Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bobby Franks' Home

Robert Franks, the 14-year old victim in the “Crime of the Century,” lived here at 5052 S. Ellis at the time of his kidnapping and murder on May 21, 1924.

Franks’ father, Jacob M. Franks, was a retired industrialist, formerly president of the Rockford Watch Company, with its factory in Rockford, 90 miles northwest of Chicago, and had at one time served as president of the Chicago Public Library. Married in 1906, his wife Flora gave birth to a daughter, Josephine, late that year, followed by Robert, known as “Bobby”, in 1909, and Jacob, Jr., known as “Jack”, in 1913.

(Pictured: Jacob M. Franks, father of Bobby Franks)

In those days, as today, the South Kenwood neighborhood was a neighborhood of elites, “the Lake Forest of the South Side”, where large and stately mansions lined the avenues that led south to John D. Rockefeller’s University of Chicago. Kenwood was particularly a magnet for wealthy Chicago Jews; The Franks family was of Jewish extract, although Mrs. Franks had lately taken an interest in Christian Science. North of 47th street were to be found the more modest homes of the servants who worked in South Kenwood, and in the 1960s and 1970s, North Kenwood would deteriorate into one of the city’s poorest and most blighted districts, while South Kenwood largely retained its stature as a home for the gentility, in part due to the vigorous policing and political efforts of the University.

But in May, 1924, Jacob Franks, his wife, Flora, and their three children, lived in peace at their large home, which towered over the corner of Ellis and 51st Street, also known as Hyde Park Blvd. The trouble started on Wednesday, May 21, 1924. Bobby Franks, then 14, was a small, thin boy, but active in sports, and on that afternoon, he had volunteered to serve as an umpire at a baseball game among his schoolmates at the all-boys Harvard School, located on Ellis, north of 48th street.

(pictured: The Franks Home at 5052 S. Ellis, at it appeared in 1924)

Around 5:15 p.m., Bobby Franks left the baseball game and began walking the three blocks south to his home. About the time he reached 49th street, he was hailed by a friend, Richard Loeb, who was sitting in a car with Nathan Leopold. Loeb, a frequent tennis partner for Bobby Franks, called out to him, asking him to get in the car so they could talk about a certain racquet Loeb was interested in.

It was the wrong place, and the wrong time, for Bobby Franks. Leopold and Loeb, who had been planning to kidnap and murder a neighborhood boy since the previous year, hadn’t settled on a particular victim until Bobby Franks walked by their car that afternoon. Within minutes, Franks was dead, suffocated and traumatized by sharp blows to the head.

(Pictured: Bobby Franks at age 14)

When he didn’t arrive home for dinner, Jacob and Flora Franks became worried. They had scolded Bobby before for coming home after 5:00 p.m. At 9:00, Mr. Franks called a close friend, former state senator and Chicago corporate counsel Samuel Ettelson, and the two walked back to the Harvard School, and finding a window open, searched the classrooms thoroughly for the boy.

While they were gone, Mrs. Franks fretted at home. Around 10:30 p.m., the telephone rang, and she picked it up.
“This is Mr. Johnson. Of course you know by this time that your boy has been kidnapped. We have him and you need not worry; he is safe. But don’t try to trace this call or to find me. We must have money. We will let you know tomorrow what we want. We are kidnappers and we mean business. If you refuse us what we want or try to report us to the police we will kill the boy. Good-by.”

Mrs. Franks dropped the telephone and fainted, and lay unrevived until her husband returned home. “Mr. Johnson”, of course, was Leopold, and Franks had been dead for hours by the time he called, his body thrown into a ditch in a remote area off Burley Ave., north of 122nd Street, between Lake Calumet and Wolf Lake.

Believing now that their boy had been kidnapped, but was still alive, the Franks, along with family friend Ettleson, discussed their options until late in the evening. At 2:00 a.m., Mr. Franks and Ettleson decided to approach the police for help. Ettleson was close friends with Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes, and expected to find him when the two men arrived at the Detective Bureau. But Hughes was out that evening, and in his place they found Acting Lieutenant Robert Welling. Franks told Liet. Welling about the situation, but swore him to secrecy until the morning, afraid that a police report would lead to publicity, which would cause the kidnappers to harm Bobby. Ettleson also got in touch with the telephone company, and asked them to trace all future calls placed to the Franks’ home.

At 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, a worker for the American Maize Company was walking near the Pennsylvania railroad tracks and spotted the body of Bobby Franks half sunk into a culvert. With his fellow employees, they dragged the body onto dry land, and called for police from the East Side station. Since Welling had filed no police report, the East Side officers had no inkling that a boy from Kenwood matching the physical stature of their victim had been kidnapped. Instead, they assumed the boy they found was likely an accidental drowning. They searched the area around the scene, finding a single sock and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses they assumed belonged to the boy, and had all transported to the morgue.

Back in Kenwood at around the same time, a special delivery letter from “Mr. Johnson” arrived at 5052 S. Ellis, hand-addressed to Mr. Jacob Franks. Highly unusual among ransom notes for its lucidity and clear prose, it was obviously the work of a lettered mind:
Dear Sir:
As you no doubt know by this time, your son has been kidnapped. Allow us to assure you that he is at present well and safe. You need fear no physical harm for him provided you live up carefully to the following instructions and such others as you will receive by future communications. Should you, however, disobey any of our instructions, even slightly, his death will be the penalty.
1. For obvious reasons, make absolutely no attempt to communicate with either the police authorities or any private agency. Should you already have communicated with the police, allow them to continue their investigations, but do not mention this letter.
2. Secure before noon today ten thousand dollars ($10,000). This money must be composed entirely of OLD BILLS of the following denominations:$2,000 in twenty dollar bills.$8,000 in fifty dollar bills.The money must be old. Any attempt to include new or marked bills will render the entire venture futile.
3. The money should be placed in a large cigar box, or if this is impossible in a heavy cardboard box, SECURELY closed and wrapped in white paper. The wrapping paper should be sealed at all openings with sealing wax.
4. Have the money with you prepared as directed above and remain at home after 1 o’clock p.m. See that the telephone is not in use.
You will receive a future communication instructing you as to your future course.
As a final word of warnings – this is a strictly commercial proposition, and we are prepared to put our threat into execution should we have reasonable grounds to believe that you have committed an infraction of the above instructions. However, should you carefully follow out our instructions to the letter, we can assure you that your son will be safely returned to you within six hours of our receipt of the money.
Yours truly,
George Johnson
(Pictured: Hand-lettered envelope in which ransom note arrived)

