Cleared by an internal investigation

On February 7, 1887, the Chicago Tribune published a chatty interview with James Blake, in custody as a suspect in a jewelry theft. The article opened with Blake asking the reporter if he’d ever gone through “the John D. Shea pumping machine.” When the reporter admitted he had not, Blake described his treatment at Chicago’s Twelfth Street police station:

First, Blake said, Shea took him to a small room off an office and closed the door. Then, after taking out his pistol and put it near to hand, Shea asked Blake if he had committed the jewelry theft. When Blake said no, Shea struck him behind his head so hard that Blake was sent reeling to his knees. Shea left the room briefly; when he returned he continued the violent interrogation. Each time Blake denied that he had been involved, Shea struck and kicked him. This went on, Blake told the friendly reporter, from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m. When Shea was done, Blake’s eyes were black and his lips so swollen he could barely drink water from a cup. Blake said he cried out in pain (a claim that was confirmed by another suspect in custody at the station), but neither Captain O’Donnell nor Detective James Bonfield, who were in the nearby office, interrupted the beating.

When the chief of police, Frederick Ebersold, cast doubt on Blake’s claims the next day, the Tribune became sarcastic. “As Shea has stated at least fifty times,” the paper mused in an editorial, “that he didn’t pound prisoners there must be something in his persistent denials.” The editorial went on,

The probabilities are that there is somebody very much resembling Shea hanging around the police headquarters who has the ugly habit of punching and choking prisoners, the result being to throw discredit on the bluff but not dangerous Lieutenant. If Lieut. Shea were wise he would hunt up this double of his and have him kept out of the Central Station.

The editorial closed with a note that two other officers who had been found guilty of beating another prisoner had just been released from jail. Superintendent Ebersold was still trying to decide, the paper reported, whether to allow the two officers back on the force.

Although grimly amusing, the newspaper’s sarcasm apparently was misplaced. Two days later, the Tribune retracted its earlier story. Faced with an internal report that set out denials by O’Donnell, Shea, and Bonfield, the paper concluded that Blake must have lied and apologized for publishing his claims. A week later, it printed a letter to the editor from Vere V. Hunt, who said he was Blake’s lawyer. Hunt reported that Blake had never told his lawyers that he had been beaten in the station.

With that, Blake’s claims against Lieutenant Shea disappeared. That did not, however, clear up the mystery of what had befallen all those other men that the Tribune reported had claimed they had been beaten and choked by someone who looked a lot like Lieutenant Shea.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, February 7, 1887, p. 1; Chicago Tribune, February 8, 1887, p. 7; Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1887, p. 8; Chicago Tribune, February 16, 1887, 10.

Not guilty

Two Chicago police detectives, Michael Neary and Michael Vaughn, were briefly suspended in 1919 after they arrested Keith Southern (Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1920, p. 13). Southern claimed that while investigating car thefts in November 1919, the two officers beat him at the detective bureau, breaking his ribs in the process (Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1919, p. 17; Chicago Tribune, January 4, 1920, p. A5).

Neary and Vaughn claimed that Southern’s ribs were broken when they had to subdue him to arrest him. Southern pressed charges, but in January 1920 the Civil Service Board dismissed his claims. “There is almost no evidence against Neary,” Captain Coffin, who served as president of the board explained. Coffin admitted that there was “some evidence” against Vaughn, “but it is not enough to sustain the charges”(Chicago Tribune, January 9, 1920).

1 rule for crooks, another for “innocent citizens”

In June 1927, John Kimball, the night manager at Chicago’s Newberry Hotel, charged that Lieutenant Leo Carr and several police officers at the Chicago Avenue station forced him to confess to stealing $100 from the hotel (Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1927, p. 20). Two weeks later, members of a criminal gang admitted to a burglaries, including the one Kimball had confessed to (Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1927).

But the police did not drop the charges against Kimball. Instead, as the Chicago Tribune noted, when Kimball was testifying before the grand jury to help indict members of the burglary gang, the case against him was set for a hearing before a Cook County judge. Since he missed the court date to provide evidence to the grand jury, his bond was forfeited and it was only after lawyers and his employer interceded that the charges against him were dropped (Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1927).

Confronted with Kimball’s claim that he falsely confessed after being beaten at the Chicago Avenue station, chief of police Michael Hughes reluctantly ordered an investigation. Yet Hughes’ condemnation of police misconduct lacked conviction. He did not approve, he said, of police officers mistreating “innocent citizens.” But he added, that was not the rule for everyone.

So long as I am chief of police in Chicago criminals aren’t going to be handled with gloves. That’s one thing you can be dead sure about” (Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1927).

