Sweatbox Methods

Report of the General Superintendent of Police of the City of Ch
Francis O’Neill, Chicago police  (from chicagology.com)

In late summer 1902, a range of people from judges to civic leaders to everyday citizens spoke out against use of the sweatbox in Chicago. Their reaction was prompted by stories of Oscar Thompson’s treatment at the hands of Chicago’s police (Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1902, p. 1; Chicago Tribune, August 17, 1902, p. A2).

What was the sweatbox? It was not so much a thing as a process. According to the Chicago Tribune, Thompson was questioned by police for more than a week, some days for several hours on end. During that period, he was yelled at, lied to, and kept from friends, family or legal help. At least once, police deliberately kept him awake all night to try to exhaust him to the point he would talk (Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1902, p.1).

Thompson was arrested so that he could be questioned about the brutal murder of Annie Bartholin. But Thompson was not the suspect; police thought Mrs. Bartholin’s son William had killed her and his fiancé, Minnie Mitchell.  Thompson, who had boarded with the Bartholin family for more than twenty years, was just being questioned as a witness. And questioned he was. Over the next several days, as some police officers continued the search for William Batholin,  Inspector Hunt and others subjected Thompson to the “severe ordeal of questioning” that prompted public ire (Chicago Tribune, August 10, 1902, p. 1; Chicago Tribune, August 15, 1902, p.1).

But while Jane Addams, several criminal court judges, and other Chicagoans were quoted in articles deploring police use of sweatbox methods, Chicago’s mayor, Carter Harrison, Jr., was not persuaded. On the contrary, the Tribune quoted him as saying:

I think the main thing for the police to do is arrest offenders against the law. I suppose in using the sweatbox method of getting confessions, our police are using the methods and precedents established here and in other large cities (Chicago Tribune, August 17, 1902, p. A2).

Chicago’s police chief, Francis O’Neill, tried to offer reassurance. “Do you know what Chicago police do in questioning a suspect?” he asked.

They take him into a pleasant room and sit about and ask questions. It’s the same thing that the state’s attorney does, only he puts sharper points on his questions than we can. It’s exceedingly pleasant and if it is not a sociable affair, that is the fault of the prisoner, and not the police (Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1902, p. 36).

But even though O’Neill said he was not “in favor of torture,” he admitted that sometimes the police were “justified in stretching the law to its limit” in particularly serious cases. “While the police sometimes may not keep wholly within the law in these matters,” he added, “they aim to do so, and when they do stretch the law at times, then it must be remembered they do so in good cause. And we have the color of authority, also,” he added, returning to his earlier point, “because the methods we use in questioning prisoners are also used by the state’s attorney” (Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1902, p. 36).

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.

 

 

 

 

Judge Guerin and the 3rd Degree

In late fall 1918, Judge Henry Guerin, recently elected to the bench, wrote to the Marcus Kavanagh, chief judge of the Cook County criminal courts. Guerin asked Kavanagh to order an investigation into the use of the third degree.

In his letter, Guerin complained that several defendants who had appeared in his court had testified that they were subject to “brutal treatment” by Chicago police officers and people at the state’s attorney’s office. He noted that jurors believed these claims and acquitted the suspects as a result. Guerin warned that soon it would be impossible to convict anyone in Cook County. A spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office denied that anyone there used the third degree, but welcomed an investigation into the practice. (Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1918, p. 17).

Five months later, Judge Guerin once again spoke out on the third degree after hearing testimony by Joseph Radakowitz, on trial for the murder of Fred Papke.  Radakowitz testified that after he was arrested police officers threatened to knock his brains out, to whip him, to hit him with clubs to try to get him to confess. Radakowitz also claimed that when he was questioned at the state’s attorney’s office, he was told he would be beaten up if he did not answer questions (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919, p.17).

Guerin refused to admit the confession into evidence. After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Guerin made a speech deploring Radakowitz’s claims that he had been threatened by the police and employees of the state’s attorney’s office. Such a proceeding, Guerin said,

is absolutely in violation of the law. It is a violation permitted by the police department and the state’s attorney’s office; by the men to whom we look to protect the law and to protect the citizens of this country. It is a matter that requires investigation by the grand jury (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919, p. 17)

The state’s attorney’s office was quick to denounce Judge Guerin, complaining that the

practice of censuring the state’s attorney and the police department before juries not only weakens the morale and intimidates these officials but tends to bring the law which the state’s attorney and the police are trying to enforce in disrepute and contempt, not only in the minds of the criminals, but in the hearts of the juries (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919, p. 17).

