A POLICE DEPARTMENT HELD HOSTAGE BY POLITICS: A HISTORY PART 3
Editor’s Note: The passage of time has not lessened the evils of political partisanship which inevitably impacts law enforcement and the administration of justice in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and Police Department. With a few notable exceptions, the Sheriffs who span the full gamut of 160 years of Cook County history have served their political masters and themselves better than the electorate. The historic struggle between reform, political machinery, and the pull of organized crime “fixers” is a recurring theme when one reviews the record of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and particularly the Police Department. The scandal, the infamy, and the corruption associated with the administration of this office down through the years is the subject of a continuing IPSN four-part focus report. Part III reviews the World War II period through the early 1960s, when the political biosphere of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department was polluted by one damaging scandal after another. It was during this time that the reputation that is still alive and well, was firmly planted.
The Light at the End of the Dark Tunnel: O’Brien to Ogilvie, 1939-1962
Where else, but in the glorious (and notorious) County of Cook would a powerful U.S. Congressman relinquish his seat in Washington to run for the Office of Sheriff, acknowledged by many political savants as a dead-end electoral job? The answer to that question was inadvertently supplied by the Congressman who did just that, who when asked if he thought it was a good idea to allow Cook County Sheriff’s to stand for re-election and be able to serve a second term in the office. “Hell no!” replied the pragmatic Tom O’Brien. “If he can’t make it the first time don’t give him a second chance.” A brutally to the point statement but historically true. The legislature however, saw fit in the 1960s to allow the Sheriff more than one term and the track record is not too good since that decision.
Democratic Congressman Thomas O’Brien represented the state’s 6th Congressional district on Chicago’s West Side when he gave up his Congressional Washington post in order to seek and ultimately win election as Cook County Sheriff in 1938. Altruism, and the desire to faithfully serve the citizens of Cook County was no major part of his plans upon swearing in as the Sheriff of Cook County.
Through the next four years the public witnessed a remarkable expansion of slot machine gambling and syndicate-controlled road houses in the vast suburban environs which the Sheriff and his police officers seemed powerless to close down. It was during this time that the good Sheriff O’Brien earned his famous and well-deserved moniker “Blind Tom” because neither O’Brien, nor his Police chief, Lester Laird or the (then) 100 police officers in their employ could find the names and addresses of 1,380 syndicate handbook operations supplied to them by Attorney General John E. Cassidy.
Day after day O’Brien’s politically appointed cops roamed the highways and byways with bundles of grand jury summonses before bringing them back to the Sheriff complaining the addresses were all wrong. Attorney General Cassidy demanded the Sheriff take swift and immediate action but none was forthcoming. O’Brien, who himself had been arrested in a 1935 Loop gambling raid, and who legend says received a percentage of the take from the big suburban gambling dens, did little to nothing. “The Sheriff has a tough job,” complained an O’Brien apologist. Cook County remained a dark spot under the monikered “Blind Tom.” The police department was a joke to all and a political patronage plum for a greedy few. It never had a modicum of respect amongst its police peers. One officer remembered that at the outset of his career, his training sergeant told him “if you see a Cook County police squad come into your town watch it because the odds are the County coppers are going to steal something.”
After the four year stint of Sheriff, “Blind Tom” was dutifully returned to Congress in 1942, and each term thereafter until his passing in 1964 at age 85. O’Brien’s successor, Democrat Peter B. Carey, a former grain broker and member of the Board of Trade, received the endorsement of the city’s big labor unions amongst other interested power brokers. William McFetridge, President of the Building Services Employees International Union advised voters to steer the course with the party-anointed Democrat for the Cook County Sheriff’s office. “Labor has always demanded the election of men of sterling quality and human sympathy. Such a man is Peter Carey.” Carey, the former chairman of the Illinois Racing Commission, easily defeated Leo Carr, a former Illinois State Police officer. But the wily McFetridge proved not to be a good forecaster in the field of law enforcement.
