Saturday, May 30, 2009

Antonio Lombardo Killed in the Loop

In 1925, Antonio Lombardo became president of the Chicago chapter of the Unione Siciliana, a community and political organization of immigrants. In those days, the presidency of that organization was one of the most profitable -- and dangerous -- jobs in the world, and danger caught up with Lombardo on September 7, 1928 near the corner of Madison and Dearborn Streets in one of the most spectacular mob hits of all time.

Tony Lombardo was born in Sicily in 1891, and came to Chicago as a teenager. He built a successful grocery business as a young man, and in so doing, elevated his political profile in the impoverished neighborhoods of his countrymen, including Little Sicily/Little Hell on the north side and the 19th ward on the west side. Lombardo was an associate of the "Terrible" Genna family, which controlled the dispersed network of home distilleries, mostly operated by Sicilians, which supplied the Johnny TorrioAl Capone syndicate with product during the Prohibition years. Lombardo's wholesale grocery had the lucrative position of supplying bulk sugar (one of the main ingredients in home “alky-cooking” for the Genna network.

(Pictured: Antonio Lombardo)

Lombardo’s partners in the grocery business included Joseph Ferraro and Joseph Aiello. Aiello, one of a large family of brothers that ran a bakery and a candy shop in Little Sicily, was particularly ambitious in growing the enterprise. Lombardo and Aiello operated a major wholesaling operation on Randolph Street near Aberdeen, of which Lombardo made Aiello president.

In 1926, the two, along with Ferraro, purchased land on Kinzie St., between Halsted and Green streets from an old steel yard, intending to open a fruit market. By that time, Lombardo was known as a major figure in the underground liquor trade, having been recently involved in a high-profile case involving abuse of licenses granted to synagogues for sacramental wine. The Tribune reporter included a wink and a nod in the story noting the real estate transfer:
A wholesale fruit market, with an accent on grapes (what does this mean, Watson?), is to be opened by Giuseppi Aiello, Antonio Lombardo and Joseph Ferrara, on an irregular shaped piece of property fronting seventy-six feet on Halsted street, 125 feet on Green street, 252 feet on Kinzie street and 252 feet on a paved court.
The three bought the property, which is now covered by the Kennedy Expressway, for $176,799, with a down payment of $45,000. It was shortly after this that Aiello and Lombardo fell out over Aiello's ambitions for greater control in the business (later, a lien would be placed on the property when Aiello failed to pay his share of the mortgage). Aiello also coveted the presidency of the Unione Siciliana, a position Lombardo held at that time.

(Pictured: Letterhead for Lombardo grocery concern on Randolph St., with Aiello listed as president)

The death of Unione president Mike Merlo in 1924 led to the assassination of Dion O’Banion, likely at the orders of Capone and Torrio, and in the subsequent bloodshed, the city’s bootlegging business was divied between rival gangs, with Capone and Torrio controlling the south side and Cicero, and O’Banion’s followers “Hymie” Weiss, George “Bugs” Moran, and Vincent “Schemer” Drucci taking hold of the north side. Lombardo and the Gennas worked with the Torrio-Capone syndicate, with Angelo Genna succeeding Merlo to the presidency of the Unione.

When Angelo Genna was killed in 1925, Sam “Samoots” Amatuna became president of the Unione, but only for a brief period before he, too, was assassinated. Then, it was Lombardo who became “Don” to the city’s Sicilian population. The presidency of the Unione Siciliana, which claimed 15,000 members, involved substantial political influence over an important voting bloc, and so it created the opportunity for the one who held that position to become a “fixer” with connections in city hall. Control of the Unione was thus highly important for the Capone bootlegging business, which relied not only on the network of Sicilian amateur distillers which pledged their loyalty to the Unione president, but also on Unione-connected politicians and police officers to look the other way, or even work proactively against competitors. The Unione presidency was also an position of great community esteem, prominent in resolving disputes and feuds among Sicilians, including “Black Hand” extortion plots, which were especially problematic at that time. Thus, Lombardo was a real-life Chicago version of Vito Corleone.

However, the connection between the Unione and organized crime had become fixed in the public’s mind, and Lombardo sought to change this impression by renaming the Chicago chapter as the "Italo-American National Union" and allowing non-Sicilian Italians to join. The name change angered some, including the president of the New York branch of the Unione, powerful mobster Frankie Uale.

The Italo-American National Union also contributed prominently to charities, including, for example, hurricane relief in Florida in 1926. It attempted to raise its profile as a leading civic organization by inviting important Italian politicians to Chicago. At the time, Benito Mussolini had recently consolidated control of that country, and so Lombardo brought Mussolini’s U.S. ambassador to Chicago for a prominent series of speeches promoting fascism:
God sent Benito Mussolini to an imperiled Italy and did, thereby, a service to all the world, Baron Giacomo de Martino, Il Duce's ambassador to this country, yesterday declared three times during the first day of his three day visit to Chicago. And three times yesterday groups of the ambassador's countrymen, once at the Italian Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Drake, again at the Italo-American union massmeeting at the Coliseum, and last at the union's dinner at the Palmer house -- jumped to their feet and cheered mightily as they shot out their right arms in the Roman salute of Fascism.
After his falling out with Lombardo, Joseph Aiello allied himself with the Northsiders, Weiss, Moran, and Drucci. Aiello knew that, with control of the Unione, the North side gang could take control over the entire Chicago alcohol business, and reap hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. He also coveted the social standing that Lombardo held in the Sicilian community, and the jealousy made him murderous.

In one instance, Aiello allegedly offered $35,000 to a chef to poison Lombardo and Capone. In another case, he offered Torrio-Capone ally Ralph Sheldon $50,000 for each of the heads of Capone and Lombardo. Capone offered peace to the north side gang by offering to divide the city along Madison street, which led to a brief ceasefire, but before long, Aiello’s ambitions on the Unione presidency, and Lombardo’s ruthlessness in maintaining it, led to more bloodshed.

Early in 1927, police uncovered a stash of weapons and ammunition in a sniper nest across the street from Lombardo’s home on W. Washington St., near Cicero Ave., and a similar one at the Atlantic hotel, across from Alderman Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna’s post-Volstead headquarters on Clark St., where Capone and Lombardo were frequent visitors. When Lombardo realized the extent of Aiello’s bloodlust, he moved his family out to a more easily guarded single-family home on S. Austin Blvd. in Cicero. But he knew that eventually either he or Aiello would meet an early grave.

After the discovery of Aiello’s weapons caches, the police arrested him on weapons charges and placed him in a cell at detective headquarters. In the adjoining cell they placed three Capone gunmen who had also been caught with illegal weapons while searching for Aiello, and a police officer who spoke Italian hid nearby, listening in on the conversation. The officer’s report refers to Capone’s frequent alias, Al Brown:
"Can't we settle this thing?" Aiello then pleaded with the trio. "Give me fifteen days, just fifteen days, and I will sell my stores and my house, and leave everything in your hands. Think of my wife and my baby, and let me go."

The Brown [Capone] gangsters gazed at their subdued foe scornfully and replied, according to the listening policeman:

"You dirty rat, you started this thing. We'll end it. You're as good as dead now."
Nevertheless, Aiello did manage to escape after the incident, and fled to New York, where he remained for a year, no doubt spending plenty of time commiserating with Frankie Uale about their shared dislike for Lombardo.

With Aiello out of town, Lombardo relaxed his guard, and even helped Capone go on the offensive. When, in November, 1927, the gang discovered north side gambling operations on Monroe St., two blocks south of the Madison Street border, bomb explosions there served as a "final warning." When questioned by a reporter about the bombings, Lombardo replied:

"Me, a bomber? Go to the people who know me best. Ask the Italians of Chicago if I am a bomber. Find one of them who will say I am a criminal. You can't do it."

It’s unclear whether this was supposed to be exculpatory, or simply a statement of Lombardo’s absolute power in the Sicilian community.

(Pictured: Antonio Lombardo)

By 1928, Joseph Aiello was back in Chicago, and again plotting a takeover of the Unione Siciliana. Lombardo still stood in his way, but not for long. On September 7, 1928, at 4:30 p.m., Lombardo, his long-time business partner Joseph Ferrara, and a bodyguard, Joseph Lolordo, stepped out of the offices of the Italo-American National Union in the Hartford Building at 8 S. Dearborn St. They walked north towards the corner of Madison St., where a large crowd had gathered. Across the street at the Boston dry goods store, an airplane was being dragged up the side of the building up to the 11th floor by ropes, and into a window, for a store promotion. Practically everyone on the scene was focused on the unusual sight -- everyone except two mysterious men from out of town, dressed in dark gray suits.

50 feet west of Dearborn, on the south side of Madison st., at the corner of the Hartford building, and just in front of a Greek restaurant, Tony Lombardo turned to his bodyguard.

“Look at the airplane,” he pointed across the street.