Believing he had only to follow the directions in the letter to recover his boy, Jacob Franks set out for the bank immediately. The writer of the letter certainly seemed like a rational man. Franks insisted there be no mistakes in following the orders he had been given, no opportunities for the kidnappers to harm Bobby. When Ettleson told him he had received word that telephone operators were gossiping about the tracing hold on his phone, Franks called off the tracing. No publicity was to get in the way of the ransom payment.

At 1:00, Jacob Franks sat by the telephone, waiting for the next call. Time dragged until 3:15, when the phone finally rang, and “Mr. Johnson” indicated that a Yellow cab would soon arrive at the Franks home, and Mr. Franks was to enter the cab, with the money, and order the driver to take him to the drug store at the corner of 63rd St. and University Ave. There he would receive another call.

Leopold’s plan was to call Franks at the drug store, and tell him to immediately board a south-bound train from the nearby South Shore line. On the train was a note indicating the money should be thrown from the train at a certain point where Leopold and Loeb would be waiting to collect it. It was a cinematic, but practically perfect, plan.

When the cab arrived at his home a few minutes later, Mr. Franks rushed out with the money. Entering the car, he asked the driver to take him, as quickly as possible, to the drug store at the corner of 63rd St. and – where? Was it Kimbark Ave.? Woodlawn Ave., maybe? He couldn’t remember. Panicked, Mr. Franks ran back inside his home to find the pad where he had written the kidnappers’ instructions. Just then, the telephone rang. It was his brother-in-law, Edwin Gresham. News about the dead boy found in the culvert on the far south side had made its way back to Lieut. Welling, who immediately saw the implication, and Gresham had been asked to go to the morgue to check whether it was Bobby. It was, of course, and just then he called the Franks residence with the terrible news. The cab driver was sent away. At the drug store, Leopold called twice, asking whether Jacob Franks had arrived, before realizing the scheme wasn’t going to work.

The police, now investigating a murder, immediately turned their attention to the teachers at the Harvard School. Then, as now, male teachers were seen with some suspicion, and the writer of the ransom note was clearly well-educated. The police questioned students at the school. “Instructor Mitchell, the English teacher, is he…friendly with you? Does he ever put his arm around you? Do you ever feel odd around him?”

The police brought in for questioning three teachers at the school, and their names were printed in the paper, ruining their reputations. Reporters at the stationhouse yelled pointed questions, pointedly asking each if they had girlfriends or wives. Walter Wilson, math teacher at the school, was grilled especially closely. The previous year, he had taken Bobby and his brother Jack with him for a trip to Riverview Park in Dolton, and owing to a missed train, hadn’t gotten them back home until 1:00 a.m. Asked whether he had a sweetheart, he replied “No, I don’t know any young ladies around Chicago”. The Tribune reported ominously, “He was attired in a bathrobe and appeared nervous.”

The police continued to focus their attention on Bobby’s teachers until the big break in the case. When shown the horn-rimmed glasses, found near the body and assumed to be Bobby’s, Jacob Franks indicated that his son had perfect vision and never wore glasses. Through a tedious process, detectives learned that the hinges on this particular pair of Almer Coe & Co. spectacles, were quite unusual, and only three such pairs had been sold in Chicago. Coincidentally, one of those pairs belonged to Nathan Leopold, who lived in North Kenwood, just around the block from the Franks home.

Under intense interrogation, Leopold stood up well, but Loeb finally cracked when the pair’s alibi was contradicted by a reliable witness. Once Loeb admitted the crime, Leopold did too, knowing that the key to avoiding the noose was to paint Loeb as the brains of the operation. Both pled guilty to the murder of Bobby Franks, and with the help of superstar attorney Clarence Darrow, both narrowly escaped the death penalty in favor of life sentences.

Shortly after the verdict, Jacob Franks moved his family out of the home at 5052 S. Ellis Ave. Besides a desire to leave the place where they were constantly reminded of their lost son, ghoulish tourists took photographs and knocked on the door at all times. The home was sold and the family moved into a large suite at the luxurious Drake Hotel on N. Michigan Ave.

(Pictured: Franks home auction notice from September, 1924)

Jacob Franks died in 1928, and Flora remarried Albert Louer, a Chicago attorney, in 1933, remaining at the Drake Hotel until her death in 1937. At the time of his death in 1928, Jacob Franks’ estate was worth $6 million, and in his will he bequeathed $1,000 annuities to 15 nieces and nephews, plus a large sum to his wife, with the remainder going to his children. The Great Depression took a toll on the estate’s investments, however, and in 1938, when Jack Franks died suddenly, only $1 million was left in the estate. After paying off the promised annuities, the remainder, divided between Jack’s estate and his sister Josephine, was practically nothing. Jack Franks’ will bequeathed his share to a charitable foundation in his name, but Josephine, now married with the surname of Glaser, sued to have the money transferred to her, and won the suit.
The home at 5052 S. Ellis Ave. was bought from the Franks for $60,000 by Joseph Trinz, a theater magnate and principal at Lubliner & Trinz, which operated 27 Chicago area houses (including the famous Biograph Theater). Upon his death in 1926, just two years after purchasing the home, it was again sold to Harry Manaster, president of the meat-packing firm Manaster & Bros. The Manaster family moved in 1936, and the home was renovated for use as a school.
Through the 1940s and early 1950s, the Ffoulkes School for Boys and Girls held classes between Kindergarten and High School. By 1959, the old building had become the DeLena Day School, which began as a nursery and grew to offer classes through 8th grade. The DeLena School remained open until December, 1991. Since then, the building has remained empty. The 7,000-square foot mansion was sold by the De Lena School at auction in 2008 for $484,000, a strikingly low price for the neighborhood, but indicative of its decay. The building is currently in a serious state of disrepair, with overgrown landscaping and crumbling steps.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tony D'Andrea Assassinated