Within a year Carey’s office was under siege from the well-respected Cook County State’s Attorney Thomas Courtney after someone within the Sheriff’s office tipped off the proprietors of several Cicero gambling houses of an impending high-level raid. Nineteen Cook County Highway Patrol Officers as they were then called, were brought on the carpet in an effort to learn the identity of the tipster who was in league with Jake Guzik, Murray Humphreys, Paul “the Waiter” Ricca, Ed Vogel, and Claude Maddox – the foundation of syndicate big shots who ruled the Chicago “Outfit” in the early 1940s and gave it international renown for years thereafter. The modern Chicago crime syndicate stems from their crafty leadership.
Cook County Police Chief Hugh T. McCarthy was called before a grand jury to testify about mob payoffs. McCarthy, an iron-jawed police veteran who battled his way up through the ranks of the Chicago P.D. before receiving his Cook County appointment from “Blind” Tom O’Brien, emerged from the Criminal Court Building complaining to the press that the grand jury was trying to get him to fire the 175 police officers under his command and then fire himself. Five prominent Chicago Police captains and one lieutenant were suspended as a result of this County-wide probe of illegal gambling. The grand jury returned two indictments against McCarthy for permitting the games to go on.
Sheriff Carey, who had been under medical treatment in a Milwaukee sanitarium for several weeks, died when these revelations hit the papers. It was the Cook County Sheriff’s office and Chicago Police Department’s most notorious, and wide-ranging police scandal up to that point in its colorful history.
Few steps were taken in the next few years to address the corruptive influences existing within the Sheriff’s department. Attorney Elmer Michael Walsh, the first Republican to be elected Cook County Sheriff in 24-years, assumed office in 1946 vowing to uphold his campaign promise “…..to smash the link between politicians and the nefarious gambling syndicate.” Walsh, who was the only Cook County office holder to defeat the ultimate big city politico of our times – Richard J. Daley – in a head-to-head election, was assailed all through his lackluster term for issuing 450 honorary deputy stars to political friends, and campaign contributors who flashed them for prestige and a personal sense of power. The reputation of the overall Sheriff’s department was further damaged when several hoodlums who had been taken into custody were carrying deputy stars at the time of being snatched. Years later, under another Sheriff’s regime of ill repute, one John Gattuso was carrying a star when he was cut down by Outfit bullets for fouling up a hit on gambler Ken Eto who remains a prime government informant to this day.
Sheriff Walsh retired to his law practice when his term was completed in 1950. Another Republican, – the eager-eyed John Babb – a somewhat farcical man – known around town as “Two Gun” Babb because he sported a set of fancy pearl-handle revolvers underneath his trenchcoat, defeated the Democrat standard bearer Dan “Tubbo” Gilbert in a contentious election hailed as a victory over “gang politics” by the Chicago American, a Republican newspaper whose editorializing missed the mark and whose forecasts proved not be the case.
The knowledgeable Chicago Police Captain Gilbert was particularly vulnerable to political attack, because his wealth derived (some say) from success in the stock market raised the eyebrows of press watchdogs, and provided Babb with an exploitive campaign issue. How was it possible for a cop to become a millionaire working in the State’s Attorney’s office for as many years as Dan Gilbert? Babb effectively drove this point home, and promised Cook County voters that he would end the ills of patronage abuse in the Sheriff’s office day after he ended Gilbert’s political career by more than 300,000 vote margin.
The only badges he would issue, would be to press reporters and photographers. “These badges,” Babb declared, “will serve notice on every employee of the Sheriff’s office that the newspapers are to have full information about every event occurring within the jurisdiction of the department.”
