Showing posts with label gambling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gambling. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Death of Jake Lingle

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

By raising the price of alcohol, while doing little to reduce the public’s demand for it, Prohibition had served to enrich those who were still willing to produce and sell. It also put the industry in the shadow of the law, and so created the incentives and opportunities for violence. Thus, the 1920s were the era of big-spending, flashy gangsters and headline-splashing murders, epitomized by the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. By 1930, that epoch was coming to a close. The stock market crash of the previous October and the rapidly worsening economy dampened the demand for booze, and the shrinking government revenues from income and sales taxes produced a political demand for new sources of tax revenue – and liquor was high on the list of potentially lucrative targets, if only it was legalized. Within three years, Prohibition was repealed, and its personification, Al Capone, was rotting away in prison. The .38 caliber revolver shot that killed Lingle symbolized the end of the golden age of the Chicago gangster.

Alfred J. Lingle was born of modest means on Chicago’s west side in July, 1891, the son of a small business owner. Lingle’s great talent lay in his personality: he was a “character” not easily forgotten, a warm, self-possessed fellow, and an easy confidant. Born a Jew, his family converted to Roman Catholicism when he was eight years old, meaning he could easily fit in with a variety of ethnic groups. Lingle was also fascinated with police work from a young age, and he would frequently haunt police stations and crime scenes, peppering detectives with questions.

After attending the John Calhoun North school at Adams and California streets (the school still operates today), Lingle first took a job as a stocker at the Schoelling Company, a surgical supply house. He also played semi-pro baseball for a short time. But it was not long before his talents and interests found him in a job as a crime beat reporter at the Chicago Tribune, where he first started work in 1912.

In those days, men like Lingle, who had progressed no farther than 8th grade in school, were paid to gather news on the street and feed it back to specialist writers who organized the facts and wrote the purple prose. Hence, Lingle typically had no byline, but his reporting laid the foundation for most of the big crime stories at the paper during the 1910s and 1920s (except during WWI, during which Lingle served as a Navy intelligence officer). One of his first assignments was to cover the closure of the south side “Levee” (open vice) district during 1912-13.

Lingle was successful in his work because of his ability to mix with the criminal element, and he was on familiar terms with all of the top racketeers of his period. Mossy Enright, Tommy Maloy, James Colosimo, Johnny Torrio, and Al Capone all counted Lingle as a friend. After his death, Lingle’s relationship with Capone would come under particular scrutiny. Lingle had, on several occasions, procured exclusive interviews with Capone, and “Big Al” had even gifted him with a $300 diamond-encrusted belt buckle, which he wore proudly.



(Pictured: Jake Lingle)

Lingle was also close to many political figures and top police brass in the city. A childhood friend was William F. Russell, who became police commissioner in 1928 after scandals erupted surrounding the previous office-holder, Michael Hughes (described in this post). Some say that Lingle, through his various power connections, actually had a hand in lobbying for, and promoting Russell to the position. Lingle even had a joint stock investment fund he ran with Russell. Lingle’s close relationship with Russell (and his propensity for braggadocio) caused others to only half-jokingly refer to him as the “unofficial chief of police.” Many other key city officials, bureaucrats, and patrolmen were also among his friends.

But it’s possible to have too many friends. Lingle’s social network made him an ideal “fixer,” someone who could make deals between the underworld and those who were tasked with eliminating it. In time, the opportunities to put in a good word in City Hall for this or that gambling joint, to pass along a tip about an upcoming raid to some brothel proprietor, and to broker deals between speakeasies and the patrolmen on their beat, became too great for the $65-per-week newspaper stringer.

Like a great many others in the 1920s, Lingle also participated in the bull stock market of that decade. His bank records indicate he amassed over $85,000 in capital gains at the height of the frenzy. But, also like many others, he took a bath on Black Tuesday in October, 1929, losing most of his fortune and diving deeply into debt. But is was hard for Lingle to relinquish the lifestyle his underworld earnings and investment riches had brought him. It wasn’t easy to give up the vacations in Cuba, the high-rolling afternoons at the race track, and his luxurious suite at the city’s top hotel, the Stevens on Michigan Ave. (now the Chicago Hilton). Then there was his wife, Helen Sullivan, and their two young children, Alfred Jr. (born 1924) and Dolores (born 1925), who Lingle worshipped. He had recently put down $18,000 on a family vacation home in Indiana.

Thus it was that Jake Lingle increased his involvement with the criminal element. Where there was money to be made, he made it. To supplement that income, he even began double- and triple-crossing his acquaintances, working simultaneously as an agent for the police, politicians, and rival gang syndicates. Friends became enemies and enemies friends.

On the morning of June 9, 1930, Lingle left his in-town suite at the Stevens Hotel and, after stopping in at Tribune Tower to chat with his editor, he set out for the nexus of politics and crime in Chicago at Clark and Randolph streets, to see what choice tidbits he could pick up from the gamblers and sharpies who made that corner their headquarters. Next, it was a round of gladhanding and small talk with other power brokers in the lobby of the Sherman House hotel. Satisfied that he’d completed his work there, he walked east to Michigan Ave. At the corner of Randolph St., he purchased a newspaper and a horseracing publication and entered the underground tunnel leading to the train station on the other side of Michigan Ave.

The 1:30 train to Homewood was leaving in a few minutes and Lingle expected to spend the afternoon at the Washington Park Race Track. He was a big-spending gambler on the ponies, sometimes placing up to $1,000 on a single sprint. He was close with many horse owners and jockeys, and sometimes had inside information he used to turn the odds in his favor. The turf was also a great place to chat up those in the know in gangland, picking up tips he could pass on at the Tribune. So the afternoon gambling junket wasn’t purely a matter of pleasure.

As he walked through the tunnel, he lit a cigar, unaware of two men who trailed him in from the street. As he approached the far east end of the tunnel, one of them, a thin man with dark eyes and blond, wavy hair, pulled up behind Lingle and fired a single bullet into the back of his head. Lingle’s jaw clamped shut on the cigar and he fell face-forward to the ground, instantly dead.

His shooter and accomplice took off back through the tunnel, then suddenly, the man with blond hair who had fired the gun turned back and ran past Lingle’s body, leapt a railing at the train station entrance, and climbed up to the east side of Michigan Ave. Hot on his tail at this point were several by-standers who had watched in terror as the scene unfolded. Reaching the surface, they called out to a police patrolman, Anthony L. Ruthy, “Stop that man!” Officer Ruthy chased the killer across Randolph, then westward on the north side of the street across Michigan and into an alley which made a left turn and emptied onto Wabash St. At the corner of Wabash and Randolph, the shooter disappeared into the crowd and made a getaway from his pursuers. Later it was learned he entered the Taylor Trunk Company at 23 E. Randolph, nervously purchased a $5 hat, asked to use the restroom, and then left the store without his hat.

The gangland-style shooting of a humble and presumably honest news reporter with a wife and two children shocked the city. Here was a man who, to the public, appeared to have no gang affiliations, and killed in cold blood. If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. Public pressure to find Lingle’s killer and to rid the city of criminal gangs once and for all was intense.

Within 24 hours, the police rounded up 664 “wise guys” into the city bridewell, and an unsurpassed manhunt blanketed the Chicago area. One enterprising judge, John Lyle, used the opportunity of public outrage to issue largely unconstitutional, but ingenious, arrest warrants for “vagrancy” to top gang leaders, including Al Capone, on the theory that if they paid their bail, then they could be questioned on the source of their income and either imprisoned or investigated for tax evasion. Almost all of these efforts ended in little more than a waste of police and court resources, though a few notable criminals did fall into the dragnet, including labor racketeer George “Red” Barker, and Joseph Traum, an Indiana desperado. Another fallout from the killing was the resignation, under intense political pressure, of Lingle’s friend in the police force, Commissioner Russell, as well as several other top police brass.