Tony D’Andrea got his start in the dark corners and alleys of the Levee. Through hard work, muscle, and not a little violence, he rose to become Chicago’s leading Italian politician. He met his end in the bloodiest political feud in the city’s history, shot to death on the front steps of his home here at 902 S. Ashland Ave.

Born in Sicily in 1872, D’Andrea showed an early gift for languages, and graduated at the University of Palermo before making his way to the United States in 1896. He disembarked at Buffalo, New York, then found his way down to Baltimore, where he entered St. Mary’s Academy, a seminary where he trained for the priesthood. After three years at St. Mary’s, and with additional training at St. Bonaventura’s Academy in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, D’Andrea was appointed to a pastorship at St. Anthony’s Italian Catholic Church on the far south side of Chicago in June, 1899.

The clerical collar fit poorly. Six weeks after his appointment, D’Andrea fell in love with a woman, Lena Wagner, who he met in the barbershop of a friend on W. Grand Ave. The two eloped to Milwaukee and married there. D’Andrea was subsequently excommunicated from the church, and maintained a distant relationship to Roman Catholicism throughout the rest of his life. At his death, he was refused a church funeral.

(Pictured: Antonio D'Andrea, dressed in clerical uniform in 1899)

After leaving the priesthood, D’Andrea became a private language tutor, and also held part ownership in a macaroni factory in a warehouse district on the South side. To be close to the factory, he settled with his new wife in an apartment at 2125 S. Archer Ave., in what is today Chinatown. At the time, Mayor Carter Harrison was leading a political attack on the old Custom House Place red light district, and so this formerly-quiet neighborhood where the D’Andreas lived was quickly growing into the city’s premier red light district, soon to be known throughout the world as “the Levee”.
Around the same time, another couple, future mob-founder Jim Colosimo and his young wife Victoria Moresco, opened the New Brighton brothel just a block north on Archer Ave., and the Everleigh Sisters opened their famed house of ill-repute a block north of that. Criminal enterprise surrounded the D’Andreas, and the underworld opportunities were endless.
While vice was the preferred get-rich-quick scheme for those around him, D’Andrea’s religious leanings may have disinclined him from such pursuits. Instead, he took up counterfeiting.
Around 1900, D’Andrea traveled to New York, and there purchased a large quantity of phony dimes. It’s a testament to subsequent inflation that counterfeiting such small currency could have been profitable, but at the time, a dime could buy two “tubs” of beer at Michael Kenna’s Workingmen’s Exchange saloon.
The Secret Service, today best known for their work protecting the President, was originally established as an agency of the Treasury Department, tasked with investigating counterfeiters. In 1902, Capt. Thomas I. Porter of the Secret Service literally “followed the money” directly to a macaroni factory on the south side of Chicago, where he went undercover as a state tax agent to gain D’Andrea’s confidence. After he had collected sufficient evidence to prosecute, a squad of Secret Service agents and Chicago police arrived at the D’Andrea home on Archer with arrest warrants. While Mr. D’Andrea was being taken into custody, Mrs. D’Andrea, looking a little fuller-figured than usual, attempted to leave the house through the back exit. Captain Porter commanded an officer to stop her, at which point a bag full of counterfeit specie fell out from under her dress and scattered across the floor. The jig was up.
D’Andrea had little choice but to plead guilty, and federal prosecutors offered a deal by which he could avoid jail in return for turning state’s witness against the men who sold him the counterfeits. D’Andrea was taken to New York state to testify at their trial, but upon arrival, he refused to testify. Likely word had gotten to him that his life was in danger if he opened his mouth on the stand. Without D’Andrea’s testimony, that case failed, and the deal to save him from prison was off. In April, 1903, Antonio D’Andrea entered Joliet prison (the federal government at the time frequently placed criminals in state facilities), where he served 13 months.
It is an indication that D’Andrea already had powerful friends in the Chicago Italian community that, at the end of his prison sentence, he received a “civil pardon” from President Theodore Roosevelt, which restored his civil rights, though it did not clear his record or spare him from serving any of his time.
There is some evidence that, after release, D’Andrea continued activity in the counterfeit money racket for some time, but he certainly continued building his language tutor and macaroni-production businesses, both of which were successful. He was also able to help his Sicilian family come to Chicago, and several of his brothers and nephews also became successful. His brother Joseph D’Andrea became involved in organized labor, and rose to become president of Sewer and Tunnel Miners’ Union Local #4. In those days, as today, there were severe battles between unions, frequently organized along ethnic lines, for major work contracts. Joseph D’Andrea was involved in just such a struggle over the West Side site where Union Station was then under construction, and he was shot and killed there under mysterious circumstances in the fall of 1914.
He may have been the victim of some agent of a rival union, or his death may have been from a disgruntled member of his own union. Joseph D’Andrea had organized a system by which laborers had to pay $5 in dues to the union every time they took a new job; given the level of turnover in the construction industry, this was a frequent occurrence, and a source of some bitterness among the rank-and-file. In any case, upon his death, his brother, now going by the Americanized name “Anthony” to distinguish himself from his former life as “Antonio”, took over the presidency of the largely Italian union, a position he used to propel himself into politics. Through his work with the union, he also became close friends with “Diamond Joe” Esposito, who was working as a business agent for the sewer and tunnel miners, and who would one day also become an important political and underworld figure in Chicago.
By this time, Tony D’Andrea and his wife had moved from the Levee district into the Little Italy neighborhood, located in the 19th ward, taking up residence at 745 S. Halsted St. In 1914, he first dipped his toe into Chicago politics, running for county commissioner as a Democrat. Though he lost the race, his was clearly a political star on the rise. The following year, he was appointed the ward leader for Democrat Robert Sweitzer's 1915 mayoral campaign. In a bruising primary against the incumbent, Carter Harrison, Sweitzer emerged victorious, with a large margin of victory among Italian voters in the 19th ward. Sweitzer was ultimately defeated in the general election by Republican William Hale Thompson (the last Republican mayor of Chicago), but 19th ward alderman John “Johnny De Pow” Powers, who had led the Harrison campaign in the ward, began to see D’Andrea as an important political rival.
Powers, an Irishman representing an increasingly Italian constituency, was an astute tactician, and offered his support to D’Andrea for various political offices (other than alderman), including county commissioner. But the ex-priest had his eyes on a bigger prize, and in 1916, he ran for alderman from the 19th ward. In those days, each ward had two aldermen, with staggered terms. In 1916, Powers’ acolyte in the 19th, James Bowler, was up for re-election, and the Democratic primary battle between Bowler and D’Andrea promised to be fierce. Bowler had Ald. Powers on his side, and D’Andrea was supported by Rocco de Stefano, a close confidant of vice-magnate and Levee heavyweight “Big Jim” Colosimo.
February, 1916 found D’Andrea courting votes among the ward’s residents. In one case, he volunteered to be a character witness in court for a fellow Sicilian who was seeking naturalization. When the Superior Court clerk sought to verify D’Andrea’s own citizenship, however, he looked under “D” instead of “A”, and when he found nothing in the state’s records, suspicions began to circulate that the aldermanic candidate was not a U.S. citizen. This led others to dig into D’Andrea’s past, where they uncovered the case of a very similar-looking man, also named D’Andrea, an defrocked priest who had served 13 months at Joliet for counterfeiting.
The news hit the papers, and Ald. Bowler hired Pinkerton detectives to investigate D’Andrea’s past. They quickly surmised that Anthony D’Andrea, the labor leader and pillar of the Italian community, and Antonio D’Andrea, the passer of phony dimes, were one and the same man. Speaking to reporters the next day, D’Andrea admitted as much, but offered a stirring – if not quite believable – defense:

The facts were that when a counterfeiter was trailed by the government official to my house and placed some counterfeit money in our pantry during my absence, Mrs. D’Andrea, a most lovable and charitable woman, in order to remove the stain of suspicion from the sacredness of her own home and family, discovered that in some inconceivable manner the money was hidden in her pantry, took it out for the purpose of reporting her findings to me, and to remove the odium of guilt from my happy and cheerful home.

In the meantime, as she was about to leave the house, the government officials arrested her and kept her in custody for many hours, before I was allowed to see my wife, who had already become a human wreck from anguish, sorrow, and disgrace. With the most profound love for her and with the hope that not a stain should be placed against her character nor the character of our little girl, and with the promise that if I took the blame, my wife would be liberated, under the most inscrutable circumstances that could be imagined, and with the promise that if I gave to the government officials information regarding the gang of counterfeiters and plotters that I would be released, I remained silent, so as to shield them who had already threatened my life and that of my family if I spoke.

As a result of which I was forced to keep within my bosom the secret which, if exposed, would mean my immediate death, and I became a victim of the most unparalleled conviction that was ever had in the federal court.

At the time, it was pointed out that an Illinois statute forbade anyone convicted of a felony of holding public office, but D’Andrea’s civil pardon from Pres. Roosevelt apparently allowed him to remain in the race, though he was now scandal-ridden. Essentially the only quality that recommended D’Andrea to the office was the fact that he was an Italian, running in a ward that was, by this time, almost 80% Italian residents.
Thus, D’Andrea and his supporters took it personally when some of their fellow countrymen failed to support him. And some of D’Andrea’s supporters were rather violent men, including the Genna family, who in a few years would spill innumerable gallons of blood while running the city’s bootleg distillery business. On the evening of February 21, 1916, Frank Lombardi, an Italian immigrant and a major supporter of Ald. Bowler, was in the saloon he ran on Taylor street when two friends arrived. The three men raised their glasses in a toast, and at that moment, one of Lombardi’s “friends” pulled a revolver and shot him in the gut, an injury he eventually died from.
Lombardi’s death further cast the pallor of the underworld over D’Andrea’s candidacy, and on March 1, with the votes counted, James Bowler defeated Anthony D’Andrea, 4,163 votes to 1,753. D’Andrea was disappointed, but he had only just begun to fight. There would be many more opportunities to come.
D’Andrea focused on continuing to build support among the ward’s Italian residents, making his headquarters on Taylor Street the “Italian-American Educational Club”. He also became president of the Unione Siciliana, the chief social and political organization of Sicilians in Chicago; future leaders of the organization include such criminal luminaries as Angelo Genna, Sam “Samoots” Amatuna, Antonio Lombardo, and Joe Aiello. D’Andrea’s business and political success is reflected in the fact that he was able to purchase a large home at 902 S. Ashland Ave., where he lived with his wife on the second floor, and rented out the first floor.
In 1919, D’Andrea ran to be a delegate to a constitutional convention in Illinois to be held in 1920. When the votes were counted, the official record on the night of the election showed D’Andrea had lost by 82 votes; however, a later recount showed D’Andrea the victor. A court inquiry into the election turned up substantial evidence of fraud, with many of the additional so-called “voters” having not actually voted, or in the great Chicago tradition, having died years earlier. The extra votes were thrown out, and D’Andrea was again the loser.
Nevertheless, D’Andrea was still considered an important political figure in the district. So much so, in fact, that in order to dissuade him from running for alderman against him in 1921, Ald. Powers supported D’Andrea for the position of ward committeeman, a position that held at least as much, if not more, power than the aldermanship itself. In April, 1920, with Powers’ help, D’Andrea was elected to the position; however, voter irregularities again sandbagged the count, and a court threw out the results.
At this point, as described in this post, Ald. Powers dramatically recanted his support for D’Andrea, and chose to fill the ward committeeman position himself. Soon after, Powers’ home was the target of a bombing. As the incident suggests, D’Andrea and his supporters were increasingly turning from away from the ballot and towards violence. In 1921 D’Andrea announced he would run against Powers in the next aldermanic election, and the campaign between the two was the bloodiest in Chicago history, with dirty tricks and intimidation on both sides.
In February, a bomb exploded outside a D’Andrea rally near Blue Island and Taylor. When reporters approached D’Andrea, he practically admitted a role in the earlier bombing of Powers’ home:
I wouldn’t care if they threw a bomb at my house. That’s all in the game, and it wouldn’t hurt any one else but me. But to throw one into a meeting where there are a lot of workingmen, that’s another thing.
