Blood Feud by Gene O’Shea
George Jayne thought he had found a way to neutralize the man who wanted to kill him.
For years, George had been locked in a vicious feud with his half brother Silas. In the decades after World War II, the two had pulled themselves up by the straps of their cowboy boots to make successes in the clubby, moneyed world of the show horse circuit, and each of them owned thriving stables in the northern suburbs. But for reasons buried in the shadowed history of a troubled family, Silas had grown to hate George and vowed to have him murdered.
Then, in October 1955, the naked bodies of three dead boys were discovered in a forest preserve near Norridge, throwing parents across Chicago into a near panic and igniting a frenzied dragnet by police. A few days later, George apparently stumbled upon a dark secret: He told his wife, Marion, that he had information linking Silas and three other people to the slaying of the boys. George and his wife, who had young children at the time, lived in fear of Silas. Now George told Marion he had enough evidence to “put Silas Jayne and others in the electric chair.” Marion begged her husband to go to the police, but George, convinced that Silas had cops on his payroll, refused. Instead, according to what Marion later told investigators, George said he would write a letter detailing everything he knew about the murders. If anything were to happen to him, George said, Marion was to turn the letter over to police.
Later on, however, George told his wife that he had changed his mind. He realized that the contents of such a letter would bring shame upon the Jayne family name. Whether the letter—if it ever really existed—served to deter Silas for a time will never be known for certain. But in 1970, George was shot to death in his home by a man acting on Silas’s instructions.
The saga of George and Silas Jayne is a terrifying and baffling Cain and Abel story, played out against the tony horse show world, where rich dads spend thousands of dollars on gorgeous pets for their daughters. Elements of the Jayne family’s story are likely to be rerun in court in the next few weeks, as prosecutors try to bring in another conviction for the murder of the three boys, Bobby Peterson, 14, and his friends John and Tony Schuessler, ages 13 and 11, one of the most haunting crimes in Chicago’s history. The defendant, Kenneth Hansen, whose 1995 conviction in the case was overturned two years ago, was a close associate of Silas Jayne’s.
Hansen has insisted that he is innocent. But a prosecution witness in the earlier trial testified that he was told Silas had helped Hansen dispose of the bodies—the secret that may have made its way to George through the gossipy back stalls of the horse business. It is likely that George used the information “as leverage against Si,” speculates John Schomburg, a close friend of George’s. “It was his only ace in the hole.”
* * *
Silas Jayne, who died of leukemia at 80 in 1987, made a larger-than-life villain. He was a classic bully, a muscled cowboy with a face as tough as saddle leather and intense cold eyes. On his left forearm he bore a tattoo of a dagger, with a snake coiled around the blade. Si, as he was known, wore a 16-carat diamond pinky ring and had a 1907 $20 gold piece fashioned into a belt buckle. He made a hobby of collecting $1,000 bills, which he placed in his money belt. At any given time he carried up to $10,000 in cash—for making bail, some said. He adorned his cars—usually the latest model Cadillac—with steer horns affixed to the grille.
As a businessman, he had a good eye for horseflesh, but he was utterly unscrupulous, and some who worked in law enforcement say he ran a virtual Mob operation, using deceit, threats, violence, and a con man’s wiles to get what he wanted. “He was a truly lawless man,” says Ronald Safer, a former federal prosecutor who helped expose Si’s criminal organization after he died. “It’s fair to say no one would have cooperated with us if he was still alive.”
On the surface, George Jayne was quite the opposite—slight of build, affable, close to his family. “He was a businessman,” says Schomburg. And George used his suave manners to ascend into higher social circles, which helped him pick up clients.
The story of Silas Jayne’s operation and the Schuessler-Peterson murders lay virtually dormant until about ten years ago, when law enforcement authorities began to unravel a tangled knot of interweaving murder mysteries linked to the 1977 disappearance of Helen Brach, the candy heiress and horse owner. In the past decade, at least 18 people have been convicted on a wide variety of charges connected to the case, including conspiracy to murder Brach, arson, and insurance fraud based on the destruction of show horses. Later this year, Frank Jayne Jr., Silas’s nephew, is likely to stand trial for arson in connection with a July 1973 fire that killed three horses near Dixon, in northwestern Illinois. Though all these prosecutions came about after the death of Si, his oversize personality looms over the sprawling investigations. “Silas could walk in a room and charm the socks off of you,” says David Hamm, a former State Police investigator. “He had a kind of a country charm about him.” But, Hamm adds, “he was an evil, evil man.”
George Jayne knew that about his brother, yet some investigators suspect that George’s decision to keep quiet about the boys’ murders eventually cost him his life and the lives of five others.