Immediately after the killing, partially out of sympathy and partially for headline-grabbing purposes, Lingle’s employer, the Tribune, posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of his shooter, and other city papers added an additional $30,000 on top of it. When, a few days, later, however, competing papers began learning – and printing – the details of Lingle’s close associations with mobsters, his political “fixing” activities, and his lavish lifestyle and gambling habit, the Tribune maintained that no one at the company was aware of any of Jake Lingle’s darker side. In fact, Lingle had frequently bragged about his friendships with gangsters, although he also told friends that he had inherited hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy relatives.

Frank Wilson, an IRS agent investigating the Capone case, claimed in his autobiography that Col. Robert McCormick, proprietor of the Tribune, had personally arranged a meeting between Lingle and Wilson, scheduled for the day after the murder. If true, this implies that McCormick was well aware of Lingle’s underworld connections; however, McCormick always denied the accusation, and other sources claim that Wilson only contacted McCormick after the murder.

In any case, Lingle’s death created a scandal for the paper. Mayor William Hale Thompson, a long-time target of the paper’s editorials, took the opportunity for a pot shot at the Tribune, referring to it jokingly as the “Lingle Evangelistic Institute.” The Tribune tried to quash the furor by separating themselves from Lingle; they even published Lingle’s entire checking account register in a full two-page spread in an attempt at openness – while at the same time covering up what anyone at the paper might have known about the large and frequent sums entering and exiting the account. In an exculpatory editorial, the paper wrote,


Alfred Lingle now takes a different character, one in which he was unknown to the management of the Tribune when he was alive. He is dead and cannot defend himself, but many facts now revealed must be accepted as eloquent against him.

He was not, and he could not have been, a great reporter. His ability did not contain these possibilities. He did not write stories, but he could get information in police circles. He was not and he could not be influential in the acts of his newspaper, but he could be useful and honest, and that is what the Tribune management took him to be. His salary was commensurate with his work.

The reasonable appearance against Lingle now is that he was accepted in the world of politics and crime for something undreamed of in his office and that he used this in undertakings which made him money and brought him to his death. He has paid the penalty of it if he was enticed into this pool and the Tribune regrets it for the boy’s sake and for the sake of the profession.

The occurrence, although not unusual, is always tragic.
The Tribune also helped fund the investigation into the killing by the State’s Attorney’s office, contributing office space and the services of their corporate counsel, Charles F. Rathbun. Rathbun’s presence on the investigative team also helped insure that evidence unfavorable to the paper never saw the light of day. Pat Roche, lead detective in the State’s Attorney’s office, and Rathbun, lead a year-long focused manhunt for Lingle’s killer, which took them on investigative journeys as far as Havana and Los Angeles.

So who killed Jake Lingle, and why? The answer remains shrouded in mystery after 70 years, but here are the known facts. Lingle’s killer dropped his revolver at the scene of the crime. The serial number on the weapon had been filed down, but careful forensics were able to recover it, and the gun was traced to a sale at the sporting goods dealership of Peter Von Frantzius at 608 W. Diversey Pkwy. Frantzius was a popular arms dealer to the underworld, and his shop had also supplied the weapons used in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Von Frantzius’s records showed the firearm had been sold to Frank Foster (born Frank Citro), known to police as a member of the Northside Gang, although there were indications Foster had recently switched sides, becoming a gunner for the rival south side Capone syndicate. Foster was arrested in Los Angeles on July 1, and extradited to Illinois.

Upon seeing Foster, several witnesses, including Officer Ruthy, who chased the shooter through the Loop, declared he was the killer. However, other witnesses disagreed, and Foster had a reasonably plausible alibi. The State’s Attorney’s office suspected he was not their man, but kept him in legal limbo while they continued their frantic search.

Finally, based on underworld gossip and a close resemblance to the witness descriptions, police arrested one Leo V. Brothers, a member of the St. Louis-based Egan’s Rats gang, which was a Capone affiliate in that city. Brothers was a labor union slugger, and was wanted in connection with a murder that took place during struggles between rival factions of a taxi drivers’ union. He had escaped to Chicago with a recommendation to one of this city’s top labor racketeers, Thomas Maloy, and had found work as a bouncer at the mob-controlled Green Mill saloon on Broadway and Lawrence Aves. (the bar still exists today). At his arraignment, Brothers curiously refused to plead either guilty or innocent, instead only saying “On the advice of my attorneys, I stand mute”. Many found it suspicious that Brothers, who was ostensibly destitute, was supported by a “dream team” of five top defense attorneys, led by the inveterately corrupt Louis Piquett, who would go on to greater fame as John Dillinger’s attorney and sometimes partner-in-crime.



(Pictured: Leo V. Brothers)

Brothers went on trial in the spring of 1931. The prosecution produced seven eye witnesses who fingered Brothers as the shooter. The defense pointed out that a number of these witnesses were on the payroll of the State’s Attorney, and that their descriptions to police at the time of the murder differed in several important details. The defense also produced eight witnesses of their own, including Officer Ruthy, who had chased Lingle’s killer through the Loop, who claimed Brothers was not the man they saw.

In the end, however, the prosecution’s witnesses were more believable to most jurors, and Brothers’ checkered past in St. Louis made him a plausible assassin. One lone juror held out from the other eleven in returning a life sentence in the trial, however. Other jurors later claimed his man stubbornly refused to even discuss the matter, and so ultimately, the jury found Brothers guilty and sentenced him to only 14 years. At sentencing, Brothers proudly told reporters, “I can do that standing on my head!” Some intimated that Piquett or some wealthy supporters of Brothers behind the scenes had paid off the dissenting juror.

Regardless of whether Lingle was shot by Foster, Brothers, or someone else, it does little to answer the more important question of why Lingle was killed. One prominent theory, promoted by Roche and Rathbun, and supported by a former Northside Gang associate, Julian “Potatoes” Kaufman, is that Lingle was killed in a dispute over a ritzy gambling resort, the Sheridan Wave Club, located at Sheridan Rd. and Waveland Ave. According to Kaufman, he managed the Sheridan Wave for four years in the late 1920s. During that time, the club catered to an exclusive clientele, high-rollers whose large bets brought in boffo profits for the gang. So lavish was the Club, it is said that all drinks and other amenities were provided to customers gratis and at will while they placed bets.

In June, 1929, under public pressure to fight organized crime after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, police Commissioner Russell ordered the Sheridan Wave’s closure. Jack Zuta and other higher-ups in the Northside Gang itched to reopen it, and pressured Kaufman to get Lingle to talk with Russell about the possibility. Some sources claim that Lingle demanded a cut of the Club’s revenue. According to Kaufman, during one meeting with Lingle, Zuta showed up, and Lingle turned to him and said “Don’t speak to me, you lousy pimp.” Zuta was, in fact, a slimy pander, the Northsiders’ equivalent to the Capone syndicate’s Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik. In any case, Zuta began to see Lingle as uncooperative.

One ambitious gang underling, Grover Dullard, had run the craps table at the Sheridan Wave, and he had heard Lingle was the sticking point in keeping the Club closed. In Kaufman’s account, Dullard was looking to prove his worth to the gang, and saw Lingle’s murder as a way to impress Zuta. He told everyone he would “take care of” Jake Lingle.

Did Grover Dullard – either on his own, or at the request of Jack Zuta – hire someone to kill Lingle (or do the job himself)? It was well-known and substantiated that a deep mutual dislike existed between Lingle and Zuta, as well as Zuta’s partners, the Aiello brothers. In fact, within a half hour of Lingle’s death, police raided the Aiello bake shop and headquarters on Division street, arresting Carl and Dominick Aiello for questioning (the most prominent Aiello, Joe, was nowhere to be found). Zuta himself was brought in a few weeks later.