At that moment, the two men in gray appeared out of the doorway of the Greek restaurant, ran up behind Lombardo, and unloaded their revolvers into the Unione president’s head, also shooting Ferrara in the back, before dropping their guns at the scene and running east on Madison. Lombardo’s bodyguard, Joe Lolordo, took off running after them, while the panicked crowd of bystanders scattered.
Gunmen and policemen ran here and there with waving guns, men and women in the crowded street jumped first one way and then another, wondering from which direction the next bullet might come. People in stores ran out, then ran back in. Which way safety lay they could only guess.
A police officer tackled Lolordo, thinking he was one of the assassins, while the real assassins ducked into a nearby shoe store, exiting out the back and escaping the chase. Antonio Lombardo, president of the city’s largest Italian group and a major underworld figure, died on the street, shot to death in broad daylight in front of thousands of witnesses at one of the city’s busiest intersections. In the photo at the top of this post, the spot of the shooting is on the sidewalk, roughly at the right-hand end of the wooden scaffolding.

(Pictured: scene on the street at the site of Lombardo's shooting)

A week later, Ferrara also died of his wounds. Following underworld protocol, he refused to cooperate in the police investigation of the shooting before his decease, but based on identification by another eyewitness, Frank Marco, a New York hoodlum and a known acquaintance of Aiello’s, was charged with the crime. Marco wasn’t located, however, until his bullet-riddled body was found on E. 19th street in New York City in February, 1930. No one else was ever charged with the crime, but everyone assumed the hit must have been ordered by Aiello, possibly with the assistance of Frankie Uale’s gunmen from New York.

After Lombardo’s death, his bodyguard's brother, Pasqualino Lolordo, took over the presidency of the Unione, until Lolordo, too, was shot and killed at his home in January, 1929. According to most sources, Aiello finally did become president of the Unione Siciliana for about a year while Capone was in prison in Philadelphia on weapons charges. But when Capone returned to Chicago in 1930, Aiello made plans to flee the country; however, a sniper's bullet found him first.

The Hartford building, where Tony Lombardo’s Unione Siciliana headquarters were on the 11 floor, and in front of which he was killed, was built in 1893. Standing at 14 stories, it was one of the city’s tallest. It was destroyed, along with all other buildings on the same block, in 1965 to make way for the First National Bank Building, now called Chase Tower.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jeff Fort Founds the Black P. Stone Nation

UPDATE: Rev. Otto Sotnak, previously associate pastor at Woodlawn Immanuel Lutheran Church, and who is mentioned briefly below, wrote to me after reading this post, and his thoughts provide further insight into the relationship between the Blackstone Rangers and Woodlawn community organizations. Rev. Sotnack gave me permission to reprint his letter, and I have done so in a new post.

Intelligence tests indicated that Jeff Fort had an IQ between 48 and 58, a score indicating moderate mental retardation; however, Fort possessed exceptional leadership skill, organizational genius, and a magnetic personality. He misused these qualities to found and lead what was once Chicago’s largest street gang, the Blackstone Rangers, and to consolidate a gang cartel that endures to the present day. While building that empire during the 1960s, he lived here, at 1504 E. 66th Pl. (townhome on the right in the photo above), near the corner of Blackstone Ave.

The neighborhood of Woodlawn was developed as a middle-class alternative to the higher-rent Kenwood and Hyde Park districts to the north. The World’s Fair of 1893, which took place in nearby Jackson Park, brought the demand to house thousands of workers associated with that event, and many of these remained after the Fair. Up through the 1940s, Woodlawn was a white, though not ethnic, neighborhood, but in the 1950s and 1960s, black residents from the Grand Crossing and Washington Park districts to the west began moving in. White flight to the suburbs, plus continued migration into Chicago by southern Blacks fleeing racial strife added to the flow, including Jeff Fort’s family, which arrived in Woodlawn from Mississippi in 1955. After the rioting following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, most of the remaining white residents moved out, with the exception of a few University of Chicago students and faculty huddled at the north end of Woodlawn between 60th and 62nd streets. The neighborhood remains almost entirely black to this day. (Personal story: in 1995, as a college freshman at the U of C, I attended an orientation session in which University Police presented us with a street map of the south side and told us never to go south of 60th street (or north of 47th); the primary effect of this talk was to generate great curiosity and frequent “forbidden” visits to Woodlawn).

Jeff Fort was a troublemaker as a boy, and in the late 1950s, found himself in a juvenile detention camp at suburban St. Charles. There, he befriended a fellow Woodlawn delinquent, Eugene Hairston. Upon returning home, the two dropped out of school and founded the Blackstone Rangers, a street gang named after Blackstone Ave., which runs north-south through the heart of Woodlawn.

Most street gangs are principally businesses -- businesses that offer extra-legal security services not provided by the police and a range of prohibited products, including narcotics, high-interest loans, prostitution services, and so on. These organizations operate in market niches created by unintended consequences of legislation; they are arbitrageurs of government policy. Like all businesses, however, their profitability is a function of competition, and a successful cartel can reap huge rewards.

Cartels, however, are inherently unstable, as each conspiring business has an incentive to overproduce at the higher market prices created by the cartel, and the resultant glut of product causes prices to fall and breaks up the conspiracy. Thus, a cartel can only be maintained if the participants are able to closely monitor each other and punish those who chisel on the agreement. Efforts to do so are complicated by the fact that meetings of business managers for this purpose are prohibited by vigorously enforced federal and state antitrust laws.

But for those businesses already ducking the law to provide illegal products and services, the additional cost of avoiding prosecution under the Sherman Act is low. Low IQ or not, Jeff Fort intuitively understood the tremendous profits to be made by cartelizing Chicago street gangs. Throughout his life, he showed a genius for subverting legitimate community and government institutions to reduce competition on the streets and consolidate power. He was also a master marketer and manipulator, using the noble image of the civil rights movement to deflect criticism and enforce his power in maintaining the cartel.

A 1965 Tribune article, which appears to be the first mention of Fort in print, found him working with Edward Woods, head of the Woodlawn Chicago Boys Club and Rev. Sotnak of the Woodlawn Immanuel Lutheran Church to create a “meeting place for teens” where they could defuse tensions and find help in obtaining work. Fort quickly learned that the image of a reformed gang member who just wanted to help his community was incredibly seductive to credulous do-gooders, and he took full advantage. The police were more suspicious of his motives:
Youth Officer Julius Frazier of the Grand Crossing police district is not as confident of the Rangers’ rehabilitation as Woods and the Rev. Mr. Sotnak. “Wait until nice weather comes again, and then we’ll see how good the boys are,” he said.
(Pictured: Edward Woods, extension director of the Woodlawn Chicago Boys Club, with Jeff Fort at age 19 (center) and Eugene Hairston (right))

The following year, in 1966, Fort convinced Woodlawn police superintendent Orlando W. Wilson to broker a very public “truce” between the Rangers and their longtime rivals, the Gangster Disciples. Wilson trumpeted his supposed achievement in the press, criticizing those who said he should be arresting these hoodlums, not engaging them, and these statements hamstrung Supt. Wilson in responding to the subsequent wave of violence unleashed by the Blackstone Rangers. Within 12 hours of the agreement, five rival gang members were shot. A month later, the president of the East Side Disciples, the local Gangster Disciples chapter, was dead on the street.

Similarly, Fort convinced the Rev. John Fry, pastor of First Presbyterian Church at 64th and Kimbark, to allow the Rangers to use the edifice for their headquarters. First Presbyterian, the oldest congregation in the city, and with a long history of anti-crime organizing, had moved to Woodlawn in 1928 from its previous locations in the Loop and the Prairie Avenue district). The newspapers reported Fry’s disputes with the police, who were shocked to learn that the Reverend had made a pact with the devil:
The Rev. John R. Fry, pastor of the First Presbyterian church, 6400 Kimbark av., said yesterday that he is attempting to hold together the Blackstone Rangers, a teen-age gang, and that he is considering a court injunction to stop police efforts to break up the gang...."The Rangers is the only organization that offers safety from hostile forces at home, in school, and on the streets," he said. The gang has learned that violence solves nothing and is working for the betterment of the Woodlawn community, he said.
In fact, the Blackstone Rangers were becoming increasingly violent. In September, 1966, gang members yelled “almighty Blackstone Rangers” before opening fire on a group of boy scouts leaving a meeting at the Essex Community Church at 74th and Blackstone. The following month, twenty Rangers invaded the lunchroom at South Shore High School during school hours, creating chaos by throwing furniture around and breaking glasses, dishes, and silverware, while assaulting twelve students there.

During this time, Fort used his ability to subvert community organizations to consolidate a cartel of south side street gangs, forming the Black P. Stones in 1967. Obviously a play on the original Ranger name, the separation of “Black” and “Stone” in the name of the new group made the gang less location-specific and added racial and religious overtones. The “P.” variously indicates “People” or “Power,” depending on the context. The Stones were led by a council called the “Main 21,” chaired by Fort and Hairston, with representatives of different gangs working together to organize extortion, narcotics, and other rackets.

