East in the mid-1960s that Hampton became deeply interested in the civil rights movement. He began spending his evenings listing to recordings of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, over and over again, and in this way, developed rhetorical skill that would soon turn him into a political wunderkind. As one Maywood resident later noted, “He never really was a teenager in the normal sense of an adolescent. When other teens were talking about clothes, dating, and sports, he always would be talking about ‘the movement’.”

Hampton was also a natural leader, and began organizing Black students at Proviso East in marches and demonstrations against the school administration, agitating against discrimination and in favor of more resources for minority students. During this period, Hampton’s grades fell, but he nevertheless graduated in 1966. That summer, he found work supporting anti-discrimination efforts in housing markets in Chicago, led by Martin Luther King. Based on his work with the famed civil rights leader, he was appointed head of the youth council of the NAACP in Maywood, and became an active political agitator in that town.

During the late 1960s, Hampton attended Triton College, YMCA Central College, and Malcolm X College sporadically, but his heart was in political organizing, and through the influence of the burgeoning radical movement, as well as hard experiences, he drifted away from the moderate non-violence of Martin Luther King, and towards a more confrontational protest style, which both put him in trouble’s way, and made him a target for conservative elements in society and the police.

(Pictured: Fred Hampton)
In June, 1967, Hampton was arrested while leading 18 Maywood youths in a protest that turned violent. The group was criticizing the village’s administration for the dearth of public services available to Black residents, particularly a public pool. In those days of segregated pools, white Maywood residents could travel to nearby suburbs to swim, but Blacks were not allowed in pools in upscale suburbs like Oak Park and River Forest. Hampton was arrested again in September, 1967, for leading a protest at Proviso East High School in which a riot erupted and a policeman was attacked.
But Fred Hampton’s most infamous moment took place on July 10, 1968, when a white ice cream truck driver, Nelson T. Suitt, was trolling for customers through a Black section of Maywood, and was accosted by a gang of youths, asking for free product. “Don’t you know you are in a black power neighborhood?” they demanded. Just then, Fred Hampton drove by, and one of the boys told Suitt, “now you’re going to have to give us the ice cream – here comes our leader”.
According to police, the group then attacked and looted the truck, with Hampton personally climbing into the cab and beating Suitt. After his attackers departed, Suitt hailed down a passing police car, and, with the officer, identified Fred Hampton on the street. In his defense, Hampton claimed the truck was already looted when he arrived on the scene, and that the supposed battery on Suitt was a frame-up by the Maywood police, who disliked the protests he led against Maywood village administration.
Shortly after this incident, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party, apparently immediately becoming leader of the Illinois chapter. The BPP was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, and was notoriously violent, and particularly antagonistic towards police. In one case, a Panther chapter supplied children with coloring books that pictured police being shot and stabbed by Blacks, and included the statement “The only good pig is a dead pig.” By 1968, the BPP had chapters throughout the country and boasted 3,000 – 5,000 members nationally; violent clashes with police were reported in many cities.
Because of the Party’s violent and confrontational nature, being associated with the BPP was no small matter – it was a choice that put one outside the realm of polite society, to say the least. A friend to tried to convince Hampton not to join, arguing that his membership in the BPP would keep him from his potential as a great political leader. The friend said, “We talked about this in depth many times and he used to tell me he was involved in the liberation of people. He used to say he didn’t want to live a long time, but that he wanted to do something while he was alive.” Hampton’s response was prophetic.
As a BPP member, Hampton increased the pressure on the Maywood village government, leading increasingly violent clashes between Black protestors and police. In July, 1968, he led a troop of 150 young men in an assault on Maywood city hall during a city board meeting. When refused entry to the meeting, the group began pelting the building with rocks, breaking out windows and shouting angry slogans. The mayor and other city officials escaped down the back fire escape while the rioters moved down the street, breaking windows and starting fires in stores and homes.
Throughout 1968 and 1969, Hampton led the BPP’s movement in Chicago to recruit college and high school students to the party. He gave speeches at Roosevelt University, DePaul, and several city colleges, advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government, and quoting at length from the Communist Manifesto, and from the works of Mao Tse-Tung. In part for the purpose of improving their public image, the Chicago chapter of the BPP started a “breakfast for children” program, which provided food for Black youth in three locations throughout the city, although critics claimed the program was poorly managed, and that “donations” of food and money were primarily obtained through extortion. A Tribune investigation also revealed evidence that money donated for the program was improperly channeled to pay for BPP members’ car payments and clothes. The BPP also attempted to open a free health clinic in the primarily-Black neighborhood of North Lawndale, although these plans never came to fruition due to opposition from a rival Black youth organization, the Conservative Vice Lords street gang, which controlled that neighborhood.