Since police headquarters were on the south side at Michigan and 11th St., in the middle of Capone syndicate territory, when Zuta’s questioning was completed, he pleaded for a police escort to the north side. The officers obliged, but during the drive through the Loop, the car was attacked by gunmen, who after firing indiscriminately into a crowd and killing a street car driver, sped away Hollywood-style, blowing a smoke screen behind them along State street.

Jack Zuta survived the hit, but met his end only a month later while on vacation at a resort near Delafield, Wisconsin. He was plopping nickels into a jukebox on the dance floor when he turned around and was met by a barrage of bullets from five men who had infiltrated the hall. Some theorize the killers were Capone’s men, and their purpose was to avenge Lingle’s death. Others believe Zuta was killed by his fellow gang members, who believed he was talking to police.

An alternative theory of Lingle’s death claims he was offed at the order of a relatively minor, but interesting, hoodlum, John J. “Boss” McLaughlin. A former state legislator, McLaughlin had moved easily across the blurry line between politics and crime, and was at the time building a series of gambling enterprises. Supposedly, he had threatened Lingle just days before his death after a police raid at his headquarters at 606 W. Madison, “I’ll catch up with you, and it won’t be long either”. McLaughlin believed Lingle was going to keep police Commissioner Russell off his gaming centers.

A third theory is that Lingle was actually a victim of Capone. Though Lingle and Capone were known to be friends, some sources claim Lingle had been paid a large sum of money to help Capone win political support and police protection for a number of dog tracks the syndicate planned to open in Illinois. Lingle had failed, the theory goes, and had lost the money gambling or in stocks. Then there is IRS agent Frank Wilson’s statement, alluded to earlier, that he was planning to meet with Lingle to discuss Capone’s tax issues. In addition, a number of witnesses at the scene of the crime identified Sam “Golf Bag” Hunt, a noted Capone gunman, as being present.

Alternatively, some claim Foster, who had recently begun working with Capone, was the killer, and that Capone’s gang arranged for Brothers to take the fall in order to help him escape his murder charge in St. Louis (which he eventually did). Hence Brother’s odd non-plea at his arraignment, and irrational exuberance at having been sentenced to 14 years after his conviction. However, the truth is that Jake Lingle’s tracks in the underworld were simply too complex to trace precisely, and the reason for his death is likely lost completely to history.

Leo Brothers served eight years and three months of his 14 year sentence at Joliet penitentiary, after being released early for good behavior. He was immediately re-arrested for the taxi murder in St. Louis, but the evidence had grown cold and he couldn’t be convicted. He went back to work in the tax racket in St. Louis, working his way up to a position of authority in the industry, until he was shot at his home in a gang hit in September, 1950. He died shortly after.

Frank Citro (Foster) also continued working in organized crime, returning to Los Angeles, where he died of a heart attack in April, 1967. A few months after Brothers was sentenced in 1931, Officer Anthony Ruthy was shot and killed in the line of duty by a fleeing bank robber. Coincidentally, Ruthy was killed less than 100 ft from where Lingle met his end, near the corner of Michigan and Randolph. Grover Dullard was a prominent Chicagoland bookie, and ran with a violent gang of gamblers into the 1940s. Julius “Potatoes” Kaufman moved to New York City, and then to Miami, where he continued running casinos. Peter Von Frantzius was charged with accessory to murder before the fact in the Lingle killing, but the charges were eventually dropped. He continued operating his sporting goods business until his death in 1968.

Lingle was shot at the east side of the tunnel under Michigan Ave., where it rose out of the ground and fed into the old Illinois Central railway tracks. That spot no longer exists today, since the train station has been moved underground. The tunnel under Michigan Ave. has long since been renovated and rerouted slightly, although it still passes close to where it lay in 1930 (see photo at the top of this post). Where the IC station once stood, today is the beautiful Millenium Park, built largely at taxpayer expense and only $130 million over budget and four years late for the millenium (it opened in 2004). Nevertheless, the park boasts a Frank Gehry-designed band shell, a fountain with a constantly-changing electronic image of a man or woman spitting, and "the bean". The spot pictured below at the southeast corner of Michigan and Randolph is Wrigley Square, featuring the "Millenium Monument", a set of greek columns that is a replica of a similar monument that stood on the spot in 1930.

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.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Colosimo and Mushmouth Work Side by Side in the Levee


Number 239 Twenty-second street (now numbered 41 W. 22nd) was a virtual who's who of the underworld in the first decade of the 1900s, an interracial mixing of Chicago's once and future vice kings in the midst of the Levee.

The building appears to have housed a first-floor saloon, with various gambling, billiards and off-track betting operations on the second floor. It was on the second floor that "Big Jim" Colosimo, future titan of the Levee and founder of the Chicago Outfit later run by Johnny Torrio and Al Capone, founded his first establishment, the Colosimo Billiard and Pool Room Parlor, sometime about 1904. The Parlor was connected by telephone, a sure sign in those days that a horse racing handbook was operating within, as race information needed to be distributed quickly to bookmakers (see, e.g., the Mont Tennes operations).

(pictured: James "Big Jim" Colosimo)

In his authoritative volume on Colosimo, Arthur Bilek claims that Big Jim hired two of his brothers-in-law, Joseph and John Moresco, to work at the Parlor (this was before Colosimo divorced his first wife, Victoria, for a new love interest), and that these two eventually took over the business while Colosimo concerned himself with his Cafe and various brothels.

The second floor was also the site of the Frontenac Club, a joint operation between three of the city's top gambling lords: policy (lotto) king John "Mushmouth" Johnson, dice-man Bill Lewis, and Tom McGinnis, who was at times an independent bookmaker and at other times associated with the Mont Tennes and Jim O'Leary syndicates. The Club opened May 1, 1906. Notably, though Johnson and Lewis were black, the Frontenac Club catered exclusively to white customers of means (a gambler had to flash at least $10 -- roughly a week's wages for a typical laborer -- in cash at the door to be admitted). The name of the Club evoked 17th Century Quebecois leader and Indian fighter Count Frontenac, and so symbolized old world wealth and aristocracy in a city short on both. Reports at the time indicated the Frontenac Club turned profits of $200 per day (nearly $5,000 in 2008 dollars), which was split in thirds between the owners.

The building's popularity among the Levee's elite kings of vice may have been due to its central location. 22nd and Dearborn was ground zero for the red light district, and some of the better establishments, catering to a higher class of sinner, such as the Everleigh Club, were just across the street.

After Mushmouth Johnson died in 1907, it's not clear what became of the Club. A report in 1908 indicates the police raided operations on the second floor of the building and discovered a big craps game run by Bill Lewis, with mostly black players, a fact which suggests the Frontenac had either closed or changed substantially in character, although it's possible the Lewis game took place in a separate room.

That the building was still a major gambling resort in 1909 is certain from the fact that it suffered a dynamite attack in the Gamblers' War that year. The owner of the first floor saloon, old-time Satan's Mile barkeep John Morris, claimed there was no gambling currently in the buildilng (highly unlikely), though he admitted the second floor housed poker rooms at some time in the past.

As late as 1920, Colosimo's old billiards room, apparently consolidated by Bill Lewis, was still in operation. After the closure of the Levee in the mid-1910s, most of the big names in vice had moved either into the suburbs or further south (for instance, Lewis was by that time headquartering at a notorious mixed-race craps game on 35th street), but many gambling and vice resorts were still operating surreptitiously at that date.