In the civil rights movement and the country’s increased awareness of the slum conditions inhabited by many blacks, Fort saw an opportunity to milk government and charitable organizations for funds to support gang activities. Fort was not alone in this endeavor (on the west side, the Conservative Vice Lords were doing the same), but his audacious success brought him national fame.

At the end of 1966, The Woodlawn Organization (“TWO”), a major community group, applied for a federal government grant amounting to over $950,000, in which the Blackstone Rangers would administer job training programs to young gang members in the community. It is difficult to imagine now how anyone could have thought that a known criminal organization would have the ability to run such a program and to avoid corruption, but government officials were as interested as anyone in appearing to be supportive of black community interests (not to mention buying black votes).

The grant was accepted, and Fort personally oversaw the funds. Trainees (selected by the gang) received federal checks for $45 for every week they attended the Rangers’ programs. In fact, the Rangers demanded kickbacks of $10-$20 from each check, or sometimes just cashing the checks directly while forging attendance records. When training sessions did occur, participants learned little of value, but “played cards, rolled dice, or talked about women and sports,” according to one “student”. In one case, Fort held a dogfight during a government-supported job training session.

While collecting a hefty salary from TWO, plus the kickbacks, Jeff Fort continued the violent business of running a street gang. In April, 1968, he used the opportunity presented by the riots after the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination to sell millions of dollars in protection services. Store owners purchased placards to place in their shop windows which read simply
Do NOT Touch – Black P Stones – Jeff
So complete was the Stones’ control over the south side that the simple mention of the first name of their leader inhibited riotous mobs, and stores that purchased the placards survived intact.

Other violence directly involving Jeff Fort includes an October, 1968 case in which Fort was arrested for assisting in the beating of a postal employee who had caught a 13-year old Stone initiate stealing a car and was holding him for the police. In July, 1969, Fort was again arrested for ordering the murder of Jackie Turner, a Navy midshipman returning from Vietnam, and an anti-gang organizer who had refused to join the Black P. Stones. Four Stones, wearing the gang’s trademark red berets, shouted “almighty Blackstone Rangers” before stepping out of a darkened gangway at 71st and Ridgeland and opening fire on Turner with machine guns. Amazingly, Turner survived.

In late 1969, Fort again used the veneer of civil rights as a cause for gang enrichment. Operation Breadbasket, the Jesse Jackson-led wing of the Southern Christian leadership Conference, had waged a public boycott against the Red Rooster Supermarket chain for allegedly overcharging customers and serving low-quality products in black neighborhoods. Fort offered the company the opportunity to “hire” 22 gang members, including 15 of the Main 21, at inflated salaries, as a way to show solidarity and mend ties with the Woodlawn community. Fort personally was hired as an “outside store inspector”. The gang’s deal helped end the boycott, but their increasing demands finally bankrupted Red Rooster; Fort had killed the rooster that laid the golden eggs!

In 1970, the P. Stones even allegedly extorted $160,000 from entertainer Sammy Davis (Sr.), who had an ownership interest in a Dixmoor-based liquor store, which he agreed to let gang members run.

As some of the previous examples indicate, Jeff Fort was increasingly becoming a political figure, especially after he took complete control of the Black P. Stones when Eugene Hairston went to prison in 1968. Later revelations indicated that the Rangers had even weighed the possibility of high-profile assassinations during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, including those of incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

But Jeff Fort’s most famous political statement came about not in Chicago, but in Washington that year. A January, 1968, investigation by the Tribune had revealed the extent to which the TWO grant was being misused by the Rangers. Fort was asked to testify before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations to explain the apparent fraud. When asked his name, he replied, but after that refused to answer further queries. His attorney, sitting next to him at the hearing, demanded that Fort be allowed to cross-examine previous testifiers, who had claimed they witnessed fraud. Upon being reminded that a Senate subcommittee was not a trial court, Fort stood up and walked out on Congress, leaving his questioners shouting threats of contempt charges after him. In fact, Fort was later tried and convicted for contempt. The scene of the young black militant showing evident disrespect to the Senate made the front pages and headed the evening news.

(Pictured: Jeff Fort in Almighty Black P. Stone jacket)

With his heightened political profile, Fort began to flex political muscle back in Chicago. In December, 1968, he led a march down the Midway Plaisance to State Street, demanding that the city rename State Street in honor of a slain fellow gang member, Jerome "Pony Soldier" Cogwell. After the march reached State, Fort led the crowd in smashing windows, jumping on cars, and generally rioting, until the police arrested him and scores of others. In fact, the scene was manufactured by Fort expressly for the intent of challenging Illinois laws against disorderly conduct. After his arrest, Fort sued Mayor Richard J. Daley claiming the statutes were vague and that city police used them to harass residents. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the validity of the laws.

The police did keep close tabs on the Stones, and vice-versa. Fort once personally offered a Woodlawn officer $200 for pictures of members of the city’s Gang Intelligence Unit. In another case, he stopped a police car on the street and, as the officer later described it,
Fort laid a $100 bill on the seat of our car, and I said, “What’s that for?” He said: “Nothing right now. You do whatever you want with it. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
The Chicago police weren’t the only ones tracking Jeff Fort. In January, 1969, J. Edgar Hoover approved an FBI plot to stir up disputes (and possibly violence) between the Blackstone Rangers and the nascent Black Panther Party. FBI agents forged an anonymous letter, which they sent to Fort. The letter read:
Brother Jeff:

I've spent some time with some Panther friends on the West Side lately and I know what's been going on. The brothers that run the Panthers blame you for blocking their thing and there's supposed to be a hit out for you. I'm not a Panther, or a Ranger, just black. From what I see those Panthers are out for themselves, not black people. I think you ought to know what their [sic] up to, I know what I'd do if I was you. You might hear from me again.

[signed] A black brother you don't know
An internal FBI memo released later indicated the agency was aware of the fact that their letter might lead to violence. The memo noted,
It is believed that the above may intensify the degree of animosity between the two groups and occasion Fort to take retaliatory actions which could disrupt the BPP [Black Panther Party] or lead to reprisals against its leadership.
All of this power and fame certainly inflated Fort’s ego. Fort had always been a smart dresser, but now he began incorporating wild colors and exaggerated hats. In fact, Fort’s first adult arrest, back in 1965, indulged his sartorial tastes:
Early in March Calvin Williams, 21, purchased a pair of gray slacks. They were belt-less, cuffless, and tailor-made, and his friends often remarked to him that he stepped in them with noticeable aplomb. He had worn them only a few times when on March 19 his apartment at 6134 Kimbark av. was looted of a television set, radio, phonograph, record albums, silverware -- and his treasured pants. ....

While enjoying a walk yesterday afternoon along 67th street near Blackstone avenue, Williams spotted a crisp looking pair of slacks worn by another stroller....He telephoned detectives who had investigated the burglary of his home. Police arrived and took Williams and the youth in his pants, Jeff Ford [sic], 19, of 1504 E. 66th pl., to the south side detective headquarters....Ford surrendered the pants to Detectives James McDonough and William McHugh, who found Williams' name on the label....

Williams, however, will have to wait for return of the trousers. Police said the slacks are evidence and will be needed during the court hearing. As a result, Ford was left pantsless. He telephoned his home and his mother brought another pair to the station.
By August, 1970, Jeff Fort could afford his own pants. In that month, he was involved in a high-profile dispute with another community organization, the Kenwood-Oaklawn Community Organization (KOCO), the leader of which had recently testified before Congress about gang problems in Chicago. The Stones had unsuccessfully attempted to worm their way into a $3.5 government grant being dispensed by KOCO. One afternoon, Fort decided to call a press conference about the issue, to be held at his headquarters in First Presbyterian. Most of the city’s radio and print outlets sent a reporter within an hour of the announcement, but only one of the television stations did so.
“I have important things to say,” Fort announced, casting a disappointed eye at the single television camera from CBS. “Maybe I ought to put off this press conference until tomorrow when the press can come.”
Luckily for Fort, NBC finally showed up, and the press conference went forward, as he complained about the leader of KOCO, who was black, "going to white men for help."

While he had committed countless crimes over the past decade, September, 1970, saw the beginning of the end for Jeff Fort’s freedom. In that month, he ordered an all-out war on the police. In the instance that led to his arrest, Fort told a group of gang members to break out all of the lights along a certain elevated train platform, then to take up sniper positions against police there. That evening, an officer was wounded by a bullet shot from the position.

