Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nathan Leopold's Home

In general, I’m not much interested in serial murderers or “thrill” killers. But you can’t have a website about the history of crime in Chicago without some mention of Nathan Leopold, one half of the famous Leopold and Loeb duo, whose atrocious murder of 14-year old neighbor Robert Franks in 1924 captured the morbid fascination of newspaper readers throughout the world. Leopold, son of a shipping and paper magnate, lived in the mansion at 4754 S. Greenwood Ave., in the South Kenwood neighborhood.

After the Great Fire, the Kenwood neighborhood became home to many of the city’s business and cultural elite, desirable for its proximity to the Loop, the meatpacking district (the Armours and Swifts were residents), and the University of Chicago. The home at 4754 S. Greenwood was built in 1886 by Charles B. Van Kirk, one of the founders of the Chicago Board of Trade. After World War I, Kenwood’s tree-lined boulevards became especially attractive to wealthy Chicago Jews, including Nathan F. Leopold, Sr. Leopold, Sr.'s parents, Samuel and Babette, had emigrated to the U.S. from Germany after the failed revolution of 1848 in that country, settling first in Michigan, where Nathan was born. After the Civil War, the Leopold family moved to Chicago, and young Nathan Leopold, Sr. went into the business of organizing the burgeoning shipping business through the Great Lakes. He first found success as a principal founder of the firm Leopold & Austrian, but he later started several other businesses, including the Manitou Shipping Company and a copper mining interest in Michigan. Later, he became a major player in paper mills as well, forming the Fiber Can Corporation, and operating a paper mill at suburban Morris, Illinois.

Leopold was active in the community, serving as president of the Young Mens’ Hebrew Association in Chicago, forerunner of the modern Jewish Community Center organization. In 1892, he married into one of the city’s wealthiest Jewish families, taking Florence Foreman as his wife. Foreman’s father, Gerhart, was a Chicago pioneer, and one of the city’s earliest bankers; her sister later became Mrs. Julius Rosenwald. The Leopolds had three children: Foreman, Samuel, and Nathan, Jr.

Nathan F. Leopold, Jr., was born in 1904, and was early recognized for intellectual brilliance, as well as his cruel mind. Fascinated by birds throughout his life, Leopold’s nurse was horrified by the callousness the boy showed towards birds, killing them for specimens in his collection. Ironically nicknamed “babe” by his family and friends, no expenditure was spared in the young scholar’s education, and after high school, he attended the nearby University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, becoming the youngest graduate in the history of the U of C at age 19 in 1923. In the fall of 1923, Leopold re-enrolled at the University, seeking a degree from the Law School.

It was in November of that year that he began plotting a perfect murder with friend Richard “Dickie” Loeb, another child savant who had graduated at the University of Michigan the previous year at age 18, and was then enrolled in a masters’ degree program in History at the University of Chicago. Years of speculation by researchers about whether Leopold or Loeb originally hatched the murder plan have never turned definitive, but Leopold’s cruelty and lack of conscience, and Loeb’s fascination with crime and detective stories mean it easily could have been either. Both were students of epicurean and nihilist philosophies, with Leopold a master of medieval erotic literature and an avowed atheist.

(Pictured: Nathan F. Leopold, Jr.)

In any case, for adventure and thrills, the two first hatched a plan to kidnap the son of a wealthy Chicago family for ransom, puzzling for months over the question of how to collect the ransom without capture. Finally, they pieced together a complex and daring plan. The father of the kidnapped boy would be directed by taxicab to a 63rd street drug store, where he would receive a telephone call telling him to immediately catch a southbound train from the nearby station, presumably before police could be notified. On the train, he was to find a note telling him to throw the bag containing the money from the train at a certain point between two stations, where Leopold and Loeb would be waiting to receive the loot.

The kidnapping and murder itself were no less carefully planned. Leopold planned to rent an automobile, by which the victim would be spirited away. However, then as now, rental service companies demanded reliable credit before allowing a borrower the keys. Leopold filled out an application at the car rental company under a false name (“Martin D. Ballard”), and indicated employment with a certain Mr. Mason, giving a work telephone number associated with a local lunch counter. When the rental company checked on the number, Loeb jumped out of his seat at the restaurant and picked up the phone before the waitress could reach it, confirming that he was “Mr. Mason,” and yes, Mr. Ballard certainly did work for him – and was one of his best employees.

