The Man in the Red Shirt

November 17, 1959, 90 year-old Gertrude Rheinhardt, often described in news accounts as a former opera singer, and her 71 year-old nephew, John Schot, were mysteriously murdered. The two lived in separate apartments in a building Rheinhardt owned at 1927 Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. Very early in the morning of November 17, another resident in the building was awakened by the sound of what seemed to be a scream. When she went out of her apartment to investigate, she saw someone she later described as a tall, slim, light-skinned black man wearing a bright red shirt. Believing him to be the handyman who worked at the building, she asked him if anything was wrong. When he told her no, she went back to bed, only to be reawakened a short time later by the smell of smoke (Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1959, p. B12).

Although the building was soon ablaze, most of the tenants escaped. But when firefighters went through the apartments they found both Rheinhardt and Schot, along with Rheinhardt’s two dogs. They were all dead. Both Rheinhardt and Scott had been stabbed to death (Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1959, p. B12).

Detectives at the Warren Avenue station were assigned to investigate the double homicide. Notwithstanding the fact they had an eyewitness in the form of the tenant who spoke to the supposed handyman, they had little success the first week of their investigation. Adding to the confusion, their witness gave several statements which were subsequently discarded by the investigating officers. Then, during one of her visits to the Warren Avenue station, the neighbor saw a black man in custody in the station. She quickly identified him as the man she saw in her apartment building the night of the fire (Illinois v. Scott, 29 Ill. 2d 97 (1963)).

Once again, there was some confusion about the neighbor’s evidence. She testified at trial that she was able to identify the man in custody at the station because he was wearing the red shirt she saw the night of the murder, but other witnesses testified that the man she identified, Roosevelt Scott, was not wearing a red shirt at the station. In the end, it did not matter because Scott confessed to the murder (Illinois v. Scott, 29 Ill. 2d 97 (1963)).

At a preliminary hearing, Scott’s attorney argued that the confession should be suppressed. Scott testified that while he was being interrogated at the Warren Avenue station he was  handcuffed in a way that caused him serious pain, struck with a blackjack, hit on the top of the head with a Chicago phone book, and forced to remove his clothes and lie on the floor with his legs spread, while officers hit his genitals with a belt (Illinois v. Scott, 29 Ill. 2d 97, 102-103).

Neither the trial judge, nor the Illinois Supreme Court believed Scott’s claims of torture. After a trial, Scott was found guilty of both murders and sentenced to death for each. Although the Illinois Supreme Court did not believe Scott’s claims about being tortured by the police, and refused to bar his confession from evidence, it did reverse his conviction and order that he be retried. At his second trial in 1964, Scott represented himself. Once again, his confession was introduced into evidence, and once again he was convicted of Gertrude Rheinhardt’s murder. This time, he was sentenced to 100-150 years in prison for her murder (Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1964, 3). It is not clear whether he was ever retried for the murder of John Schot.





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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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