When he found out the heat was on, Fort fled Chicago, moving between Detroit, New York City, and Barbados for over two months on the run. While at Barbados, the increasingly erratic Fort, who by that time insisted on being called "Black Prince," sent a oddly messianic letter back to a meeting of P. Stones in which he referred to himself in the third person:
He is in contact spiritually with each and every Stone. As a matter of fact, if you look around you from time to time you will get a glimpse of him. When the time is right each Stone who is truly Stone to the bone -- Stone to the spirit -- will be able to see "The Chief".
During Fort’s time on the lam, detectives began trailing his girlfriend, Janis Connors. On October 30th, they saw her purchase a plane ticket for New York City. The detectives followed her onto the flight and, in New York, traced her to an east Manhattan hotel, where they arrested Jeff Fort and extradited him to Illinois. With him at the time of his arrest were papers indicating Fort was soon planning to flee with Connors to Algeria, where he would have joined Eldridge Cleaver and Timothy Leary.

Fort had been arrested countless times before without being jailed. At the time of his extradition on the police sniping charge, he was under indictment or conviction for: two charges of attempted murder, three charges of aggravated battery, one charge of aggravated kidnapping, one of conspiracy, and one of concealing a fugitive.

How had he managed to remain a free man during this time? Fort had excellent legal counsel, paid for at the expense of Charles Kettering II, grandson of the famed General Motors engineer and philanthropist. Kettering funded the Stones in the amount of $11,000 per month, which he openly admitted was intended for bail bonds and attorneys’ fees. Kettering, too, was entranced by Fort and the prospect of appearing sympathetic to minority interests. He also appears to have relished in the propinquity to dangerous criminals his money bought. He frequently referred to the Stones in public as “cats,” employing the slang of the era to signal just how hip he was.

After his imprisonment, Kettering’s lawyers incredibly managed to eliminate most of Fort’s criminal charges. In the case of the attempted murder of anti-gang activist Jackie Turner, Fort was tried three times, and in each case, the judge declared a mistrial. In other cases, the state dropped the charges or found their evidence or their victim mysteriously missing. Between 1970 and 1972, Fort continued to actively lead the Black P. Stones, and it was common for 30-40 gang members to visit Fort daily at Cook County Jail.

Finally, however, in May, 1972, Jeff Fort finally began serving a prison term for fraud in misdirecting funds at the TWO training center. He served four years, plus an additional year for contempt of congress, divided between state and federal prison.

Jeff Fort was released from prison in the spring of 1976. During his imprisonment, he hatched an even grander scheme, to rebuild the Stones as a religious organization, which could hold cartel meetings in secret, protected by the First Amendment. The continuing story of that organization, the El Rukns, which Fort led into the 1980s, their consolidation of the drug trade in Chicago, and their audacious attempts at international terrorism, are detailed in this post and this one.

The Black P. Stone Nation still exists as a major coordinating organization for Chicago-based street gangs, though it is better known today as the "People" (they are opposed by the “Folk”, those gangs associated with the Rangers’ primordial enemies, the Gangster Disciples). Local Stones chapters, while no longer held together in a rigid organizational hierarchy as they did when Fort was leading the gang, inhabit many south side neighborhoods, as well as many suburbs. Affiliate gangs are notable in several other states, as far away as Florida.

The home at 1504 E. 66th Place, where Jeff Fort lived while building the Blackstone Rangers and the Black P. Stones, up until his arrest in 1970, suffered a major fire, suspicious for its timing, in November, 1970, within a few days of his arrest in New York. The building is still standing, and appears to be inhabited (though two of the neighboring townhomes show evidence of abandonment). It wouldn’t be surprising if the property were still controlled by the gang.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Sad Case of Rosetta Jackson

In the evening of June 12, 1874, 17 year-old Miss Rosetta Jackson died in her bed here at 186 S. Jefferson (since renumbered 313 S. Jefferson). The death certificate, prepared by her doctor, Charles Earll, indicated typhoid fever and enteritis as the causes of decease. Her sister and brother-in-law, Lizzie and William Flagg, sent her body to be coffined and taken by train for burial near her family home in Wisconsin.

But something about the case troubled Chicago police officer Thomas Simmons: a sudden, unexpected death of a young, healthy woman, and such a rush to remove her remains. And then there was the involvement of the notorious Dr. Earll. He went to interview Miss Jackson’s landlady, a Mrs. Kate Heiland. The story that spilled out of Mrs. Heiland was one of the most sordid and heartbreaking in Chicago history, one that would fill newspaper headlines throughout that summer of 1874, as two separate juries deliberated on the fates of Mrs. Heiland, Dr. Earll, and the Flaggs. The Rosetta Jackson case, which brought to prominence in Chicago an early instance of an issue that roils America to this day, seems to have been lost to history.

Miss Jackson’s older sister Lizzie had married a barber by the name of William Flagg, and the two inhabited an apartment on W. Lake St., above Mr. Flagg’s barbershop. At age 16, Rosetta left her family home in Mauston, Wisconsin, to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Chicago, exchanging room and board for cleaning and household duties, which were many in the rapidly growing Flagg family.

But all was not right in the home. Mr. Flagg took an increasingly dangerous interest in the pretty young girl, and she seemed flattered by his joking flirtations, as when he would wrap his arm around her waist and laughingly tell the patrons of his barbershop that they’d better not lay a finger on “his girl”. Over time, the neighbors began to whisper and the scent of scandal turned prurient eyes wherever they were seen together. The two were seen sitting together at Western Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church on Sundays, without Mrs. Flagg, and frequently went out together at night.

Mrs. Flagg wasn’t impervious to the accusatory stares of her neighbors, or what she could see with her own eyes. Pregnant with another child at the time, she was especially sensitive to her husband’s apparent dalliance. As she told the police on the day after Rosetta’s death,
I have seen my husband noticeably intimate with my sister. The neighbors noted it too. At one time I caught him kissing Rosetta. I had not the courage to speak to my husband about it, though….I never caught the pair in any more improper behhavior than kissing each other, but I could swear that at the time mentioned there was something irregular, and I believed that they had been doing wrong.
A neighbor, Angeline Pernod, later testified at trial:
Mrs. Flagg, about three of four weeks ago, told me that her husband was out until about 11 o'clock one night, and when he came home put his hat and coat in her room. Then he walked into her sister's (the deceased's) room, and she subsequently saw him kneeling on the floor, and he had his arms over her sister's head. She asked him what he was doing there, and he then got up and walked back to her room. When Mrs. Flagg told me this she said she had not told half of her troubles....There was some talk in the neighborhood about an intimacy between Flagg and his sister-in-law, occasioned by their going to church, and being out at night together.
One day, Mrs. Flagg took the train up to Wisconsin for a family visit, leaving Mr. Flagg and Rosetta alone at home. Immediately upon Mrs. Flagg’s departure, the two went out to a restaurant together – something they had never done before – and upon their return, Flagg closed his barber shop early. The two were not seen again that evening.

Up in Wisconsin, Mrs. Flagg had a dream: her husband was having an affair with her sister. She awoke and could not settle her suspicious intuition. She made an excuse and boarded the night train back to Chicago, arriving in the morning. At her home, she first went to Rosetta’s room. The bed was perfectly made and there was no sign it had been slept in. By contrast, in her own bedroom, she found the bedsheets askew on her husband’s bed, and the unmistakable evidence that two, not one, had slumbered there.

Her worst suspicions confirmed, she confronted Rosetta. Was her sister sleeping with her husband? Rosetta denied everything, as did Mr. Flagg, but the relationship between the sisters was permanently damaged, and a few months later, Rosetta would depart from their home for good.

Around the time of the confrontation with her sister, Rosetta Jackson discovered she was pregnant. Conditions for single mothers in Chicago were perhaps a little better than in the East, but out-of-wedlock childbirth still meant social ruin, poverty, and a practical impossibility in marrying. What would her fellow Methodist church members say? Would her sister and her family ever speak to her again? And what about dear, kind, Mr. Flagg? His reputation, his family life, his business, all could be lost. She just couldn’t have this baby.

She told Flagg of her plight, and he asked if she wanted to move out East to live with another sister in New York. No, she did not want this baby. “For God’s sake,” he later claimed to have told her, “don’t do anything to get rid of it. If you are in a family-way go and have it. I will pay your expenses.”

But a few days later found Mr. Flagg in a brothel a few blocks east of his home on Lake St., where he discussed the problem with Nellie Sinclair, one of the prostitutes working there (Flagg later claimed, to the credulity of no one, that Sinclair was ill and he gave her $2, not for services rendered, but out of charity).

“What do women of your profession do to eliminate a pregnancy?” He asked Sinclair. “I’m in real trouble – you see, I’ve gotten too intimate with a lady friend of mine from Wisconsin. She’s a church member and I have to shield her from disgrace.”

Sinclair recommended two practices common among women of her grade: drinking tea made from the herb tansy and, amazingly, jumping rope. Later, Flagg would claim that he never mentioned any “lady friend from Wisconsin,” and that his query about ending a pregnancy was meant for advice to his wife – he had a large family and did not want any more children. This story, too, was believed by few.