(Pictured: The rented Willys-Knight car used for the kidnapping)

With the maroon-colored Willys-Knight car, purposely chosen as the same model as Leopold’s own vehicle, in their possession, Leopold and Loeb agreed on an alibi if questioned. The two agreed that after classes on Wednesday, May 21, 1924, they would say they went to the north end of Lincoln Park to look for a particular bird Leopold was hunting, a heron-gull. Their story would continue with the two drinking gin and wine in the park, with the younger Loeb becoming mildly drunk. Since Loeb’s family disapproved of alcohol, the two would claim they went to dinner at a Kenwood tavern, the Cocoanut Grove, at 53rd and Ellis Ave., afterwards cruising around Washington Park, picking up two girls they met and taking them to the Jackson Park golf course. Eventually, they would claim, the two returned to Leopold’s home on Greenwood at 11:00 p.m., with Loeb returning home at 2:00 a.m. after his family was asleep, to sleep off the day’s drinking.

With their story straight, Leopold and Loeb drove around the neighborhood on the afternoon of the 21st, looking for a victim. At the Harvard School, a private primary school for wealthy children on Ellis Ave., just around the corner from Leopold's home, Loeb spotted a family friend, 14-year old Robert “Bobby” Franks, who had been umpiring a youth baseball game at the school’s sporting field. Loeb and Franks were not close friends, but they had frequently played tennis together, so Franks came over to the car at once when Loeb called to him, “Hello, Bob! Come in a minute, I want to ask you about a tennis racket.”

Bobby Franks entered the car, sealing his doom. Later at trial, Loeb would claim that he was driving while Leopold delivered the fateful blow to the victim in the back seat; Leopold claimed the opposite, and it was never determined who actually killed Franks. In any case, a taped-up chisel blow to the head rendered Franks unconscious just minutes after he got in the car, and a gag placed in his mouth quickly suffocated him. Leopold and Loeb drove around for around four hours afterwards, waiting for dusk, then dumped Franks’ body in what was then a sparsely-populated prairie and lagoon area, near the Pennsylvania railroad tracks at 119th Street.

The two then returned to Kenwood, parking the car near Leopold’s house, and burned their blood-stained clothes in Loeb’s basement. They played cards until late that night.

The next day, they telephoned the Franks home, making a ransom demand for $10,000, and also had a ransom note delivered, which had been prepared before the kidnapping and addressed on the way home from the murder. On the phone, Leopold, referring to himself as “George Johnson,” threatened to kill the boy if the Franks family contacted police. Of course, Bobby Franks was already dead, and the family did in fact contact police, but the police chose not to file a formal report immediately in order to keep the supposed kidnappers in the dark while detectives followed up leads.

Thus, without a police report of the kidnapping, when Franks’ body was discovered by a railroad worker the day after the killing, he was not immediately identified. The unidentified boy was found naked except for his eyeglasses, strewn a few feet away in the mud, and one stocking. The railroad man who found him placed the glasses back on his face and called for backup in moving him to the morgue.

Meanwhile, at the Franks home, the murdered boy’s father was waiting at his home for the taxicab Leopold and Loeb had arranged to take him to the drug store near the train station, from which he would depart and throw the ransom money out of the window. Just before the taxi arrived, however, word came by telephone: Bobby Franks had been identified as the likely identity of a boy's body found near the railroad tracks. Instead of following the ransom note’s demands, the Franks family drove to the morgue, where they sadly confirmed that it was, in fact, their boy. Just one thing was wrong: whose eyeglasses were those? Bobby Franks had perfect eyesight and never wore glasses.

Hence, the famous clue that would finally break the case.

Leopold had dropped the glasses, which he wore only rarely, at the crime scene, and hadn’t noticed it until later. The police found the optician who had sold the glasses, Almer Coe & Co., and asked them to search their sales records, a task which was simplified by the fact that this particular pair employed a rare type of hinge, produced only by the Bobrow Optical Company in Brooklyn, New York. This fact narrowed the list of suspects to just three in the Chicago area, one of whom was Nathan F. Leopold, Jr., of 4754 S. Greenwood Ave., just a few blocks from the Franks home. The attention of the police, which had initially focused on various teachers at the Harvard School where Franks attended, and a suspicious druggist who had recently attempted suicide, turned completely to Leopold.

