Crime in Chicago (1907)

McClure’s Magazine for April published the result of a careful investigation of the government of Chicago. It now publishes the following article, giving a picture of the conditions of life in Chicago, which have developed as the natural result of such a government. It would be impossible to secure a more authentic description of these conditions. This portrayal of them is not made by one man, or by an investigator who spent merely a few weeks or months in the study of local affairs; it is the work of scores of well-trained observers of life in Chicago, many of whom have spent years in learning the ways of the city, and all of whom have every reason to understate rather than exaggerate the conditions they describe. The indictment of the civilization of that city, given herewith, is not only most serious in itself; it is made doubly impressive by its sources. — Editor.

The epidemic of crime with which the year 1906 opened in Chicago aroused the citizens to a degree of indignation almost unprecedented in its history. During the twenty-four hours ending at ten o’clock on the night of January 6th, tragedy of almost unparalleled enormity held sway in Chicago and its immediate vicinity. The list of “bloody Saturday’s” crimes and casualties comprised two murders, two probable murders, seven suicides – two of those who took their lives were men who brutally slew women they professed to love – five deaths by explosion, and five from other violent causes. As an added gruesome circumstance, a murderer was sentence to be hanged.

“Human life,” said a public prosecutor, “is the cheapest thing in Chicago.”

On January 12th murder – once more with an inoffensive woman as the victim, and this crime more atrocious than any of a startling series that preceded it –again laid hold of Chicago. The latest victim was Mrs. Franklin C. Hollister, thirty years old, church singer and religious worker, who left home in the afternoon to sing at a funeral, and whose body was found the next morning on a
heap of refuse in an enclosure behind a high board-fence at 368 Belden Avenue. A coil of copper tightly encircling the woman’s throat, several bruises upon the face, torn and disheveled garments, and disordered hair told the police at once of a fiendishly brutal murder.

After this crime a general feeling of apprehension passed over the city. All the influence of the local churches was put forth in an effort to rouse citizens to a realization of the criminal menace which overshadowed Chicago. The subject was of all-absorbing interest in the community. The sense of outrage welled up everywhere. In Lake View, on the north side, there was talk by residents of leaving the city, so terrified had they become over the danger to themselves and their families. “It has come to a point,” said a business man, in an informal meeting of citizens to discuss the hold-ups, murders, and crimes in this section, “where no one is safe — especially our wives and children.”

Private Police Force Organized

Indeed, fearing for the safety of their women-folk in another residence quarter of the city, where police protection was inadequate, husbands and fathers in Sheridan Park and Buena Park initiated a cooperative system of defense. A vigilance service was established under the name of the Sheridan Park Protective Patrol, which furnished uniformed guards for unattended women to and from street cars and the elevated stations, and to and from the markets and stores of the neighborhood. In addition, day and night protection of premises was furnished, and instruction in the safe-guarding of property and in dealing with burglars was given for the special benefit of defenseless women.

It was the testimony of hundreds of women living in this part of the city that they had never seen a policeman pass the house. Those living on a business thoroughfare like Halsted Street or Evanston Avenue, or those within view of a patrol box were the only persons accorded this novel sight; the residence streets themselves were practically unprotected.

“It’s got so now, you have to watch for daylight burglars just as much as the night kind,” said Captain Richard Levis, who was in charge of the Sheridan Park Patrol. “They don’t work alone or in pairs, necessarily; they are getting so strong they work in threes and fours and bring a wagon. Sometimes the people in the surrounding flats see four husky men moving out the furniture of the family on the ground floor and stacking it in a wagon in an alley. The next day they are surprised to hear that the ‘movers’ were burglars.”

Captain Levis gave out the following series of “Don’ts for Defenseless Women”:

“Don’t let mail accumulate in vestibule mail boxes. Have the janitor remove it when you are away, or it will serve as a notice to flat workers that you are out and the coast is clear.

“Don’t leave directions to your grocer on the back door. This is another tip to the burglar that you are out.

“Don’t open the door to any one after dark without knowing who it is. Call through the tube or ask behind the locked door.

