Related claims

The Chicago Tribune‘s estimate that 50 other suspects complained against John Shea before James Blake seems exaggerated, but Shea was accused of violence and intimidation quite a few times during his career in Chicago’s police department.

In 1878, a number of “well-known citizens” petitioned the mayor to discipline Shea for “grossly abusing” a suspect. The police department investigated, determined that the victim was a “notorious thief” who resisted arrest, and concluded that any violence by Shea was justified self-defense. Seven years later, in 1885, a butcher named Ellis claimed that Shea, Inspector John Bonfield, and patrolman Hawes assaulted him during a railroad strike. In 1886, Chat Smith, who was accused of abduction, testified at trial that Shea treated him brutally at the Central police station after his arrest. Shea denied “that he had done any harsh act, save to call Smith a scoundrel.”

A year later, the Chicago Inter-Ocean reported that Shea along with detective James Bonfield and sergeant Slayton put Henry McCabe, described as a vagrant sailor, through a “sweat-boxing” and “pumping” while they interrogated him about the death of a lawyer from Valparaiso, Indiana. At trial, McCabe claimed that he confessed only after Shea and the others gave him whisky until he was drunk. In November 1888, Shea “induced” William O’Rourke, one of three men on trial accused of stealing tools and materials from the Chicago & Alton Railway, to confess. At trial a few months later, Samuel Perry, one of the men arrested with O’Rourke, testified that he only confessed because Shea came into his cell and “struck me in the face. Then he hit me in the mouth with his clinched fist and knocked me down.” Perry said Shea told him “If you don’t say you took those things, I will half kill you.” When Perry refused to falsely admit that he took the items, Shea punched him in the face several times. Finally, Perry agreed to confess. Then Shea and another officer put a second prisoner in Perry’s cell, and told Perry that if he did not punch that prisoner “until he squealed,” he would punch Perry “worse than I did before.”

A year later, after police officer Fryer was murdered, Inspector Shea was assigned to subject two suspects, McGrath and Martell, to “the sweat-box process” to try to get them to confess to the crime. Sweating and pumping were not the only tools in Shea’s kit. In March 1895, the Chicago Inter-Ocean ran a front-page story reporting the Shea, along with several other officers, held a mock trial at the detective bureau to frighten Albert Vollant, a suspected pickpocket. The paper accused the officers of violating a state law that made it a crime to try a person without authority of law with the intent to intimidate (Section 163 of the Criminal Code of Illinois). But nothing happened.

That was the general pattern. Complaints did not harm Shea’s career. Over the course of his career, he was promoted to detective, chief of detectives, lieutenant, captain, and finally inspector.

Sources: Chicago Inter-Ocean, October 18, 1878, p. 6; Chicago Inter-Ocean, December 5, 1886, p. 6; Chicago Inter-Ocean, May 27, 1887, p. 6; Chicago Inter-Ocean, August 20, 1887, p. 7; Chicago Inter-Ocean, January 13, 1888, p.7; Chicago Inter-Ocean, November 28, 1888, p. 5;  Chicago Tribune, February 22, 1889, p. 8; Chicago Inter-Ocean, August 11, 1889, p.2; Chicago Inter-Ocean, March 7, 1895, p.1.

 

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.

“‘The stomach pump’ as it is sometimes called”

A few hours before dawn in late August, 1903, three masked men entered the Chicago City railroad car barn at 61st and State in Chicago. They demanded the crew open the safe and turn over its contents; when the men refused, the robbers opened fire. The three rail employees at the barn, J.B. Johnson, Frank Stewart, and William Edmonds, were all wounded. Johnson and Stewart died not long after the attack. Their assailants escaped with several thousand dollars in cash (Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1903, p. 1).

For the next several months, as police searched for the men who became known as the car barn bandits, other crimes were laid at their door. Finally, in late November, the police arrested four men and charged them with the car barn murders, the killing of a police officer, and other crimes. Although the police had initially claimed that the car barn robbery was the work of experienced criminals, the four arrested, Gustav Marx, Harvey Van Dine, Peter Neidermeier, and Emil Roeski, were so young that most news accounts called them boys (New York Times, December 1, 1903, p. 6).

Three of them, Marx, Neidermeier, and Van Dine, were put on trial for the murder of Frank Stewart in January and February 1904; the fourth, Roeski, was tried a few months later. At the end of the first trial, all three of the defendants were found guilty, and each was sentenced to death (New York Times, March 13, 1904, p. 10). They were hanged in late April (New York Times, April 22, 1904, p. 3). Roeski subsequently was found guilty of the murder of Otto Bauder. Although he also was sentenced to death, Roeski’s sentence ultimately was commuted to life imprisonment.

Those convictions rested on a series of confessions, most notably the confessions of Gustav Marx. In November, Marx was arrested after shooting officer Quinn in a saloon. Quinn’s partner, William Blaul, shot Marx, hitting him in the shoulder and hip, and then took him into custody. At the Sheffield Avenue station, Marx confessed and implicated the others in the car barn robbery , several saloon holdups, and the murders of six men: Otto Bauder, murdered during one saloon hold up; Adolph Johnson and B. C. Gross, murdered in a second saloon holdup; James Johnson and Francis Stewart, murdered during the car barn robbery; and detective John Quinn, murdered while trying to arrest Marx. In addition, Marx confessed to wounding two other employees at the car barn, Henry Biehl and William Edmond; Peter Gorski, shot during one of the saloon robberies, and T. W. Lathrop, shot during a robbery at another car barn in July (Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1903, p. 1). When they heard of his arrest, his companions fled the city. They were arrested several days later after a desperate shoot out in northwest Indiana. Detective Driscoll was killed during the gun fight.

It seemed to be a successful prosecution of some remarkably vicious young men. But in a special section of his annual report for 1903, Francis O’Neill, the General Superintendent of the Chicago Police, made it clear the process of bringing the young men to justice was a complicated one. Marx, he explained, had to be subjected to “a rigid examination” by Assistant Chief Schuettler and others at the Sheffield station. That examination lasted Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, when “late at night” Marx finally broke down and confessed that he was involved in several murders, including the car barn killings. O’Neill went on:

Right here I wish to remark that there are carping critics of this department who maintain that to ‘sweat’ or persistently interrogate a prisoner is barbarous and that such a practice should be abolished. All I care to say in reply is, that if ‘the stomach pump,’ as it is sometimes called, had not been applied to Marx he never would have confessed to complicity I the raid on the car barn; neither would he have ‘squealed’ on his accomplices in that and several other crimes. 1903 Report of the General Superintendent of Police of the City of Chicago (p. 10).