In the early morning of May 30, 1924, Leopold was brought into State Attorney Robert Crowe’s office for interrogation by Crowe and Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes. Questioned about the location where the body was found, Leopold answered confidently, “Yes, I have been there fifty times. You see, I am interested in ornithology [study of birds]. I frequently go there with classes and with companions.”

Shown the glasses, he denied they belonged to him, but admitted he owned a similar pair. Detectives were even then searching his home, where they found an empty Almer Coe & Co. glasses case, but no spectacles. Confronted with this evidence, State’s Attorney Crowe asked Leopold whether it was possible he had lost his glasses at the scene of the crime.

“I told you I had been there frequently. I believe I was there either the Friday or the Saturday just before the murder. I might have dropped them on that occasion,” replied Leopold.

But had the glasses lain in the dirt for a week, as Leopold claimed, they would have been covered with dirt and streaked with rain, when in fact they were found completely clean. Next, Crowe showed Leopold the ransom note, which had been published in the newspapers during the past week. “This letter was written by an educated man. Do you think that you could have written such a letter?”

“Yes, I could easily duplicate it, if I couldn’t write a better one. There is one mistake in the letter. The word kidnapping is spelled kidnaping. I noticed it at the time.” Likely, Leopold had purposely misspelled the word to mislead investigators.

Police detectives searched Leopold’s home, and found his typewriter, but it was not of the sort that was used to create the note. Leopold confidently repeated the alibi he and Loeb had agreed upon, describing their travels to Lincoln Park to look for birds, the drinking, the girls they met in Washington Park, and so on. When questioned, Loeb first claimed he was too drunk to remember the events of the day, but eventually foggily repeated a story similar to Leopold's. The police began to believe that Leopold was in fact innocent, the victim of an unusual and coincidental set of circumstances. During 30 hours of questioning, Leopold held court with detectives and reporters, demonstrating his superior intellect on any subject proposed. Claiming that his heroes were Oscar Wilde, Nietzsche, and Epicurus, he was asked, “What about Socrates?” “I never thought a lot of that old bird,” Leopold rakishly replied.

Police very nearly released him. Finally, however, someone thought to question the Leopolds’ chauffeur, Sven Englund, who lived in the family’s garage. When asked about Leopold’s maroon Willys-Knight, Englund indicated that it had been in the garage all day. Englund’s wife confirmed seeing it at home – and thus, not in Lincoln Park, not at the Cocoanut Grove Inn, not cruising around with two boy geniuses and their new girlfriends, and not at the Jackson Park golf course. When confronted with Englund’s statement, Loeb was the first to crack. He demanded to speak with Crowe and District Attorney John Sbarbaro, and began confessing the true story of the murder.

When told that Loeb was confessing, Leopold realized the jig was up and admitted his role in the killing. In a chilling statement related later to reporters, the young nihilist told one officer, “If I’d have only known that Loeb was preaching [confessing], if I’d known that I would have killed myself there in my room. Do you recall when I was standing at my desk? I had my hand on my gun. But before I killed myself I’d have put a few policemen out of the way. Yes, I’d have got you.”

Over the next two days, while housed in separate rooms at the Windermere Hotel on 56th and Hyde Park Blvd. (which still stands next door to my former dormitory, the Broadview), Leopold and Loeb led detectives around the south side of Chicago, pointing out precisely where they had disposed of Franks’ clothes, as well as the typewriter used in the ransom note, a second machine owned by Leopold, which he had dumped into the Jackson Park lagoon after the murder. A few days later, divers would find the typewriter, essentially closing the case on the two killers.

An early notion to plead not guilty on defense of insanity was quickly rejected by their counsel, world-famous attorney Clarence Darrow (who had defended the indefensible in Chicago before). The boys were too intelligent for anyone to believe they didn’t understand the difference between right and wrong, the M'Naughten Rule standard for insanity accepted in Illinois. Instead, Darrow convinced the boys and their families to plead guilty, and try to avoid the death penalty. A hearing before a judge began in late August, 1924, and concluded on September 10. Primarily on the basis of their age, the judge in the case denied the state’s motion to impose the death penalty, instead imposing sentence of life plus 99 years on each. Both were assigned to Joliet penitentiary.