Through his work in the BPP, and through the nationwide notoriety of the BPP, Fred Hampton was increasingly seen as a political figure, and a threat to the Chicago police and elected officials. In April of 1969, a jury convicted Hampton of robbery in the ice cream truck case, and given Hampton’s growing political status, the newly-elected state’s attorney, Edward V. Hanrahan, took special interest in the verdict, pushing for immediate sentencing. The judge in the case demurred, and put off the next phase of the trial until May, when Hampton was sentenced to serve 2-5 years. Through appeals, however, he was allowed to remain free.
(Pictured: State's Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan)
Today, we typically associate gun rights with right-wing political organizations; however, historically, left-wing groups (see this post on gun advocacy by 19th century labor agitators) opposed to the government were among the most ardent supporters of the right to bear arms. The Panthers strongly advocated arming Black citizens as a defense against government tyranny, and a deterrent to perceived police racism. One year, the Party sold Christmas cards which showed Black children aiming rifles at Santa Claus, and asking their parents for guns and explosives for Christmas, in lieu of toys. Fred Hampton’s Chicago BPP chapter advocated similarly, and stockpiles of weapons were kept at Panther headquarters. However, they had an additional reason to arm themselves: a perceived threat from other Black organizations in Chicago.
I have already mentioned the rivalrous relationship between the BPP and the west side Vice Lords, largely based on competition for leadership status among Chicago Blacks. Hampton’s relationship with another prominent street gang, the Black P. Stone Nation (formerly known as the Blackstone Rangers), was no less strained. A Panther member described a bizarre meeting between Hampton and the BPSN in 1969:
[Jeff] Fort [leader of the BPSN], carrying only a lighted candle, met the small band of Panthers at the door and led them into a gymnasium, where a spotlight was turned out. “All around the room all I could see was the silhouette of Blackstone Rangers,” O’Neal recalled. “It looks to be maybe 500 of them. Hard-core crazies, man. They had a medicine man who was doing this dance. And then Jeff Fort said something like “There ain’t going to be no panthers in this city, there’s just going to be Stones.”
Hampton talked his way out of the meeting, but on the drive home, told his compatriots that they needed guns – lots of them. The BPP made it known that they would buy guns, and soon, they were flooded with firearms, including many stolen and illegal weapons, which they stockpiled at Panther headquarters and in the homes of BPP leadership throughout the city.
Hampton’s rhetoric towards the police was often severe. One of his favorite quotes, which he repeated frequently, was “when you kill all the pigs [police], you get complete satisfaction.” Nevertheless, Hampton did not directly advocate violence – at least not yet. During riots in Chicago in October, 1969, instigated by the Weathermen, Hampton announced himself against an immediate overthrow of the government, saying “We don’t support people who are anarchistic, chauvinistic, masochistic, and Custeristic – people leading people into confrontations they are unprepared for. Revolution and uprising is an art, and we’ve got to move from that premise. If you persist in these spontaneous acts, we are going to have to look on you as pigs or pig agents.”
Nevertheless, the Panthers’ violent rhetoric (and, in many cases, actual violence) against police and the government, and their stance towards firearms, quickly caught the wary eye of FBI agents in Washington. J. Edgar Hoover started a confidential operation known internally as “COINTELPRO – Black Extremists” which both sought intelligence on Black organizations such as the Panthers, and purposed to infiltrate, harass, and discredit the leaders of those organizations. In one memo, Hoover wrote that the purpose of the program was to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.” In another memo, he referred to one of COINTELPRO’s explicit purposes, to “neutralize the Black Panther Party and destroy what it stands for.”
One of the FBI’s means for destroying the Panthers was to stir up animosity and violence between them and other Black organizations. In this post, I described an anonymous letter sent to Jeff Fort, BPSN leader, implying that the Panthers were planning to assassinate him, and suggesting he take violent action. Another program infiltrated the Chicago BPP chapter with an FBI informant, William O’Neal, a former low-level street criminal, who began passing information about Fred Hampton’s weapons acquisitions back to FBI agents in 1968 (O’Neal is the source of the quote above regarding the meeting with Fort and the BPSN). He also provided the feds with a floor plan of Hampton’s apartment in 2337 W. Monroe St., and tipped off agents about times Hampton spent there.