It was likely Rosetta who first broached the subject of approaching Dr. Charles Earll. “Dr.” Earll, who apparently had no medical training whatsoever, kept an office on Halsted St. Around 60 years old with a grey moustache and full beard, Earll was divorced a few years earlier. The Tribune would later claim that during the Civil War, he had operated a “den of infamy” in Kinzie St. Now, however, he presented himself as a physician specializing in obstetrics. During the winter of 1874, around the time Rosetta Jackson discovered her pregnancy, Dr. Earll’s name made the newspapers when he was arrested for performing an abortion, in violation of an 1845 Illinois statute. Though the charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence, Dr. Earll was known to be a man who could help distraught women.

Dr. Earll’s assistant, a W. W. Quinn, later testified in court that in early May, William Flagg came to the office on Halsted in a state of great excitement, twiddling his thumbs furiously as he spoke.

“I’m in a lot of trouble. I’ve seduced a servant girl and my wife is raising hell about it. I need one of Dr. Earll’s prescriptions to destroy pregnancy, and I need a boarding house or some other place for the girl to stay awhile. I can offer $50 if the doctor can help me.”

It is not known if it was then, or later, when Dr. Earll became involved in the case, but by the end of May, Rosetta Jackson was living under an assumed name, “Mrs. Alice Hays,” at Kate Heiland’s home on Jefferson Street. Heiland was a dressmaker by trade, and occupied the home above her shop, along with two teenaged daughters. She took “Mrs. Hays” in as an apprentice and to provide companionship for her girls, charging her minimal rent, some of which was paid by Mr. Flagg.

Almost immediately after Rosetta’s arrival, Mrs. Heiland discovered that her new boarder was four months pregnant by an unknown father, and moreover, that she was obsessed with ending the pregnancy. Alternately reading her Bible feverishly and dosing herself constantly with essence of tansy and other severe drugs, she presented the picture of a woman on the brink of madness. “I’ll get rid of this child or die trying,” she prophesied when Mrs. Heiland tried to dissuade her from the drugs. Mrs. Heiland noticed one of her knitting needles missing and assumed the worst.

Just a few days after her arrival, Rosetta gave birth, with Mrs. Heiland standing in as midwife. At just four months, the child was pitifully small, but alive. The baby raised its hand. At the request of Rosetta, Mrs. Heiland closed the tiny creature in an old cigar box and buried it in her backyard.

During the birth and after, Rosetta was unwell. She had internal injuries and was suffering convulsions (the latter a common pharmacological effect of consuming high levels of tansy). Her personal physician, Dr. Earll, was called for. He prescribed a noxious blend of calomel (a laxative), quinine, and morphine, and Rosetta gave him a note to deliver to Flagg:
Willy: Come and see me as soon as you can. Don’t come at meal-time. Come any time during the day. The carrier [Earll] will tell you where I am.”
Both Flagg and Dr. Earll called at Mrs. Heiland’s home frequently over the next week. At one point, Dr. Earll prescribed sulphide of soda powder, while at another time he recommended brandy and whiskey. Dr. Mayo, he was not.

Finally, on Friday, June 12, Rosetta Jackson died. William Flagg, who was at her death-bed, informed his wife, and the two collected Rosetta’s body and had it shipped off to Wisconsin for burial. Dr. Earll signed a death certificate, which indicated death from typhoid fever and enteritis, mentioning nothing about childbirth, abortion, or drugs.

On Saturday morning, when Officer Simmons arrived at Mrs. Heiland’s home to investigate the sudden passing, Heiland repeated what Earll had written on the death certificate. Officer Simmons decided to press a little harder to see if there might be something more to the story. “Madam, the law says in such cases, the County Coroner must examine the body. Dr. Earll has a reputation with young women. Are you certain there isn’t more you need to tell?”

Heiland, who no doubt felt the weight of her role in the plot heavily, sobbed, then admitted the whole sordid tale – the abortion, the cigar box, the frequent presence of Dr. Earll and Mr. Flagg in her home, the tansy tea and other drugs. Simmons had his men dig up the cigar box and enter its contents as evidence. Then he had Mrs. Heiland arrested and jailed as a material witness for trial, and sent a telegram to recall the body of Rosetta Jackson back to Chicago for examination.

The coroner empaneled a jury to investigate Miss Jackson’s death. On the stand, Mr. Flagg claimed he was not the father of the Rosetta’s child. He threw suspicion, instead, on two of his neighbors, especially a young jeweler, O. W. Young, who he claimed to have seen sitting in his house with Rosetta one night with the lights off (Young later took the stand and claimed he hardly knew Rosetta and had never been with her in the dark). He had known about Rosetta’s pregnancy and had visited her at Heiland’s home in an attempt to help her, but it was Rosetta, Flagg claimed, who had wanted to employ Dr. Earll, who was set on ending the pregnancy.

With a large family and no means of supporting herself without her husband, Mrs. Flagg unsurprisingly rallied to her husband’s defense. She knew of no evidence that there was any intimacy between her sister and her husband. She was emotionally distraught when questioned on the day after her sister’s death, and anything she might have told the police about catching Mr. Flagg kissing Rosetta was untrue. Rosetta left her home not because of a dispute with her sister, but because the workload was too heavy. “Mr. Flagg and I were like mother and father to her.”

After examining the body of Rosetta Jackson, Dr. Henrotin, the county physician, confirmed that she showed evidence of being four months pregnant, of having recently miscarried, and that the lining of her stomach was inflamed, “such as might, and probably would, be produced by irritating medicines.” When asked, he affirmed that her condition was consistent with the effects of tansy, a bottle of which was found in her possession at Mrs. Heiland’s home. The actual causes of death were not those listed on the death certificate by Dr. Earll, but were puerperal fever and metroperitonitis, two conditions associated with childbirth.

For her part, Mrs. Heiland claimed she did not know that burying a fetus in a cigar box in one’s backyard was against the law (to be fair, Illinois was not then a death registration state). She only wanted to protect the woman she knew as Mrs. Hays from disgrace. Though Mrs. Heiland had her suspicions that Flagg was the father of Rosetta’s child, she claimed that, on her death-bed, Rosetta admitted that Flagg was not the father.

Brothel inmate Nellie Sinclair, as well as a variety of other interested parties, also testified. After three days of hearing witnesses, the jury ordered the arrest of Flagg and Dr. Earll, as well as a search of Earll’s office.

Dr. Henrotin, who led the search, testified that the Halsted St. office was in “a frightful state of disorder,” and he was shocked to find six bottles containing fetuses suspended in fluid, between 1 and 6 months old. None of the bottles were labeled, “as is customary when such anatomical curiosities are found in medical museums or in the offices of respectable practitioners.”

Dr. Henrotin also found a vast collection of medical instruments intended for use in obstetrics, including forecepts, hooks, and probes. While such instruments are used both by abortionists and respectable physicians, he admitted, the fact that absolutely no other types of instruments or doctor’s materials except these were found in the office, raised his suspicions.

After a brief deliberation, the coroner’s indicted Dr. Earll for murder, and Flagg and Heiland as accessories before and after the fact, respectively. All three were imprisoned at county jail. The criminal trial of People v. Earll began a month later, on July 29th, and lasted three days. Most of the witnesses from the coroner’s trial repeated their testimony, although Dr. Henrotin claimed that after a more careful examination of Rosetta’s body, there were wounds on her womb consistent with the use of instruments such as those found in Dr. Earll’s office. Mrs. Heiland’s daughter testified that she and Rosetta had gone for a walk before the birth, and had passed by Dr. Earll’s office, where Rosetta went up and spent five minutes in a room alone with the doctor.

After the prosecution rested, Dr. Earll took the stand to defend himself. In a careful, calm voice, he claimed he never saw Rosetta until after she was sick and living at Mrs. Heiland’s, about the first of June, and he knew her only as Mrs. Alice Hays. At that time, Mrs. Heiland told him that Rosetta had miscarried a few days before, and he prescribed drugs to alleviate the pain. He claimed Rosetta had never been to his office and knew nothing of any relationship between her and Mr. Flagg. He continued to insist that the cause of death was typhoid fever and enteritis.

In its closing argument, counsel for the defense argued powerfully that Rosetta Jackson’s death was consistent with her own self-medication, possibly under the advice of Mr. Flagg, and that Dr. Earll’s guilt could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury deliberated all night, and at 2:30 in the morning were still split 6-6. The pressed on and finally, by daybreak, they agreed to convict Dr. Earll on a lesser charge, manslaughter, with a sentence of one year at Joliet penitentiary.

The sentence was passed, and after an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court failed, Dr. Earll served a year at Joliet, emerging in August, 1875. He directly went back to work as an abortionist, and was arrested six times, a rate of once per year, between 1874 and 1880. Each time, he escaped for lack of conclusive evidence. Finally, however, after the death of another patient who had acquired his services, Dr. Earll was again sentenced to Joliet, this time for five years.