The buildling was demolished in the mid-1950s as the entire Levee district was slowly redeveloped by the Chicago Housing Authority for low-income residences. The CHA's headquarters building between 1961 and 1974 was located on the southwest corner of Dearborn and 22nd (by then renamed Cermak Rd.), right where the Colosimo-Johnson building once stood. Ironically, the CHA left in 1974 citing crime in the nearby Ickes and Hilliard projects they managed. Robert Loeffley, information director for the public housing agency, told reporters
Because the present office location is in the midst of a string of public housing developments, people have the idea, whether it's true or not, that the neighborhood is unsafe.
The site is now part of the campus of the "National Teacher's [sic] Academy," a public magnet school opened in 2002.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mont Tennes, King of Gamblers

"The complete life story of one man, were it known in every detail, would disclose practically all there is to know about syndicated gambling as a phase of organized crime in Chicago in the last quarter century. That man is Mont Tennes."
So declared the Illinois Crime Survey of 1929. The man who stood at the center of Chicago gambling during the first quarter of the 20th century, and who developed a sporting news service that eventually monopolized horse racing operations throughout North America, lived here, in the mansion at 632 W. Belden Ave. (or before the 1909 street renumbering, 404 Belden) during the height of his power.

Jacob Tennes was born in Chicago in 1873 to a large family with five brothers and two sisters. He was nicknamed "Mont" by his mother at a young age, and that became the only name by which the city's King of Gamblers was ever known to be called. Even as a boy, he was known to be an expert at dice and other games, and before his 20th birthday he began running his first handbook operation. His gambling expertise provided the start-up capital he used to open the Tennes Billiard Hall on Lincoln Ave., near Wrightwood Ave., which he operated along with his brothers. There he sponsored pool tournaments, in which he himself was frequently the victor.

Over the next few years, Tennes gained interest in a number of other handbooks operating on the Northside, and in 1900, he began opening saloons, including one inside the Billiard Hall on Lincoln.

By 1901, Tennes' name was already well known among anti-gambling advocates, and a crusade against saloons on N. Clark St. in River North focused primarily on Tennes-owned saloons. The Tribune reported that “residents of the neighborhood allege that the district fast is approaching the condition that existed in the levee” (probably a reference to Custom House Place, the city's biggest red light district at the time).

The newspaper described the operations at what was at the time Tennes' biggest gambling outfit at 143 Clark (now in the 600 block, where the "Rock & Roll" McDonalds sits today), where a ragtime piano player began vamping behind the bar every day after 2:00 p.m.:
On a cigar stand in front of the main room is posted a racing form, which is eagerly studied by those who enter. The ticker is behind a thin partition and the bookmaker gets information of track and odds over the telephone. The results are announced at the bar and down-stairs in the bowling alley, where many men gather....Everyone seems to have the utmost faith in the bookmaker, and gains and losses are taken from his report without a word. The book has been successful, it is believed, for ‘killings’ [large winnings by the house] are rare in Tennes’ place.
Remarkably, women were among the major clients of Tennes' gambling houses, though they rarely entered the saloons, cigar shops, and even cash register shops that fronted his operations, choosing instead to call in their bets or give them to one of a team of employees who traveled around the city, taking wagers in the morning at homes and stores on races taking place in the afternoon, and settling accounts from the previous day's races.

(Pictured: Mont Tennes)

The increased interest in horse racing during the early part of the century created a business opportunity for gambling entrepreneurs, who previously focused on cards or games like roulette and faro. At the same time, off-track betting presented a serious technological problem: how to acquire quick and accurate results from the races, as the house stands to lose substantial sums if gamblers learn the outcome first. Managing and monopolizing the supply of information on tack conditions, odds, scratches, and race results became Mont Tennes' life work.

Starting in 1904, Tennes began operating clearinghouses where national racing information was received by telegraph, then dispersed to handbooks throughout the city by telephone. The first of these, opened in league with other major gambling figures including Tom McGinnis and "Big Jim" O'Leary, was a little cottage in Dunning at Irving Park Rd. and Narragansett, just outside Chicago city limits, where suspicious neighbors noticed two telegraph lines leading in through a kitchen window.

The photo below shows a forest of telephones in one of Tennes' later clearing houses at 123 Clark St. (now 550 N. Clark).


In order to operate such a large and complex operation, Tennes required implicit protection from police raids, which he obtained throughout his career with payoffs from beat cops all the way up to the chief of police. As early as 1902, he was a notorious source of graft:
Frequenters of the place say Tennes has a pull which is strong enough to keep his handbook running in spite of the strong opposition of many people in the vicinity. The East Chicago Avenue Police Station is four blocks away, but Captain Revere’s policemen pay no attention to the poolroom. While strangers have some difficulty in placing money with the bookmaker, there is no great attempt at secrecy, and the betting goes on while chance customers come and go at the bar.
Politicians, however, must satisfy their constituents if they want to keep their jobs, and so in 1903, Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr., declared open "war" on Chicago's handbooks, forcing the hand of the police. He revoked the saloon licenses of all the city's top gamblers, including Bob Motts, Andy Craig, Mushmouth Johnson, Alderman Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna, and above all, Mont Tennes.

Thus began a complex and protracted political battle between Tennes, the police force which wanted his graft, the Mayor, and citizens. In league with the police, Tennes publicly declared that, due to Mayor Harrison's order, he was finished with the gambling business, and he sold his saloon license to a "M. A. Jockum," who was actually an associate, allowing Tennes to remain in control of his bars and handbooks. At the same time, he paid the police to focus on raiding the books of his business rivals. This latter practice was one Tennes continued to employ throughout his career as he attempted to monopolize gambling in the city. At the December First Ward Ball, an annual saturnalian party and underworld soiree thrown by Aldermen Kenna and John J. Coughlin, Tennes' men handed out over $2,500 to the various politicans to help turn down the heat on his operations.

Besides the police and city politicians, Tennes also faced continuous trouble from rival gamblers. While his original 1904 clearinghouse in Dunning was a partnership with Jim O'Leary, the two fell out in 1906 over the latter's success in operating the City of Traverse, a gambling boat that operated outside police jurisdiction, four miles offshore on Lake Michigan.

In retaliation, Tennes threatened to start his own gambling cruise operation, the City of Midland, unless his rivals cut him in on the deal. When they refused, he sent a tug boat out to shadow the Traverse, and when it turned on its wireless service to begin receiving racing news for the sports aboard, Tennes' tugboat blasted hits fog horn, thinking this could disrupt the transmissions. Instead, the trick only caused those on shore to believe the City of Traverse was on fire, sending panic throughout the city.

Some reports claim that O'Leary and his associates finally did cut Tennes in as an investor in the City of Traverse later in 1906, ending the feud. But this theory is belied by the fact that the following three years witnessed constant dynamite bombings of rival gamblers' homes and businesses in what the media dubbed the "Gamblers' War".

The Gamblers' War started in June of 1907 when Mont Tennes was physically attacked on the street near his home by a man whom police initially believed to be a disgruntled loser at one of Tennes' resorts. Tennes, however, was convinced O'Leary was behind the attack in retaliation for Tennes' efforts to have O'Leary's Northwest Indiana gambling houses raided by police.

In any case, the home of "Blind John" Condon, who had previously worked with Tennes, but was also an associate of O'Leary's, was bombed on July 9, 1907. Two weeks later on July 25, Tennes' home on Belden Ave. (pictured above) was bombed, creating a gaping hole in the alley behind the house. A month later, O'Leary's resort on S. Halsted was bombed, and on August 19, the Tennes home was again victimized. This time, the bomb landed in the front yard, blowing out all the windows of the house, plus those of his neighbors, several of whom announced plans to move away. Tennes himself sent his wife and children to live out in the country for the next few months.