Hampton had established the BPP headquarters at 2350 W. Madison St., just a block away from the apartment, probably because he had family that lived in the neighborhood. The area was almost entirely populated by Blacks, and the Panthers felt safe there. The apartment itself was nothing to write home about, with five small rooms, including two bedrooms and one bathroom. It was run down and dirty, drafty and cold, and was in serious need of paint. In December, 1969, Fred Hampton was living in the apartment with his girlfriend, 18-year old Deborah Johnson, who had recently discovered she was pregnant with his child.
Besides becoming a father, Hampton was also active in pulling together a BPP movement which nationally was splintering between more and less radical factions, and had suffered from internecine fighting between the leadership (possibly facilitated by FBI efforts). The Party, which had once boasted 5,000 members, probably had no more than 1,000 nationwide by late 1969. Hampton had recently returned from a visit to Panther headquarters in Oakland, where he had conferred with other Party leaders about the future of the movement.
Upon his return to Chicago, he invited the only two members of the Peoria BPP up to Chicago to discuss plans for the Party in Illinois, and they stayed with him in the apartment on Monroe St. The leader of the Peoria chapter was Mark Clark, and his only acolyte was Tony Harris. Harris was arrested in Chicago after a gun battle with police on December 2, leaving Clark alone to lead the Panthers in Peoria. Unlike Hampton, who was a political leader who sometimes became involved in street crime, Mark Clark was a street criminal who became involved in politics. He never graduated high school, and had little sense of the future. He had repeatedly told his sister he would never live to see 1970.
(Pictured: Mark Clark)
On the evening of December 3, 1969, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, FBI informant William O’Neal, and several other BPP members ate a simple dinner of spaghetti, hot dogs, and Kool-Aid at the apartment on Madison St. The group stayed up late, talking, playing games, and cleaning a shotgun, one of the 19 firearms that Hampton kept at the apartment for protection. Slowly, the party ended with some members, including O’Neal, departing for their homes, and nine others falling asleep either in one of the two bedrooms or on mattresses in the living room. Hampton and his girlfriend Deborah Johnson eventually retired to the back (south) bedroom. The last lights finally went out around 4:00 a.m., just half an hour before all hell was to break loose.
As noted above, FBI agents had received a floor plan of the apartment from O’Neal, and were informed of the weapons and ammunition Hampton stored there. They first approached the Chicago police about performing a weapons raid on the apartment in October or November, 1969, but were turned down twice. Next, they turned to the State’s Attorney’s office, led by the recently-elected Edward V. Hanrahan. Hanrahan was a rising star in the Democratic Party in Illinois, a machine politician who was widely considered the heir-apparent for the elderly Mayor Richard J. Daley. Hanrahan had taken a popular stand in favor of law and order, and was Daley’s chief instigator of a “War on Gangs,” in which the state vigorously prosecuted gang members who committed crimes.
Hanrahan saw the BPP as a criminal organization, and a threat to law enforcement, neither of which were entirely untrue. Just two weeks earlier, two Chicago police officers had been killed in a shootout with BPP members at an abandoned hotel on Calumet Ave., at 58th Street. When presented with the FBI’s information, he saw an opportunity to start ridding the Party of its weapons, and possibly to take down its leadership.
A warrant to search Hampton’s apartment for weapons was drawn up and signed, and a team of 14 Chicago police officers who were working as investigators for the State’s Attorney office, was asked to develop a raid strategy. It would be a dangerous assignment, and the possibility of violence couldn’t be ignored. The raid was originally scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on the evening of December 3rd, but the police feared that the streets would be busy at that hour, and bystanders could be hurt or try to interfere in the raid. It was decided to serve the warrant at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of December 4th instead.
The 14 raiders were led by Sgt. Daniel Groth, and included five Black officers, among them James “Gloves” Davis, a west-side officer who had long been a bugbear for the Vice Lords and other street gangs. The raiders surrounded the building, with eight officers manning the back door and windows, and six at the front. Sgt. Groth knocked on the front door. Inside, a voice asked “Who’s there?” and Groth replied “This is the police, I have a warrant to search.”
