Showing posts with label police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label police. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shoot It Out? The Death of Fred Hampton


Fred Hampton, Illinois Chairman of the Black Panther Party, was living with his girlfriend and other Panther friends in the first-floor apartment of this building at 2337 W. Monroe St. on December 4, 1969. At 4:30 a.m. that morning, 14 officers from the state’s attorney office served a warrant to search the premises for illegal weapons. A shoot-out followed, in which Hampton and Peoria Panther chapter leader Mark Clark were killed. But after the sound of gunfire died down, investigations into the incident would shake the foundations of law and order in Chicago, destroy the career of the city’s brightest rising political star, fill newspaper headlines for over a decade, and create a scandal that reached all the way to J. Edgar Hoover’s desk at the FBI.

Fred Hampton’s family came to Chicago after World War II from Haynesville, Louisiana, part of the great migration of southern Blacks into the industrial cities of the North during the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Initially settling in suburban Argo, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hampton both found work at the famous Corn Products plant in that city. The Hamptons’ first child was a daughter, Delores, and shortly after arriving in the Chicago area, their first son, Fred, was born, in August, 1948. A few years later, Iberia Hampton would give birth to a third child, William. The family lived briefly in Blue Island, but then made their permanent home in Maywood, at the time a mixed-race working-class suburb with solid schools and easy access into Chicago.

Growing up in Maywood, Fred Hampton was a good student, and active in sports, playing on the baseball, football, basketball, and wrestling teams at Proviso East High School. It was while attending Proviso East in the mid-1960s that Hampton became deeply interested in the civil rights movement. He began spending his evenings listing to recordings of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, over and over again, and in this way, developed rhetorical skill that would soon turn him into a political wunderkind. As one Maywood resident later noted, “He never really was a teenager in the normal sense of an adolescent. When other teens were talking about clothes, dating, and sports, he always would be talking about ‘the movement’.”

Hampton was also a natural leader, and began organizing Black students at Proviso East in marches and demonstrations against the school administration, agitating against discrimination and in favor of more resources for minority students. During this period, Hampton’s grades fell, but he nevertheless graduated in 1966. That summer, he found work supporting anti-discrimination efforts in housing markets in Chicago, led by Martin Luther King. Based on his work with the famed civil rights leader, he was appointed head of the youth council of the NAACP in Maywood, and became an active political agitator in that town.

During the late 1960s, Hampton attended Triton College, YMCA Central College, and Malcolm X College sporadically, but his heart was in political organizing, and through the influence of the burgeoning radical movement, as well as hard experiences, he drifted away from the moderate non-violence of Martin Luther King, and towards a more confrontational protest style, which both put him in trouble’s way, and made him a target for conservative elements in society and the police.