The grand jury did hear evidence about use of the third degree in a session in April 1919 (Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1919, p. 10; Chicago Tribune, April 27, 1919, 13). In May 1919, the jury issued a report on that investigation. It found “no evidence that third degree methods were used by Assistant State’s Attorney John Owen in the confession of Joseph Radakawitz (sic); rather that Mr. Owen deserves commendation for his manner of handling that case”(Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1919, p. 1).

Judge Guerin did not pursue the issue of the third degree any further. He died in a boating accident in September 1919 (Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1919, p. 1).

War on Crime

In July 1928, the Chicago Tribune told its readers that the Chicago Crime Commission felt that justice was slowly “regaining lost ground” in Chicago’s criminal courts. The Commission’s report on Chicago’s “war on crime” noted that judges were spending more time on the bench and there were more jury trials in the criminal courts. As a result, sentences for major crimes were increasing. To provide context for the Commission’s report, the Tribune offered a quick glimpse at pending cases at the criminal courts. In one, the trial of Azar Holick (or Holic) for murder, jury selection was moving promptly before Judge Joseph David. The paper expressed hope that this meant the case would quickly go to trial (Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1928).

There was reason to want a quick resolution of the case. Holick was on trial for the murder of Anthony Banas, a butcher who had been shot during the robbery of his store on a particularly violent weekend in November 1926. Banas was the only murder victim that weekend, but the extraordinary number of other crimes that weekend–30 armed robberies, 83 car thefts, and a series of bombings–did much to explain why the Crime Commission felt a war on crime was necessary (Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1926).

That July, Judge David confirmed the Tribune‘s faith that Chicago’s criminal justice system could work: Holick’s jury was empaneled in two days, heard the evidence, and promptly sentenced Holick to life in prison (Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1928; Chicago Tribune, July 21, 1928).

Then it all came apart. In December 1929, just over a year after his conviction, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the verdict against Holick (Illinois v. Holick, 333 Ill. 337 (1929)).

What went wrong? According to the Illinois Supreme Court, quite a few things, starting with Holick’s arrest. Holick, who had no criminal record and, at age 27, lived with his mother and worked as a laborer, was taken into custody on November 21, 1927, almost a year after Banas was killed. At the time of his arrest, Holick was on the mend from serious injuries, a broken jaw and broken ribs, that had kept him in bed for three months. After his arrest, he was taken to the detective bureau and held there for a week, until he was taken to the jail on November 28 (333 Ill. 337).

At trial, Holick testified that while he was in police custody he was questioned for ten hours, and threatened by the officers who interrogated him when he denied that he was involved in the crime. He said that one officer tried to hit him with a blackjack, but missed when he was able to duck, and that other officers pulled at his hair to jerk his neck back and twisted his arms during the interrogation. Holick also testified that at the end of his extensive interrogation the officers gave him a “confession” that they had written, and told him to sign it. He said he did so because he was scared of what would happen if he refused (333 Ill. 337).

In addition to Holick’s testimony about his interrogation, his lawyers offered evidence from several witnesses who testified that the weekend Anthony Banas was being killed, Holick, his mother, and sister were visiting a family in Indiana (333 Ill. 337).

The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that Holick’s confession had not been made voluntarily, and criticized Judge David for failing to take the time to fully investigate Holick’s claim that his confession was involuntary (333 Ill. 337).

 

Bagging

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).

Fillmore station

On February 27, 1956, Isaac Berger, a white grocer, was killed during a robbery at his store. A witness said that three young black men tried to rob the store, and that Berger was killed when he tried to resist. A few weeks later, officers at the Fillmore police station on Chicago’s west side reported that they were charging two young black men, De Soto Allen, a seventeen-year-old high school student, and Robert Jackson, who was twenty-three, for the murder (Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1956, p. 2).

The two were indicted, along with a third man, Donald Wilson, who was charged with renting Jackson the gun used in the crime. At trial, Allen and Jackson denied that they were involved in Berger’s murder. The prosecution claimed that Allen and Jackson had jointly confessed to the crime. Although Jackson’s attorney objected to the introduction of the confession, the trial judge, Daniel Roberts, admitted it into evidence. At the close of trial, Judge Roberts, who was hearing the case without a jury, found Allen and Jackson guilty and sentenced them to 30 years in prison (Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1956, p. A4; Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1956, p. A6). He found Wilson not guilty.

On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that considering the confession without first having a hearing on whether it was voluntary violated Jackson’s rights. The court sent the case back down for a hearing on whether Jackson’s confession was voluntary (Illinois v. Jackson, 31 Ill.2d 408 (1964)).

