In June 1961, detectives from Chicago’s Area 1 robbery headquarters celebrated their arrest of six young black men suspected in a series of robberies across Chicago and the city’s south suburbs. The arrests were particularly satisfying because an employee at a bowling alley they had robbed had been shot to death during one of their hold ups. Photos of suspects, McKinley Jones, Lyvon (or Layvon) Draper, Bert Wells, Louis Bean, Richard Pittman, and Charles Stevenson, were splashed across the Chicago Defender to record the capture of the “six-man terror gang” (Chicago Defender, June 8, 1961, p. 2). And two of the detectives involved in cracking the case, Howard Seaberry and Lucio Works, were singled out for praise by Howard Pierson, who commanded the robbery detail at the Prairie Avenue station (Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1961, p.9).

The case seemed cut and dried. During questioning, three of the men, Jones, Draper, and Stevenson, confessed to participating in the robbery at the bowling alley, though none admitted to firing the fatal shot. Although the others recanted their confessions, Draper stood by his. In addition, several witnesses to the various holdups identified several of the men in lineups (Chicago Defender, June 5, 1961, p. 7; Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1961, p. 9).

But just over six months later, a jury found Draper and Stevenson not guilty of murder. Both presented alibi witnesses. In addition, Lyvon Draper testified that he had only confessed after being given the third degree. He told the jury that he had been taken to the basement of the station, where officers put a bag over his head and beat him. In addition, he said that officers held his head under water twice as they pressured him to confess. When he did agree to confess, he said the officers interrogating him told him what to write (Chicago Defender, February 7, 1962, p. 7).

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Writer. Formerly civil rights attorney. Currently professor. Working on new book about mental disability and criminal law in the 20th century.

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