* * *
The Jayne family used to tell a story about young Silas: One day, a goose on the family farm near Lake Zurich bit him. Though Si was only six, he took matters into his own hands. Grabbing an ax, he chased down and slaughtered the entire flock. Blood-spattered, he then excitedly exclaimed to horrified family members what he had done.
Si was born on July 3, 1907, the fourth child and first of four boys in a family that would eventually grow to 12 children. Si’s father, Arthur, bounced around as a farmer, truck driver, and, during Prohibition, a sugar supplier to bootleggers. Si’s mother, Katherine, tried to keep a hand on her unruly brood. “They were rodeo people, every bloody one of them,” recalls John Schomburg. “The whole idea of moving into showing [horses] and that kind of thing was a step up in the world to them.”
Si never got past the ninth grade; instead, he worked on the family farm. Arthur and Katherine separated, and Katherine took a liking to a man named George W. Spunner, a Waukegan lawyer who owned a campground of summer cottages along the shores of Lake Zurich. On November 2, 1923—when Si was 16—Katherine gave birth to George William Jayne. Though Spunner was the child’s father, Katherine gave the boy the Jayne surname, probably to avoid any scandalous talk in the tiny town where she and her children lived.
Si’s trouble with the law started early. In 1924, at age 17, he was charged with rape. Spunner represented him in court, but apparently didn’t mount much of a defense. Si was convicted, and by some accounts Spunner was not too disappointed that Silas would be spending some time behind bars. Later, some people suggested that the case had catalyzed Si’s hatred toward his brother.
The Jayne boys were excellent horsemen, and several years after Si was released from prison, he and his brothers De Forest and Frank went into the stable business, working at, among others, the Green Tree Stables in Norridge and the Elston Riding Academy in Chicago. By the 1930s, the Jaynes owned a ranch outside Woodstock and began shipping trainloads of wild horses from the West to the railyards in town. The Jaynes used some of the horses at their stables; others were shipped off and slaughtered for dog food. In any case, the brothers drove the herds through Woodstock out to their ranch, causing a memorable commotion.
“They were just a little on the rough side, maybe too much on the rough side,” recalls Raymond Murphy, an 81-year-old Woodstock resident. Murphy remembers that the Jayne brothers and their buddies had earned such a notorious reputation that a local cattle auctioneer dubbed them the “Jesse Jayne Gang.” The name stuck and the Jaynes did nothing to dispel their rough image. “I didn’t mind being around them,” Murphy says. “You had to watch your step, though. If you saw them, you said hello. But, man, you didn’t want to get mixed up with the Jesse Jayne Gang.”
De Forest Jayne, who was nicknamed “D,” was considered an outstanding trick rider and gifted instructor. He took George under his wing, and the two developed a close relationship. D also did his best to keep his other brothers out of trouble. But in 1938, D’s fiancée, Mae Sweeney, a former riding student, committed suicide by drinking arsenic. The day after she was buried, De Forest dressed himself in his rodeo costume, grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun, and headed to the cemetery. He shot himself at Mae’s freshly turned grave.
D’s suicide removed an occasionally moderating influence from Si’s life; it also may have aggravated the antagonism between Si and George. Before she died of cancer in 1996, Marion Jayne—George’s widow—told federal agents that Si had been furious because D supposedly left 20 acres of land at Waukegan Road and Caldwell Avenue in Morton Grove to George.
During World War II, Si, a convicted felon, was barred from the draft. Instead Si and the Jesse Jayne Gang turned a handsome profit in the black market by selling horsemeat as beef, which was rationed during the war. The gang also rustled cattle from farmers in the northern suburbs. The black-market action brought Si into contact with members of the Chicago Outfit, and investigators say that Si forged relationships that he maintained throughout his life.
George was in the horse business with his brothers, but the bad blood with Si remained. In a statement he gave in the 1960s, George recalled that Si had owned a vicious Doberman pinscher named Geezer that he liked to let loose on people for entertainment. One night in 1940, as George was walking up to the front door of Silas’s house, Si let the dog go. George said he had to beat the animal off with a cane.
* * *
The show horse circuit that George and Si entered after the war is a high-cost, high-stakes amalgam of business and hobby. It is not unusual for owners to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a horse, and the expense of maintenance and training go up from there. The sport is as much about bragging rights as it is about beautiful animals trained to perfection, and over the years showing horses has remained one of the favorite pursuits of the daughters of the rich. For the horse dealers and trainers, though, the sport is a deadly serious business. In top competitions—in which horse and rider show off their jumping ability or their form in following a course—purses can run as high as $100,000.
