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.

 

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 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).