One of the men in the apartment, Louis Truelock, ran to the back bedroom and began trying to wake Fred Hampton. “Chairman, chairman, wake up. The pigs are back” (other accounts indicate it was Vietnam veteran and BPP member Harold Bell who attempted to wake Hampton). In the living room, Peoria chapter president Mark Clark sat in a chair facing the door, holding the shotgun the group had cleaned earlier that night. Sgt. Groth again pounded on the door, this time with the butt of his gun. “Open up, police!”

(Pictured: Floor plan of Hampton's apartment, where the raid took place)
When the door didn’t open, Groth ordered Officer Davis to break it in. Davis hit the door with his shoulder, opening up into an ante room, and falling onto a mattress spread across the living room floor. At just that moment, Mark Clark raised his twelve-gauge shotgun and fired once through the door at police. Sgt. Groth smashed through the door into the living room and, in the faint glow of a space heater, saw a woman, later identified as Brenda Harris, across the room, who appeared to be loading a gun and preparing to shoot. Sgt. Groth fired at her as Officer Davis arose from the mattress and spied Clark sitting on his chair with the shotgun. Davis fired three times at Clark, likely killing him at that point.
The other officers, hearing the gunfire, followed into the darkness and began a wild search through the apartment for the others. Without the aid of light or much space in an apartment that now held nine Black Panthers and 14 police officers, panicked officers mistook the sound of other officers’ guns for return fire from the Panthers, leading to more confused shooting. The raiders began piling up the apartment-dwellers in the kitchen as the found them.
Sgt. Groth later claimed that, at five different points during the raid, he called for his men to cease firing, and shouted for the Panthers to surrender. Each time, he claimed, a voice yelled “Shoot it out!”, and the gunfire continued. At one point, Louis Truelock and Deborah Johnson walked out of the rear bedroom with their hands up, and surrendered to police. After collecting them in the kitchen with the others, besides Clark, who was dead, the raiders went into the back bedroom, where they found Fred Hampton sprawled face-down on the bed, killed by two bullets which had passed through the thin walls of the apartment, and which were later determined to have been fired from Officer Davis’ service weapon. The raiders claimed that, on the floor by Hampton’s right hand was a .45 caliber automatic weapon, and by his left hand, a shotgun. When the gunfire finally ended, Hampton and Clark were dead, and four other Panthers and one police officer were shot and wounded. All seven surviving apartment-dwellers were arrested on charges of attempted murder.
The vast majority of Chicagoans viewed Fred Hampton as a violent militant and agitator, and saw the Panthers’ attacks on the raiders as murderous and, therefore, the raiders’ return fire as justifiable homicide. However, from the start, there were many unanswered questions. Why did the police serve a warrant at 4:30 in the morning? And after Clark shot through the door, why didn’t they employ tear gas or simply surround the apartment, instead of venturing inside for a gunfight? Who fired first, and who fired most?
Several Black leaders were quick to condemn the raid, and rumors flew that Hampton was intentionally murdered by police. That day, at the concurrent trial of the “Chicago Seven” associated with the previous year’s Democratic National Convention riots, defense attorney William Kunstler asked the court for an adjournment for mourning, “because of the murder of Fred Hampton by police in Chicago early today.” A spokesman for the NAACP branded the killings as “modern-day lynchings”. Operation Breadbasket leader Jesse Jackson told reporters he was “personally grieved” by Hampton’s death, saying “he was a personal friend of mine,” and that he would demand a detailed investigation into the incident.
At high schools throughout the city and suburbs, Black students walked out and congregated at the Civic Center downtown for a massive protest. At Hampton’s former high school in Maywood, Proviso East, classes were cancelled until January in order to avoid violence. The mayors of Maywood and Gary, Indiana, and the president of Malcolm X College all lauded Hampton’s work and insinuated that his death was no accident. Panther “Defense Minister” and post-Hampton leader Bobby “Che” Rush announced “inside information” he claimed to have received that the raiding party included known KKK members, and that Hampton was drugged and then killed in his sleep.
State’s Attorney Hanrahan repeatedly told reporters that the officers had acted in a completely professional manner, serving a legitimate warrant, and defending themselves when fired upon. The first of many investigations of the incident was by the Chicago police internal investigation division (IID). The officers involved in the raid were acting at the behest of the State’s Attorney office, but IID performed an investigation anyway, quickly clearing the officers of any wrongdoing.