Hughes went on to complain about reformers, criminologists, social workers, and even the ungrateful people of Chicago, who criticized the hard working police, rather than the criminals. The police, he said, “were driving the crooks out of Chicago and we’re not being nice to them.” Rather than help the police, Hughes complained, the public criticized them (Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1927).

The Chicago Tribune expressed some doubts about the distinctions Hughes drew. “There is pretty general acceptance of the theory,” the paper wrote in an editorial, “that the police must beat up a suspected man, if he has a criminal record, to get the facts out of him.” But, the paper went on, it “isn’t a very pretty theory and it doesn’t work so exceptionally well,” since those confessions were often thrown out in court. The paper went on, more pointedly

The fundamental law of the land is supposed to protect any one from cruel and unusual punishment, but that is merely highbrow stuff for the he-man chief” (Chicago Tribune, July 5, 1927, p. 10).

A black eye

In 1914, Catherine O’Callaghan said she was called to Chicago’s Stockyards police station late one evening to get her sixteen-year-old son, Daniel. As she walked into to the station, she heard her son screaming and begging in another room (Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1914).

When she opened the door to that room, she saw her son between four police officers. As she watched, the officer to Daniel’s left hit him a blow that swung him forward, then the officer to his left hit him with a blow that sent him reeling back. Another office, who she identified as Thomas Coffey, hit Daniel over the head (Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1914, p. 8).

Mrs O’Callaghan complained to Thomas Cronin, the Captain of the station. Cronin admitted that Daniel, who had been arrested on suspicion of stealing car tires, had been interrogated by officer Coffey and three others, who were identified as John Adams, James O’Connor, and Peter Carney. But Cronin denied that any of the officers struck or otherwise harmed Daniel, a claim that seemed somewhat dubious in light of the fact that one of Daniel’s eyes was swollen shut and marked by “a long blue streak directly across it,” and a large lump on the back of his head (Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1914, p. 8).

Undeterred, Catherine O’Callaghan filed a charge against the four officers. The superintendent’s office did assign an investigator to the case, and he made inquiries at the station. Once again, Captain Cronin denied that anything untoward had happened to Daniel O’Callaghan. And, making an argument that was echoed in other cases, Cronin pointed out that Daniel O’Callaghan was no innocent youth. In fact, Cronin said, O’Callaghan was up to his old tricks and had been arrested yet again for tire theft (Chicago Tribune, December 6, 1914, p. H14).  Apparently, the investigation did not go any further.

 

Goldfish & prairies

The “goldfish room,” which figured so prominently in Edmund Fitch‘s claim of police torture in 1923,  also played a role when the police interrogated James Sweeney in 1921. Sweeney, along with Harry Bartlett and several others, had been arrested and convicted for bombing the Beehive Laundry Company during a labor dispute (Illinois v. Sweeney, 304 Ill. 502 (1922)).

At trial, Sweeney testified he was interrogated at length by Chicago police officers at the detective bureau and at the state’s attorney’s office. After being held for more than a day at the Brighton Park police station, Sweeney was taken to police chief Fitzmorris’s office for an hour, and then to the state’s attorney’s office. He remained at the state’s attorney’s office for most of the night; he was interrogated there for roughly four hours by two assistant state’s attorneys, Charles Wharton and Milton Smith, and the chief of detectives, Michael Hughes. Then he was taken to a cell, where he stayed less than half an hour before three officers took him to chief Hughes’s office. As they escorted, the officers told Sweeney they were going to show him the goldfish (Illinois v. Sweeney, 304 Ill. 502, 511-512).

As the Illinois Supreme Court put it, “They showed him the goldfish, which was a beating.”

They dragged him around by his hair and started beating him with a rubber hose. He said that Chief Hughes beat him, and two or three other officers who he did not know by name; that [police sergeant] Egan was there at the time and used his fist; that he could recognize the other two officers and had seen one of them in the courtroom since the trial started, — that is, one beside Egan. He said they told him to come clean and tell everything he knew, and plenty besides, or be found out in some prairie (Illinois v. Sweeney, 304 Ill. 502, 511).

Still Sweeney did not confess, so they took him back to a cell for a while, then back to Hughes’s office, where he was beaten again. Then he went back to a cell, and then back to Hughes’s office a third time, where he was beaten once more. After the last beating, Sweeney confessed (Illinois v. Sweeney, 304 Ill. 502, 512). Sweeney also testified that while he was in custody before his confession he had no time to sleep and was fed a single sandwich and a cup of coffee.

Sweeney’s attorney objected when the state tried to submit his confession into evidence at trial. During a hearing on whether the confession was voluntary, Sergeant Egan testified that he did not harm Sweeney or see anyone else do so. None of the other officers or state’s attorney’s testified. The trial judge, M. L. McKinley, held the confession was voluntary and admitted it into evidence. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed.

“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).