At that hearing, Jackson testified that several officers at the Fillmore station questioned him about the gun that was used during the murder. He said that during the interrogation he was taken down to the basement of the station, where a bag was placed over his head. He also claimed he was hit on the head, behind one ear, and beaten in the stomach by several of the officers. He also claimed that his request to make a phone call was ignored. His sisters testified that when they went to the station a few hours after Jackson’s arrest, they were told he was not there. His mother testified that when she tried to see her son she was not allowed to do so.

The officers denied that they hit or otherwise harmed Jackson. The prosecution also presented evidence that Jackson had not complained to anyone about any abuse before the trial. At the end of the hearing, the judge ruled that the confession had not been coerced. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court deferred to the trial judge’s determination that the confessions were not coerced and affirmed Jackson’s conviction (Illinois v. Jackson, 41 Ill. 2d 102 (1968)).

Not long after Allen and Jackson’s trial in 1956,  Donald Wilson filed suit against officers at the Filmore station. Wilson, a former security guard, claimed that while he was in custody at the Fillmore station he was beaten so severely by several officers that he was permanently disabled (Chicago Defender (daily edition), June 28, 1956, p. 2;  Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1956, p. A4; Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1956, p. A6).

In 1958, a federal grand jury began to investigate claims that officers at the Fillmore street station abused black youth in custody. One witness, Edward Byrd, told the grand jury that while he was questioned at the Fillmore station the officer interrogating him typed up a confession and told him to sign it. When he refused, since he had not confessed to anything, Byrd said the officer began to beat him (Chicago Defender, April 12, 1958, p. 3).

Two months later, the grand jury indicted two officers from the Fillmore station, Ernest Charles and Nathaniel Crossley. The two were charged with beating and whipping eighteen-year-old James Halsell in 1957 (Chicago Defender, June 12, 1958, p. 1). This was not the first time someone claimed to have been beaten by Charles and Crossley. In 1957, two black teens, Ermon Bryant and James Hill claimed the officers beat them to get them to confess to robbing a gas station (Chicago Defender, October 17, 1957, p. 4). In addition, Charles was one of the officers that Donald Wilson and Robert Jackson charged had beaten them at the Fillmore station in 1956. (Chicago Defender, November 27, 1956, p. A6; Illinois v. Jackson, 41 Ill. 2d 102).

Crossley went to trial in federal court in 1960 (Charles had died before the case went to trial). At trial, Halsell, Bryant, and others testified that they had been beaten at the Fillmore station.  The defense called fifteen people, mostly police officers, who testified that they never saw or heard any abuse at the station. After deliberating for ten hours, a jury of six men and six women found Crossley not guilty (Chicago Tribune, October 21, 1960, p. 20; Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1960, p. B2).

 

 

The Goldfish Room

Chicago police arrested Edmund Fitch, a composer who supported himself playing the organ at Chicago’s Stratford Theater, in January 1923 and charged him with car theft. Fitch quickly confessed, claiming (much to the amusement of local papers) that the thefts had been prompted by his love of beautiful women (Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1923, p. 10).

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Stratford Theater from cinematreasures.org

The amusement quickly ended. A day later Fitch appeared in front of the Chicago City Council, and told the alderman that he “confessed” only after police officers at the detective bureau beat him with a rubber hose. Fitch took off his shirt in the council chamber, revealing bruises and abrasions on his left side,  contusions on his face, and a left hand so swollen that he was unable to work (Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1923, p. 7).

A representative from the police department auto unit tried to convince the alderman that Fitch had been injured before his arrest, and told the arresting officer that he had fallen off a park bench. Alderman were skeptical, and outraged. At the end of the hearing, the chief of police promised to let Fitch try to identify the officers who beat him. The Chicago Tribune quoted the chief as telling the city council that he was “not in favor of beating prisoners” and that he would do his “best to stop it” (Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1923, p. 7).

The next day, Fitch viewed a photo array and identified William Cox, a detective sergeant, as the man who beat him. Fitch also picked out several other officers who watched the beating. Fitch also described being told he was being taken to what the detectives called “the gold fish room” for his beating (Chicago Tribune, January 31, 1923, 1). Cox and several other officers were quickly indicted and the city council unanimously passed a resolution directing the chief of police suspend

any officer or officers who may be indicted for cruelty to any prisoner or prisoners

before they were tried. The resolution also demanded that the police department engage in a complete investigation into charges of police cruelty (Chicago Tribune, February 1, 1923, p. 3).

The police department promptly suspended Cox and the other two officers that Fitch had identified. The three were released on bond (Chicago Tribune, February 3, 1923, p.3; Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1923, p. 14). But outrage about the incident quickly was overwhelmed by political bickering at the city council (Chicago Tribune, February 8, 1923, 2). By November 1923, Cox was back on the job and involved in the investigation into the murder of Edward Lehman during a robbery (Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1923, 1).