The next investigation was at the behest of the Cook county coroner’s office. At the conclusion of a twelve-day inquest on January 21, 1970, a fury of three Blacks and three whites unanimously vindicated the raiders’ story. A chemist for the coroner’s office reported no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Hampton’s body. Ballistics crime lab expert John Sadunas examined the shell casings found at the crime scene, and determined that three shots were fired at police, including two from Brenda Harris’ weapon.
(Pictured: Coroner's jury investigates the crime scene)
It appeared that the case was over. The grand jury found that Fred Hampton was not murdered, and that the State’s Attorney’s raiding party had acted in strict accordance with police principles, attempting repeatedly to stop the shooting, but each time being rebuffed with “Shoot it out!” But, in fact, the saga of Fred Hampton was only beginning, and the incident would be repeatedly replayed in court for the next ten years.

One limitation of the coroners’ investigation was that the police had failed to properly seal the crime scene after the incident. Before the crime lab experts showed up on the scene, police had already removed all the weapons from the house and loaded them into a police vehicle. An attorney for the BPP got to the apartment early and removed the part of the door in which Clark’s shotgun shell had passed, taking it with him and making it available to the inquest only under court order. The BPP had allowed curiosity-seekers to tour the apartment and touch objects and furniture, and possibly take with them some of the shell casings. State’s Attorney Hanrahan put daily pressure on the coroner to finish the inquest, meaning that the crime lab was unable to fully examine the ballistics and fingerprint evidence that remained.
For all of these reasons, and under intense pressure from the NAACP and other groups, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a probe into the incident, under the auspices of determining whether Hampton’s civil rights had been violated by the raiders. The jury methodically took statements from each of the raiders, examined the evidence, even exhumed Hampton’s body, which had been buried at the family’s native home in Haynesville, Louisiana.
The federal grand jury report, numbering 243 pages, was released in May, 1970, and its findings were damning. With additional time to investigate the evidence, crime lab expert Sadunas changed his testimony from that given at the coroner’s inquest: All but one of the roughly 100 shell casings found at the scene came from police weapons. Only Mark Clark’s weapon was fired among those belonging to the BPP. The violence at the scene was almost entirely due to police heavy-handedness. The post-incident crime scene investigation was completely inadequate and suggested an attempt to cover up evidence of police misconduct. State’s Attorney Hanrahan’s statements to the press and the coroner’s inquiry were disingenuous and misleading, and his efforts had materially obstructed the coroner's inquest.
The federal grand jury concluded that the original IID investigation was a complete sham, with each officer being asked questions which had been previously written up and given to them, along with a set of answers. The seven surviving apartment-dwellers refused to testify to the federal grand jury, and on that basis, the jury returned no indictments, but their report was unequivocal: “Physical evidence, standing alone and unexplained, is sufficient to establish probable cause to charge the officers with a willful violation of these survivors’ civil rights.”
With no evidence that anyone in the apartment except Clark had fired against police, Hanrahan was forced to immediately drop all charges against the seven survivors of the raid. The heads of the IID and the police crime lab, plus the deputy police superintendant, were all demoted, and the State’s Attorney police force was disbanded.
The injustice of the raid and the unnecessary violence, however, meant that the grand jury’s report did little to satisfy Hanrahan’s detractors. On the anniversary of Hampton’s death, December 4, 1970, protests throughout the city turned violent. El train conductors refused to make stops at the 63rd and Dan Ryan station, due to the presence of an angry mob on the platform. Continued political pressure finally led to the empaneling of a third grand jury in a special Cook county session, for another investigation of the incident.
After much legal wrangling, the special grand jury indicted eight of the police raiders, including Sgt. Groth and Officer Davis, crime lab expert John Sadunas, and State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, along with several other members of his office. The Chicago Bar Association, the Better Government Association, and the Chicago Crime Commission all advised Hanrahan to step down. Even fellow Democrats, including Sen. Adlai Stevenson, refused to support Hanrahan. He was political kryptonite.
At Hanrahan’s 1972 trial, the apartment-dwellers finally gave their own version of the events that night. Before the federal grand jury’s report, it is unlikely that most Chicagoans would have given them any credence at all, but with the cloud of suspicion hanging over the State’s Attorney, their reports took on an air of possibility. Louis Truelock testified that he had shouted to the police “Stop shooting, stop shooting. We have a pregnant sister in here, a pregnant woman,” before he and Deborah Johnson surrendered from the back bedroom. He testified that one officer threw open her robe, saying “What do you know? We have a broad here.” Truelock testified that, after surrendering and being handcuffed in the kitchen, he heard officers say in another room, “he’s barely alive”, followed by more shooting, and then “he’s good and dead now”.