(Pictured: Fred Hampton)
In June, 1967, Hampton was arrested while leading 18 Maywood youths in a protest that turned violent. The group was criticizing the village’s administration for the dearth of public services available to Black residents, particularly a public pool. In those days of segregated pools, white Maywood residents could travel to nearby suburbs to swim, but Blacks were not allowed in pools in upscale suburbs like Oak Park and River Forest. Hampton was arrested again in September, 1967, for leading a protest at Proviso East High School in which a riot erupted and a policeman was attacked.
But Fred Hampton’s most infamous moment took place on July 10, 1968, when a white ice cream truck driver, Nelson T. Suitt, was trolling for customers through a Black section of Maywood, and was accosted by a gang of youths, asking for free product. “Don’t you know you are in a black power neighborhood?” they demanded. Just then, Fred Hampton drove by, and one of the boys told Suitt, “now you’re going to have to give us the ice cream – here comes our leader”.
According to police, the group then attacked and looted the truck, with Hampton personally climbing into the cab and beating Suitt. After his attackers departed, Suitt hailed down a passing police car, and, with the officer, identified Fred Hampton on the street. In his defense, Hampton claimed the truck was already looted when he arrived on the scene, and that the supposed battery on Suitt was a frame-up by the Maywood police, who disliked the protests he led against Maywood village administration.
Shortly after this incident, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party, apparently immediately becoming leader of the Illinois chapter. The BPP was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, and was notoriously violent, and particularly antagonistic towards police. In one case, a Panther chapter supplied children with coloring books that pictured police being shot and stabbed by Blacks, and included the statement “The only good pig is a dead pig.” By 1968, the BPP had chapters throughout the country and boasted 3,000 – 5,000 members nationally; violent clashes with police were reported in many cities.
Because of the Party’s violent and confrontational nature, being associated with the BPP was no small matter – it was a choice that put one outside the realm of polite society, to say the least. A friend to tried to convince Hampton not to join, arguing that his membership in the BPP would keep him from his potential as a great political leader. The friend said, “We talked about this in depth many times and he used to tell me he was involved in the liberation of people. He used to say he didn’t want to live a long time, but that he wanted to do something while he was alive.” Hampton’s response was prophetic.
As a BPP member, Hampton increased the pressure on the Maywood village government, leading increasingly violent clashes between Black protestors and police. In July, 1968, he led a troop of 150 young men in an assault on Maywood city hall during a city board meeting. When refused entry to the meeting, the group began pelting the building with rocks, breaking out windows and shouting angry slogans. The mayor and other city officials escaped down the back fire escape while the rioters moved down the street, breaking windows and starting fires in stores and homes.
Throughout 1968 and 1969, Hampton led the BPP’s movement in Chicago to recruit college and high school students to the party. He gave speeches at Roosevelt University, DePaul, and several city colleges, advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government, and quoting at length from the Communist Manifesto, and from the works of Mao Tse-Tung. In part for the purpose of improving their public image, the Chicago chapter of the BPP started a “breakfast for children” program, which provided food for Black youth in three locations throughout the city, although critics claimed the program was poorly managed, and that “donations” of food and money were primarily obtained through extortion. A Tribune investigation also revealed evidence that money donated for the program was improperly channeled to pay for BPP members’ car payments and clothes. The BPP also attempted to open a free health clinic in the primarily-Black neighborhood of North Lawndale, although these plans never came to fruition due to opposition from a rival Black youth organization, the Conservative Vice Lords street gang, which controlled that neighborhood.
Through his work in the BPP, and through the nationwide notoriety of the BPP, Fred Hampton was increasingly seen as a political figure, and a threat to the Chicago police and elected officials. In April of 1969, a jury convicted Hampton of robbery in the ice cream truck case, and given Hampton’s growing political status, the newly-elected state’s attorney, Edward V. Hanrahan, took special interest in the verdict, pushing for immediate sentencing. The judge in the case demurred, and put off the next phase of the trial until May, when Hampton was sentenced to serve 2-5 years. Through appeals, however, he was allowed to remain free.
(Pictured: State's Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan)
Today, we typically associate gun rights with right-wing political organizations; however, historically, left-wing groups (see this post on gun advocacy by 19th century labor agitators) opposed to the government were among the most ardent supporters of the right to bear arms. The Panthers strongly advocated arming Black citizens as a defense against government tyranny, and a deterrent to perceived police racism. One year, the Party sold Christmas cards which showed Black children aiming rifles at Santa Claus, and asking their parents for guns and explosives for Christmas, in lieu of toys. Fred Hampton’s Chicago BPP chapter advocated similarly, and stockpiles of weapons were kept at Panther headquarters. However, they had an additional reason to arm themselves: a perceived threat from other Black organizations in Chicago.
I have already mentioned the rivalrous relationship between the BPP and the west side Vice Lords, largely based on competition for leadership status among Chicago Blacks. Hampton’s relationship with another prominent street gang, the Black P. Stone Nation (formerly known as the Blackstone Rangers), was no less strained. A Panther member described a bizarre meeting between Hampton and the BPSN in 1969:
[Jeff] Fort [leader of the BPSN], carrying only a lighted candle, met the small band of Panthers at the door and led them into a gymnasium, where a spotlight was turned out. “All around the room all I could see was the silhouette of Blackstone Rangers,” O’Neal recalled. “It looks to be maybe 500 of them. Hard-core crazies, man. They had a medicine man who was doing this dance. And then Jeff Fort said something like “There ain’t going to be no panthers in this city, there’s just going to be Stones.”
Hampton talked his way out of the meeting, but on the drive home, told his compatriots that they needed guns – lots of them. The BPP made it known that they would buy guns, and soon, they were flooded with firearms, including many stolen and illegal weapons, which they stockpiled at Panther headquarters and in the homes of BPP leadership throughout the city.
Hampton’s rhetoric towards the police was often severe. One of his favorite quotes, which he repeated frequently, was “when you kill all the pigs [police], you get complete satisfaction.” Nevertheless, Hampton did not directly advocate violence – at least not yet. During riots in Chicago in October, 1969, instigated by the Weathermen, Hampton announced himself against an immediate overthrow of the government, saying “We don’t support people who are anarchistic, chauvinistic, masochistic, and Custeristic – people leading people into confrontations they are unprepared for. Revolution and uprising is an art, and we’ve got to move from that premise. If you persist in these spontaneous acts, we are going to have to look on you as pigs or pig agents.”
Nevertheless, the Panthers’ violent rhetoric (and, in many cases, actual violence) against police and the government, and their stance towards firearms, quickly caught the wary eye of FBI agents in Washington. J. Edgar Hoover started a confidential operation known internally as “COINTELPRO – Black Extremists” which both sought intelligence on Black organizations such as the Panthers, and purposed to infiltrate, harass, and discredit the leaders of those organizations. In one memo, Hoover wrote that the purpose of the program was to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement.” In another memo, he referred to one of COINTELPRO’s explicit purposes, to “neutralize the Black Panther Party and destroy what it stands for.”
One of the FBI’s means for destroying the Panthers was to stir up animosity and violence between them and other Black organizations. In this post, I described an anonymous letter sent to Jeff Fort, BPSN leader, implying that the Panthers were planning to assassinate him, and suggesting he take violent action. Another program infiltrated the Chicago BPP chapter with an FBI informant, William O’Neal, a former low-level street criminal, who began passing information about Fred Hampton’s weapons acquisitions back to FBI agents in 1968 (O’Neal is the source of the quote above regarding the meeting with Fort and the BPSN). He also provided the feds with a floor plan of Hampton’s apartment in 2337 W. Monroe St., and tipped off agents about times Hampton spent there.
Hampton had established the BPP headquarters at 2350 W. Madison St., just a block away from the apartment, probably because he had family that lived in the neighborhood. The area was almost entirely populated by Blacks, and the Panthers felt safe there. The apartment itself was nothing to write home about, with five small rooms, including two bedrooms and one bathroom. It was run down and dirty, drafty and cold, and was in serious need of paint. In December, 1969, Fred Hampton was living in the apartment with his girlfriend, 18-year old Deborah Johnson, who had recently discovered she was pregnant with his child.
Besides becoming a father, Hampton was also active in pulling together a BPP movement which nationally was splintering between more and less radical factions, and had suffered from internecine fighting between the leadership (possibly facilitated by FBI efforts). The Party, which had once boasted 5,000 members, probably had no more than 1,000 nationwide by late 1969. Hampton had recently returned from a visit to Panther headquarters in Oakland, where he had conferred with other Party leaders about the future of the movement.
Upon his return to Chicago, he invited the only two members of the Peoria BPP up to Chicago to discuss plans for the Party in Illinois, and they stayed with him in the apartment on Monroe St. The leader of the Peoria chapter was Mark Clark, and his only acolyte was Tony Harris. Harris was arrested in Chicago after a gun battle with police on December 2, leaving Clark alone to lead the Panthers in Peoria. Unlike Hampton, who was a political leader who sometimes became involved in street crime, Mark Clark was a street criminal who became involved in politics. He never graduated high school, and had little sense of the future. He had repeatedly told his sister he would never live to see 1970.
(Pictured: Mark Clark)
On the evening of December 3, 1969, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, FBI informant William O’Neal, and several other BPP members ate a simple dinner of spaghetti, hot dogs, and Kool-Aid at the apartment on Madison St. The group stayed up late, talking, playing games, and cleaning a shotgun, one of the 19 firearms that Hampton kept at the apartment for protection. Slowly, the party ended with some members, including O’Neal, departing for their homes, and nine others falling asleep either in one of the two bedrooms or on mattresses in the living room. Hampton and his girlfriend Deborah Johnson eventually retired to the back (south) bedroom. The last lights finally went out around 4:00 a.m., just half an hour before all hell was to break loose.
As noted above, FBI agents had received a floor plan of the apartment from O’Neal, and were informed of the weapons and ammunition Hampton stored there. They first approached the Chicago police about performing a weapons raid on the apartment in October or November, 1969, but were turned down twice. Next, they turned to the State’s Attorney’s office, led by the recently-elected Edward V. Hanrahan. Hanrahan was a rising star in the Democratic Party in Illinois, a machine politician who was widely considered the heir-apparent for the elderly Mayor Richard J. Daley. Hanrahan had taken a popular stand in favor of law and order, and was Daley’s chief instigator of a “War on Gangs,” in which the state vigorously prosecuted gang members who committed crimes.
Hanrahan saw the BPP as a criminal organization, and a threat to law enforcement, neither of which were entirely untrue. Just two weeks earlier, two Chicago police officers had been killed in a shootout with BPP members at an abandoned hotel on Calumet Ave., at 58th Street. When presented with the FBI’s information, he saw an opportunity to start ridding the Party of its weapons, and possibly to take down its leadership.
A warrant to search Hampton’s apartment for weapons was drawn up and signed, and a team of 14 Chicago police officers who were working as investigators for the State’s Attorney office, was asked to develop a raid strategy. It would be a dangerous assignment, and the possibility of violence couldn’t be ignored. The raid was originally scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on the evening of December 3rd, but the police feared that the streets would be busy at that hour, and bystanders could be hurt or try to interfere in the raid. It was decided to serve the warrant at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of December 4th instead.
The 14 raiders were led by Sgt. Daniel Groth, and included five Black officers, among them James “Gloves” Davis, a west-side officer who had long been a bugbear for the Vice Lords and other street gangs. The raiders surrounded the building, with eight officers manning the back door and windows, and six at the front. Sgt. Groth knocked on the front door. Inside, a voice asked “Who’s there?” and Groth replied “This is the police, I have a warrant to search.”
One of the men in the apartment, Louis Truelock, ran to the back bedroom and began trying to wake Fred Hampton. “Chairman, chairman, wake up. The pigs are back” (other accounts indicate it was Vietnam veteran and BPP member Harold Bell who attempted to wake Hampton). In the living room, Peoria chapter president Mark Clark sat in a chair facing the door, holding the shotgun the group had cleaned earlier that night. Sgt. Groth again pounded on the door, this time with the butt of his gun. “Open up, police!”