Loeb, initially the more popular in prison, and the less aloof of the two, was murdered in the shower room in 1936 by a fellow prisoner who claimed Loeb had made homosexual advances toward him. Leopold served a minimum required third of his sentence and was released in 1958, living the rest of his life as a hospital worker in Puerto Rico, where he died in 1971.

The story of the two brilliant young murderers who killed for adventure and pleasure was irresistible to newspaper publishers throughout the world. Typical of the editorials was the Tribune, which asked rhetorically, “Were they bored by a life which left them nothing to be desired, no obstacles to overcome, no goal to attain? Were they jaded by the jazz-life of gin and girls, so that they needed so terrible a thing as murder to give them new thrills?”

The publicity was obviously difficult to handle for the families involved; curiosity-seekers gawked at them in front of their homes at all hours. After the trial, in October, 1924, Nathan Leopold, Sr., sold the home at 4754 Greenwood and moved to Lakeview, living on Roscoe St., near Belmont Harbor, where he died in 1929. His two other sons, Foreman and Samuel, changed their names to “Lebold,” continuing their father’s business and community interests until their retirements in the 1960s.

The Leopold mansion was destroyed in the late 1960s. The large home pictured at the top of this post was built on the site, but the photo below shows the home as it looked in the 1920s.

(Pictured: Nathan Leopold mansion, circa 1924)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gangs of Chicago: Thomas "Buff" Higgins Leads the Wright Street Gang

By most accounts, 1893 was a banner year in Chicago. The World’s Fair exhibited the very best the city had to offer, including magnificent architecture, a harmonious blending of cultures, and a beautiful physical landscape, to millions of visitors. But in the shadow of the “white city” was a very dark city. Just a mile or two from the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan lay the Maxwell Street district, a neighborhood teeming with the most incorrigible criminals, young desperadoes scurrying through the filthy streets and rotting tenement buildings like vermin. Then as now, poverty and hopelessness bred desperation and hedonism, and young men with little to live for would die over even less. The most vicious of these men formed into street gangs which terrorized 14th Place, in those days known as either Wright Street). The leader of one of these gangs was Thomas “Buff” Higgins, who at age 23 was already a notorious figure and had been in and out of jail over 100 times. In the early morning of September 3, 1893, in a Peoria St. home, Higgins wrote the final chapter in his life in a frantic moment, igniting a city-wide debate on poverty, crime and punishment in Chicago.

“Buff” was a nickname, short for “Buffalo”, and possibly styled after the wild-west gunslinger star of countless dime novels, “Buffalo Bill”, whose human incarnation in William Cody had captivated Chicago in a series of performances at the World’s Fair that year. Born in Ireland in the early 1870s, Buff Higgins immigrated with his parents to Chicago at the age of 2. Like many of their countrymen, the Higgins settled in the Maxwell street district, where poor workingmen could afford a few square feet of space. Conditions in the neighborhood were poor, and it was no place to raise a family, but it beat starvation and religious strife in Ireland.

As a boy, Higgins attended the notorious Walsh School, which still exists today, where Irish schoolboys banded together against newer immigrant groups from Germany, Russia, Poland, and other Eastern European regions. Knives and even guns were commonplace in these schoolyard battles, and through them, Buff Higgins came to be an expert fighter; as the Tribune later described his upbringing, "Fighting came to him easily, and nature had given him a body well adapted for physical combat. Experience supplemented his natural ability as a fighter and it was not long before 'Buff' Higgins was a man to be feared by each and every one who happened to come into contact with him."

By age 14, Higgins had dropped out of school, and he descended into a life of crime, naturally falling in with some of the tough Irish street gangs that controlled 14th Place (then known as Wright St.), near the intersection of Sangamon Street, which was the location of so many battles with police that it became known as “Dead Man’s Corner”. Higgins’ first recorded arrest, at age 14, was for stealing grapes from a neighborhood fruit merchant. From that ignominious beginning, the following ten years saw Buff back in the city jail – or the “Bridewell”, as it was known – countless times for disorderly conduct, drunkenness, vagrancy, larceny, and assault. In 1891, Higgins was even implicated in the murder of a neighborhood laborer, George Scott, and the entire Wright Street Gang, in which he had become a chief member, was hauled into court.