What’s more, owners or potential owners want to buy from the winning stable or from the trainer who produces the best horse. At many horse shows, animals are bought and sold on the spot, their price directly correlating to their performance that day. And there is no Blue Book for these animals; the value of a horse is whatever someone will pay.
Despite his rough demeanor, Si was not terribly out of place in the horsy set. He knew horses well, and he could turn the charm on and off when needed. And like all good con men, he figured out a new angle. State Police investigator David Hamm and agent James Delorto of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—both now working elsewhere—pieced together many details of Si’s operation. They say he preyed on the paternal instincts of the wealthy men who wanted to provide the best for their young daughters.
“He loved to get the daughters of well-to-do businessmen and professionals, 12- and 13-year-old girls,” Hamm says. “There’s a whole history of him escalating the price of the horse up and up. He would tell the father of a young girl, ‘Your daughter’s got talent; she could win a blue ribbon. But she needs a better horse.’ Now, what father won’t fall for that? Well, the next thing you know, her $1,500 horse becomes a $20,000 horse.”
The lawmen say that Si would often sell a “glue factory nag” that he doctored up to look good. “By the time the girl’s father started to figure out what was happening, the horse would mysteriously [develop] a broken leg and need to be destroyed,” Delorto says. To keep the heat off, Silas would insist that buyers purchase insurance right away; the policy payouts seem to have calmed the buyers.
Worse, young girls would often spend hours at the stables unsupervised by a parent, and, according to investigators, Si introduced some of them to sex. He often bragged about his exploits, describing his assaults as “funning” with the girls. Later, if the parents complained about an overpriced horse, Si would threaten to humiliate the girl. “‘She’s [had sex with] half the guys in my stable,’ he would say, if the parents talked about going to the police. ‘Do you want all that to come out?’ That was usually the end of it,” Hamm reports.
Hamm and Delorto say they were told that over the years Si conned, threatened, or manipulated dozens of families in this fashion. In some instances Si never touched the girls. But the threat of a scandalous rumor about their daughters was enough for many socially ambitious parents to drop the matter.
Silas also was not shy about carrying out various acts of violence against those who infringed on his business interests. Dr. Thomas Phillips, founder of the Illinois Equine Hospital and Clinic in Naperville, says he was approached by Si and one of his associates in 1967 and asked to sign off on the prepurchase health of an animal that Si was selling. Phillips says he refused because an X-ray of the animal showed it was lame. Si apparently had injected the horse with a local anesthetic that masked severe arthritis, and the buyer was unaware the beast was afflicted. Si then tried to bribe Phillips, offering him 5 percent of the purchase price of whatever horses Phillips would vet for him. Phillips says he told Si to “go to hell.” Shortly thereafter a bomb exploded at Phillips’s clinic on Eola Road, destroying a part of the building.
“The next morning I had a phone call and they said, ‘Dr. Phillips, if you don’t change your way of vetting horses, the next blast will be at your house,’” Phillips says now. Despite the threat, Phillips says, he decided he could not back down. “I had no choice,” he insists. “I had a wife and four kids and every bit of money in that building. I had to stay here.” Phillips purchased a handgun and began wearing it around the office in a shoulder holster. And while police investigating the explosion could not tie the crime to Si, a family friend in the Naperville city government arranged for police protection at Phillips’s home around the clock for a period of two weeks.
Si and his organization also became adept at insurance fraud. Property owned by Si and other members of the Jesse Jayne Gang had a way of catching fire. Homes, barns, businesses, and horses were destroyed. The gang also used arson and bombings as a weapon against enemies and rivals. In 1961, a wealthy Riverdale factory owner sued Si after a horse he had bought from him proved to be lame. The businessman dropped the suit after a bomb exploded at a farmhouse that he owned, causing $5,000 in damage.
Over the years, one of Si’s key colleagues was a thug-of-all-trades named Curtis Hansen, who was the brother of Kenneth Hansen. As a member of the Jesse Jayne Gang, Curtis often participated in Si’s schemes; at the same time, federal agents say, Curtis was a hit man for the Catura crime family in Chicago Heights, suspected in seven Outfit murders. The association with Curtis Hansen gave Si additional leverage. But Hamm and Delorto say Si stayed independent of the Outfit and gave it a wide berth. The mobsters treated Si the same way. “[Members of the Outfit] weren’t in the horse business, so they weren’t going to try and muscle him out,” says Delorto. “Plus, he had a bunch of guys working for him.”