(Pictured: Floor plan of Hampton's apartment, where the raid took place)
When the door didn’t open, Groth ordered Officer Davis to break it in. Davis hit the door with his shoulder, opening up into an ante room, and falling onto a mattress spread across the living room floor. At just that moment, Mark Clark raised his twelve-gauge shotgun and fired once through the door at police. Sgt. Groth smashed through the door into the living room and, in the faint glow of a space heater, saw a woman, later identified as Brenda Harris, across the room, who appeared to be loading a gun and preparing to shoot. Sgt. Groth fired at her as Officer Davis arose from the mattress and spied Clark sitting on his chair with the shotgun. Davis fired three times at Clark, likely killing him at that point.
The other officers, hearing the gunfire, followed into the darkness and began a wild search through the apartment for the others. Without the aid of light or much space in an apartment that now held nine Black Panthers and 14 police officers, panicked officers mistook the sound of other officers’ guns for return fire from the Panthers, leading to more confused shooting. The raiders began piling up the apartment-dwellers in the kitchen as the found them.
Sgt. Groth later claimed that, at five different points during the raid, he called for his men to cease firing, and shouted for the Panthers to surrender. Each time, he claimed, a voice yelled “Shoot it out!”, and the gunfire continued. At one point, Louis Truelock and Deborah Johnson walked out of the rear bedroom with their hands up, and surrendered to police. After collecting them in the kitchen with the others, besides Clark, who was dead, the raiders went into the back bedroom, where they found Fred Hampton sprawled face-down on the bed, killed by two bullets which had passed through the thin walls of the apartment, and which were later determined to have been fired from Officer Davis’ service weapon. The raiders claimed that, on the floor by Hampton’s right hand was a .45 caliber automatic weapon, and by his left hand, a shotgun. When the gunfire finally ended, Hampton and Clark were dead, and four other Panthers and one police officer were shot and wounded. All seven surviving apartment-dwellers were arrested on charges of attempted murder.
The vast majority of Chicagoans viewed Fred Hampton as a violent militant and agitator, and saw the Panthers’ attacks on the raiders as murderous and, therefore, the raiders’ return fire as justifiable homicide. However, from the start, there were many unanswered questions. Why did the police serve a warrant at 4:30 in the morning? And after Clark shot through the door, why didn’t they employ tear gas or simply surround the apartment, instead of venturing inside for a gunfight? Who fired first, and who fired most?
Several Black leaders were quick to condemn the raid, and rumors flew that Hampton was intentionally murdered by police. That day, at the concurrent trial of the “Chicago Seven” associated with the previous year’s Democratic National Convention riots, defense attorney William Kunstler asked the court for an adjournment for mourning, “because of the murder of Fred Hampton by police in Chicago early today.” A spokesman for the NAACP branded the killings as “modern-day lynchings”. Operation Breadbasket leader Jesse Jackson told reporters he was “personally grieved” by Hampton’s death, saying “he was a personal friend of mine,” and that he would demand a detailed investigation into the incident.
At high schools throughout the city and suburbs, Black students walked out and congregated at the Civic Center downtown for a massive protest. At Hampton’s former high school in Maywood, Proviso East, classes were cancelled until January in order to avoid violence. The mayors of Maywood and Gary, Indiana, and the president of Malcolm X College all lauded Hampton’s work and insinuated that his death was no accident. Panther “Defense Minister” and post-Hampton leader Bobby “Che” Rush announced “inside information” he claimed to have received that the raiding party included known KKK members, and that Hampton was drugged and then killed in his sleep.
State’s Attorney Hanrahan repeatedly told reporters that the officers had acted in a completely professional manner, serving a legitimate warrant, and defending themselves when fired upon. The first of many investigations of the incident was by the Chicago police internal investigation division (IID). The officers involved in the raid were acting at the behest of the State’s Attorney office, but IID performed an investigation anyway, quickly clearing the officers of any wrongdoing.
The next investigation was at the behest of the Cook county coroner’s office. At the conclusion of a twelve-day inquest on January 21, 1970, a fury of three Blacks and three whites unanimously vindicated the raiders’ story. A chemist for the coroner’s office reported no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Hampton’s body. Ballistics crime lab expert John Sadunas examined the shell casings found at the crime scene, and determined that three shots were fired at police, including two from Brenda Harris’ weapon.
(Pictured: Coroner's jury investigates the crime scene)
It appeared that the case was over. The grand jury found that Fred Hampton was not murdered, and that the State’s Attorney’s raiding party had acted in strict accordance with police principles, attempting repeatedly to stop the shooting, but each time being rebuffed with “Shoot it out!” But, in fact, the saga of Fred Hampton was only beginning, and the incident would be repeatedly replayed in court for the next ten years.

One limitation of the coroners’ investigation was that the police had failed to properly seal the crime scene after the incident. Before the crime lab experts showed up on the scene, police had already removed all the weapons from the house and loaded them into a police vehicle. An attorney for the BPP got to the apartment early and removed the part of the door in which Clark’s shotgun shell had passed, taking it with him and making it available to the inquest only under court order. The BPP had allowed curiosity-seekers to tour the apartment and touch objects and furniture, and possibly take with them some of the shell casings. State’s Attorney Hanrahan put daily pressure on the coroner to finish the inquest, meaning that the crime lab was unable to fully examine the ballistics and fingerprint evidence that remained.
For all of these reasons, and under intense pressure from the NAACP and other groups, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a probe into the incident, under the auspices of determining whether Hampton’s civil rights had been violated by the raiders. The jury methodically took statements from each of the raiders, examined the evidence, even exhumed Hampton’s body, which had been buried at the family’s native home in Haynesville, Louisiana.
The federal grand jury report, numbering 243 pages, was released in May, 1970, and its findings were damning. With additional time to investigate the evidence, crime lab expert Sadunas changed his testimony from that given at the coroner’s inquest: All but one of the roughly 100 shell casings found at the scene came from police weapons. Only Mark Clark’s weapon was fired among those belonging to the BPP. The violence at the scene was almost entirely due to police heavy-handedness. The post-incident crime scene investigation was completely inadequate and suggested an attempt to cover up evidence of police misconduct. State’s Attorney Hanrahan’s statements to the press and the coroner’s inquiry were disingenuous and misleading, and his efforts had materially obstructed the coroner's inquest.
The federal grand jury concluded that the original IID investigation was a complete sham, with each officer being asked questions which had been previously written up and given to them, along with a set of answers. The seven surviving apartment-dwellers refused to testify to the federal grand jury, and on that basis, the jury returned no indictments, but their report was unequivocal: “Physical evidence, standing alone and unexplained, is sufficient to establish probable cause to charge the officers with a willful violation of these survivors’ civil rights.”
With no evidence that anyone in the apartment except Clark had fired against police, Hanrahan was forced to immediately drop all charges against the seven survivors of the raid. The heads of the IID and the police crime lab, plus the deputy police superintendant, were all demoted, and the State’s Attorney police force was disbanded.
The injustice of the raid and the unnecessary violence, however, meant that the grand jury’s report did little to satisfy Hanrahan’s detractors. On the anniversary of Hampton’s death, December 4, 1970, protests throughout the city turned violent. El train conductors refused to make stops at the 63rd and Dan Ryan station, due to the presence of an angry mob on the platform. Continued political pressure finally led to the empaneling of a third grand jury in a special Cook county session, for another investigation of the incident.
After much legal wrangling, the special grand jury indicted eight of the police raiders, including Sgt. Groth and Officer Davis, crime lab expert John Sadunas, and State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, along with several other members of his office. The Chicago Bar Association, the Better Government Association, and the Chicago Crime Commission all advised Hanrahan to step down. Even fellow Democrats, including Sen. Adlai Stevenson, refused to support Hanrahan. He was political kryptonite.
At Hanrahan’s 1972 trial, the apartment-dwellers finally gave their own version of the events that night. Before the federal grand jury’s report, it is unlikely that most Chicagoans would have given them any credence at all, but with the cloud of suspicion hanging over the State’s Attorney, their reports took on an air of possibility. Louis Truelock testified that he had shouted to the police “Stop shooting, stop shooting. We have a pregnant sister in here, a pregnant woman,” before he and Deborah Johnson surrendered from the back bedroom. He testified that one officer threw open her robe, saying “What do you know? We have a broad here.” Truelock testified that, after surrendering and being handcuffed in the kitchen, he heard officers say in another room, “he’s barely alive”, followed by more shooting, and then “he’s good and dead now”.
At the time of Hanrahan's trial, the role of the FBI and its informant William O’Neal was still unknown, although some suspected Truelock as a stool pidgeon, as he was by far the oldest of the apartment-dwellers, and he had a length rap sheet. At one point, defense attorney John Cohglan asked Truelock on the stand, using the slang of the day, “Did you drop the dime on the chairman’s crib?”
But the biggest bombshell in the case was the release of a set of statements purportedly made by the survivors to their attorneys shortly after the incident. In them, the Panthers claimed that at least five people in the apartment held guns, and at least four shots were made at police. These statements contradicted the ballistics evidence, and those whose names were on them disowned their validity.
In any case, the statements made their mark, and in October, 1972, after a 16 week trial, the Cook County Circuit Court acquitted the defendents. This ended the possibility of criminal culpability for Hanrahan and the raiders, but a civil suit for wrongful death was filed shortly after, seeking $48 million from Hanrahan, the city of Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois.
That trial, one of the longest in Illinois history, lasted 18 months, and at its conclusion in April, 1977, also acquitted Hanrahan. It was during this trial, however, that the FBI’s role in surveillance against the BPP, and in driving the raid on Hampton’s apartment, was revealed, leading to further embarrassment for the state.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the claim in 1979, and yet another trial took place. This one finally settled in 1983 with a $1.85 million payoff to the families of Hampton and Clark, paid from the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the FBI. It was the largest settlement in a civil rights case up to that date.
What really happened in the early morning of December 4, 1969? After countless grand juries and trials, all of the details are still not known, will likely never be known. It seems plausible that the raiding party, or at least State’s Attorney Hanrahan, knew that Fred Hampton was in the apartment that day. It’s at least suspicious that the raiders chose to invade the apartment instead of waiting for back-up, having a stand-off, or employing tear gas. On the other hand, why would the raiders have spent so many shells, leaving evidence of incompetence all over the apartment, if their sole purpose was to murder Hampton? And if the entire incident was a frame-up, why wouldn’t the framers have fired more of the weapons found in the apartment to cover up their crime? Above all, who – if anyone — yelled “Shoot it out”?
The BPP was already in serious decline at the time of Hampton’s death. Bobby Rush continued leading the Illinois chapter for a few more years until it essentially disappeared, then moved into politics, winning a seat on city council in 1980, and then the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993, representing Illinois’ first district, which covers a significant swath of the South side. In 2000, Bobby Rush defeated little-known community organizer Barack Obama in his challenge for the seat, and Rush remains the only politician ever to defeat Obama in an election.
Edward Hanrahan was slated by the Democratic Party to run again for State’s Attorney in 1972, but after harsh public backlash, dropped him from the ticket. Hanrahan ran anyway, and lost. In 1974, he ran for the U.S. House in the Illinois 6th district in DuPage Country, but was defeated by Republican Henry Hyde, who held the seat until 2007. Hanrahan also lost in a mayoral contest against incumbent Democrat Richard J. Daley in 1975, and lost an aldermanic election in 1980 for the 36th ward. He continued in private legal practice until his death in June, 2009.
A month after Fred Hampton’s death in 1969, his wife, Deborah Johnson, gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr. Later, she took on an Afrocentric name, Akua Nkeri, and became involved in the Uhuru movement. Fred Hampton, Jr., continued in his father’s footsteps as a lightning rod for racial controversy. In 1993, he was sentenced to serve 18 years in prison for firebombing two Korean-owned South side businesses in the wake of the Rodney King verdict the previous year. Hampton, Jr., served nine years and was released in 2002.
The house at 2337 W. Monroe still stands, though it has been substantially renovated since 1969. Over the last ten years, the neighborhood in which it stands has gentrified, from what was once one of the toughest districts in the city to a racially-mixed area including white residents priced out of nearer areas like Wicker Park and Bucktown. In 2006, a motion in city council failed which would have placed one of the ubiquitous brown “honorary” street signs at the corner of Monroe and Western Ave, indicating the block as “Honorary Chairman Fred Hampton St.” One wonders whether the residents of the building still receive a lot of curiosity-seekers; a sign next to the door reads “No Soliciting, No Loitering, No Trespassing – Violators Will Be Prosecuted”.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leona Garrity's Brothel