At the time of his release from prison in 1885, Dr. Earll was over 70 years old, and there is no further record of his activity. William and Lizzie Flagg later moved out to a larger home in the country to suit their large family. Mrs. Heiland’s home on Jefferson, where Rosetta Jackson boarded and died, is today a parking lot.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alderman John Powers' Home Bombed by Political Rivals

In September of 1920, John Powers had been alderman from the 19th Ward for 32 years, but a month before, he had publicly embarrassed his political rival, underworld figure Tony D’Andrea. So everyone pointed to D’Andrea when a dynamite bomb rocked the front porch of Powers’ house, which was located here at 1284 Macalister (now 1284 W. Lexington; the home has since been replaced).

John Powers was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland in 1852, but moved to the United States at age 20, settling in Chicago. After serving an apprenticeship with a grocer, he started his own grocery store on S. Halsted. From a young age, he was interested in politics, and began working to elect Democrats in his home ward, the 19th. In those days, saloons were a major gathering point in Irish communities like the 19th, and owning a saloon was a common way to rise in the political order. Hence, Powers, who was a teetotaler, opened a saloon in the annex to his grocery.

The move worked, and Powers’ political star rose as he became a ward captain. In the 1880s, Powers’ saloon was a major center of support in Chicago for presidential candidate Grover Cleveland. In 1888, he ran for, and was elected, alderman from the 19th, a position he held almost continuously until 1927.

After his election, he closed the grocery store, but kept the saloon, though Powers’ success meant that he needed to expand. Together with a fellow alderman, William O’Brien, he opened a larger saloon downtown, on Madison St., near LaSalle. When allowed under various liberal mayoral administrations, gambling was also featured there, including the city’s largest pool room.

(Pictured: 19th Ward Alderman John Powers)

As an alderman, Powers’ capacity for graft and corruption was eclipsed only by the Kenna-Coughlin machine in the 1st ward. Called “Prince of Boodlers” by the newspapers, nearly a third of the eligible voters in the ward were on the public payroll, and so were dependent on Powers for their jobs. He was famous for buying votes by handing out over a thousand free turkeys each year at Christmas-time, and throwing out handfuls of coins to supporters at campaign events. A notorious gladhander, it is said that he appeared at every funeral and wake in his ward, earning him the nickname, “The Mourner”.

As one detractor said, "Johnnie Powers distributed turkeys on Christmas day, but he has robbed the people 364 days in the year and he can afford to give them a little back on the 365th". The Chicago Herald wrote, "Powers is as fit to be an Alderman as an elephant is to take part in a roller-skating match.”

Powers’ legendary corruption attracted the attention of Jane Addams and her troop of reformers at Hull House. In the 1890s, Addams sent investigators into the 19th, who reported on streets and alleys piled high with garbage and dirt, a complete lack of usable parks and bathhouses, and severely overcrowded schools, where they found 3,000 more students than seats. Addams attempted to chase Powers out of office, fielding reform-minded opponents and holding campaign rallies against him. But to no avail. As Addams herself admitted, "An Italian laborer wants a 'job' more than anything else, and quite simply votes for the man who promises him one." In the 19th, John Powers was that man.

The only lacuna in Powers’ stint on the city council was in 1903, when he decided to enter state-wide politics by running for state senator against the incumbent Peter F. Galligan. That campaign season saw the first (attempted) act of violence at Powers’ home. Powers was holding open office hours for his ward constituents one day when his opponent Galligan showed up.
Galligan forced his way past the servant at the door and declared that he had come to settle a score with his rival. In his hand was a handkerchief wrapped about a small parcel, and the excited inmates feared that a bomb or other weapon was concealed in its folds. Mrs. Powers fled screaming to an upper room, while the Alderman and several of his friends seized the excited man, who was making attempts to swing the weapon towards Powers. After a short struggle it was taken from him and found to be a brickbat with which Galligan is said to have declared he intended putting Powers out of the Senatorial race.
Powers defeated the mentally unstable Galligan, but found himself unsatisfied in Springfield, where he was a small fish in a big pond. The next year, he returned to Chicago to retake his seat as alderman.

That Powers enjoyed being a “big fish” was humorously illustrated after a fishing trip took him to Northern Wisconsin in June, 1900. Returning by train, he loaded his catch into a trunk with his name on it. A game warden inspector, traveling on the same train, found Powers’ box to be too heavy by state regulations.
Alderman Powers, who was also on the train, had wandered with a party of friends up to where the game warden was engaged with his inspection. On being informed that his box did not come within weight the Alderman smiled blandly, and, taking the warden aside, whispered in his ear, "I am Alderman John Powers of Chicago."

But that did not make any difference to the warden, and all the winking and whispering the Chicago man could do did not convince him....Alderman Powers' fish were sold at auction, and were the most palatable offering on the menu of a Milwaukee restaurant today.
At the time John Powers held its aldermanship, the 19th ward included the area between Van Buren and 12th (now Roosevelt Rd.), and between Loomis and the south branch of the Chicago River. Always a poor immigrant neighborhood, it was adjacent to “Bloody Maxwell,” the famously crime-ridden district just to the south. The Tribune described conditions in the 19th graphically in 1897:
Do the drivers on the wagons indulge less freely in profanity? Do the workmen in the street show love and peace? Halsted street betrays it not. Ewing [now 12th Pl.] and Forquer [now Arthington St.] streets look otherwise. Bunker [now Grenshaw St.] and De Koven streets hide it well. Soiled children play upon the walks. The tin can travels on its endless way. Girls bend low over their work in the sweatshops making shirts at eight cents apiece. Six hundred saloons, twenty for each church in the ward, cast their exhilirating influence over the scene. The only thing bearing indisputable marks of a celestial nature is a Chinese laundry.
When Powers was first elected in 1888, the ward was almost entirely Irish, but in the 1890s and 1900s, Italian immigrants flooded into the neighborhood, and by 1910 the voting population was over 80% Italian. The savvy Irishman Powers managed to hold onto his seat, however, by assiduously incorporating potential Italian rivals into the lower levels of his political organization, who then promoted him to their fellow countrymen, even giving him quasi-Italian names like “Johnny de Pow” and “Gianni Pauli”.

However, in off-the-cuff remarks, Powers often denigrated his constituents. "I can buy the Italian vote with a glass of beer and a compliment," he was overheard to say once, and condescending comments like these wore away at his popularity in the ward. Eventually, John Powers met an Italian rival who was too powerful to buy off: Anthony “Tony” D’Andrea.

D’Andrea was a long-time political player in Chicago. Born in Salerno, he had come to Chicago and worked as a Roman Catholic priest until he fell in love with a woman and left the ministry for her. Later he was prominent in the corrupt political process associated with the red-light Levee district; he helped gang leader “Big Jim” Colosimo and “Dago” Mike Carrozzo take over labor unions and raise the political profile of the city’s Italians.

In February, 1916, D’Andrea decided to challenge Powers’ fellow alderman in the 19th, James Bowler (each Chicago ward at that time had two aldermen). While D’Andrea had a natural constituency among Italians in the ward, city newspapers pilloried him for his underworld connections in the Levee and for being a “defrocked priest.” It also came out that D’Andrea was an ex-con, having served a sentence for counterfeiting in 1902 (D’Andrea admitted have been in prison, but insisted he was innocent of the crime).

Finally, just days before the election, a major supporter of Bowler, Frank Lombardi, was murdered in a saloon on Taylor St. Everyone immediately suspected D’Andrea supporters in the crime, although the police also considered the theory that Lombardi was involved in a feud with a Black Hand gang.

Nevertheless, D’Andrea’s name was tarnished throughout the campaign and Bowler prevailed on election day. Despite his loss, D’Andrea remained influential in the Italian community, and three years later, in 1919, he was elected president of the Chicago branch of the Unione Siciliana, the largest Italian political organization in the country. It was a position that gave him tremendous influence, as well as access to the resources of powerful elements of organized crime.

Recognizing that D’Andrea would likely prevail if he chose to run for alderman again, John Powers decided to endorse him for a different, but equally important political position in the 19th, ward committeeman, a position that Powers himself had previously filled. This was a major concession, since it was the committeeman who truly held control over which constituents received plum city jobs (similarly, Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna was the long-time committeeman in the 1st ward).

Given D’Andrea’s popularity and Powers’ endorsement, D’Andrea was elected ward committeeman in April, 1920. However, the election that year was marked by serious voting irregularities all across the city (but especially in the 19th). News of sluggings, kidnappings, shootings, ballot box stuffing, and selective culls of voter registration lists reached Springfield, where on June 6, 1920, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled all Chicago ward committeemen election outcomes null and void.