“Don’t trust a stranger because he is well dressed. The immaculate thief is dangerous; the ragged one is generally harmless.

“Don’t trust the locks. Most apartment locks are toys; a burglar can ‘jimmy’ them in half a minute without noise. Get special bolts.

“Don’t leave the house without making sure all the windows are fastened. Leave all curtains up with possible exception of bedroom. This often fools a burglar.

“Don’t be impolite to a burglar if you find one in the house. Invite him to take it all, and the first chance you get, run to a neighbor and call the police.

“Don’t scream in the presence of a burglar or hold-up man. If he is an amateur, he may lose his presence of mind and hurt you.

Don’t walk close to a building after dark; give an alley a good margin.”

Women in Danger on the Streets

The chief alarm was over the great number of attacks on women. It has ever been our proudest boast as a people that in this country woman is respected and protected as she is in no other. That boast was becoming an empty one in Chicago. Women had not only been annoyed and insulted in great numbers on the streets, within a very short time, but many of them had been robbed, and not a few had been murdered. In the year before the Hollister tragedy there were seventeen murders of women in Chicago, which attracted the attention of the city.

The danger of attack and insult from rough characters, which an unprotected woman runs in venturing upon the streets of Chicago after nightfall, is great. From an investigation made by the Tribune at this time, it appeared that scores of these outrages upon unattended women had taken place recently in certain quarters of the city. The public did not hear of them because the
police effectually suppressed the news of them. Furthermore, it appeared that reports of attacks on women were dismissed practically without investigation or attempts to bring the malefactors to justice. In the case of Mrs. Bertha Tyorka, who died January 15th as the result of a brutal assault, although all the details of the attack were reported two hours after its occurrence, no
action was taken by the police until two hours after her death two days later. Efforts were then made to keep the real cause of her death a secret, and the report of “sudden death” was sent to the Health Department.

Plague Spots and Nurseries of Crime

It is not without reason that Chicago has gained the unwelcome reputation of being a paradise for criminals. The influx of outside crooks with desperate records is steady, and about equal to the exodus of those who have turned a trick and slipped out, to remain under cover in some other city until the noise over their crime has subsided.

In addition to this, the facilities for breeding the local criminal in Chicago are extraordinary. For example, in the territory bounded on the east by the Chicago River, on the west by Wood Street, on the north by Harrison, and on the south by 16th Street, murderers, robbers, and thieves of the worst kind are born, reared, and grown to maturity in numbers which far exceed the record of any similar district anywhere on the face of the globe. Murders by the score, shooting and stabbing affrays by the hundred, assaults, burglaries, and robberies by the thousand, – such is the crime record of each year for this festering place of evil which lies a scant mile from the heart of Chicago. It is here that the locally notorious Mortell McGraw faction won the record for killing officers in fight after fight; and here that the McCalls lived, who defied the law, until five years ago. When it is told that children six years old are often arrested for participating in burglaries, it will readily be
seen that no great time elapses between the exit from the cradle to the entrance to the felon’s cell.

Another plague-spot is the 38th police precinct, which is bounded by Division Street and the Lake on the east. In the first fifty-one days of 1906, 872 arrests were made there, and ten per cent of this total were of serious offenders, charged with crimes exceeding misdemeanors. In this precinct there were then 386 saloons. With an estimated population of 31,164 in the precinct, the saloons reached one for every eighty residents, and this included women and children. The most dangerous hold-up point in Chicago is in this section, the Clark Street bridge over the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad yards. In one instance of a hold-up in this vicinity, one of the two stick-up men remarked, as they turned to leave their victim, “He’s trying to remember us; let’s give
him the guns.” They gave him the guns; and he only escaped with his life by simulating a death-agony.

Vice and depravity are openly traded in as a commodity in Chicago, and the streets of a district traversed daily by at least one-third of the city’s population are its marketplace. The district is bounded by Sangamon, Halsted, Lake, and Monroe Streets and is known as the West Side levee. This public emporium of immorality and degradation exists by virtue of a regularly
organized “protective association,” whose members laugh at law, successfully defy those who have tried to cope with them, and, through some mysterious influence, are enabled to continue their traffic with a license and abandon that makes of the West Side levee as an open brothel.