By 1952, George had started to break away from Si. Marion later told investigators that George had begun to distance himself after Si ordered him to break the leg of a healthy horse; George refused, enraging Si. The two remained close enough, however, that Si lent George $90,000 to buy the Happy Day Stables at Cumberland and Montrose Avenues in Norwood Park. Si used one of the Happy Day barns for his horse brokering. But around 1954, he moved into his own facility, the Idle Hour Stable at 8600 Higgins Road in Park Ridge. Instead of being in business with Si, George was now a rival.
* * *
On Sunday, October 16, 1955, Bobby Pe- terson and John and Tony Schuessler left their Jefferson Park homes to go downtown to a Disney movie. Their exact activities that day are uncertain, but they didn’t return home that night. Two days later, their bodies were found in a ditch near the Robinson Woods.
John Konen was one of a team of sergeants assigned to the Chicago Police task force responsible for investigating the crime. He says the Schuessler-Peterson investigation was flawed from the start. None of the detectives and supervisors later assigned to the task force had visited the scene when the bodies were found. The scene itself was altered before police arrived—an overzealous coroner’s aide had moved the boys’ bodies for the benefit of newspaper photographers before any forensic evidence had been gathered.
Over the next two years, the task force interviewed thousands of people and compiled more than 6,000 pages of reports in hopes of catching the boys’ killer or killers. Almost immediately, Konen says, it was obvious to him and others that the Idle Hour Stable was a likely spot for the murder scene. In 1955 the Chicago police knew little of Silas except that he was a foul-mouthed brute, Konen says. But several residents living near the Idle Hour had reported hearing children screaming in the vicinity of the stable on the night the boys disappeared, and one had heard a car peeling away.
“We realized the logical place [for the murder] would have been something adjacent to where the bodies were found,” says Konen, who today is retired and lives in Tinley Park. “You look at the city map: right down Higgins Road off of River Road there is the stable, the Idle Hour.”
A team of detectives visited the Idle Hour ten days after the bodies were found, but returned empty-handed. “Nobody knew anything. Nobody heard anything,” Konen recalls. “This team talked to an old couple who lived on the premises and they talked to four stable hands. They never talked to Silas.”
The team also never interviewed Kenneth Hansen, and the question of whether Hansen worked at the Idle Hour Stable became a point of contention in his first trial. Hansen was definitely close to Si—close enough to refer to him publicly as “Uncle Si”—and prosecution witnesses placed Hansen at the stable at the time of the murders. Hansen’s defense team, however, presented evidence showing that in October 1955 Hansen was on an extended honeymoon with his wife, Beverly, in Texas.
“There was no relationship between Silas Jayne and Ken Hansen until the early 1960s,” says one of Hansen’s defense attorneys, Leonard Goodman. “He was not around the Idle Hour in 1955. It’s a complete fabrication.” Hansen never worked for Silas and visited the Idle Hour only once or twice, Goodman says.
Another team of detectives went to the Idle Hour on December 5th. They also came back empty-handed. The investigation, Konen says, “went nowhere; it just died.’’
In hindsight, Konen and ATF agents looking into the murders almost 40 years later were flabbergasted that detectives had not followed the apparent leads in 1955. And finally, both Konen and the federal agents came to the same possible conclusion: Si had used his influence with key police officials to avoid scrutiny. Indeed, within a few years of the boys’ murders, Si had developed close relationships with corrupt police officers.
“When you look back over the years you figure, Why in the hell didn’t we pursue that more?” Konen says. “Why didn’t we do this or that?”
* * *
By the late 1950s, Si and George were in direct competition. George’s wife, Marion, rode horses for his stable, while Si’s future wife Dorothy McCloud rode for him. (In all, Si would be married three times and divorced twice; he never had children.) George’s reputation for producing winners began to take a toll on Si’s wallet. Si’s anger boiled over in 1961 when George’s 14-year-old daughter, Linda, took top prize at the Oak Brook Hounds horse show, beating Si’s best horse. Si bellowed to his brother, “I’ll never talk to you again, you bastard!” From that day on, Si actively harassed George, court testimony shows. In July 1962, George’s office was burglarized. In September someone loosened the front wheel lugs on George’s truck/trailer at the Ohio State Fair. After that, George hired security guards. He and his friends started carrying guns for protection. “Back then everyone was armed,” Schomburg says. “You never knew what was going to happen. If [Si] got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning he might kill someone for entertainment.”
There were death threats—in 1963, after George’s horse won the open jumping event at the Lake Forest Horse Show at the Onwentsia Club; in May 1965, at the Cincinnati Horse Show. There, George’s horses were ridden by Cheryl Lynn Rude, a 22-year-old champion equestrian who had ridden for Si until, her sister says, he demanded sex. A month after that show, back at the Tri-Color Farms, George asked Rude to move his two-door gold Cadillac. When Rude turned the key, dynamite alligator-clipped to the ignition detonated, killing her.