In 1905, Mr. and Mrs. Lemuel E. Schlotter moved into a large home in the north shore village of Glencoe. He was a jeweler, and she appeared to be the scion of a wealthy family, though the family background was never fully clarified to the neighbors. Over the next year-and-a-half, the Schlotters and their 15-year old son, George, developed social ties among the moneyed clans of that suburb, and Mrs. Schlotter was well-known in the ladies’ clubs and community organizations. But on June 5, 1907, the truth finally came out. The Schlotter family wealth did not derive from Lemuel’s jewelry business, nor was it inherited from some patrician ancestor; it was the underworld that funded the big house on Green Bay Road. And Mrs. Schlotter was not a society woman, but a sex trafficker, with a vicious trade in young girls.

The spring of 1907 in Chicago portended a vigorous mayoral contest between the incumbent Democrat, Edward Dunne, and his Republican challenger, Fred Busse. Dunne’s administration was hopelessly corrupt, and the Tribune, the Daily News, and other Chicago broadsheets repeatedly hammered readers with stories of open vice conditions in the city. In February, a county grand jury returned a set of indictments against a wide range of underworld figures, including gambling king Mont Tennes and saloon-keeper and red-light district political figure, Andy Craig. The jury’s scathing pronouncements indicated that the police and politicians were doing little or nothing to “keep the lid on” vice in Chicago. Disorderly houses in the south side Levee district and west side slums advertised with partially or fully-nude women in the windows, handbooks offered sports gambling to women and children, and saloons remained open far past the city’s 1:00 a.m. “last call”.

John M. Collins, the Chief of Police, played dumb to reporters in an act that fooled no one:
There is exceedingly little gambling in Chicago now…as to saloons, there may be a few in the levee district where women come in, drink a glass of beer with a man, and perhaps do a little soliciting…If any saloons were keeping open after 1 o’clock my men would know it.
When public ire over vice conditions in the city bubbled over, Collins could always make a show of reassigning a few officers from this station to that one and busting a few high-profile resorts with newspapermen looking on until the uproar passed. But in the end, city Aldermen had almost full control over the appointment of police captains in their wards, and the political connections of some aldermen with the underworld meant that these periodic police “reforms” usually amounted to little.

However, Busse was running on a strong campaign to clean up the city and eliminate city hall corruption, and there was a palpable sense that public opinion was moving in his direction. In league with Mayor Dunne, Chief Collins ordered officers out to all the resorts in the skid row districts of Chicago. Get campaign contributions, he told them; if they won’t pay, make life difficult for them. And if you see any Fred Busse placards posted in or around your beat, make sure they find their way to the incinerator post haste.

Despite these desperate efforts, election day, April 4, 1907, saw Busse trounce Dunne, and after his inauguration, one of Mayor Busse’s first acts was to replace Chief Collins with his own man, George Shippy. In June, Chief Shippy ordered police into all of the city’s cheap brothels, looking for “white slaves”.

The concept of white slavery had been a bugbear for anti-crime and temperance groups since the 1890s, but the mid-1900s saw the concept gain widespread publicity. Black slavery, the rhetoric went, had disappeared with the Civil War, but now an even more vile form of human bondage was being practiced in the nation’s large cities. Teenage girls, some as young as 13, were being lured away from their homes by young men promising marriage or helpful girlfriends with news of profitable employment prospects. Once away from their families, the ingĂ©nues were taken to dance halls or saloons, frequently drugged, and then taken advantage of by their male companions. When these girls regained consciousness, they realized their honor and social reputations were gone, and with no way of going home, they submitted to a life of permanent prostitution. Houses of ill-repute throughout Chicago, it is said, were filled with these unwilling inmates, who though they saw scores of clients per week, had their wages garnished to an extreme degree by their keepers, never allowing them enough to pay for a train ticket home.

Or so the story went. No doubt some instances of white slavery existed, but in many other cases, it frequently turned out that the girls had left unhappy homes and willingly entered the sex trade. Prostitution, as much misery as it caused its purveyors, was better than the other options available to some women, including abusive family situations, impoverishment, imprisonment, or starvation. Nevertheless, as 1907 began, white slavery already had a hold on the popular imagination, and Chief Shippy’s investigations would propel it into a national obsession.