In all, over 30 bombs exploded at the homes and businesses of the city's major gambling kings over the next three years. The police claimed the bombings were the result of a blackmailing scheme run by a mysterious gang known as "Smith & Jones":
The Chicago dynamiters who blew up gambling places for blackmail did business under the name “Smith & Jones”. That is, when they wanted a gambler to put them in the payroll the gambler would receive a mysterious telephone call telling him to see Smith & Jones. The gamblers all knew what that meant and that they would be dynamited if they did not see Smith & Jones.
The police never offered any evidence of such a scheme, and were never able to arrest Smith or Jones. A more likely cause for the bombings was Mont Tennes' attempts to monopolize the flow of race information into the city.

At the beginning of 1907, Tennes was paying $300 each day to the Payne News Service of Cincinnati, which telegraphed race information from throughout the U.S. and Canada to Tennes' Chicago clearinghouse, which was then in suburban Forest Park, which then conveyed the information to subscribers in the city by secret telephone lines known only to the Chicago Telephone Company. The Payne service had taken control over the race wires after the Western Union company had ceased the business in 1904 under pressure from an anti-gambling shareholder.

Tennes disliked paying such high prices to Payne, and the final straw took place in 1907 when an error in odds reporting by the service on a horse named Grenesque at Fort Erie ended up costing him thousands of dollars. He decided to start his own rival wire service and to drive Payne out of business nationwide.

Tennes hired agents to attend races throughout the country, who would report back to an operator nearby with a telegraph key. Often race track operators wanted nothing to do with Tennes' agents, and removed them from the premises. In such cases, Tennes' men found their way onto the tops of nearby buildings and used telescopes to observe action on the turf. In one interesting case where the racing action couldn't be seen from any nearby building, a woman was sent into the track to observe; she would periodically excuse herself from the action to a spot where she could be seen applying makeup, touching her nose, eyes, and ears in a specified order that indicated the winners of the race to a telegraph operator observing her nearby.

Tennes insisted that all Chicago handbooks use his new General News Bureau service and discontinue any subscription to Payne. Those that refused were either bombed or raided by police friendly to Tennes. Tennes also took the fight against Payne beyond Chicago. He sold his sporting news services in cities across the country, including San Francisco, San Antonio, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Detroit, and New Orleans. Finally, the Kentucky home of John A. Payne, proprietor of the Payne News Service, was bombed, and the latter gave in, selling out his interest to the Tennes' General News Bureau in 1909, when the flow of bombs in the Gamblers' War finally slowed.

In 1911, Mont Tennes again came to public notice when he was sued by a former gambler-turned-reformer named Harry Brolaski, and a disgruntled General News Bureau business partner, Tim Murphy. Allegations that Tennes was at the head of a national gambling syndicate with 800 clients nationwide and $500,000 per day in revenue inflamed public opinion, and in September of that year, the Tribune published a scathing editorial accusing the chief of police, John McWeeny, of accepting graft. When the paper's reporters confronted McWeeny the next day, the Chief was nonchalant. After reading a copy of the editorial given him by the reporters, he was dismissive.
“That’s just a rehash,” was his comment. “It has been said before.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Let them fight it out among themselves,” the chief said calmly.

“Then you are not interested in what Tim Murphy and Mont Tennes are doing?”

“I don’t know Tim Murphy. He may be a myth for all I know.”

“Mont Tennes is not a myth.”

“No,” the chief admitted. “I have met people who knew Mont Tennes.”

“Are you going to question Tim Murphy or Mont Tennes?”

“Who is the complainant against them?” the chief said bluntly.

“Call the Tribune complainant. It has printed columns about the methods of Murphy and Tennes and the gamblers’ war.”

The chief sighed.
McWeeny insisted, disingenously, "There is no gambling in Chicago and the police do not 'tip off' raids," despite the obvious fact that handbooks were rampant in the city, and the police did tip off their raids in return for Tennes' payoffs. The matter finally ended when Tennes paid off Tim Murphy as well, and the latter wrote letters to the court and the attorneys general of three states swearing off his earlier charges.

Mont Tennes continued to monopolize racing information in Chicago and throughout the country for the next decade. Though the handbooks he operated were constantly raided and he served as a political punching-bag for every mayor and congressman seeking the law-and-order vote, he never served a day in prison, always hiding behind a defense that he was simply a newspaper man, conveying sports information around the country.

In 1916, Federal appeals court judge and future baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis even launched a personal investigation of Tennes' operations, in which it was revealed that his operations netted $75,000 each year, of which 90% went to Mont Tennes personally. Tennes hired superstar attorney Clarence Darrow (of "Scopes Monkey Trial" fame), and eventually Landis' inquiry ended with the conclusion that interstate transmission of gambling information wasn't illegal under federal statues, and actual gambling was a local phenomenon and so not under a federal court's jurisdiction.

One of the few times Mont Tennes lost a substantial bet was during the famous 1919 "Black Sox" scandal, in which Chicago White Sox players allegedly threw the World Series in league with a group of New York gamblers. Tennes later claimed he knew the fix was in, but put up $80,000 on his home team anyway. As a Northsider, Tennes really should have only bet on the Cubs.

When reformer "Decent" William Dever was elected Mayor of Chicago in 1924, a 51 year-old Tennes decided to get out of the business of operating handbooks and focus exclusively on his news service. A few years later, noting the violent tendencies of Al Capone and other Chicago gangsters, who increasingly were expressing interest in the sporting news business, Tennes sold the General News Bureau in 1927, with a 50% interest going to media mogul Moe Annenberg, founder of the Daily Racing Form.

In retirement, Mont Tennes devoted himself to his progeny, his golf, and his charity work. When he died on August 6, 1941, his heirs received a $5 million estate which provided for a $2,000 monthly lifetime income for his wife, Ida, $700 monthly to each of his four children, and $200 monthly for each grandchild. One of the Tennes boys, Ray, ran a Ford dealership, while another, Horace, became a champion motorboat racer.

He also established a $1,000,000 trust fund, which donated to Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Masonic charities, and ordered $10,000 annually to support a new "character home" for wayward boys, Camp Honor.

The General News Bureau was run by Moe Annenberg together with a Capone associate, James Ragen, until the latter went to prison in 1939 (Ragen was murdered by Capone hitmen in 1946). Afterwards, the Bureau was reorganized and rechristened as the Continental Press Service, and eventually passed into the control of Moe's son Walter Annenberg, who used the money from his news empire, which included Continental Press, to fund journalism schools at the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania.

Tennes' mansion at 632 W. Belden, which was built in 1885, still stands today.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Estelle Carey, Gangster Girlfriend, Murdered

On the afternoon of Feb. 2, 1943, residents of a quiet courtyard building in Lakeview at 512 W. Addison (pictured above) smelled smoke coming from the third-floor apartment where two female roommates, Estelle Carey and Maxine Buturff, lived. When firemen arrived on the scene, they were shocked to find Miss Carey dead, the victim of a brutal and bloody struggle involving a bread knife, rolling pin, iron, and a 10-inch blackjack club. Still alive after the beating, she had finally been doused in inflammable liquid and set afire. Who was Estelle Carey and why did she meet such a violent end?

Estelle Evelyn Smith was born in 1909 on Chicago’s northwest side. Her father died when she was two-and-a-half, and her destitute mother sent her to an orphanage, from which she did not return until 1916, when her mother remarried and took the name Carey. She attended school sporadically at Harriet Beecher Stowe school in Humboldt Park, finally dropping out to take work in a silk thread factory. Miss Carey was exceptionally beautiful, and she did modeling work on the side, before she became a telephone operator and then a waitress at a Northside restaurant. It was while working there that her life took a turn into the underworld.

(pictured: Estelle Carey)

Nicholas Deani Circella, often known as Nick Circella or Nick Dean, had come to the U.S. in 1902, and by the 1930s, was a nightclub owner associated with the Outfit, the group of criminals who inherited Al Capone’s organization. He was impressed with Carey’s beauty and offered her a raise to work in one of his clubs as a dice girl. She accepted and was installed at the Colony Club, 744 N. Rush St., where she specialized in “26”. In the game of 26, a pretty girl rolled a series of 10 dice; if the sum of the dice came to 26, the player won a free drink on the house.