In the section known as “Little Hell,” a network of dives, grimy hotels, and concert halls, lying between LaSalle Avenue, and the river on the north side, is another center of evil. Here officers supposed to patrol beats are found drinking openly with white-aproned bartenders after closing hours. On the south side orgies go on until four and five o’clock in the morning, and policemen are seen in the saloons. Police Chief Collins admits that he is unable to obtain from his subordinates concerning the extent to which the saloon-closing ordinance is violated.

In various sections of the city “rowdy gangs” of boys and young men collect in crowds on corners to scuffle and fight among themselves and insult and annoy others. They range from little groups of boys belonging to respectable families, who gather on the sidewalks and make impudent remarks to, and throw dirt upon, passers-by, to crews of youth of low bringing-up, whom vicious
dives, debased associates, and depraved and rowdy habits have fitted for the most odious and desperate crimes.

Talk of Vigilantes and Lynchings

The movement to change existing conditions centered, during the late winter, upon an effort to increase the size of the police force. “We need a thousand more men,” said Chief Collins, “to protect the life and property of citizens adequately.” This was generally recognized to be true. Even in the most populous and frequented districts, a policeman was a rare sight. Nobody had a sense of security in the street, either in the business district or the residence quarters.

“The way things are going now” – said Alderman Kohout, who championed the cause of a larger force, to the city council, “how many more murders like that of Mrs. Hollister are you going to have? I tell you this is an emergency – more of an emergency than that of last summer, when we added to the police force during the teamsters’ strike. Is not the virtue and the honor of your mother or sister more important than escorting a lumber wagon through the streets of Chicago?”

In the meanwhile crime continued. On the night of February 27th five Chicago women were set upon and beaten by highwaymen, and some of them robbed. On the same day the Grand Jury returned indictments against four persons for murder and against seventy-one for assaults to kill or to do bodily injury, for burglary, and for robbery. The men who were caught by the police and indicted for robbery and burglary were outnumbered by the men who had committed these offenses and had not been caught by the police. The Grand Jury believed the condition called for searching inquiry.

The people, goaded to desperation by the brutal attacks of thugs on weak women, talked of organizing for their own protection. The police did not catch or scare the criminals; they neither prevented crime nor caught the criminals to punish them. The people saw no hope in them and turned to the thought of vigilantes and lynching as a last resort.

A Murder Every Other Day

There was no marked betterment in the conditions through the spring, and in May there was another “wave of crime.” And with the renewal of outbreaks of thuggery against women, in the public streets of Chicago, there came again talk of movements to hold indignation meetings and of vigilance committees.

At this time the startling assertion made by Attorney Mackenzie Cleland, in an address on the prevalence of murder and other crimes in Chicago, called forth denials from official sources. Mr. Cleland estimated that a burglary was committed in the city every three hours, a hold-up every six hours, a suicide every day, and a murder every day. Assistant State’s Attorney Olsen said these
figures were greatly in error in some particulars. Coroner Hoffman pointed out that the statistics as to murders of his office showed that during the first one hundred and twenty days of the year there had been only fifty-seven murders in Chicago. However, a city that had fifty-seven murders in one hundred and twenty days – practically one murder every other day – had no
reason to feel relieved. The plain truth which Chicago had to face was, that lawlessness and criminality were still wide-spread, and that as yet the legal agencies for preventing crime were not sufficiently effective.

Attention was naturally called again to the police force. When the previous series of atrocious crimes against women roused the people of Chicago in the late winter to insist that their government really govern, the City Hall had declared that the police force was too small, and that if the city had only a thousand more policemen, women could go about unmolested by lustful thugs, and
human life could be made passably safe in Chicago. The City Hall had been provided the money to pay more policemen, and it had the thousand more or was getting them. Yet there was another “reign of crime,” with “the drag-net out,” – but catching nothing, – and so again the necessity for more indignation meetings and vigilante committees. A list of the criminals who have committed dreadful crimes in Chicago and have slipped through the fingers of the detectives would make a good-sized book and be a shameful record of incompetence. The department not only does not pursue criminals; it is openly charged with protecting them and sharing their gains.