In retaliation for the bombing, D’Andrea’s supporters, which likely included the wildest of the Genna clan, Angelo Genna, and Sam Amatuna, organized a violent hit on two Italian precinct captains for Powers, as described in this post. Election day was a complete fiasco, with kidnappings of election workers, and widespread violence and intimidation of voters, but at the end of the day, the old “gray wolf,” John Powers had defeated his rival by the narrow margin of 381 votes.
With another lost election, D’Andrea declared “I’m through with Nineteenth Ward politics for good.” Asked for comment, Ald. Powers sarcastically replied, “Very magnanimous of him, I’m sure.”
But D’Andrea’s word was accurate. His political life was at an end – if only because the rest of his life was, too. D’Andrea had taken to carrying a pistol with him everywhere, and had been arrested for carrying a concealed weapon on several occasions; the violence associated with the election had likely warned him he was a marked man.
On the evening of May 10, 1921, he was out late, enjoying dinner with his old friend and political compatriot, “Diamond Joe” Esposito, at a local Italian restaurant. At 2:00 a.m., his bodyguard and driver, Joseph Laspisa, dropped him off in front of his home at 902 S. Ashland, and sped off, while D’Andrea climbed the stairs to his second-floor apartment. The first floor apartment was empty at the time, though the D’Andreas had hired decorators to paint and refurnish the flat for rental. The previous residents of the first floor had left at the beginning of the month, after receiving a threatening note, indicating that D’Andrea’s rivals were planning to dynamite the building.
In any case, the first floor apartment was unoccupied, but there had been some activity there all afternoon, which the neighbors attributed to the decorators. But no decorators had been on the site that day. As D’Andrea climbed the steps of his building, a sawed-off shotgun peaked through the window from the first floor, and fired off seven shots, five of which hit their mark. D’Andrea reached for his pistol and fired back, but quickly collapsed on the steps as his assassin escaped out the back and into a waiting car in the alley. Hearing the shots, Mrs. D’Andrea arose from bed and hurried down to where her wounded husband lay. “Lena, Lena, I’m dying, I’m dying,” he cried out to the woman he had left the church for.
(Pictured: Illustration of D'Andrea's home on S. Ashland Ave., where he was shot)

When police arrived, they found two clues in the first-floor apartment assassins’ nest: a soft brown hat, size 7, with the initials “S.P.” inscribed inside, and a $20 bill in the hat band, along with a card reading “For Flowers”. Police also found a handprint in some freshly laid paint, presumably left by the killer.
Suspicions immediately turned to Ald. Powers and his supporters, although Powers disowned the killing: “I do not believe it was politics. D’Andrea has had a good deal of trouble and it hasn’t been all political. He has been mixed up in labor matters and there may be some race feud back of it.”
Asked for comment, “Diamond Joe” Esposito, D’Andrea’s dinner companion that night and also a political figure in the ward simply responded, “So they shot him, eh?” Political violence had made killings in the 19th a fact of life.
D’Andrea hung on to life for a few days in the hospital, but finally succumbed on May 12. Refused a church burial due to his excommunication in 1899, a service was held on the steps of his home on Ashland Ave., right where he was shot, and 8,000 attended, flooding the street with people for three blocks around.
The bloodletting in the 19th did not, however, end with D’Andrea’s death. Ten days later, Michael Licari, a D’Andrea partisan, was murdered, and the following month, Joseph Laspisa, D’Andrea’s bodyguard and his driver on the night of his death, was killed while driving down Oak St. in Little Sicily, near "Death Corner", shot by a back seat passenger. Eventually, over 30 murders were attributed to the Powers/D’Andrea fight, most of them, including D'Andrea's, never solved.
The dream of an Italian alderman to represent Little Italy also died with D’Andrea that night. In July, 1921, with pressure from Ald. Powers, the 19th ward was redrawn and broken up into parts of the 20th, 25th, 26th, and 27th wards, none of which had an Italian majority.
After his death, the Genna brothers took over D’Andrea’s political headquarters and turned his political bailiwick into the massively dispersed distilling organization that supplied a large portion of the illegal liquor in Chicago during Prohibition. Several of D’Andrea’s relatives were closely involved with the Gennas and their partners in bootlegging, the Torrio-Capone organization. One nephew, also named Anthony D’Andrea, was Capone’s manager for his Depression-era soup kitchen on S. State st. Later, he became the president of the powerful hod-carriers union, and was a defendant in a federal antitrust case in the 1940s, accused of restraining the use of ready-mix concrete in Chicago, which would have eliminated a large number of union jobs.
Another nephew, Philip D’Andrea, got his start as a bodyguard for Al Capone, and was later a key member of The Outfit, the mob organization constituted of Capone’s men, after Capone went to prison in 1931. Philip D’Andrea served three years in prison in the 1940s on charges of extortion, along with Outfit luminaries Paul “The Waiter” Ricca, Louis “Little New York” Campagna, and Charles “Cherry Nose” Gioe.
D’Andrea’s home at 902 S. Ashland stood into the 1980s, when it was demolished to make way for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Molecular Biology Research Building, completed in 1995. The building is notable for a large staircase inside that mirrors the shape of a double helix.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dillinger’s Plastic Surgery on Pulaski Rd. (or Crawford Ave.?)

By the end of May, 1934, John Dillinger was hiding out in Chicago. Having robbed innumerable banks and broken out of jails twice during the last 12 months, he had become an internationally-known superstar criminal. Besides local and state authorities, almost the entirety of the newly-formed Division of Investigation (later, the FBI) was involved in efforts to hunt him down, dead or alive (but better dead). As “Public Enemy #1”, it was increasingly difficult to find friendly (or unsuspecting) help in evading the law. Dillinger knew he couldn’t continue dodging J. Edgar Hoover’s agents forever; drastic measures were necessary. The great bank robber’s most desperate attempt to evade capture took place here, at 2509 N. Crawford Ave. (now Pulaski Rd.), where he went under the knife to permanently change the face everyone in America now recognized.

January of 1934 saw most of the Dillinger gang wintering in Tuscon, Arizona, on the lam from a serious bank job in East Chicago, Indiana, where Dillinger himself is believed to have killed a police officer. Caught by local police, the famous criminal was extradited to Indiana and placed in jail at Crown Point, Indiana. It was there that he first hired Louis P. Piquett, a Chicago attorney known for close ties to the Chicago mob organization known as the “Outfit,” the remainder of Al Capone’s organization. Probably Piquett’s name was familiar among the crowd Dillinger ran with, or it may be that Piquett offered his services at a cut rate for this high-profile defense. Other have suggested that Dillinger was in some loose way connected with the Outfit, and may have met Piquett previously.

In any case, Piquett, who had no formal legal training but had passed the Illinois bar, became Dillinger’s counsel and best source of assistance after he broke out of Crown Point in March, 1934. Piquett’s presence may have been what drew Dillinger back to Chicago, instead of hiding out in his native Indiana or escaping into the Far West. Piquett’s law office on Wacker Drive was a common meeting place for the Dillinger Gang, although Piquett always denied that Dillinger hid out there while a fugitive.

It was Piquett and his co-counsel, Arthur O’Leary, who connected Dillinger with the makeshift operating room on Crawford Ave. In April, Piquett approached a low-level crook and bar owner, James “Cabaret” Probasco, about finding trained surgeons willing to perform the operation. Probasco, then in his 60s, had been a boxer and a liveryman in his youth and was trained in veterinary science. He had also been a major part of a serious diamond theft ring in the 1920s, serving as the main “fence” for stolen jewels. In 1924, his own wife, Clara, had testified against him to police, probably because her husband’s partner-in-crime was also his mistress, Florence. Despite Clara’s testimony, the case against Probasco fizzled thanks to the work of his attorney Louis Piquett, and he walked on charges of possession and sale of stolen property. Divorcing Clara, he remarried Florence, and went into the tavern business, opening up shop in Rogers’ Park, on Howard St. near Rogers Ave.

(Pictured: James Probasco)

When Piquett approached Probasco about helping his new client, John Dillinger, dollar signs flashed in Probasco’s eyes. He told Piquett he could find the surgical talent and the location, but for a high price, $5,000 (over $80,000 in today’s dollars). It took some convincing by O’Leary, but Dillinger finally agreed to the proposal, and went to work in early May, robbing banks to “earn” the fee.

To perform the surgery, Probasco looked for men with medical training, but who were also acquainted with the underworld. In Dr. William Loeser, he found his man. Loeser, a German immigrant, had trained at Northwestern University and ran a successful surgical practice until his arrest for violation of the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act of 1914, the first federal law restricting the manufacture and sale of cocaine and heroin in the U.S. Dr. Loeser was paroled in 1932, at which point he fled to Mexico, where he developed a technique to remove fingerprints, becoming his own first patient for the procedure, which involved acid treatment.

(Pictured: Dr. William Loeser)

To assist Dr. Loeser, Probasco found another surgeon, Dr. Harold Cassidy, who had a less shady past, but who was unable to pass up the opportunity to make a quick buck. Probasco promised $1,700 to Dr. Loeser and $1,200 to Dr. Cassidy. All that was left was to find an operating room. Legitimate hospitals were obviously out of the question, and neither of the two doctors was willing to use his own offices. Instead, Probasco opted for the least expensive option – his own apartment at 2509 N. Crawford Ave. Probasco’s wife and former jewel thief, Florence, had died young the year before, and he was currently living with a girlfriend, Margaret Doyle, but he felt she could be misled about the operation. So, on the evening of May 27, John Dillinger arrived at Probasco’s home and prepared for surgery the next day. Dillinger handed Probasco $3,000 in cash up front, with the remaining $2,000 to be paid after the operation.