The credibility of this swaggering ex-Navy lieutenant suffered a blow in the next four years when it was revealed that 1,200 special deputy badges were sold to political cronies. Sheriff Babb hired former convicts to serve under his auspices as correctional officers in the dangerously overcrowded Cook County Jail. With respect to the suburban gambling and strip joints, state law obliged Sheriff Babb to step in when local officials proved negligent in their duties, and such was the case in many mob-controlled suburban areas. Despite repeated warnings to Babb from the highly visible Virgil Peterson, Executive Director of the Chicago Crime Commission, syndicate-controlled vice was just as wide open as ever in unincorporated Cook County. So much for Sheriff’s office reform and the name of John Babb still brings a chuckle of amusement to the old-timers who recall his four years at the helm.
Cook County was again to be “blessed” with another reform Sheriff in 1954. This high-minded idealist happened to be a well-respected Democrat and his name was Joseph D. Lohman. A former University of Chicago sociology professor, Lohman headed the State Pardon and Parole Board before defeating William “Bud” Runzel in the 1954 Cook County Sheriff’s race – a vicious, mud-slinging, name-calling campaign tarnished by accusations that Republican Governor William Stratton doctored a tape recorded speech of Lohman’s, in which the candidate allegedly compared police officers to ladies of the evening. “What is that, that one might ask, that there is in common between a loose woman who is in prostitution and a burglar, or to put it another way around – and this is a very interesting thing – what is there in common between a police officer and a prostitute?”
Lohman responded by accusing his opponent of mob ties. Runzel owned an electrical wiring supply house that sold equipment to a hoodlum-dominated business in good old Town of Cicero – a municipality that to this day remains the “diamond tiara” of Outfit-influenced communities in the Chicagoland area.
He was a large, gruff individual profoundly and sincerely interested in curing the social ills of crime – juvenile delinquency, and joblessness. “Sheriff Joe” however, earned only mixed reviews during his four stormy years of office but he was a breath of fresh air and for a time, received grudging respect. On the one hand, Lohman opened the first training school for Cook County Police officers. He reorganized the Cook County Jail, and started a Major Investigations Unit (M.I.U.), following the unsolved child murders of the Schuessler-Peterson boys, Judith Mae Anderson, and the baffling case of the slain Grimes sisters.
Ultimately though, Lohman was compromised by charges of corruption leveled against four officers accused of receiving kickbacks from a Calumet City dive. The fired cops accused Undersheriff Thomas Brennan of raising $75,000 for Lohman to use in his 1958 campaign for State Treasurer. Lohman replied that the figure was ridiculous. His total contributions amounted to no more than $42,000.
Joe Lohman was blinded by political ambition at a time when Cook County residents demanded, but never received, a solution to the horrific child murders which tore apart the fabric of the communities in which they occurred. The bungled murder investigations cost him voter support. Lohman desperately wanted to be governor, and upon making his overture to Democratic party leaders, he was promptly rebuffed by the fast rising and powerful Richard J. Daley who exiled him into political limbo. After losing the State Treasurer’s race in 1958, Lohman returned to the halls of ivy to start up one of the first schools of criminal justice at a major university level. In 1960 he counseled the newly appointed Chicago Police Superintendent O.W. Wilson during his re-reorganization of the department after the Summerdale Scandal (the most infamous in the Chicago Police Department to date). A year later Lohman left Cook County and moved to California to accept a professorship – his political career was at an end.
Frank Sain was next. The long-time warden of the Cook County Jail took the Office of Sheriff in December 1958. Unlike Joe Lohman, who was at least willing to attack syndicate operations head on, Sheriff Sain turned a blind and unknowing eye toward their activities the entire time he was in office.
In 1960, the Chicago Crime Commission checked 207 addresses in Cook County where illegal gambling violations were observed. Its now famous and influential Executive Director, Virgil Peterson turned the addresses over to the good Sheriff Sain, expecting an all- out follow-up. A feeble response angered Peterson and the Crime Commission. Sheriff’s Police officers conducted raids in only five of these places. “During the entire four-year term of Sheriff Frank G. Sain,” Peterson wrote in 1962, “no effective action was taken by his office against wide-open syndicate gambling operations in either the suburban towns or in the unincorporated areas.” State’s Attorney Benjamin Adamowski remarked in police vernacular that Sheriff Sain “couldn’t find an elephant in a phone booth.”