The most prominent white slave case in Chicago that year was the Mona Marshall case, which I have already discussed here. But another story that received similar coverage opened on June 5, when a grand jury handed down an indictment for harboring a 15-year old girl in a disreputable house against one Leona Garrity, the owner of record for the flophouse at 75 Peoria street (pictured above, now numbered 14 S. Peoria), and Bessie Lee, the keeper of the house. The near west side at that time (and for many decades after) was a skid row where thrills came cheap: gentlemen callers paid $0.50 for the privilege of time with Garrity’s girls.

That there were call flats on the west side surprised no one, even ones that housed young girls. What was surprising, and what made the her trial the talk of the town that summer, was that the true identity of Leona Garrity was none other than Mrs. Lemuel E. Schlotter, the society maven of Glencoe. Twice a week, Mrs. Schlotter would board the train into Chicago, slip into the west side, and collect her profits from Ms. Lee before returning to the north shore. Stories like these are irresistible in the press, because they implicitly ask: "could your next-door neighbor also be a sex trafficker?"

After the indictment was made public, the Schlotter family began receiving anonymous letters, undoubtedly from her neighbors, kindly suggesting that her continued presence in Glencoe was besmirching the village's good name. On June 21, 1907, Mrs. Schlotter (Garrity), out on bail, took the hint.
Mrs. Schlotter, who has been keeping up appearances in Glencoe while at the same time proprietor of the Peoria street resort, came to Chicago in the morning and sold the furniture of her suburban residence to a second hand dealer. Then she returned, discharged her Japanese servant, packed her own belongings, and departed.
It would be difficult to believe that Mrs. Schlotter’s dark secret was completely unknown to her husband, but regardless, the marriage appeared to be over, as Mr. Schlotter and their son, George, decamped for California while his wife remained in Chicago to face trial and possible imprisonment.

(Pictured: the Schlotter residence in suburban Glencoe)

Glencoe in those days was the residence of many of Illinois’ wealthiest families, as it still is today. The most serious crime most village residents had witnessed was speeding. The “hobby” of automobile driving was new at the time, and Sheridan Rd. north of Evanston was a popular place for drivers to prove the mettle of their machines, which could often reach speeds in excess of 20 mph – considered extremely dangerous in a world unaccustomed to motor vehicles. Glencoe residents erected the first speed bumps seen on Northern Illinois roads, and turned their operation into the town’s chief amusement, as described in an August, 1908 article:
Amid the gleeful cheers of hundreds of Glencoe residents, scores of automobilists yesterday jolted and jarred over the first of the “bumps” erected by order of the authorities of the suburb as a check to “scorching.” Then many of them were arrested and fines shaken out of their pocketbooks.

The first of the “bumps” completed was across Sheridan road at Central avenue [now Beach Rd., just south of Dundee Rd.], and here the crowds gathered at noon and spent the afternoon and evening enjoying the result of the jolting on the speeding autoists. Although the obstruction is only a few inches high, the effect was plainly apparent, and many automobile caps, goggles, and hairpins were gathered up by the Glencoeites as souvenirs.

It was a gala day in the suburb. As each automobile approached the “bump” the crowd cheered and asked the occupants how they liked the experience. Although severely jolted, the autoists took the jeering good naturedly and waved their hands to the spectators.
The story of Leona Garrity did not fit in this world. The trial of Ms. "Garrity" and Bessie Lee began on July 8, 1907. Clifford Roe, an assistant state’s attorney who made a career out of prosecuting white slave cases in Chicago, described the two women vividly:
Hers [Garrity's] was not a vicious face. Her eyes were large and they looked at one openly and almost frankly. In a public place she would have been taken for a quiet matron, with love for her neighbors and scorn for acts that were immoral. She was dressed in a tailor-made suit of blue; her hat was modestly trimmed. No one would take her for an outcast who buys and sells girls. Bessie Lee, who sat beside her, looked the part of a procuress. She was thin lipped, cold featured, with a complexion the color of a faded straw hat, and eyes that were black enough to spot the wings of a crow. She flashed them too as she almost couched in the big armchair given her by the bailiff. In her countenance was written the story of days spent in sorrow and nights in utter shame.
On July 13, the underage girl in question, 15-year old Miss Belle Winters, was scheduled to testify against her slavers. Her story, while plausible, was hardly an open-and-shut case of malfeasance. She told investigators that a few months earlier, she and a school friend had run away from her South Shore home near 71st and Greenwood Ave., and boarded a lake boat bound for Benton Harbor, Michigan. While on the boat, she was befriended by a young man who gave his name as Harry Mansfield. Mansfield, she said, had convinced her to return to Chicago with him, but then had delivered her, in return for payment from Bessie Lee, to Schlotter’s brothel, where she was a prisoner to her keepers, under threat of violence.

The fact that she admitted running away from home, and that neither “Harry Mansfield” nor the young friend Miss Winters claimed had accompanied her on the boat, were ever found, casts a shadow of fabulousness over the story, and indeed, at trial, Schlotter and Lee’s counsel claimed that Winters had entered employment willingly and prevaricated about her age.

But by July, the public was in no mood for excuses on the issue of white slavery, and Schlotter and Lee faced the imminent prospect of lock-up at Joliet. Likely it was Schlotter who decided to make one last attempt to silence the state's chief witness. During the trial, Belle Winters was under the protection and purview of a minder from the state’s attorney’s office – likely, they realized Miss Winters’ potential to again run away from home, as well as her precarious status as a witness against a wealthy and desperate defendant. The day before her testimony, Winters and her guardian, a Mrs. Amigh, made a visit to Marshall Field’s downtown. When Mrs. Amigh turned away for a moment, Belle disappeared, and before the two found each other, a man approached the young girl, telling her he was from the State’s Attorney’s office, and that she was needed at trial immediately.

She went with him, but before reaching court, he suggested they duck into a nearby saloon for a quick drink. Realizing this was highly suspicious behavior for court-appointed personnel, she pulled away from her would-be kidnapper and ran through the streets of Chicago, finally begging her way onto a street car headed towards her family home, where the police caught up with her.

The next day, Belle Winters testified in open court against “Leona Garrity” and Bessie Lee, and her words clinched the case. On July 17, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against both women, and after appeals were exhausted, Mrs. Schlotter was sentenced to serve 1-5 years at Joliet in May, 1908. Bessie Lee, who had always argued that she was merely a pawn in Mrs. Schlotter’s sex trafficking ring, had her sentence commuted, and in December of 1908, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the trial court verdict, making her a free woman.

I have found no record, in census or newspaper records, of Mrs. Schlotter or her family after the events of 1907. Her brothel on Peoria street was torn down in 1914 and replaced with a cheap lodging house for seasonal laborers and others with no other place to stay. Rates were 5-10c per night, with a 9c dinner available, and all guests were required to bathe before bed – a rare practice among such flops which was intended to prevent the spread of lice and disease. The house was the first of the Dawes Hotels, which later opened similar establishments in other cities, begun by Evanston resident and future U.S. Vice-President, Charles Dawes, in honor of his son, Rufus, who had drowned in a swimming accident in 1912.

The Dawes Hotel building continued serving the tough streets of the near west side into the 1970s, when it also housed an alcohol treatment center known as Haymarket House. As the neighborhood gentrified in the 1980s and 1990s, most of the old housing stock was removed, including the Dawes Hotel. On the site where Leona Garrity’s brothel once stood is today a condominium building (pictured at the top of this post).

Despite his initial attempts to find and prosecute white slavers, police Chief Shippy was ultimately no more successful in curbing vice in Chicago than his predecessor, Chief Collins. With his health fading, Shippy resigned his post in 1909. Nevertheless, the public clamor against vice was unstoppable, and the era of segregated vice (red light districts) ended in Chicago in the 1910s. Based largely on evidence introduced in white slave cases in Chicago – especially the Mona Marshall trial – the U.S. Congress passed the Mann Act (originally known as the White Slave Act) in 1910, which made it a federal crime to transport women across state lines for sexual purposes. Today the Mann Act is best known as a standard for prosecuting immoral – though not coercive – behavior, including African-American boxer Jack Johnson’s interracial affairs and marriage, and Charlie Chaplin’s supposed paternity of an out-of-wedlock child (and his left-wing politics).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kill Dillinger Here

It’s the ultimate Chicago crime scene: The Biograph Theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., where John Dillinger’s fifteen-month crime spree across the Midwest, which turned him into one of the 20th century’s most famous criminals, ended in a nearby alley with two shots to the chest and one in the back of the neck.