Still, D’Andrea assumed Powers would stand by his endorsement and allow D’Andrea to represent the ward as committeeman at the Democratic County Central Committee meetings in August. When the powerful party convention opened, the secretary called out each ward by name, and the party’s representative from that ward rose to announce his presence. When the secretary asked for the representative from the 19th, John Powers stood up and began to respond.
He was interrupted. A swarthy, spectacled youth with an Italian accent had also arisen. "I'm here to speak for the Nineteenth ward," he began.
Powers responded:
"For thirty-two years I have been alderman of the ward," he began. "I’ve been on the committee for thirty-five years. Last spring, Anthony D'Andrea wanted to be committeeman. For the sake of harmony I yielded. I withdrew after he promised to support Ald. Bowler, my colleague, for reelection. D'Andrea was elected. He hasn't kept his promises. I'm not willing to desert Bowler. The Supreme Court has declared that the newly elected committeemen have no authority and I'm still committeeman."
D’Andrea protested loudly, insisting that he, not Powers, had the support of the majority of the ward’s voters. “Why,” he argued, “Powers only keeps a home in the 19th so he can remain alderman, but he actually lives almost all of the time in the 3rd ward on Michigan Ave.!” But Powers prevailed and D’Andrea left the meeting embarrassed and infuriated.

Just over a month later, on September 28, 1920, John Powers arrived at his 19th ward home and headquarters late in the evening, just before midnight. A few minutes later, a tremendous explosion rocked the neighborhood.
The blast blew the alderman and five others out of bed, tore the front of the house apart, broke most of the windows in the neighborhood, shattered all the glass in the bookcases that line the dining room walls, and woke up all the sleepers for six blocks around, but no one was hurt.

Powers has lived there for four decades, but now mostly lives in another place 4500 S. Michigan, but that night he had just arrived at the home. The alderman has had a private watchman on guard over the house for some time. Why, he did not care to say.
(Pictured: Ald. Powers' home at 1284 Macalister after the bombing)

Perhaps what John Powers did not care to say was that he was familiar enough with D’Andrea and his underworld friends to know he was a target.

After D’Andrea announced he would run against Powers himself in the 1921 aldermanic elections, the feud only intensified. A second bomb exploded during a meeting of D’Andrea supporters on Blue Island Ave. in February, seriously injuring several, and another bomb was later detonated at the home of Joseph Spica, father-in-law of a major figure in the D’Andrea campaign.

The 1921 vote was extremely close, but Powers squeaked by with a tiny 435 vote margin. In the election, Powers had again highlighted D’Andrea’s unsavory history, contrasting it with a picture of himself as a devoted god-fearing, churchgoing family man.

The latter was only partially true. While Powers had been married for many years and was never known to indulge in liquor or gambling, there were none-too-private rumors of an affair. Back in 1910, word reached Chicago that Mayme McKenna, widow of a former alderman, had been charged in New York City with attempting to smuggle $1,000 worth of Parisian ball gowns into the United States without declaring them at customs (she claimed to have forgotten in her rush to return to Chicago). She was caught when a customs inspector found a gown with the label of a Chicago dressmaker sewn into it, but which was obviously brand new, arousing suspicions.
The attention of Deputy Surveyor John O'Connor, known as the custom house expert on styles, was called to the garment. O'Connor concluded it was too far ahead of American styles to be other than of Parisian make.
When she [McKenna] appeared at the custom house in the morning she was accompanied by an elderly man who declined to give his name, but said he was a friend of the family.
It turned out that the “elderly man” was none other than Alderman John Powers, and furthermore, the two had traveled to Europe together under the pretense that she was Mrs. John Powers. The newspapers noted that the register of the Waldorf Hotel in New York bore the names of Mr. and Mrs. John Powers, while the real Mrs. Powers was still in Chicago.

At the time, it seemed like possibly a misunderstanding – perhaps Powers had loaned his powerful name to McKenna in order to facilitate her trip as a favor to his deceased fellow alderman. However, the notion that Powers and McKenna were more than just friends is supported by the fact that, after John Powers’ first wife died in Feb. 1917, he married McKenna the following year.

(Pictured: Ald. Powers with Mayme McKenna on their wedding day)

After the election, D’Andrea swore off 19th ward politics, but it was too late: he was assassinated on the street in front of his home in May, 1921. His political organization, and even his headquarters on Taylor street, the Italian-American Educational Club, was inherited by the Genna brothers, which turned it into a giant dispersed network for the production of bootleg liquor during Prohibition.

Despite his victory over D’Andrea, Powers’ ability to control the burgeoning Italian vote was clearly eroding, and he likely would have lost in the next election to some other Neopolitan politician. However, just after the election, the number of wards was increased from 35 to 50, and the old 19th was carved up into the 20th, 25th, 26th and 27th wards. The Italian supermajority in the old ward turned into substantially smaller pluralities in the new wards. Thus, John Powers was able to remain an alderman in the 25th until his retirement in 1927, at which point he had been on the Chicago city council for 38 years. Powers died in 1930.

John Powers' two-story frame house on Lexington Ave. is gone now, replaced by a handsome three-story brick structure looking out over Arrigo Park.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Mushmouth" Johnson's Sister Breaks the Color Barrier at U of C Sorority

July 21, 1907 was an especially hot day in Chicago. All across the city, men in felt hats and women in Victorian bustiers were straining to catch a lake breeze as they went about the ordinary business of their lives. Streetcars were rumbling down Clark and Wells streets, and on Michigan, busy shoppers admired the windows in dry goods stores. On the Westside, the saddest of possible words, "Tinker to Evers to Chance," were being cursed by Cubs opponents as the team slugged its way to the first of two consecutive World Series titles. Everything seemed normal. Too normal. Little did the city's denizens know of the incomparable evil that was stirring in the Southside Hyde Park neighborhood.

Was there a serial killer on the loose? A sex predator? Anarchist terrorists? A rabid dog, even? No, this was something far, far worse. Something that would make page one of every major Chicago newspapers for the next three days. If there are any young readers out there, any with sensitive constitutions or prone to fainting spells, I urge -- plead -- with you to turn away now and spare yourself the shock and horror of it all.

There was a black sorority girl at the University of Chicago.

The Tribune's lede paragraph the next day told of the scandal:
Sorority circles and the social set at the University of Chicago are aghast at the revelation of the identity of one of the school's most prominent women students. Received into a secret society, made a belle at the proms and dances, the girl has been found to be a mulatto.
The girl in question was Cecilia Johnson, and she was the sister of John "Mushmouth" Johnson, the city's gambling and policy (lotto) king, who owned a major State street casino, as well as the upscale Frontenac Club on 22nd street. The family home where Mushmouth, Cecilia, their sister Dora, and their mother, Ellen lived, was at 5830 S. Wabash, pictured here.

Unlike the other three, Cecilia was unusually light-skinned, which caused their neighbors to wonder whether she might have been an adoptee, or perhaps of a different father than her siblings. Cecilia was also exceptionally intelligent, and had completed her baccalaureate at Chicago the previous year with a double major in history and music. She won a scholarship in the history department, and was continuing her studies in a master's degree program.

But it was her membership in Pi Alpha Phi, a university sorority, that brought the city to an uproar that summer. Cecilia had joined the secret society in 1904, her sophomore year, and was quickly made president. As one fellow member later said, "She is bright, witty, and attractive. She dresses in fine clothes, but I do not recall that she ever overdressed, although she had quite a display of jewelry. She always seemed a girl of excellent taste."

Cecilia attended all major social functions at the University, as she had while at the all-white Englewood High School, where she had first met many of her future sorority sisters. She was very popular with the college men.

The other girls found out about Cecilia’s race when one of them read a newspaper account about Mushmouth Johnson in which he mentioned his home at 5830 Wabash, an address they recognized at Cecilia’s. The girl who made the unfortunate discovery explains:
We never for a brief moment suspected she had colored blood in her veins. I remember one time Cecilia was absent from school several days. I received a phone message from her mother to come to see her. It was the first time I was ever in the house. A negro maid opened the door and I was ushered into a well furnished parlor with beautiful oil paintings. Soon a white nurse appeared and took me to Cecilia's room, which was darkened. I thought then I saw the picture of a colored man on the wall, but it was too dark to say definitely. I did not meet any of the members of her family then.

I was invited back in a few days, and I saw our picture hanging on the wall in the library, surrounded by several colored persons. I was surprised, of course, but I did not think much of it, as I had heard her mother was a nurse of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln's, and I thought it likely she might have become acquainted with negroes at that time. But after I read that article in the paper about "Mushmouth" Johnson, I knew she was related in some way to him.
The other sorority girls had long wondered about the source of Cecilia’s wealth. They were jealous of her beauty, her popularity, and her wardrobe. When they heard that she was hiding a secret, a conclave of the sisters (sans Cecilia) was held to hash out the matter. A minority of the girls calmly suggested that Cecilia’s secret remain within the group, that she be allowed to remain in the sorority unmolested, but the majority insisted on a confrontation. The meeting was apparently so rancorous that the sorority disbanded (the majority later restarted it, minus Cecilia and those who stood by her).

When news leaked to the press, all of Chicago’s major newspapers printed the story on page 1, along with condescending quotes from some of Cecilia’s former sisters:
"Certainly she had the best of everything, and I am sure she is a fine girl. It's too bad, but I suppose it would have to come out sooner or later."