Carey became very popular at the club, and when a high roller showed up, she was often called into work to assist. Not all of the dice games she ran were mere bar diversions like 26, though. One inveterate gambler at the club, who went by the name “Spinach,” claimed she had bilked him for $800 with a die which had the one-spot replaced by an extra five-spot. Other Colony regulars noted that Carey was especially skilled at switching dice with hidden loaded dice.

It was at one of Circella’s other clubs, the 100 Club on Superior, that a drunken Willie Bioff and George Browne stumbled into one night after extorting $20,000 from the Balaban and Katz theater chain, following up on the labor racketeering scheme begun by Tommy Maloy (who had, in turn, worked his way up in the Mossy Enright organization). When Browne spilled the beans about the scheme at the 100 Club, Nick Dean found out about it, and shared this priceless information with the Outfit brass. Together, Bioff, Browne, and Circella, with the backing of the Outfit’s muscle, went on to bilk millions from the major Hollywood studios.

Plenty of that money wound up in Estelle Carey’s closet, as Circella bought expensive jewelry and fur coats by the dozen for his girlfriend and employee. Police who searched Carey’s apartment after her murder said she owned no dress worth less than $150, the equivalent of $1,800 in today’s terms.

When Bioff got greedy, he and Browne and came under investigation and eventual indictment in 1941 by the IRS, and Nick Circella was sought as material witness. It was at this point that Circella and Carey fled into hiding together, with Carey dying her blonde hair black as a disguise. In May of that year, the Colony Club, run in absentia by one of Circella’s associates, was padlocked by Chicago police after evidence surfaced that more serious gambling than the 26 games took place behind the scenes there.

Circella was eventually apprehended in March, 1942, and sent to prison for six years.

Almost a year later, Estelle Carey was living in a quiet corner of Lakeview at 512 W. Addison, her hair now dyed red. On the day of Feb. 2, 1943, Carey’s roommate had left for work at 8:00 a.m., and nothing seemed amiss. At 1:00 that afternoon, Carey was having a conversation with her cousin on the telephone when the doorbell rang and her dog began barking. “The door bell’s ringing. I’ll have to go. Call me back in an hour,” she told her cousin.

She opened the door, recognizing her visitor, and invited him in. She went into the kitchen and poured powdered cocoa into two cups, following it with hot milk. When she had filled the first cup halfway, her visitor attacked her.

When Estelle Carey’s cousin called back at 2:30 p.m., there was no answer. About that time, Mrs. Jessie Lovrein, who lived in the ground-floor apartment below, saw a large man in a gray tweed overcoat descending the back stairs of the building, carrying with him two fur coats, turned inside out. Shortly after, the neighbors smelled smoke, and the fire department discovered the bloody scene just after 3:00.

Police immediately suspected a mob connection. Although the code of conduct among the Outfit prohibited violence towards wives and girlfriends, the Bioff-Browne incident threatened to take down the entire criminal organization, so desperation might have meant breaking the code. Virtually every known Outfit associate, including Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo, Sam Battaglia, Marshall Caifano, and others were questioned about the murder, but no leads panned out.

The police also considered other theories. When Circella’s wife, Ernestine, was questioned, she said

Yes, I knew her and I knew Nick was cheating, but I didn't know with whom. Show people are generally cheating on one another, but I wouldn't let it break up my home.

Did Estelle Carey know too much about the Hollywood extortion case, and was she killed to keep her quiet? Or was her death a powerful reminder to Circella, imprisoned at the time, about the dangers of turning state’s witness against his Outfit overlords? Or was her killer a disgruntled loser in one of the Colony Club’s gambling games? Was Estelle Carey killed by a jealous beau (of which she had many), or the wife or girlfriend of one of those beaus? Carey had been the “other woman” in a bruising 1938 divorce case involving a leading Chicago businessman, Earl Weymer, and Weymer admitted seeing Carey for dinner the three days before her death. Or was it all just a fur coat robbery gone wrong?

In favor of the last possibility, Carey’s death took place in the midst of a string of fur coat robberies on the Northside that year (14 during the previous four months, in which over 50 coats had been taken). When Carey’s roommate arrived home, she led police to a hidden compartment of a shoe bag, where Carey kept her most valuable jewelry. Had Estelle Carey refused to tell her attacker where the jewels were? But what kind of robber carries a can of gasoline with him, in case he needs to burn his victim? And why would Carey have let a stranger into her home and served him hot cocoa?

On Feb. 8, police arrested Thomas Stapleton at his home in the Commonwealth Hotel. A clerk in a Northside drug store, he was known to have frequented the Colony Club, and was a known thief and robber. Mrs. Lovrein identified him as the man who left with the coats. But the police never found the coats and Mrs. Lovrein did not get an especially good look at the man, so Stapleton was released a month later.

The police captain investigating the crime, William Drury, saw the case going cold. When one of his officers brought in a fresh clue, he saw an opportunity. Shortly after the murder, two girls at the old Immaculata High School on Irving Park Rd. saw a man sitting at a bus stop at the corner of Irving Park and Sheridan, holding two fur coats. The man took the Sheridan bus south to the Drake Hotel on Michigan Ave., where he egressed, leaving one of the coats on the seat. A passenger noticed and called to the man, who returned to take his coat.

Some time after Carey’s murder, one of the girls happened to mention this incident to her father, who was a police officer under Drury's command. At the time, Drury was in the middle of a bitter personal feud with a minor Outfit crook, Charles Fischetti, who was a cousin to Al Capone. Drury knew the Outfit had to have been involved in Carey’s murder somehow, and he saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: solve the Carey case, and take down Fischetti.

He arrested Fischetti, and brought the two girls into the station. "I want you to identify this man as the man you saw carrying the coats," he told them. But the girls insisted Fischetti was not the man. Drury tried again, to no avail, only serving to upset one of the girls, who complained to her police officer father.

Drury got his comeuppance for framing Fischetti a few years later, in 1950, when he was gunned down in the garage behind his home, most likely by his enemies in the mob.

After Nick Circella got out of prison, the government began proceedings to deport him, and in 1955, Circella boarded a steamer for Argentina, and was never heard from in the U.S. again, although his brother August Circella, remained in Chicago as a burlesque theater operator through the 1970s.

The murder of Estelle Carey has never been solved.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rev. Jeremiah Porter, Chicago's First Moral Crusader


Because Chicago has always the country's first city in crime, it has also witnessed countless righteous uprisings against the underworld. The city's first battle between religion and vice was centered here, on the Southwest corner of Clark and Lake, at the First Presbyterian Church.

In 1833, Chicago's population numbered around 300, the majority of whom were soldiers stationed at Fort Dearborn, French trappers, and "civilized" Potowotomie Indians. As in most frontier towns, the male-to-female ratio was far from one, and men with extra time on their hands and no female companionship will seek excitement in countless ways. Prostitution was an early growth industry on Wells Street, booze flowed freely, and horseracing was a perennial sport. Cards and dice games were also popular, and the city's proximity to the Mississippi River brought a wide range of card sharks and confidence men through on a regular basis.

To make those games of chance more interesting, gambling became a common occupation of frontier Chicagoans, especially during the long, cold winters. It was after one such winter in May, 1833 that the Revered Jeremiah Porter arrived in town. Religion was not a particularly important part of the city's life up to that time, although one tireless believer, Philo Carpenter, had begun a Methodist Sunday School with 15 pupils earlier that year.

