The stomach pump, continued

The “so-called stomach pump” that O’Neill referred to, was not the familiar process (also know as gastric lavage) used on people who ingest poison or overdose. Rather, it was a form of torture known more frequently as the water cure.

Police at the turn of the century actually used several techniques that were known as the water cure: Sometimes, officers dumped a bucket of cold water on a suspect or prisoner. A matron at the Deplaines Avenue police station was charged with doing this to two people in custody in June 1903. First, she poured six buckets of cold water on an elderly woman, then, when another, male prisoner protested, she poured another bucket full of water on his. The matron was brought before the police board on charges of misconduct; it is unclear whether she was actually punished (Chicago Tribune, June 21, 1903, p. 8). Other times, officers turned a hose on their victim, as the police in Evanston did in 1904 (Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1904, p. 14).

Pumping was something else entirely. It involved pouring water, using a hose, funnel, tube, or water faucet, down a person’s throat (through either the mouth or nostrils) at a steady rate. The procedure distended the person’s stomach, usually causing such severe cramps and pain that the person agreed to confess (Peters, Torture, p. 167). Taken too far, it could lead to water intoxication or death.

The practice had been used during the Spanish Inquisition (Rejali, Torture and Democracy, 279-280). It was revived during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the twentieth century, when it was used by the United States Army against insurgents (McCoy, Policing America’s Empire, p. 89). In his study of modern torture, Darius Rejali speculated that U. S. troops learned about the water cure from Filipinos, who had learned it during Spanish colonial rule (Rejali, Torture and Democracy, 279-280).

Other evidence suggests the lessons could have been learned closer to home. During the hearing at the court martial for Major Edwin Glenn, who was later found guilty of using the water cure on Filipinos and suspended for a month as punishment, defense lawyers argued that the water cure was not that bad. As proof, they noted that police departments in the United States used it on suspects (Chicago Tribune, June 8, 1902, pg. 16). Glenn’s lawyers were, however, prevented from offering evidence that the New York City police department used the water cure on suspects in the 1890s (New York Times, June 11, 1902, p. 1).

If New York was using the water cure in the 1890s, the Chicago police department may have been using it earlier and continued to use it longer. One paper reported that at least one of the suspects arrested in Chicago’s Trunk Murder case in the 1880s was subjected to a “steady pumping” by police to try to get him to confess (Chicago Herald, May 10, 1885, p. 9). In 1907, during a debate in the Illinois General Assembly over a bill intended to set limits on police interrogation techniques, Representative B.M. Chiperfield said that he had heard complaints that police in Illinois major cities, which obviously included Chicago, inserted hoses into prisoner’s mouths and then turned on the water pressure to force people to confess (Chicago Tribune, February 27, 1907, pg. 6). Notwithstanding Chipperfield’s concern, the bill did not pass.

“‘The stomach pump’ as it is sometimes called”

A few hours before dawn in late August, 1903, three masked men entered the Chicago City railroad car barn at 61st and State in Chicago. They demanded the crew open the safe and turn over its contents; when the men refused, the robbers opened fire. The three rail employees at the barn, J.B. Johnson, Frank Stewart, and William Edmonds, were all wounded. Johnson and Stewart died not long after the attack. Their assailants escaped with several thousand dollars in cash (Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1903, p. 1).

For the next several months, as police searched for the men who became known as the car barn bandits, other crimes were laid at their door. Finally, in late November, the police arrested four men and charged them with the car barn murders, the killing of a police officer, and other crimes. Although the police had initially claimed that the car barn robbery was the work of experienced criminals, the four arrested, Gustav Marx, Harvey Van Dine, Peter Neidermeier, and Emil Roeski, were so young that most news accounts called them boys (New York Times, December 1, 1903, p. 6).

Three of them, Marx, Neidermeier, and Van Dine, were put on trial for the murder of Frank Stewart in January and February 1904; the fourth, Roeski, was tried a few months later. At the end of the first trial, all three of the defendants were found guilty, and each was sentenced to death (New York Times, March 13, 1904, p. 10). They were hanged in late April (New York Times, April 22, 1904, p. 3). Roeski subsequently was found guilty of the murder of Otto Bauder. Although he also was sentenced to death, Roeski’s sentence ultimately was commuted to life imprisonment.

Those convictions rested on a series of confessions, most notably the confessions of Gustav Marx. In November, Marx was arrested after shooting officer Quinn in a saloon. Quinn’s partner, William Blaul, shot Marx, hitting him in the shoulder and hip, and then took him into custody. At the Sheffield Avenue station, Marx confessed and implicated the others in the car barn robbery , several saloon holdups, and the murders of six men: Otto Bauder, murdered during one saloon hold up; Adolph Johnson and B. C. Gross, murdered in a second saloon holdup; James Johnson and Francis Stewart, murdered during the car barn robbery; and detective John Quinn, murdered while trying to arrest Marx. In addition, Marx confessed to wounding two other employees at the car barn, Henry Biehl and William Edmond; Peter Gorski, shot during one of the saloon robberies, and T. W. Lathrop, shot during a robbery at another car barn in July (Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1903, p. 1). When they heard of his arrest, his companions fled the city. They were arrested several days later after a desperate shoot out in northwest Indiana. Detective Driscoll was killed during the gun fight.

It seemed to be a successful prosecution of some remarkably vicious young men. But in a special section of his annual report for 1903, Francis O’Neill, the General Superintendent of the Chicago Police, made it clear the process of bringing the young men to justice was a complicated one. Marx, he explained, had to be subjected to “a rigid examination” by Assistant Chief Schuettler and others at the Sheffield station. That examination lasted Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, when “late at night” Marx finally broke down and confessed that he was involved in several murders, including the car barn killings. O’Neill went on:

Right here I wish to remark that there are carping critics of this department who maintain that to ‘sweat’ or persistently interrogate a prisoner is barbarous and that such a practice should be abolished. All I care to say in reply is, that if ‘the stomach pump,’ as it is sometimes called, had not been applied to Marx he never would have confessed to complicity I the raid on the car barn; neither would he have ‘squealed’ on his accomplices in that and several other crimes. 1903 Report of the General Superintendent of Police of the City of Chicago (p. 10).