The most searching inquiry ever made into police conditions was that conducted three years ago by Captain Piper, a man of West Point training, and formerly assistant deputy-commissioner of police in New York. Captain Piper evinced the proper attitude toward the whole subject by directing his investigation primarily to the question of what patrolmen were actually doing on their
beats, and he discovered there a condition of actual chaos and neglect. He found that the whole matter of patrolling beats was the subject of a systematic pretense – that officers simply left saloons and other loafing places long enough to pull their boxes at the proper time, and then disappeared until time to pull them again.

“Official Highwaymen and Thieves”

During the summer and frequency of hold-ups and assaults abated, as it usually does with the large exodus of criminal population into the country. The most interesting event in police circles was the trial of Inspector Patrick J. Lavin on the charge of having directed the robbery of the jewelry store of Bernard J. Hagaman, of Wentworth Avenue, in 1901, for which Patrick P. Mahoney, a patrolmen under Lavin, had been sent to the penitentiary. The Inspector was acquitted of this charge, but immediately after resigned from the force. A letter to the Civil Service Commissioners, giving the desk-sargeant’s view of this trial, spoke of certain commanding officers in the police department as “official highwaymen and thieves.” “They are cruel and desperate as a man-eating tiger,” the letter continued; “they stop at nothing, not even at death, to revenge themselves on any member of the department who is opposed to them. Get rid of this band of official highwaymen and give the honest policeman a chance to redeem Chicago and himself in the eyes of the civilized world.”

Annual Winter Harvest of Crime

In spite of the increased police force, by the middle of October Chicago’s annual winter harvest of crime was on in earnest. Thugs, burglars, thieves, and murderers were gathering in from all parts of the country and plying their trade almost openly. The city again abounded in loafers and thugs well known to the slum politicians. The records showed that crime had not diminished in
the least. On the contrary, at the beginning of the winter there were more criminals in Chicago than were ever before, and the police showed themselves totally unable to cope with them.

“Don’t Shop After Dark”

There was a small army of purse-snatchers and pickpockets who came into the business district with the crowds at Christmas time. Chief of Police Collins gave, among others, the following prescriptions for women shoppers, who should be attacked by one or more of these:

“Don’t let the hold-up man scare you to death; keep your wits and forget to faint, and the chances are that you will not lose your pocketbook.

“Keep your wits about you at every moment while you are in the crush.

“Don’t linger about the counters of the stores.

“Don’t scream if you find your purse is being snatched in one of the big
stores; it only creates a panic and gives the thief an opportunity to

“Don’t wait too long before starting for home; there are more hold-ups after
dark than in the daytime.”

An Invasion of Tramps

In January of this year, in spite of all the agitation for law and order, the influx of rough characters to the city reached a record height. More than 20,000 men, including beggars, tramps, and nomadic workmen, attracted to Chicago by the open winter, were thronging the streets and choking the cheap lodging-houses. Crimes by street beggars included the beating down of a citizen with a piece of gas-pipe by a tramp, because he was refused alms, and setting fire to a dwelling by another man for the same reason. Men of this class were present in hordes; the streets were filled with tramps; and keepers of the cheap lodging-houses reported that the number of their guests was the largest ever known at that time of year.