Dillinger, an Indiana native of rural extract, had a hard-knock childhood after his mother died when he was only 3. As a teenager in the 1910s, he was a school-boy terror, and by 1924, he landed in jail under lengthy sentence for his part in a mugging. His partner in the crime, Ed Singleton, sold the 21 year-old Dillinger down the river, bargaining for a light sentence while Dillinger, who was not well represented at trial, got a stiff 10 to 20 years. For the next nine years, most of which was spent at the notoriously vile prison in Michigan City, Dillinger stewed in resentment over what he saw as an unfairly harsh punishment. At the same time, he studied hard at “crime school,” building knowledge and contacts among the hardened crooks surrounding him, including future partners in crime “Handsome” Harry Pierpont, Homer VanMeter, and John “Three Fingered Jack” Hamilton. Finally paroled in May, 1933, Dillinger’s next fifteen months would take him from Indiana farm boy to international celebrity.

Four months after winning his freedom, Dillinger helped smuggle a cache of weapons back to his colleagues in the Michigan City prison, who then used them to break out of the hated facility, where new, untrained guards had been recently installed as a part of a change in gubernatorial administration in Indiana. Just days before the breakout, Dillinger, who had spent the summer using his new-found criminal expertise to lead a bank robbing gang on expeditions in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, was captured and sent to jail in Lima, Ohio. His friends Pierpont and Hamilton, newly on the lam from Michigan City, returned the favor by leading a brigade to break Dillinger out, in the process killing the county sheriff, Jess Sarber, who lived in the prison complex (Pierpont would later meet his fate on the electric chair for the murder).

Dillinger and his gang, which included at various times not only the aforementioned Pierpont, VanMeter, and Hamilton, but also other criminal luminaries such as Harry Copeland and Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis, would take a dollar where they could find it, but their primary targets in 1933-34 were banks. Their basic modus operandi was to leave a getaway driver on the street in a fast car, then enter the bank and calmly order everyone to the ground while they loaded up bags with cash. Surrounding themselves with human shields, they would then exit the bank, enter the car, and position their hostages on the sideboards as they drove off, making it extremely difficult for sharpshooting police to take a clear shot. In most of the rural and suburban locales they targeted, the police were armed with pistols, which were no match for the WWI-surplus Thompson submachine guns the Dillinger gang preferred. In addition, the police in these sleepy towns generally drove older model cars that were left in a cloud of dust by Dillinger’s 1933 and 1934 Ford Terraplanes, which could easily hit 80 mph. In those days before in-car radios, the police had little chance to catch up, and could not easily call a roadblock ahead (purportedly, Dillinger avoided banks in Michigan because police there were equipped with radios).

(Pictured: Three poses of John Dillinger. The description accompanying this series in the newspaper read: "The center picture, particularly, is characteristic of the killer's disdain of the law, his sneering, unchanging hate of the public and its institutions.)

Dillinger’s criminal career coincided with the nadir of the Great Depression. During 1933 and 1934, the national unemployment rate soared to over 25%. Real gross domestic product, a measure of the nation’s annual economic output, had fallen for four consecutive years, there of which were by double-digit percentages (by contrast, as of 2008, GDP has only declined in four years out of the last 34). Then, as now, the public recognized the downturn as a monetary phenomenon, and much blame and ire landed at the feet of bankers. Many Americans had suffered the humiliation of losing their homes and businesses to bank repossession, or had been turned down for additional credit, so Dillinger’s focus on banks gave him the aura of a robin hood figure, despite the fact that he spent most of his ill-gotten gains on himself and his girlfriends, not the downtrodden masses queued up at soup kitchens.

But despite his hardscrabble upbringing, his ability to make bankers tremble, and his almost supernatural ability to avoid police capture, it is doubtful Dillinger would have achieved much public acclaim without a particular legislative accomplishment of the New Deal – federal deposit insurance.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, was created as a part of the Glass-Steagall Act, passed by congress in June, 1933, and implemented as of January 1, 1934. Before FDIC, “runs” were a common feature of the banking system in the United States. When a rumor started that the local bank might be in financial trouble, some depositors would exercise caution by withdrawing cash. The sight of people withdrawing their deposits would further fuel the rumors of financial problems at the bank, leading others to take their money out of the bank. This process could quickly create a vicious circle, by which rumors of distress, which might not even be true initially, created a self-fulfilling prophesy as panic spread among depositors racing to the bank to get their deposits out before the bank’s reserves ran out.

By insuring deposits, FDIC broke the circle. Even if a bank truly was in distress, those withdrawing their deposits late would lose nothing; hence, there was no reason for a rush to withdraw first, no panic, and no bank run. For this reason, bank runs have been exceedingly scarce since 1934. But at the same time FDIC solved the problem of runs, it also created a set of perverse incentives for bankers, who no longer faced the disciplining force of possible financial ruin in making risky loans and other investments. Before FDIC, banks typically kept relatively high levels of reserves – currency on hand – and competed with each other for customers by advertising their high reserves and other conservative practices. After FDIC, there was no reason to hold more reserves than required by law, and most banks today hold less then 5% of depositors’ money in cash. The consequently high level of leverage in the banking system creates instability, and many commentators blame the S&L crisis of the 1980s, as well as the panic of 2008, on excessive risk-taking by bankers.

An additional unintended consequence of federally-mandated deposit insurance was to make depositors essentially indifferent towards robbery. Before FDIC, the robbery of a small town bank could create serious losses for depositors and a major contraction in local credit, but with a federal assurance that depositors could lose nothing, the incentive to protect banks waned and the desire to glorify robbers like Dillinger grew. Some historians believe that many Dillinger gang bank hits were, in fact, inside jobs, with bankers using the famous criminal as a cover-up for their own malfeasance.

While Dillinger’s gang was never afraid to use violence to avoid capture, Dillinger himself was a relative pacifist. The only known case in which he killed anyone was during a January, 1934 robbery at the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, where he machine-gunned a police officer who had shot him during his escape. It was this killing, however, that would eventually come to be closely linked with Dillinger’s own death at the hands of the East Chicago police force.

After the First National Bank job, Dillinger and his crew decamped for Tucson, Arizona, where they tried to lay low until the nationwide manhunt that was following them passed. But it was difficult to disguise these high-rolling gangsters and their big-spending girlfriends in dusty Tucson, and eventually the local police rounded up Dillinger, Pierpont, and several other gang members. Pierpont was shipped back to Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Surber during the Lima breakout, while Dillinger ended up in jail at Crown Point, Indiana.

It was at Crown Point where Dillinger made his most famous prison escape, one that would rocket him from a prolific, but regional, bank robber, to international superstardom. On March 3, 1934, prison handyman Sam Cahoon accidentally opened the main cell block door before the prisoners were safely locked back in their cells. Within seconds, Dillinger perceived the opportunity and jumped into action. Out of nowhere, he brandished a pistol, which he shoved into Cahoon’s side, forcing the handyman to assist him as he slowly made his way out of the facility, using the gun to take additional hostages as he went. Highlighting the audacious escape was the fact that, as later revealed, Dillinger’s “pistol” was really a wooden washboard slat, painted black and carved into the shape of a gun barrel.

Overnight, Dillinger became “the man no prison could hold.” But was Dillinger’s escape really so miraculous? Conspiracy theorists have always pointed to the utter unlikelihood of so many stars lining up at once, especially for such a high-profile inmate who should have been under especially high scrutiny. Moreover, Cahoon and other hostages at Crown Point that day swore to their graves that Dillinger’s gun was no fake. In these highly speculative, but fascinating, conspiracy tales, Dillinger was slipped a real pistol (and, possibly, the decoy as well) by corrupt members of the East Chicago police force, who may have visited Dillinger during his initial days at Crown Point, since his most recent robbery had been the First National job in East Chicago.