The following evening, Piquett’s assistant Arthur O’Leary picked up the two doctors, and drove them to Probasco’s home, where they instructed Dillinger to remove his shirt and lie down in the bedroom. Dr. Loeser offered Dillinger the option of a local or a general anesthetic, and Dillinger chose the latter. While Loeser washed his hands in an adjoining bathroom, Dr. Cassidy administered the ether. Suddenly, Dr. Cassidy began yelling for help. Returning to the bedroom, Loeser saw that Dillinger had received too much anesthetic too quickly, and was choking on his own tongue. Quickly, Loeser located his forecepts and freed the blocked airways, saving Dillinger’s life.

But after that experience, Dillinger decided on the local anesthetic, which meant he was largely awake and in excruciating pain, for most of the procedure. For several hours, the two doctors removed a mole from his forehead, a dimple from his cheek, and changed shape of face, smoothing out the famous cleft in his chin, and erasing the seams in his cheeks using implanted kangaroo tendons. They also employed Loeser’s acid method to burn out his fingerprints.

(Pictured: Probasco's home at 2509 N. Crawford Ave. (now Pulaski Rd.) with a crowd of curiosity-seekers outside after Dillinger's death).

With the surgery a success, Dillinger returned to Probasco’s home on June 3, this time bringing with him a fellow gang member, Homer Van Meter, who also went under Drs. Loeser and Cassidy’s knives. Over time, however, Dillinger became unsatisfied with the operation. The science of plastic surgery was still in its infancy, the two doctors were not leading experts, and the circumstances under which they operated were primitive. Thus, Dillinger was still completely recognizable. After his death at the hands of Division of Investigation and East Chicago police officers (see this post for further details), an autopsy found identifying traces of his fingerprints remained, despite Dr. Loeser’s best efforts.

Anna Sage, the famed “woman in red” (she actually wore orange and white, but appeared to be in red under the glare of the Biograph Theater marquee) who turned in Dillinger to the feds, was most likely also the source of their information about James Probasco. A few days after Dillinger’s death on July 22, 1934, J. Edgar Hoover’s men picked up Probasco and took him for questioning to their offices on the 19th floor of the Banker’s Building at Clark and Adams streets. In a search of his apartment, agents found the evidence of the surgery: sleeping potions, acids, gauze, surgical scissors, and cotton were still in the medicine cabinet (likely, Probasco expected more work from other members of the Dillinger Gang).

Agents no doubt questioned Probasco intensely for hours, seeking information on Dillinger companions such as Van Meter and Baby Face Nelson, who were still at large. On July 24, lead investigator Melvin Purvis left Chicago for Washington to brief J. Edgar Hoover about Dillinger’s death and the continued investigations, leaving agent Samuel Crowley in charge of the work in Chicago. Crowley was known as a tougher interrogator than Purvis, and was willing to bend the rules (or worse) to get information out of suspects. In a case a year earlier, agents in the very same room where Probasco was being held, had dangled a mob suspect out the window by his ankles, 19 floors off the ground, in an attempt to make him talk.

In any case, July 26, 1934 saw James Probasco under questioning at the Bankers’ Building, and mysteriously, just a few minutes after agents left him alone in the interrogation room, Probasco stepped up from a chair to the window sill in the room, three feet off the ground, and leapt out the window, falling to his death on the pavement below. Because of the reputation of his interrogators, there has always been a strong suspicion that Probasco did not defenestrate willingly – at worst, Probasco would have faced no more than 30 months in jail for harboring Dillinger, hardly a sentence worth dying over – but the coroner’s jury ultimately ruled the death a suicide. At the time of his death, Probasco held over $72,000 in life insurance policies, with his sister the chief beneficiary, but almost all of the payout was void in the case of suicide.

Nevertheless, the feds apparently got enough information to locate Dr. Loeser, who turned state’s witness against Dr. Cassidy and attorney Louis Piquette. Piquett went on trial in a widely covered case for harboring a fugitive – Dillinger – but was ultimately found not guilty. Unfazed, prosecutors immediately put Piquett on trial for harboring Homer van Meter, using Piquett’s testimony at the Dillinger trial to trap him into contradictions on the stand. In 1936, Piquett was found guilty and sentenced to two years in federal prison. He was also fined $10,000 and disbarred in Illinois. In 1950, President Harry S Truman pardoned Piquett, and he applied for reinstatement to the bar, but died before a decision was made in 1951.

As a reward for his part in the prosecution of Piquett, Dr. Loeser was sentenced to only one day in prison for his crime. However, he also had to serve 18 additional months for leaving the country after his parole in the narcotics case. Dr. Cassidy received only probation, and served honorably in the army medical corps during World War II; however, after the war, however, he had a nervous breakdown and committed suicide in 1946.

Probasco’s apartment building at 2509 N. Crawford was demolished, and an extension was built from the building next door into the lot, numbered 2511 N. Pulaski. Even the name of the street has changed; within Chicago city limits, Crawford is now known as Pulaski Rd. The story of the name change is an interesting one.

On October 1, 1933, while Dillinger was languishing in jail in Lima, Ohio (from which he would soon be freed at the hands of his gang), Cook County civil service commissioner and former president of the Polish Women’s Alliance of America, Miss A. Emily Napieralski, appeared before Mayor Edward J. Kelly, petitioning him to support a change in name for Crawford Ave. to recognize the bravery of Polish general and American Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski. Poles have a long history in Chicago -- Napieralski’s family had arrived as pioneers in the 1830s – and the 1930s saw their political influence growing. Miss Napieralski told the Tribune,
My purpose is to bring about a closer brotherhood of man. Count Pulaski came to America and offered his services to George Washington. In giving distinguished service in the revolutionary war he lifted himself above any particular nationality, and his name should be remembered by all.
Neither Mayor Kelly nor the city aldermen wanted to be seen as anti-Polish, so there was strong support on the city council for the proposal. Understandably and unsurprisingly, however, businesses along Crawford Ave. were nearly uniformly opposed. They had spent heavily advertising their addresses, investments which would be lost if the name change was granted. Some businesses, such as Crawford Laundry and Crawford Grill, would clearly face serious problems.