Hunting Women as a Sport

The dangers of the Chicago streets, which result from these conditions, are described by Mrs. W. C. H. Keough, a member of the Chicago Board of Education, in an article contributed to the Chicago Tribune, discussing the assaults on women in 1906. She says:

“Hunting women and hitting them on the head with a piece of gas-pipe seems to be the favorite sport of the Chicago Man. The man lies in wait for his prey as an East Indian hunter awaits the approach of a tigress. It is considered rare evidence of sportsmanship to capture the prey near her home, just as it is regarded as proof of supreme skill when the hunter slays the tigress near her

“It is time,” continues Mrs. Keough, “for Chicago women to arouse themselves from the lethargy and demand protection from the city against the men who hunt down helpless women on the public streets. It seems to be becoming a mere pastime for rowdies, hoodlums, and thugs to attack and insult women on residential streets, inadequately or inefficiently patroled by police. These
ruffians engage in hunting women as sportsmen go out into the forests to bag wild game. They walk for hours along unprotected, shadowy streets, looking for their victims. When they sight a lonely woman, unattended, and powerless to defend herself against the brute force of sinewy arms, they take up the trail. They follow her until, unawares, she walks into the darkness of a deep shadow on a street that is asleep. Then they spring upon her as a hunter springs from ambush when his prey has come within range of his rifle.

“Sometimes they hit her on the head with a bludgeon; sometimes they hold a cloth, saturated with chloroform, to her nostrils; sometimes they bind and gag her and carry her into the seclusion of an alley shed; sometimes they strike her with their bare fists or brass knuckles. It makes little difference which method they use. They attack her, beat her, leave her senseless on the street,
or kill her.

“Generally she resists, and they kill her. Often they shoot her down without warning, as a man rises from his boat among the tall grasses and brings down a duck. After they have ‘bagged’ – using the term of the huntsman – they kill her, rob her, or do worse than rob. “Then what do they do? Enjoying the absolute protection afforded them by the existence of an inadequate and inefficient police force, they walk away from the scene of their crime as unmolested as a hunter returning to camp with his spoils. The dead body is found; or the attacked woman, if Divine mercy stays the hand of death, returns to consciousness and proceeds slowly, haltingly, painfully to her home. All the way home – whether she is a block away or a mile – she does not perhaps meet another person, scarcely ever does she encounter a policeman. At home, between sobs and the palpitations of her fluttering heart, she tells her story, – a story of being hunted on a public street of the second largest city in the freest country on earth – hunted like a dog.

“The police are notified. Sleuths are set hither and thither. A suspect is arrested. He proves an alibi and is discharged from custody; another arrest and another alibi. That is the way it goes.

“The hunters engage in their ‘sport’ unmolested. It is cheaper to hunt women in Chicago than to kick a stray dog or beat a heaving horse. The risk of being caught and fined is not so great. It is easier to hunt women in the streets of Chicago than to hunt game in the closed season. There is no danger of meeting the game warden. Hunting women seems to be growing in favor as a sport in

“The cry that women should not go unaccompanied along the streets of Chicago at night is a cry to which every woman should turn a deaf ear. It should be remembered that thousands upon thousands of women in Chicago are compelled by their financial conditions to go out into the world and put their shoulders to the task of earning a living. Thousands of women are employed at occupations which call them from their homes after nightfall; few in Chicago’s great army of women workers are able to get home from the shops and factories and offices where they are employed until after dusk. They cannot obey the injunctions to remain indoors after dark without giving up hope of earning a living. They must be out after dark. Protection must be afforded them. It is an easy matter for the woman of leisure to stay at home when her husband cannot go out with her. It is easy for this woman to advise her sisters to stay within the protective walls of their homes if they want to escape violence at the hands of the hoodlums that infest the streets. The club-woman, the society woman, the woman of husband and family, the woman in comfortable circumstances must outreach in a helping hand to the less fortunate sister who cannot afford to stay at home, no matter at what peril or at what cost she ventures out.”

The foregoing article is constructed entirely of extracts from Chicago newspapers, covering a period of about fourteen months. These extracts are selected from the large amount of material which has been printed in that time, concerning the prevalence of crime in that city, and the alarm created by it. They have been given verbatim. They are not garbled, nor are they the most terrible that can be found. Chicago has an able, clean, and, generally speaking, a non-sensational press. This is a picture of Chicago as presented by those newspapers. Following will be found the origin of every paragraph in the article:

Paragraph 1, Tribune, January 16; Record Herald, January 7. Paragraph 2,
Tribune, February 25. Paragraph 3, Record Herald, January 14. Paragraph 4,
Tribune, February 5; Record Herald, February 23; Record Herald, January 14.