"Cecilia is a fine girl in every sense of the word and if it were not for her color I would willingly have her in my sorority.”
When questioned by a reporter, Cecilia admitted her race and heritage. “Certainly,” she said when asked if she was sister to the city’s gambling king.

The next day, when reporters showed up at the family home on Wabash, they found no one to talk with:
The Johnson house at 5830 Wabash avenue was shut all day. The shades were drawn, windows locked, and there was no answer to the doorbell or the telephone. In the flat above, which is occupied by a negro family, it was stated that the Johnsons had refused to see anyone, including the postman.
On the third day of the scandal, the Tribune published a mea culpa, which indicated that, yes, Cecilia Johnson was black, and she was a co-ed at the U of C. However, the paper admitted that some of the details printed in their earlier stories had been incorrect, and issued a public apology to Miss Johnson. The note did not indicate which details were incorrect, however. Was she, not, in fact, related to Mushmouth Johnson? If so, then why had she responded “certainly” when asked that question by a Tribune reporter? Was she not a member of a sorority? It’s hard to imagine the paper could have gotten that critical detail wrong.

Perhaps the scandal weighted heavily on Mushmouth Johnson; his business had brought shame to a family member with a very bright future. Mushmouth died less than two months after the story broke.

Regardless of which parts of the printed accounts of Cecilia Johnson are true, the story indicates the deep racial boundaries that existed in Chicago at the time. Twelve years later, those boundaries would rupture into an all-out race riot. Even today, Chicago is one of the most (de facto) segregated cities in the country.

One of the ways social scientists measure segregation is with a “Dissimilarity Index,” which measures the extent to which blacks and non-blacks live in different areas of a city. It can be interpreted as the fraction of black residents who would have to move to a new neighborhood in order to attain an even racial distribution. A (hypothetical) city in which all blacks lived in one neighborhood would have a Dissimilarity Index of 1.0, since 100% of blacks in that city would have to move to other neighborhoods to achieve perfect desegregation. A city where blacks were dropped out of a helicopter (with parachutes!) randomly over an entirely white city and then built houses wherever they landed would have a Dissimilarity Index of 0.0.

Chicago’s Dissimilarity Index in 1910 was 0.69. By 1970, it had reached 0.91 (nearly completely segregated), before falling to 0.84 in 2000. By contrast, New York and Los Angeles had values of 0.81 and 0.67 in 2000, respectively. Chicago was the fourth most segregated city in the country in 2000, bested only by Detroit, Bergen-Passaic, NJ, and Gary, IN.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Political Banquet for O'Banion

In the relationship between organized crime and politics, politicians protect criminals from prosecution, and criminals, in return, either pay protection money or round up votes (or both). This system is derived from the fact that consumers’ willingness-to-pay for prohibited goods, such as prostitution, gambling, and narcotics, is higher than the cost of providing these goods (up to some level of production), generating a surplus equal to the difference. If these goods were legal, economic theory implies that prices would be set so as to divide the surplus between buyers and sellers, with the division depending on how sensitive to price increases buyers are.

Making a good illegal (similar to the case of a sales tax) allows politicians to gain a cut of the surplus (in general, a sales tax is more efficient, but prohibition gives politicians more power to favor certain sellers over others), which they may extract either as direct cash payments (see, e.g., here), or through in-kind payment of get-out-the-vote activities. Sellers of illegal goods generally need to be tough characters, since they operate outside the protection of the ordinary law enforcement system that provides security for sellers of legal goods, and their toughness also makes them especially good at “convincing” voters to cast their ballots for a favored candidate.

One major factor limiting the ability of politicians to capture the surplus from markets in illegal goods is competition from other politicians. The candidate who offers organized criminals protection from prosecution in exchange for the smallest share of the surplus receives their support.

In 1924, Chicago Republicans were reeling. The GOP’s mayoral standard-bearer, William Hale Thompson, was so unpopular he had chosen not to run in the previous year’s election, making way for the victory of Democrat William Dever. Dever had run on a strong anti-crime platform, and he consistently attacked the syndicates that provided illicit alcohol and other illegal goods in the city. But while Chicagoans disliked crime, most of them were deeply opposed to alcohol prohibition, and their desire for liquor created an enormous surplus in that market. Republicans saw an opportunity to undercut their political opponents by offering the underground titans of beer a better deal.

Dion O’Banion, head of the Northside gang, had reliably delivered the 42nd and 43rd wards, including River North, Lincoln Park, and Little Hell/Little Sicily to the Democrats for years. As the saying of the time went, “Who’ll carry the forty-second and forty-third? O’Banion,
in his pistol pocket!”

(Pictured: Dion O'Banion)

So when word got out that O’Banion was thinking about throwing his weight behind the Republicans in the 1924 election, Democrats convened a pow-wow between criminals and politicians in an attempt to stop the defection. In early November, just a few days before the election, a banquet in O’Banion’s honor was held here, at the Webster Hotel (pictured above), 2150 N. Lincoln Park West. Besides O’Banion, representing the Northside gang were “Schemer” Drucci, “Bugs” Moran, and “Hymie” Weiss, along with a coterie of other associates, including Jerry O’Connor, vice president of the janitor’s union. Important politicians, including Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Albert Sprague and county Clerk Robert Sweitzer, were present, as was a contingent of police officers, led by Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes. As a token of their appreciation, O’Banion was presented with a beautiful jewel-encrusted platinum wristwatch.

The presence of Hughes was especially interesting. A crack detective, Hughes had come to Chicago at age 17 in 1888 from Ireland, originally finding work in the stockyards. By 1896, Hughes had joined the police force as a “probationary” officer, called in for work if a regular officer was unavailable. Hughes was a success as a police officer, and found himself at the notoriously corrupt 22nd street station during the 1900s, when it served as the means of exchange between the Kenna-Coughlin aldermanic regime and the pimps, madams, gamblers, and saloon-keepers of the segregated Levee vice district. It was there that he first learned how the political/criminal axis turned.

Nevertheless, Hughes was apparently an excellent cop, and made detective in 1918, winning an award in 1920 for being the city’s top crime-fighter in 1920. He played a prominent role in all of the most cases, including the Leopold-Loeb murder and the assassination of “Mossy” Enright. In 1921, Hughes was named Chief of Detectives.

(Pictured: Michael Hughes)

The platinum watch was apparently not enough to sway O’Banion, and the 42nd and 43rd voted strongly Republican in 1924. Sprague lost to GOP senatorial candidate Charles S. Deneen, and the Republicans continued their gains until 1927, when William Hale Thompson regained the mayoralty (with strong financial support from Al Capone). Just days after the 1924 election, O’Banion was assassinated at his State St. flower shop headquarters, and his followers, Drucci, Weiss, and Moran, proclaimed a vengeful blood-letting.

At the same time, news of the pre-election banquet leaked out, and with the city mired in gangland violence, the relationship between prominent Democrats and the criminal element reflected poorly on Mayor Dever. The Mayor publicly asked why his Chief of Detectives was present at a fete for the man known as Chicago’s “arch criminal”. In response, Hughes claimed to have been misled by Sprague:
I don’t know anything about any banquet for O’Banion. I left the bureau that night, and at the corner I met Col. A. A. Sprague, commissioner of public works, who was then a candidate for United States senator, and County Clerk Robert M. Sweitzer. They asked me to accompany them to a banquet given for Jerry O’Connor, a union business agent, whom I know to be honest and clean. The banquet was for O’Connor, not O’Banion. I went with Sweitzer and Sprague, both close friends of the Mayor. This banquet was like almost all others; the hoodlums were there. They go to all such affairs. O’Connor was affiliated with the Sprague campaign committee and it was a sort of political gathering I left soon after I saw who were there, but there were many judges who stayed.
Dever ordered Hughes demoted back to captain, but before he could be reassigned, Hughes quit the police force, returning his star in an angry fit:
The police department is rotten; I wouldn’t stay on under the present administration, if I had to take a job shoveling the streets. They have been wanting to get rid of me ever since Dever became mayor, but until now they didn’t have the nerve.
Days later, Hughes’ friends convinced him to reconsider, and he was allowed to withdraw his resignation and went to work at the Irving Park station.

Hughes was apparently exceptionally talented at policing, and by 1927, he was appointed head of the highway police department, which focused on the increasing vice trade in the suburbs. After Republican William Hale Thompson returned to the mayoralty that year, he brought Hughes back to Chicago, elevating him to Chief of Police (later retitled police commissioner). Hughes did battle with Al Capone during the late 1920s, getting under the Southside racketeer’s skin by not allowing him into the city to visit his wife and son at the family home.

Eventually, however, the rising wave of crime forced Thompson to take action, and he asked Hughes to submit his resignation in August, 1928. Michael Hughes remained on the police force until his retirement at age 64 in 1935. Hughes passed on in 1954.

The Webster Hotel, where the famous O’Banion banquet took place, was new at the time, having been constructed in 1919 for $2.5 million. Converted to apartments in the late 1970s, it remains today as the Webster House. Below is the building as it looked in 1919: