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).