Also opposed were grandchildren of Peter Crawford, the pioneer Chicago farmer for whom the street was named. Crawford had arrived in Chicago in 1844, and, for $15/acre, purchased the plot of land now bounded by Pulaski Rd., Kostner Rd., Cermak Rd., and 26th Street; his farmhouse home was at what is now 2230 S. Pulaski Rd. Crawford was one of the founders of the township of Cicero in 1857, and as early as 1863, the dirt path abutting the east side of his property, connecting Ogden and Archer Aves., was known as Crawford Ave. Chicago city street signs indicating the name of the street were posted in 1913. At the 1933 meeting of the city council where the name change was under consideration, Crawford’s grandchildren, John H. Crawford and Nettie Ferenson appeared, along with Chicago Historical Society leader Edward P. Brennan, who argued
“We have no Bowling Green, as has New York, no Commons, as has Boston; no Independence Hall, as has Philadelphia. All of our landmarks were wiped out by the fire. All we have left of historical significance is names, and the Historical Society is opposing the wiping out of the names of the families which helped build Chicago.”
Nevertheless, in December, 1933, the city council approved the name change to Pulaski Rd. by a vote of 34-12, rejecting compromises offered by the Crawford business group, such as renaming Augusta Blvd. in honor of Pulaski. You might expect that the business group would be bitter over the loss, but you probably wouldn’t expect them to wage an intense fight over the street’s name for the next 18 years, which in fact they did.

The Crawford business owners first took the city to court, arguing that over 75% of the owners of property along the street opposed the name change, and that the council’s actions flew in the face of Illinois’ home-rule precedent, by which decisions were localized to the greatest degree possible. The group won a temporary injunction in January, 1934, but an appeals court eventually sided with the city, and “Pulaski Rd.” street signs began to be erected in the summer of 1934. Most of these were immediately stolen by upset property owners.

The Crawford business group did not give up so easily, however. For three years, they continuously lobbied state lawmakers in Springfield, and in 1937, they got their wish: a state law was passed indicating that if the deed-holders of 60% of the frontage on any street petitioned city government to change the name of that street, their petition would be granted.

Polish groups that supported Pulaski Road immediately saw the implications and devised an ingenious solution. They found a tiny one-block street, Haussen Court, on the north side, where the majority of the property owners were of Polish descent, and petitioned the city to change the name of that street to Crawford. In doing so, they would effectively block any attempt to revert Pulaski Rd. to the name Crawford, since that would cause duplication in street names.

Mrs. Eda Haussen Bartels, an elderly lady who lived on one corner of Haussen Ct., and after whose father, pioneer farmer Fred Haussen, the street was named, was blindsided by the new plan and vigorously opposed it. The following year, in 1938, she passed away, and her physician loudly told the newspapers that her death “probably” resulted from worry about the name of her street.

The city corporation counsel took both petitions – for changing Pulaski back to Crawford, and for changing Haussen to Crawford – under advisement, and undertook a painstaking and lengthy survey of property on both streets to learn the precise boundaries of each owner’s lot. In 1939, the city announced the failure of both petitions. Pulaski Rd. had 147,207 feet of frontage within Chicago city limits, and the Crawford business group’s petition was short by 9,727 feet. Similarly, the Haussen Ct. petition would require 1,264 feet of frontage to pass, but was short by 90 feet.

The Crawford business group immediately went back to work, and managed to find additional Pulaski Rd. frontage property owners, more than enough to push them over the 60% mark, but the city refused to accept the supplementary petition, causing a return to court for all parties.

During this time, most Chicagoans continued to refer to Pulaski Rd. as Crawford Ave., despite the change. In 1944, a streetcar conductor who called out “Crawford” was attacked by a Polish rider, Michael Orzschkwsk, who grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the ground, yelling invective in Polish (a sympathetic court fined Orzschkwsk $1 and ordered him to pay the conductor’s tailoring bill).

The advent of World War II put the Crawford-Pulaski debate on hold for a few years. Nevertheless, the animosity between the groups was never far below the surface. A rather nasty 1945 letter to the editor in the Tribune, signed “Old Timer,” was symptomatic:
The wailing that is going on among the Polish groups of Chicago with regard to the establishment of the Curzon line as the eastern boundary of Poland arouses little sympathy among thousands of Chicago people who recall that these same Poles have made no move to restore Crawford avenue to the American public since they unlawfully annexed it in 1933 and changed its name to Pulaski road.
In 1950, the Crawford business group again sued the city, indicating they had a petition signed by owners of 60.4% of all the owners of Pulaski Rd. frontage supporting a return to the Crawford name. They asked the court to force the city to follow the 1937 state law. In 1951, Superior Court judge John Sbarbaro did just that, and so, after 18 years, Pulaski Rd. became once again Crawford Ave.

An intense battle between the two sides then took place, with Polish groups who supported the Pulaski name attempting to lure or threaten Crawford Ave. business owners to withdraw their names from the petition. The petitioners responded by pressuring these property owners to remain on the petition. Several petition signers filed withdrawals, and then withdrawals-of-withdrawals over the next year.

However, the return to Crawford Ave. was short-lived. On appeal in November, 1952, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the 1937 state law creating the 60% margin for a street name change was unconstitutional, reversing Sbarbaro’s ruling, and handing the property right to street names back to the city council, which swiftly ordered Crawford Ave. to once again become Pulaski Rd., the name it holds to this day. Outside of the city limits, however, such as in Lincolnwood and Skokie, the continuation of Pulaski Rd. is still marked as Crawford Ave.