Finally, in 1892, Higgins was sent to the state penitentiary at Joliet to serve a one-year prison sentence for robbery. When he finished his term in September, 1893, he returned to the neighborhood and shortly found himself in need of money. With two fellow members of his Wright Street Gang, Higgins planned a midnight robbery of an irresistible target.

(Pictured: Thomas "Buff" Higgins. The Tribune described him as "low browed and repulsive in features")

February of 1893 had seen the bankruptcy of one of the nation’s largest railroads, the Philadelphia and Reading, and other railroad companies were believed to be on the verge of collapse. Nowhere was the shock of these insolvencies greater than in Chicago, the heart of so many rail systems. In those days before federal deposit insurance, banks invested more conservatively, but were also more vulnerable to “runs” by depositors, who, hearing rumors of a bank collapse, all rushed to withdraw their savings, possibly exacerbating the feared collapse (see earlier posts here and here for more details on banking before FDIC).

Among those who withdrew their savings in cash during the “Panic of 1893”, as it was later called, was Mrs. Bridget McCooey, the wife of a Crane Bros. elevator factory laborer, and a resident of a hardscrabble working-class neighborhood west of the Loop, just north of “Bloody Maxwell”, where Higgins and company ran the streets. Mrs. McCooey withdrew the family’s life savings, around $400, and stored it in cash in their home at 153 Johnson St. (now 230 S. Peoria St., pictured above). Adjusting amounts for inflation over such long periods is difficult, since the quality and types of goods available for purchase have changed so tremendously (most people would rather have $1,000 to spend in the 2009 Best Buy catalog than $1,000 in the 1901 Sears catalog, even though the $1,000 in 1901 would in principle be “worth” much more than $1,000 in current dollars). Nevertheless, using ordinary measures of inflation, $400 in 1893 is the equivalent of around $10,000 in today’s dollars.

Perhaps Mrs. McCooey mentioned the withdrawal to a friend or neighbor, or perhaps a bank clerk had noted the unusually large withdrawal. In any case, word quickly spread around that a sizeable sum of cash was hidden somewhere in the McCooey home. Buff Higgins had found his target.

Around 2:00 a.m. on September 3, 1893, Higgins, joined by two fellow Wright Street Gang members, Harry “Sheeney Joe” Feinberg and Edward “Red” Gary, approached the McCooey home on Peoria St. The three men thoroughly rummaged through the home, overturning every cabinet and drawer, in search of the $400. Unknown to the robbers, Mrs. McCooey had decided a few days earlier that her bank was solvent, redepositing the cash they sought. Finally, there was only one place the trio had yet to look, the McCooeys' bedrooms.

Feinberg and Gary waited at the bedroom door, prepared for a quick getaway, while Higgins alone tiptoed into the bedroom of Bridget’s 42-year old husband, Peter. Higgins was opening a bureau drawer in the bedroom when he accidentally knocked over a chair, awakening the sleeping Mr. McCooey. What happened next would be replayed countless times in court. The Tribune describes the scene:
Springing to his elbow, half awake, [McCooey] was dazzled by the light of a lamp shining full in his eyes. The lamp was in the hands of a man who stood near the bed. Two other men were in the room near the door. A child would have known their errand -- robbery. As McCooey was in the very act of springing from his bed the man with the lamp flashed a revolver and fired. McCooey, checked in the midst of his spring, fell back beside his wife with a groan. The man with the pistol set the lamp on the floor and the three men ran out of the bedroom. Mrs. McCooey screamed her husband's name. He made no reply. She turned to him. His face and nightdress were covered with blood which was flowing from a wound in his left eye. Then she ran screaming from the house, crying: "Murder! They have killed my husband. Murder!"
A neighbor, awakened by Mrs. McCooey’s screams, ran the two blocks to the police station, and a squad of officers was sent out to search the slums for a killer. They knew it was more than likely that their murderer hailed from the Maxwell street district, so they began combing the streets around 14th Pl. and Sangamon carefully. At 5:00 a.m. four officers from the Maxwell Street Police Station were patrolling that infamous corner (another source says it was at 14th Place and Jefferson) when they heard a noise coming from the gutter below one of the vaulted sidewalks. The officers peered into the gutter and found Buff Higgins (apparently, Buff was one of the city’s clumsier criminals), lying on his back with revolver in hand.

