Thursday, September 25, 2008
The corner of Oak St. and Cleveland St. (previously Milton St.) was known as "Death Corner" for a reason. Situated in the heart of Little Hell, it was a famous murdering ground in the 1910s, and the favorite dumping site for a number of professional assassins, including the famous "Shotgun Man," who is said to have killed over 15 men, including 4 in a single three-day spree.
The corner was a hangout for many of Chicago's "Black Hand" gangs, extortionist Italian groups , following an ancient Sicilian tradition, who preyed on entrepreneurs or anyone else believed to have money. A gang would proceed by sending a letter which invariably began with ingratiating tones, but proceeded to demand money and threaten the life or wealth of the recipient. The letter closed with various cryptic symbols, including a handprint in black ink. Anyone failing to pay was risking his life, and Black Hand gangs committed many murders. Though despised by the Italian community, the practice of Black Hand survived all attempts to destroy it until it died out slowly in the 1920s.
The area is still crime-ridden, situated in the middle of a housing project in the old Cabrini Green district. Empty lots stand on two of the four corners.