Rev. Porter was born in Massachusetts in 1804, and had graduated Williams College in that state at age 21 before matriculating at Andover Theological Seminary. By 1831, he was stationed at Ft. Brady in Sault Ste. Marie, ministering to the soldiers on the wild frontier. After the Black Hawk War of 1832 in Chicago, in which 72 soldiers were killed, a regiment from Ft. Brady was transferred to Fort Dearborn in May, 1833, to replace those lost and to relieve others. Rev. Porter took the opportunity to travel with the regiment.

Porter was apparently an exceptional minister, and had converted all of the Ft. Brady soldiers save one lone couple, who somehow managed to resist. When he arrived in Chicago, he was utterly dismayed at the unchristian standards of the city. He wrote in his journal that his first sight upon alighting in Illinois was a group of Indians playing cards in front of a primitive saloon, with a group of soldiers looking on.

Rev. Porter held his first services almost immediately upon arrival, ministering to 26 members in the carpenter shop at Fort Dearborn. As the Reverend described it later, "I gathered the first church ever formed in Chicago since 'the morning stars first sang together.'"

Again, the Reverend's talents grew the little group to 67 members within a year, and demand began to be made for a formal church edifice. A site was selected on the Southwest corner of Clark and Lake Streets, which at the time was nothing but prairie bog, quite a distance from the first sprouts of the city huddled around the Fort. Members complained that the church was remote and inaccessible, but the foresighted minister made plans to build a wooden frame structure on the lot, at a cost of $316. First, however, a group of squatters who had erected shanties had to be cleared, which they were in the dead of night, pulled down by a team of horses driven by church members, which dragged the squatters' residences several blocks west on Lake Street.

By winter, the church was built, and the group of believers, thinking that Yankee Congregationalism would be unsuited to the new territory of Illinois, founded their congregation as the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago. The dedication took place on January 4, 1834, when the temperature was 24 below zero. In his diary, Rev. Porter wrote of that day:
Many witnessed the solemn scene, but a majority were females, as two vessels were unloading in the harbor, causing a wanton abuse of the holy day by many who sin against clear light, and abuse divine compassion and love.
One of the soldiers' children who attended church at First Presbyterian was the future Mrs. Henry Durant, founder of Wellesley College.

All the time, Reverend Porter's assault on gambling and other vice continued. Records of the church include the following:
12/30/33: William Cole, having used intoxicating drink several times during the past year, so as to be sensibly affected to the wounding of his own peace and the cause of Christ, was called before the session this evening and made full confession, promising to reform.

9/5/34: Brothers William Cole and John Guy, having been laboured with by the pastor and one of the elders for drinking ardent spirits, acknowledge their sin and express a determination to reform.

12/13/34: The church committee visited Mrs. Boyer and her daughter and learned that both of them attended a party where dancing had been introduced. Both confessed their error.
Reverend Porter led city committees to eradicate gambling, and focused his attention on the problem in the summer of 1835, which he called a "season of prayer," with many rousing sermons. Responding to increased public pressure, several gambling sports were imprisoned, though none for very long.

Growing a church was not the Reverend's only activity in Chicago at the time. About the same time Porter arrived in Chicago, a young teacher, Eliza Chappell, came to the city and opened the first school for girls, space for which she rented from the Presbyterians for the sum of $9 per month (given the lack of suitable buildings in the city, the church was able to price discriminate heavily -- they rented the building for county court at the much higher rate of $30 per month).

Close quarters between the young teacher and the man of the cloth blossomed into romance, and in 1835, Chappell and Porter were married. Even with a godly wife at his side, Chicagoans' taste for vice was too much for Reverend Porter, and in late 1835, he accepted a position at a church in Peoria, leaving the church he started and the crusades he founded.

Chicago's wickedness grew over the years, and so the city became fertile ground for religious revivalists. Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, and William Moody all got their starts in Chicago. Gipsy Smith and Mother Cabrini thrived there, as have Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson.

As for the Reverend Jeremiah Porter, his career after Peoria took him to Green Bay, Wis. for eighteen years, followed by a return to Chicago, where he ministered to a Congregationalist church on the west side for many years before retiring to California. During the Civil War, Rev. Porter traveled with the Illinois First Artillery Regiment as company chaplain (one of the Reverend's nine children was a member of the regiment).

However, Chicago was always his home; when Eliza Porter passed in 1888, her remains were brought by train across the country back to Chicago for burial. The old crusader himself remained active, giving lectures to large crowds up until just before his own passing in 1893.

The First Presbyterian congregation held together through the years, though they quickly outgrew the old wooden shack at Clark and Lake. The issue of slavery tore the congregation into three parts: in 1842, a pro-slavery contingent splintered to found Second Presbyterian, and in 1851, another group left to found a radical abolishonist Congregationalist church.

The church slowly shifted its focus to the city's Southside, eventually settling on 64th and Kimbark in the Woodlawn neighborhood in the 1920s. During the 1960s, the church was investigated by federal authorities for links with Jeff Fort and the Blackstone Rangers. Despite its troubles, the congregation of First Presbyterian still holds services today, attracting Chicagoans away from the lures of easy pleasure and vice, 176 years after Reverend Porter first began the crusade.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Cap" Hyman's Sunnyside Resort

Captain "Cap" Hyman was one of Chicago's most infamous characters before the Great Fire. An inveterate gambler, he was one of the kings of "Hairtrigger Block", a gambling mecca on Randolph St., west of State.

Hairtrigger is a word that also describes Hyman's personal character. In an inebriated state, he was well-known in the city for wandering into public places and brandishing his pistol. In 1862, he did just that in the Tremont House hotel.

On the evening of August 2, 1868, around midnight, Cap Hyman found himself at the New York Sample Room, a low saloon in Clark Street. The following day's Tribune detailed what happened next:
[Hyman] entered the saloon about midnight, meeting at the entrance a friend named James McKenna, barkeeper at the Sherman House. He invited him to drink and the two, accompanied by others, stepped up to the bar. A dispute arose between them as to who should "treat," when McKenna spiritedly accused his companion of owing a bill for liquor, etc., at the Sherman House. Hyman stepped from the barroom, which is in the rear portio of the place, to the front compartment, and, drawing a revolver, discharged it at McKenna. The contents, probably a blank cartridge, failed to do any injury. He fired again, the ball entering the groin of M. Kasprowicz, inflicting a serious but not very dangerous wound. At latest accounts the victim was doing well.
Kasprowicz, also a noted gambler, was also the son of the saloon's proprietor. The article referred to both Hyman and Kasprowicz as "[g]amblers of the worst kind and very dangerous members of society." A police search for Hyman the next day failed to find him, but eventually he turned himself in, and after lengthy legal maneuvering, he was released back into the city to create more mayhem.

During his time on the lam for the Kasprowicz shooting, Hyman laid low at his place in suburban Lake View, which was in the 1860s farmland not incorporated into Chicago. Two years earlier, in 1866, Hyman and his wife, the fat brothel-keeper and former Sands resident, Annie Stafford, had opened to the public their Sunnyside Resort in Lake View, a roadside inn on the old Evanston Road (now Broadway) near the intersection with eponymous street, Sunnyside Ave. (pictured above).

The grand opening was on a Wednesday evening in December, 1866, and reporters from the major Chicago papers were brought to the gala affair in a huge four-horse sleigh. Hyman declared to all, "I would like you gentlemen of the press to understand that this affair will be straight to the wink of an eyelash. All the ladies are here on their honor, and Mrs. Hyman will see to it that nothing unseemly takes place."

Nevertheless, opening night was portentous. Hyman and Stafford intended the Resort to cater primarily to the well-to-do country traveler, and to stand as their entree into Chicago's upper crust society. But all of the couple's friends were from a distinctly different social class. A newspaper article at the time described the opening night guest list: "[t]he list was select, embracing chiefly the women keepers of some of the more fashionable brothels, and those who contribute most liberally to their support."