Knowing Higgins had been released from Joliet just a few days earlier, and recognizing the robbery-gone-wrong as typical of the work of his ilk, the officers hauled Buff into the stationhouse for questioning. And it’s there that the writers of Higgins’ biography diverge regarding what happened next.

Under intense interrogation by police Captain Blettner, Higgins denied being a part of the crew that ransacked the McCooey home. Thinking he might react to the crime scene, officers brought Higgins back to the McCooey home, and had him face the forlorn family:
"Look at your work", scorned Capt. Blettner
"I did not do it, I do not know anything about it", replied Higgins, trembling.
Mrs. McCooey then rushed for Higgins, yelling "Is that the man who killed my husband? I shall kill him if he remains in my sight."

Officers subdued the distraught wife, but Higgins did not admit his guilt. Returning to the police station, however, under continued questioning, Higgins finally broke down and confessed, signing his name to a statement indicating he had committed the murder of Peter McCooey:
"I went in the house with two other men for the purpose of getting that $400 which I knew McCooey had. I was the first to go in, and the other two followed close behind. When we got inside we searched all the places where we thought the money might be, but we could not find it. I then went into the room where the man and his wife lay asleep and searched his clothes. There was only $1.65 in the pockets of his trousers. I was about to go out of the room when I made a noise which awoke the man. I saw him open his eyes and when he tried to get out of bed I fired the shot at him. I knew I hit him, because he groaned once and then all was still. The men with me heard the shot and jumped out of the window and ran away. I was not long in following, as I heard the man in the next room [a boarder at the McCooey home] getting out of bed. I went under the sidewalk at Jefferson and Fourteenth streets and staid there until the police arrested me."
Higgins’ own account of the confession, which he later gave in court, was quite different. In his version of the story, after returning from the McCooey home, the police stripped him naked and threw him into a basement cell at the stationhouse, where he remained for four days without food or drink. When he requested the presence of his attorney, A.J. Hanlon, the police refused. Finally, after four days, when Higgins was famished and devoid of all hope, the police captain appeared at his cell with a favorite Irish beverage, saying
"Buff, it is an outrage for you to be treated like this. You must be feeling pretty slim. Don't you want a bottle of whiskey?"
Higgins told the captain there was $0.50 in his clothes that he would happily trade for the liquor, and the captain complied, giving a bottle of whiskey to a man who hadn’t had a bite to eat in days. Buff Higgins was quickly in a state of delirious drunkenness. It was at this point, Higgins claimed, that the captain offered him his freedom. All he had to do was sign a statement declaring his innocence, and he would be free to go. Therefore, when the captain put a pen in Higgins’ hand, and pushed a sheet of paper in front of him, Buff was happy to sign, even though he was likely illiterate and had no attorney present.

In fact, the statement was a confession, and Buff Higgins had just signed away his life.
The police disputed this account, and claimed as evidence the fact that Higgins had similarly confessed to the coroner’s jury on the day after he signed his confession at the police station. But the Chicago police in those days were known for their brutal tactics, especially in crime-ridden immigrant wards like the Maxwell street district, so we cannot know for certain.

On November 29, 1893, just under three months after the crime took place, a jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder against Buff Higgins, and sentenced him to death. It was one of only three death sentences levied in Cook county that year. The others were against a Chinese laundryman, Junk Jack Lin, who allegedly murdered his cousin, and, far more famously, Patrick Prendergast, the assassin of Chicago mayor Carter Harrison. Prendergast was initially scheduled to meet the hangman’s noose on the same day as Higgins, March 23, 1894, a fact that sickened Higgins: Buff would be the first to admit he was a street gang member and a robber, but Prendergast was a lunatic. Higgins told a New York Times reporter, “When it comes my turn to shuffle off, I want Irish hemp and a green shroud [like Higgins, Prendergast was of Irish origin], but I draw the line on being compelled to pass out with Prendergast."