At the time of Hanrahan's trial, the role of the FBI and its informant William O’Neal was still unknown, although some suspected Truelock as a stool pidgeon, as he was by far the oldest of the apartment-dwellers, and he had a length rap sheet. At one point, defense attorney John Cohglan asked Truelock on the stand, using the slang of the day, “Did you drop the dime on the chairman’s crib?”
But the biggest bombshell in the case was the release of a set of statements purportedly made by the survivors to their attorneys shortly after the incident. In them, the Panthers claimed that at least five people in the apartment held guns, and at least four shots were made at police. These statements contradicted the ballistics evidence, and those whose names were on them disowned their validity.
In any case, the statements made their mark, and in October, 1972, after a 16 week trial, the Cook County Circuit Court acquitted the defendents. This ended the possibility of criminal culpability for Hanrahan and the raiders, but a civil suit for wrongful death was filed shortly after, seeking $48 million from Hanrahan, the city of Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois.
That trial, one of the longest in Illinois history, lasted 18 months, and at its conclusion in April, 1977, also acquitted Hanrahan. It was during this trial, however, that the FBI’s role in surveillance against the BPP, and in driving the raid on Hampton’s apartment, was revealed, leading to further embarrassment for the state.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the claim in 1979, and yet another trial took place. This one finally settled in 1983 with a $1.85 million payoff to the families of Hampton and Clark, paid from the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the FBI. It was the largest settlement in a civil rights case up to that date.
What really happened in the early morning of December 4, 1969? After countless grand juries and trials, all of the details are still not known, will likely never be known. It seems plausible that the raiding party, or at least State’s Attorney Hanrahan, knew that Fred Hampton was in the apartment that day. It’s at least suspicious that the raiders chose to invade the apartment instead of waiting for back-up, having a stand-off, or employing tear gas. On the other hand, why would the raiders have spent so many shells, leaving evidence of incompetence all over the apartment, if their sole purpose was to murder Hampton? And if the entire incident was a frame-up, why wouldn’t the framers have fired more of the weapons found in the apartment to cover up their crime? Above all, who – if anyone — yelled “Shoot it out”?
The BPP was already in serious decline at the time of Hampton’s death. Bobby Rush continued leading the Illinois chapter for a few more years until it essentially disappeared, then moved into politics, winning a seat on city council in 1980, and then the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993, representing Illinois’ first district, which covers a significant swath of the South side. In 2000, Bobby Rush defeated little-known community organizer Barack Obama in his challenge for the seat, and Rush remains the only politician ever to defeat Obama in an election.
Edward Hanrahan was slated by the Democratic Party to run again for State’s Attorney in 1972, but after harsh public backlash, dropped him from the ticket. Hanrahan ran anyway, and lost. In 1974, he ran for the U.S. House in the Illinois 6th district in DuPage Country, but was defeated by Republican Henry Hyde, who held the seat until 2007. Hanrahan also lost in a mayoral contest against incumbent Democrat Richard J. Daley in 1975, and lost an aldermanic election in 1980 for the 36th ward. He continued in private legal practice until his death in June, 2009.
A month after Fred Hampton’s death in 1969, his wife, Deborah Johnson, gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr. Later, she took on an Afrocentric name, Akua Nkeri, and became involved in the Uhuru movement. Fred Hampton, Jr., continued in his father’s footsteps as a lightning rod for racial controversy. In 1993, he was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison for firebombing two Korean-owned South side businesses in the wake of the Rodney King verdict the previous year. Hampton, Jr., served nine years and was released in 2002.
The house at 2337 W. Monroe still stands, though it has been substantially renovated since 1969. Over the last ten years, the neighborhood in which it stands has gentrified, from what was once one of the toughest districts in the city to a racially-mixed area including white residents priced out of nearer areas like Wicker Park and Bucktown. In 2006, a motion in city council failed which would have placed one of the ubiquitous brown “honorary” street signs at the corner of Monroe and Western Ave, indicating the block as “Honorary Chairman Fred Hampton St.” One wonders whether the residents of the building still receive a lot of curiosity-seekers; a sign next to the door reads “No Soliciting, No Loitering, No Trespassing – Violators Will Be Prosecuted”.