Everything went swimmingly until around midnight, when a fight broke out among three rival cyprians at the party, which turned into an all-out wrestling match. In a drunken fit, Hyman shot out the lights, and several of the harlots began "entertaining" clients upstairs. By dawn, the evening's tired and mangled party guests departed, and the bad publicity associated with the evening's melee doomed the business; it shut down to the public within six months.

Hyman and Stafford continued to make trouble in Chicago for a few more years before they separated, with the Captain heading to New York in 1868. Rumor had it that the old gambler's mental health was not good, perhaps the result of too many evenings spent in brothels like Annie Stafford's. In possibly the most sarcastic editorial ever published in the Tribune, the paper wrote of news of Hyman's decline:
Report has just reached Chicago of the fall of a great man. As a gambler he stood at the head of his profession, in braggadocio he had not his equal, and as a shooter at defenceless cripples and women he stood without a rival. Of course, this means the Adonis, Captain Hyman. How his diamonds used to flash in the sunlight of our streets! With what elegance of deportment he used to pick his teeth on the steps of our hotels! How immaculate was wont to be his toilet! But, alas! he left Chicago about a year ago, and with it has come his fall. Detective Ellis, just returned from New York, met him in the great metropolis, and at first mistook him for a peddler of "hot corn." The change seemed incredible. Not even a brass band ornamented his nimble digits, and he looked as if he had not enjoyed a square meal for a week. In other words, the whilom proprietor of sumptuous Sunnyside and the hero of innumerable bouts is broke clear out of his boots. Wonder if he will ever "come up smiling" again?"
Suffice it to say Cap Hyman was not a popular figure in Chicago, and his demise in the mid-1870s was welcomed by all. Annie Stafford continued to run brothels on Federal St. (then Fourth Ave.) and Wells Street until about 1880.

Accounts published in the 1860s put the location of the Sunnyside Resort on the Evanston Road (Broadway) "about two or three miles from the city limit", at what is now Sunnyside Ave. Based on educated guesses from other sources, I believe the Southeast corner of Broadway and Sunnyside would have been the most likely location for the Resort. This is pictured above.

A later account in 1941 by an old-timer describes a place called the Sunnyside Tavern, where Chicagoans of the 1880s used to go out sledding in the wintertime on Clark Street at Sunnyside. Since Clark is just west of Broadway at this point, it's possible this is the same establishment (perhaps under the control of a later owner), but I cannot corroborate that. Also, in Gem of the Prairie, published in 1940, Herbert Asbury also puts the location of Hyman's Resort on Clark St., possibly based on the same source. Nevertheless, I have chosen to rely on the contemporaneous accounts.

In any case, the Resort was gone by the turn of the century, and the southeast corner of Broadway and Sunnyside became the site of a dull gray three-story building, which was razed in 1929 and rebuilt as an equally dull gray three-story building (pictured above), inhabited by administrative offices of the Illinois Bell company. In the 1950s, Illinois Bell quit the building, which then became the offices of the city's Department of Urban Renewal. By the 1970s, the building was under the control of the Salvation Army, which ran it as a soup kitchen and shelter through the 1980s and 1990s. It appears to be closed now, possibly slated for destruction along with the buildings across from it on Broadway, which have already fallen, to be replaced by a Target.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mushmouth Johnson's Emporium Saloon


John V. "Mushmouth" Johnson was one of Chicago's greatest gambling tycoons during the 1890s and 1900s. The newspapers (using the racially-insensitive vernacular of the day) called him variously "King of the Levee", "The Richest Negro in Chicago", and "King Coon of State Street". Regardless of what you called him, for a span of twenty years, if you gambled in Chicago, you likely paid Mushmouth, at least indirectly.

Johnson was born in St. Louis to a woman who had been a nurse for Mary Todd Lincoln, but came to Chicago in the 1870s, while in his 30s, and found work as a waiter in the restaurant inside the Palmer House hotel. In 1882, he got his first taste of vice as a employee in one of Andy Scott's gambling houses on Gamblers' Row. Mushmouth displayed a hard-headed willingness to enforce the rules physically when gamblers who lost money demanded it back or tried to take it back by force (Johnson himself never gambled). He could also cuss a blue streak, which earned him his nickname.


Scott saw a business partner and a means to reach the city's large African-American population, so he made Johnson a business partner in his three-story saloon and gambling den in Whisky Row at 464 S. State (according to Chicago's 19th century street numbering system), pictured above, in 1890. Previously known as the Bon Ton, they rechristened it the Emporium Saloon.

Johnson's intransigence, while valuable as a business skill, also got him into trouble on several occasions. In 1896, he was shot and very nearly killed, by a young Havana-born gambler at the Emporium, Charles Hinds. The gunman described what happened later:
I admit I shot Johnson. I should not have been in the saloon at the time, for on a previous visit there he had knocked out one of my teeth. But I wanted money with which to go back to Cuba. I had $450 and wanted to increase it to $700 before I started. So I went there to win at cards. I went to the crap table at Johnson's invitation, and the bets increased from a bottle of wine to $25. When I had lost everything I had except 10 cents I detected the gamekeeper changing the dice, and I saw I had been robbed. I started to leave and asked Johnson to give me my pistol, which I had deposited with him when I went in. As he gave it back to me I told him I meant to recover my money by law. At that, he uttered an oath, said he would kill me, and reached for his hip pocket. I knew I would be killed the next moment, so I fired first....
The Emporium grew to be one of Chicago's premier spots, open to all races, and offering craps, poker, billiards, and "policy" -- a numbers game akin to a lottery. The gamblers made bets with each other, not the house, but the house took a fraction of all bets. A roper on the street called out, "Come on gents, any game you like upstairs" until the early hours of the morning.

As Mushmouth grew rich in gaming, he also grew politically powerful. The Tribune habitually referred to him as the "head henchman" or "lieutenant" of first ward alderman, Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna. Johnson could consistently garner the vote of the ward's black population for Kenna, and in return, the corrupt alderman put Mushmouth in charge of collecting protection money from the gambling dens in the city's growing Chinatown district on Clark Street (this was before the opening of the current Chinatown on Archer). Moreover, Johnson was always tipped off ahead of time before one of his own houses was to be raided by the police, a very common occurrence.

1903, however, turned out to be a difficult year for Mushmouth Johnson. The city had declared an all-out war on the old Custom House Place vice district, and all of the major brothels and gambling houses were shut down. Johnson, with his substantial political influence, was one of the last to go. It didn't help that in that year, Ernest Naoroji, a Ceylonese bank teller, embezzled $3,000 from his employer and gambled it all away at the Emporium before committing suicide. Publicity got even worse when Johnson was sued by the mother of a boy who had reportedly gambled away $60 of the family's subsistence, and when an angry gambler, who had physically attacked Johnson in front of the Emporium, turned up dead a few days later, shot by the bartender at the club.

A citizens' graft investigation indicated Mushmouth in late 1903 on gambling charges, and the following year, he was sued by another gambler for $15,000 supposedly lost on rigged games. Finally, in 1906, tired of the continuing assaults from the press, police and unhappy gamblers, Johnson followed other Custom House Place characters down to the new Levee centered around 22nd and Dearborn, where he opened the Frontenac Club on 22nd.

The stress may have been too much for old Mushmouth, and he died in September, 1907. Like Bob Motts, his main political and business rival, he was something of a philanthropist, supporting religious and cultural activities in black neighborhoods with the money he took in gambling. Before his death, however, he told a friend that his personal fortune had dwindled to only about $15,000, having paid exorbitant fees in fines to the city and protection. "I have had to pay out four dollars for every one I took in at the game," he said -- probably an exaggeration, but nevertheless indicative of the high costs of operating a business in the shadow of the law.