But Buff Higgins had one more ace up his sleeve. His attorney, A.J. Hanlon, petitioned the court for another trial based on new evidence, and on January 16, 1894, the court heard the motion. At this hearing, Higgins’ counsel placed into evidence the affidavit of one Joseph Kauper, an 18-year old neighbor of the McCooeys. Kauper’s affidavit indicated that he saw three men flee the McCooey home on the night of the crime, and that Buff Higgins was not one of them.

The prosecution in the case was stunned, but suspicious. Kauper was a dull boy (the Tribune indicated that “his answers to questions on the witness stand yesterday showed him to be dull of comprehension,” suggesting mild retardation), and why hadn’t he come forward with his story earlier? Under intense cross-examination at the hearing, Kauper broke down and admitted the affidavit was fraudulent. A friend of his, one Tim Collins, who was a politically-connected leader of a street-sweeping union, had apparently convinced him to sign the affidavit in order to “give Buff a lift”. Likely Higgins’ friends in the Wright Street Gang had put the screws to either Collins or Kauper -- or both -- to try to free Buff. But Kauper’s confession to perjury ended the last of Higgins’ hopes. "All right, I guess the jig's up with me now," he was heard to mutter in the courtroom after his motion for a new trial was denied.

Attorney Hanlon appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court for a stay of execution, which was denied on March 22. On hearing the news, the prisoner sighed,
Well, that's just what I expected. So my neck will crack Friday -- I'll hang. No use to tell me the Governor will interfere. Gov. Altgeld is out of the State. So is Lieut.-Gov. Gill, I understand...I haven't any money or influential friends behind me. Father Dore was with me this morning and gave me the consolation of the Catholic Church, of which I am a member.
In fact, Lieutenant Governor Joseph Gill did consider the case, but refused to interfere with the execution, and at noon on March 23, 1894, Buff Higgins was led onto the platform and a noose placed around his head. Prendergast’s execution had been stayed until July, so Higgins did receive one final wish, not to share the stage with the famed assassin.

Two Roman Catholic priests, including the aforementioned Father Dore, accompanied the Irishman in his last moments, placing a crucifix on his lips just before the hood was lowered over his head. The city’s newspapers delivered pages of purple prose describing the lurid death scene in the following day’s issue. Part of the Tribune’s description depicted the final moment for the terror of 14th Place: "Then there was a fall, as the rope stretched to its full tension with a sound like that from the heaviest string on the bass viol, 'Buff' Higgins had paid the penalty for murder."

Buff Higgins was only the third man executed in Cook County since the Haymarket defendants seven years earlier, but at least one hanging would take place every year in the county through the end of the decade. The rapidly-rising crime rates of the period inclined Chicagoans to take a sterner view regarding capital punishment. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of Higgins’ experience was the expediency with which his execution took place. Just three months passed between the crime and the conviction, and from thence it was less than another four months before all appeals were exhausted and the criminal was hanged. While capital punishment is still practiced in the U.S. today, the time between the crime and the execution typically stretches into decades. Even in Texas, the state where executions are most common, the average time between conviction and execution (not including time between the crime and the trial) is nearly 11 years. In California, the average prisoner under sentence of death waits 20 years before execution.

The last execution in Illinois took place in 1999. In 2000, then-Governor George Ryan (now federal inmate 16627-424) commuted the sentences of all prisoners then on death row after several were exonerated based on DNA evidence, suggesting widespread errors in policing and sentencing. Ryan’s successors in the governor’s office, Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn have maintained the moratorium.

Higgins' companions in the McCooey robbery eventually were caught. The police found Feinberg around the same time they arrested Higgins, while "Red" Gary managed to elude the law until 1895, when he was arrested for stealing the blanket off a horse. At his arraignment, he gave a false name, but an experienced detective recognized him. Both Feinberg and Gary served terms in jail for the robbery, and both continued criminal careers into the mid-1900s.

Peter McCooey’s home, pictured at the top of this post, is long gone, replaced by a condominium complex. The Maxwell Street slums where boys like Buff Higgins went bad is essentially gone, too, replaced largely by upscale condominiums and the University of Illinois at Chicago campus.