“Boy Bandits,” 1903-1904

In the winter of 1904, the three so-called “boy bandits,” James Sammons, John Lynch, and Hugh Reilly (not to be confused with the Hugh Reilly who had a violent brush with the police in 1902), told a jury that they had been tortured by police inspector John Revere and other officers at the Stock Yards station in 1903. The three young men, Reilly and Sammons were eighteen-years-old, and Lynch nineteen (some reports set his age at 21), stood accused of murdering Patrick Barrett during a robbery of Barrett’s saloon on Wallace street (Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1903, p.3; Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1904, p. 12; Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1904, p. 5).

There was little sympathy for any of the suspects in Chicago’s press. The Tribune noted that Lynch and Reilly numbered several criminals among the members of their families, and that all three were were all products of a failed system that had arrested them and then had set them free again to rob and kill (Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1903, p. 3; Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1903, p. 4).

As a result, the paper was quick to believe Inspector Revere when he denied the bandits’s claims of torture. It dismissed Lynch’s claim that he had been starved and beaten until he confessed, as quickly as Sammons’ charge that he was “beaten and kicked until I thought my ribs were all stove in.” But it was particularly doubtful about what it referred to as Reilly’s “sensational charges” (Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1904, p. 12). 

“Revere,” Reilly said, “had his men tie a rope around my neck and hang me to the bars of the cell at the Stockyards station.” He added: “My toes could just touch the floor, and I was left there for twenty minutes. After that I was ready to ‘confess’ to anything “(Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1904, p. 12).

The jury was equally disbelieving, and convicted all three for Barrett’s murder. It did, however, sentence the defendants differently. It sentenced both Lynch and Sammons to death, but chose to sentence Reilly, who, it was claimed, cried after Barrett was killed, to life in prison. The state’s attorney’s office blamed sentimentality for the jurors’ decision not to execute Reilly, but assistant state’s attorney Robert E. Crowe praised the verdicts against Lynch and Sammons:

A few more such verdicts and the young criminals would cease to harass the city. The jury has told them that death to their victim means death to them (Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1904, p. 5)

 

 

Stock Yards Station, 1902

Those who objected to the abuse of Oscar Thompson mentioned other cases of sweatbox methods, including the mistreatment of Hugh Reilly (sometimes referred to as Hugh O’Reilly) in their complaints. After patrol officer Patrick Duffy was murdered in broad daylight on 43rd Street in 1902, the police pulled more than 50 men in for questioning. Reilly was not one of them; instead he was picked up after his former girl friend told the police that he had been involved in the crime. An eye witness to Duffy’s murder identified Reilly as one of the men she saw with Duffy just before his death. Reilly was charged, tried, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on the basis of the confession he gave to officers at the Stock Yards station (Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1902, p.3; Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1902, p. 5; Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1902, p. 3).

During the investigation, officers at the Stock Yards station readily admitted that they put Reilly through three days of “almost constant sweatbox process” (Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1902, p. 5). More details came out that fall. According to the Chicago Tribune, Reilly was taken into a private office in the station to be questioned by several officers. Outside the office,

the assembled newspaper reporters and others could hear the cries of the prisoner and the shouts of the police. A half hour later the man who had entered the room erect and defiant emerged, trembling and leaning on the shoulder of a policeman for support. HIs face was bruised and blackened, his eyes swollen, and groans escaped him as he was led to the cell room below. At the next ‘cross questioning’ of the man, a confession was secured (Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1902, p. 1).

At trial, the issue of way the police obtained Reilly’s confession was never raised. One juror, however, argued there was another problem with Reilly’s interactions with the police: According to Reilly’s confession, he first saw Officer Duffy on the street as Duffy was walking back to the station from lunch and Reilly was walking past a house that he was considering burglarizing. Duffy stopped Reilly, searched him, and then the two got into an argument. During that argument, Duffy was shot. Reilly claimed Duffy was killed by another man who was with him. During the jury deliberations, one unnamed juror argued that Duffy had no grounds to arrest Reilly without a warrant, and that it was Duffy’s own fault he was killed. But while the juror held out for several hours, in the end the other jurors prevailed and the jury returned a verdict of guilty (Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1902, p. 5).

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).