Lending some mild credence to these theories is the fact that the East Chicago police department in those days was notoriously corrupt. Situated just across the state line from the south side of Chicago, the town of East Chicago was an ideal spot for vice operations, and had for years been home to a myriad of gambling, prostitution, and (during Prohibition) booze operations. These resorts operated under protection from the East Chicago city government and police, who received a cut of the profits. In 1929, indictments were handed down against the mayor, police chief, and many other city officials for participation in this graft, and the top figures in the pay-for-play scheme served two years in prison, after a circus-like trial in which one of the prosecution’s chief witnesses, an East Chicago police officer turned state’s witness, was murdered. Among those who served time was East Chicago chief of detectives Martin Zarkovich, who would later play a critical role in the death of John Dillinger.

Another curious fact is that, just a month before Dillinger’s death on May 24, 1934, two other East Chicago police officers, Martin O’Brien and Lloyd Mulvihill, were found dead in their service vehicle. Most historians blame members of the Dillinger gang, and while some members of the gang were certainly capable of such violence, there was never evidence tying any of them to O’Brien and Mulvihill; conspiracists insist that the two policemen knew too much about the relationship between Dillinger and the East Chicago force, and met their fate at the hands of their fellow officers.

While these facts add up to make the theory that East Chicago officers helped Dillinger break out of Crown Point (perhaps in return for some of his loot) at least plausible, the case must be considered suggestive and circumstantial at best.

In any case, after the breakout, Dillinger rejoined VanMeter, Baby Face Nelson, and John Hamilton in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they continued their reign of terror. Later the gang spent time in upper Wisconsin, narrowly avoiding capture at the hands of the newly-formed Division of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in a botched police raid. By June, 1934, Dillinger was back in Chicago. His face was as recognizable as any movie star’s, and five states plus the federal government had put a total $15,000 bounty on his head. Even Dillinger realized his crime spree couldn’t go on much longer. Biding his time, he disguised himself by dying his hair black, wearing a moustache, and sporting gold-rimmed glasses, and began slowly, tentatively, venturing out onto the streets of Chicago. He also underwent primitive plastic surgery to change his facial features, and took acid treatments on his fingertips to make his prints unidentifiable.

The disguise seemed to work well, but Dillinger nevertheless made plans to escape to Mexico. Here and there, he and his gang would reunite to hit a bank, but generally Dillinger kept a low profile during the summer of 1934, building his cash holdings and preparing for a trip south of the border, which was to depart on July 23. During the meantime, though, he began enjoying the Chicago nightlife, posing as “Jim Lawrence,” a fun-loving Chicago Board of Trade employee.

One night, he found himself at the Barrel of Fun nightclub on Wilson Ave., between Elston and Cicero Aves. Introducing himself as Jim Lawrence, he asked for and received the telephone number of a dark-eyed brunette named Polly Rita Keele (nee Hamilton). At the time, Polly was living with a friend and former employer, Anna Sage, in an apartment building on Halsted, just north of Fullerton.

(Pictured: Polly Keele)

Keele and Sage had become acquainted while both lived in Northwest Indiana, and Sage was operating a brothel where Keele sometimes worked. Polly, who had run away from home in Fargo, North Dakota, at age 13, wound up at Anna Sage’s “People’s Hotel”, a house of ill-repute in Gary. There, she met her husband, Roy Keele, a Gary police officer, and they married in 1929. By the spring of 1933, however, the couple was divorced and Polly sought out her old employer, who had by that time moved into Chicago. It’s possible that Anna Sage knew Dillinger from her Lake County days, and set up the meeting with Polly at the Barrel of Fun, or it may be that the encounter between Polly and Dillinger was by chance, and Polly introduced her new beau to her landlady at some point later. In any case, Dillinger and Polly Keele became lovers and were frequently at Anna Sage’s house, with some reports indicating that Dillinger even lived there himself during some parts of the summer of 1934.

With Sage, however, Dillinger’s luck had finally run out. He did not know that the reason Anna Sage was in Chicago was that, as a convicted proprietor of a house of prostitution and a foreign national, she was facing the threat of deportation back to her native Romania. Thus, she was looking for opportunities to redeem herself in front of immigration authorities at the very moment that Uncle Sam’s most wanted man walked into her life. Dillinger also did not know that one of Anna Sage’s boyfriends during her time in Northwest Indiana was East Chicago chief of detectives, Martin Zarkovich.

Arriving in the U.S. in 1909, Anna Sage and her husband, Mike Chiolak separated in the late 1910s, and by the early 1920s, Anna Sage was one of Northwest Indiana’s top madams. A patrol officer at the time, Zarkovich, who was married with children at the time, became a frequent visitor, and the affair with Sage was cited by his wife in divorce proceedings shortly after. A flashy dresser, fellow officers referred to Zarkovich as the "police sheik", and after his divorce, he was able to quickly advance in the East Chicago police hierarchy. During the 1920s, Zarkovich's power kept the police heat off of Sage’s properties, but after he went to jail in the graft case mentioned earlier, Anna Sage was convicted four times for running disorderly houses. When he was released from prison, Zarkovich managed to get his old job back, and did his best to erase the damage, helping Sage to receive two pardons from Indiana governor Harry Leslie, but immigration authorities pressed their case against her due to the other two convictions, causing her to flee into Chicago.

(Pictured: Anna Sage with her son, Steve Chiolak)

During June and July, John Dillinger and Polly Keele frequently double-dated with Anna Sage’s adult son, Steve Chiolak, and his girlfriend. Chiolak later described the fun times with “Jim Lawrence”, which included many summer evenings at the movies: “If he was the man they said he was, he was an all around fellow. He didn’t act tough and he didn’t talk tough. He didn’t drink hard liquor either; just mild gin fizzes.”

Chiolak did notice scars on his new friend’s face, ones that seemed out of place for a sober securities trader, but felt it wasn’t his place to ask. “I don’t like to ask a guy about his face. I’d get mad if some one asked me about mine,” he told reporters later.

While it’s unclear whether Chiolak was truly unaware that Jim Lawrence was really Public Enemy #1, Anna Sage either was already aware of it, or quickly figured it out after he started hanging around her house. She contacted her old friend from East Chicago, Det. Zarkovich, and the two arranged a meeting with the Division of Investigation’s top G-man in Chicago, Melvin Purvis. Later, when Sage continued to face deportation proceedings after the death of Dillinger, she told reporters:
I was told that I could stay. The men who wanted Dillinger so bad told me it would be a small thing to stop my going away. When it was first suggested that I help in getting Dillinger, I said I was not interested in rewards – all I wanted was permission to stay in this country. Shouldn’t the government keep its promises, when I believed them?
Purvis, Zarkovich, and Sage arranged for a take-down a few days later, on the evening of July 22, 1934, when Dillinger, girlfriend Polly Keele, and Sage were all planning to attend a movie. It hadn’t yet been determined precisely which movie or which theater, but a signal was agreed upon: if the destination was to be the Biograph Theater, just behind Sage’s home, she would wear no hat; if Dillinger decided to take the women to the Marboro Theater on the Westside, Sage’s head would be covered.

(Pictured: Martin Zarkovich of the East Chicago police force)

Just after 8:00 p.m. on the evening of the July 22, John Dillinger and the two women left the house. Dillinger sported a white silk shirt, gray linen trousers, and a straw hat, but as it had been a hot day, he decided against wearing a coat, which would have helped conceal the pistol he always carried with him. Instead, he tucked the gun into his belt, where it was slightly more difficult to retrieve. As they left the house, Anna Sage, who wore a white blouse and an orange skirt, stopped the trio and asked Dillinger if they were going to be traveling far for the movie that night. If so, she needed to take her hat.

No, Dillinger said, we won’t be going far. Sage left her hat at home, and the team of police officers staking out the Sage home on Halsted signaled Purvis with the news: Dillinger’s last stand would be at the Biograph.