Frank Sain left the Cook County Police Department in total chaos and disarray. The incoming administration did not even know the location of some of the County squad cars which had simply been abandoned out on the highways and byways by the outgoing regime. Little to nothing of the meaningful departmental records could be found. It was as if the Office of Sheriff never existed from an administrative point of view upon the changing of the guard.
At election time in 1962, voters were left to ponder for themselves the age-old question of whether or not the elected office of Cook County Sheriff could ever be reformed, given the caliber of men who occupied the office thus far. Voters demanded something more from their candidates than the motley collection of political hacks and grafters who called themselves Cook County Sheriff. Sensing that the voters had enough, Republican and Democratic slatemakers finally presented two highly qualified candidates to represent their respective tickets in the 1962 Fall election that went right down to the wire.
The Democrats slated Roswell T. Spencer, a former F.B.I. agent or renown and chief investigator for the State’s Attorney Police. He was a law enforcement pro – a top notch candidate with all the right credentials The respected Daniel P. Ward served as State’s Attorney during the time Sain was making a mockery of the Sheriff’s office law enforcement objectives. Spencer, who supervised more than 200 vice raids into Cook County, earned the praise of the Crime Commission’s Virgil Peterson, which never came cheaply. All agreed that Roswell Spencer would have undoubtedly made a good Sheriff if he were elected, but the Sain debacle left voters with a bitter taste in their mouths in this off- year election.
Instead, Cook County residents vested their hopes in the 39-year-old Republican candidate, Richard B. Ogilvie, who had served U.S. Attorney General William G. Rogers as Chief of the Midwestern unit of the “Special Group on Organized Crime.” Ogilvie was a man of integrity – with a tough reputation. He was a World War II veteran of tank combat under General George Patton’s command. In 1960 he successfully prosecuted Tony Accardo on charges of claiming false income tax deductions. The U. S. Court of Appeals later reversed the decision, and Accardo was acquitted in his second trial but Ogilvie’s reputation was already established and he was admired for his leadership. He was going after the mob kingpins, plain and simple and no compromises were to be made.
When asked by a reporter if he would choose his assistants and deputies through the usual party patronage system Ogilvie responded: “I will select them myself. Every police officer will be my personal appointment.” Sheriff Ogilvie spoke with the courage of his convictions and kept his word. Light had at last broken through the shaft of the long dark tunnel in the Cook County Sheriff’s office and Ogilvie became a “shining star,” but he did not escape without his own “Mark of Cain.”
Sheriff Ogilvie made one great mistake when he bestowed upon one Richard Cain (nee: Richard Scalzetti) an ex- Chicago cop with questionable credentials and later proven an Outfit “mole” to serve in his administration as Chief Investigator within the Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU). Cain’s corruption went beyond the usual nickel and dime graft so common those days. In a little part time work, Richard Cain could earn himself $5,000 by shaking down illegal abortionists for walking around money. who were prime targets for police extortion in those days. The roguish Cain, who tarnished Sheriff Ogilvie’s administration and impeccable reputation in a far reaching scandal, was once described by former Chicago American columnist Jack Mabley one of the most powerful journalists of the era, , and also retired F.B.I. Agent and author Bill Roemer as the “most interesting man they had ever met.” Neither individual knew of the other’s comments but both had met and dealt with the most interesting men of their days. Such a testimonial speaks for itself coming from two different quarters of worldly experience.
Richard Cain garnered nearly as much media publicity as a roguish police legend could get and a lot was created by staged raids. In recent years only the Operation Safebet scandal which produced a wave of indictments matched Cain’s proclivity for raining unfavorable attention down upon the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department but compared to him they were small time – small potatoes – but the Safebet guys in the Sheriff’s Police brought the police department’s reputation to its knees and it hasn’t got off them since. A great potential for a respected law enforcement department was grievously wounded and the citizens of Cook County suffered the consequences.