WOMEN IN DANGER ON THE STREETS: – Paragraph 1, Inter-Ocean, February 10;
Record Herald, January 14. Paragraph 2, Tribune, February 5; Tribune, January

PLAGUE SPOTS AND NURSERIES OF CRIME: – Paragraph 1, Tribune, February 25.
Paragraph 2, Tribune, February 11. Paragraph 3, Tribune, March 18. Paragraph
4, News, October 22. Paragraph 5, Tribune, January 30, Paragraph 6, Tribune,
January 17. Paragraph 7, Tribune, February 14; Record Herald, February 14;
Tribune, February 14.

TALK OF VIGILANTES AND LYNCHINGS: – Paragraph 1, Tribune, January 18; Tribune,
February 14. Paragraph 2, Tribune, January 16. Paragraph 4, Tribune, March 1.
Paragraph 5, Record Herald, February 23.

A MURDER EVERY OTHER DAY: – Paragraph 1, Inter-Ocean, May 14. Paragraph 2,
Record Herald, May 17. Paragraph 3, Inter-Ocean, May 14; Chronicle, August 15
and October 2. Paragraph 4, Tribune, January 18.


ANNUAL WINTER HARVEST OF CRIME: – Journal, October 20 and November 23; Inter-
Ocean, November 10; Journal, November 28.

“DON’T SHOP AFTER DARK”: – Record Herald, December 17.

AN INVASION OF TRAMPS: – News, January 11, 1907; Post, January 11, 1907;
Tribune, January 12, 1907.

HUNTING WOMEN AS A SPORT: – Tribune, February 11.

Editorial Note:

McClure’s Magazine, in this and in the preceding number, has presented two portrayals of life in Chicago. The first was a study of its system of civil government and its results; the second an account, taken entirely from its own reputable newspapers, of the conditions which exist as the fruit of that system. The matter was summed up editorially last year by the Chicago Tribune:
Chicago has become a “snug” harbor for criminals. The tramp of the fields, the desperate characters from the Lake ports and other cities come here to ply their trade in winter. Chicago has come to be known over the country as a bad town for men of good character and a good town for men of bad character.

The reason for this condition is vicious political influence in the administration of justice. On February 2nd the grand jury, while discussing the prevalence of gambling-houses and disorderly saloons in the city declared: “It is our deliberate judgment that such a brazen exhibition of lawlessness cannot continue without official connivance.”

The system which brings about this maladministration is perfectly well understood in Chicago. It is discussed continually in the editorials of its daily papers. The Inter-Ocean says, for instance: If Chief of Police Collins is really determined to chase out the loafer and the thug, it need not take all winter to accomplish it. It can be done speedily, if the officers and men of the police department are first convinced that the doing of it will not bring punishment to them rather than reward. The city abounds in loafers and thugs well known to the police. The fact that they are “well-known” to the police as loafers and thugs, while favorably known to the slum politicians, must not be permitted to deter the men on the police force from performing their duty. Family, social, and political connections with the loafers and thugs must be ignored if Chief Collins is really intends to redeem the city from the reign of the confidence man, the footpad, the highwayman, and the burglar.

And the Chronicle, under the heading, “The Vice Trust”: What are people to think when nameless and almost invisible parties go to the purlieus of vice in a certain locality and give them an option between selling out and being closed up by the police; and when, after refusing to sell, they are in fact closed up by the police; and when, after being closed up, other parties take their places and carry on the same haunts of vice in the same way without police interference? People must draw their own inferences, but there are those who do not hesitate to say that there is a regular combination in this city, with a large financial backing, which does this thing, and that it can, at will, cause the police force to shut up certain places of vice or to protect them.

Put plainly and simply, the fact is that crime and vice have been breaking down orderly civilization in Chicago because the ward politician, and not the people, has been able to dictate the administration of law.


Contributed 25 Jan 2013 by Deb Haines
Transcribed from McClure’s Magazine, 1907, Volume 29, pages 67-73