The group assembled to take down Public Enemy #1 included ten federal agents, plus four East Chicago officers, including Martin Zarkovich, who had gotten the tip from Sage. The deal worked out was that, after Dillinger was killed or in custody, the East Chicago team would receive the $15,000 reward money, while the feds, who were ineligible for the monetary prizes, would get all of the glory and publicity. They truly needed it, as the fledgling Division of Investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, had gained a reputation for bumbling during their long and fruitless quest to end Dillinger’s crime spree.

Walking arm-in-arm, Dillinger, Keele, and Sage walked down the alley between Halsted and Lincoln Ave., and headed up the block and into the Biograph Theater, where they sat down to enjoy “Manhattan Melodrama,” a gangster film starring Clark Gable.

The Biograph, which was built in 1914, advertised itself as the “best ventilated theater in Chicago,” a feature the value of which would not have been lost on Chicago audiences, who couldn't forget the Iroquois Theater disaster a decade before, in which poor ventilation led to the deaths of hundreds. When it opened, the Biograph was one of the city’s first film venues, offering an augmented orchestra and large pipe organ to accompany silent pictures. By 1934, of course, “talkies” had arrived, as had air conditioning, and the Biograph’s cool environs were perfect for a hot summer evening. Even before Dillinger’s famous date with death there, the Biograph had been subject to various crooks, including a bookie running a handbook there, which was raided in February, 1933, and a smash-and-grab robber named George Genovese, who specialized in ripping off theater ticket counters; Genovese was finally caught after robbing the Biograph in March, 1933.

While Dillinger enjoyed the movie, Purvis wandered up and down the aisles of the theater, looking for the man whose name would forever after be linked with his. Unable to locate Dillinger in the dark, he waited impatiently in the theater lobby for the two hours duration of the film. The theater’s management, unaware that a major police operation was underway, became suspicious of the plain-clothes officers lingering in and around the building, and telephoned the Sheffield Ave. police station. When Chicago police arrived on the scene, the federal agents and East Chicago officers had to inform them of the plan to avoid being hauled back to the stationhouse.

Finally, at 10:40 p.m., John Dillinger walked out of the Biograph, with Polly and Anna on either side, and turned south on Lincoln, likely heading back to Sage’s apartment. The next building to the south of the theater was a tavern called the Goetz Country Club, and Melvin Purvis stood directly in front of it. Dillinger and Purvis’s eyes met, but Dillinger’s showed no sense of recognition that a setup was underway. As Purvis later described it, “It was a good job the surgeon did, but I knew him the minute I saw him. You couldn’t miss if you had studied that face as much as I have.”

Dillinger continued walking passing the Goetz until he was in front of the next building to the south, a National Tea Company retail store. At that moment, Purvis lit his cigarette, a signal to his team of officers that now was the time to strike. Again, Purvis describes the action:
“He saw me give a signal to my men to close in. He became alarmed, reached into a belt and was drawing the .38 caliber pistol he carried concealed when two of the agents let him have it. Dillinger was lying prone before he was able to get the gun out and I took it from him.”
In the mouth of the alley south of the National Tea Store, Dillinger fell to the ground, hit twice in the chest and once in the back of the neck. Of the three bullets, two ricocheted and hit bystanders: Etta Natalsky, mother-in-law of the owner of the Goetz tavern, and Theresa Paulus, a theater-goer. Neither was seriously injured, but Dillinger was fatally shot. Crowds turned and gasped, and word spread quickly that the man lying in the pool of blood on Lincoln Ave. was the world’s most famous criminal.

In statements to reporters, Purvis claimed Dillinger had attended the movie alone, per his agreement with the East Chicago police that all credit for the take-down would go to the feds, but witnesses consistently mentioned two women, including one whose bright orange skirt, under the harsh lights from the theater marquis, appeared red. Hence, the newspapers began searching for the famous “Lady in Red,” Anna Sage.

Returning to the conspiracy theories mentioned earlier, some speculate that if caught alive, Dillinger might have revealed the corruption within the East Chicago department, and hence, Zarkovich and his fellow officers always intended to kill, not capture, him. Confirming this aspect of the theory, a Chicago police officer who was near the scene at the time of the shooting told a reporter:
…[O]ne of the [federal] agents told him after it was over that he was among the luckiest of men. “When we got the signal, you were close to Dillinger,” said the agent. “You looked like Dillinger and I was about to shoot you when the other fellows let loose and killed the right man.”
The crumpled form of John Dillinger was rushed to Alexian Brothers Hospital, but he died on the way. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, it was refused admittance on the grounds that the body was already dead. Four officers accompanying the medics stood on the grass in front of the hospital, surrounding Dillinger’s body, until the deputy coroner arrived and approved its removal to the county morgue. While Dillinger had taken in over $300,000 in cash from his bank robberies during the previous 15 months, at his decease, only $7.70 was found on his person – either because he had spent the rest on the trip to Mexico he was planning to begin the following day, or, as some suspect, because the officers who accompanied Dillinger to the hospital helped themselves to his loot. Dillinger also wore a ruby ring, given to him by Polly Keele, and a pocket watch with an inset photo of her.

(Pictured: Headline and story in the July 23, 1934 Chicago Tribune)

Dillinger’s death led above the fold in newspapers around the globe, and when the coroner’s inquest ended, his body was put on public display at the morgue, where thousands of curiosity-seekers filed past to get a look at the man no prison could hold. As Dillinger biographer Dary Matera put it:
To get an indication of Dillinger’s comparative fame today, imagine Charles Manson – after committing his mass murder, Helter Skelter atrocity in California – getting arrested, escaping prison, killing a second batch of Hollywood celebrities, getting arrested again, escaping again, killing a third and fourth gaggle of celebrities, then being gunned down on the streets of Los Angeles by the FBI. And after all that, having Manson’s bullet-riddled body put on public display for tens of thousands of people to parade by.
Dillinger’s life and death meant changes in the way many police departments operated, with upgrades to faster cars and better equipment, including in-car radios, following his crime spree. It also meant a much stronger role for the federal government in policing – Congress approved the right of federal officers to make arrests during the time Dillinger was on the loose. It is not a stretch to say that the modern FBI owes much of its power to John Dillinger.

After Dillinger’s death, Polly Keele left the city and hid out at her family home in Fargo, later returning to Chicago and working in hotel hospitality until her death in 1969. Dillinger’s fellow gang members John Hamilton, Homer VanMeter, and Baby Face Nelson were soon gunned down in separate incidents by federal agents (Hamilton, in fact, was already dead). Melvin Purvis faced intense jealousy from J. Edgar Hoover for taking so much of the credit for Dillinger’s end, and he quit the Division of Investigation in 1935, intending to write his memoirs. He lived until 1960, when he committed suicide, apparently over poor health.

After the shooting, Anna Sage ran back to her apartment, changed clothes, and returned to the scene of the crime, blending in with the growing crowd. She was able to avoid deportation for two years, and during that time ran a beauty parlor at Fullerton and Orchard. However, when Purvis left his position in 1935, there was no one left to fulfill the promise he had made to Sage, and in 1936, she was deported back to Romania, where she remained until her death in 1947. Her only consolation was $5,000 she received from the reward money, though she would much rather have had a U.S. visa.

Martin Zarkovich, who also received a sizable portion of the reward money, was promoted in the East Chicago police department, eventually making chief in 1947. Just three years later, however, he was again indicted for graft associated with casinos operating openly in Northwest Indiana under his protection. Demoted from the chief position, he retired in the late 1950s and died in 1969.

The Biograph Theater continued operation as a movie theater until 2004, frequently showing “Manhattan Melodrama”, the film Dillinger saw the night of his death, particularly on the anniversary of the incident. For the last five years, the Biograph has offered live theater instead of movies.

The spot in the alley where Dillinger was shot is pictured below. The building that housed the Goetz Country Club still stands (it appears to be abandonded); the National Tea Company building is gone, replaced by a Qdoba restaurant.