Investigators immediately focused on the rift between George and Si. Cook County Sheriff’s detective Bernard Singer noted the differences between the two brothers in a report he wrote in 1965: “George Jayne . . . has an exceptionally pleasing personality and is able to project an image of polish and good breeding, although there is no doubt that this has been an acquired talent.” Silas, Singer wrote, “may be a pathological liar . . . and presents an extremely rough exterior both as to . . . speech and demeanor.”
Detectives quickly zeroed in on a Morgan Park resident, James Blottiaux, as a prime suspect, but the case against him was dropped after evidence disappeared from the Chicago Police Department. Rude’s parents were aware that police had a prime suspect in the case, and their tragedy was compounded when the investigation was dropped, says Marla Bryan, Rude’s older sister. “My mother and father were so distraught,” Bryan says. “They knew Silas Jayne was behind it, but no arrests were ever made.” Rude’s death virtually destroyed her parents, Bryan says.
Years later, federal agents reopened the case following their initial success in the Schuessler-Peterson murders, and in July 1999, Blottiaux was convicted of murdering Rude. At the trial, testimony indicated that Si had paid Blottiaux $10,000 to plant the bomb in an effort to kill George.
“Though we never had to determine a motive, we were entitled to do so,” says assistant state’s attorney Mary Lacy, who prosecuted the case. “There were a lot of reasons why Silas wanted to kill George. One was professional jealousy. Trying to keep George quiet about what he knew about the Schuessler-Peterson murders could have been [another].” (Blottiaux is now serving 100 to 300 years in prison.)
After Rude was killed, John Schomburg suggested that George hire a hit man and retaliate. “I told him, ‘Jeez, the son of a bitch is trying to get you,’” says Schomburg. “‘Why don’t you just do it?’”
George did take some precautions. He never ate at the same restaurant twice in a row; he would start his car with his feet sticking out, so a blast would blow him out instead of through the roof. “He knew he was a target,” Schomburg says. “He’d walk up to the ring with a horse on either side of him. That way, if somebody took a shot at him, the horse would get killed.”
* * *
Five days after Rude was killed, two other men that Si had hired to kill George arrived in Chicago. Si offered them $15,000 to do the job. But they balked and soon confessed to George. George then sent them to the Cook County Sheriff’s Police.
The Sheriff’s Police set up a sting to get Si on tape ordering the murder of his brother. Wearing a recording device, one of the men, Stephen Grod, met with Si at a horse show in Wisconsin. Si told him, “It’s time to buy a horse.” Grod later claimed that was Si’s code to kill George. Si also gave Grod a $1,000 down payment. The authorities indicted Si for conspiracy to commit murder, and the case went to trial in March 1966.
When Grod took the witness stand, he claimed he couldn’t remember anything about the $15,000 offer to kill George, although he had told a grand jury about it in detail. “I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning. I’m sick,” Grod said. The case against Si collapsed. Grod—who Hamm says had been influenced by one of Si’s allies—was found in contempt of court and jailed for 30 days.
A few months later, three young horse enthusiasts—Ann Miller, 21, Patty Blough, 19, and Renee Bruhl, 19—disappeared and have long been presumed murdered. The three were last seen getting into a blue-and-white speedboat at the Indiana Dunes State Park on July 2, 1966. Hamm and federal agents say that the girls may have seen who planted the bomb that killed Rude, and that Si may have been behind their disappearance. The case remains unsolved to this day.
Though he would not hire a hit man, George tried other ways to keep the peace. In 1967, in a deal brokered at a family reunion, George agreed to quit competing in horse shows. When George’s two oldest daughters were married, he paid off Si, Schomburg says, “to make sure that there wouldn’t be trouble at the wedding or the reception. He told me it had cost him a lot to get the peace.”
One of George’s schemes for self-protection backfired terribly. In 1969 he had a transmitter affixed to Si’s car, so that a receiver would beep for George whenever the car was near. When the device stopped working, George figured the transmitter’s battery had died and hired the son of a former Inverness police chief to change it. Frank Michelle Jr., 28, an ex-convict, was to sneak onto Si’s Our Day Farm near Elgin to do the job. Michelle’s wife, their two children in tow, dropped him off there. But Si’s dogs spotted the intruder, and Si shot him to death. At a coroner’s inquest, Si successfully claimed self-defense, alleging that Michelle had rung his doorbell and then fired at him through the door. Si testified that he had grabbed an M-1 carbine and chased Michelle into his yard. “I closed in on him as he tried to pull himself up to a fence and from a distance of eight feet I emptied the gun into the man,” Si said. Michelle was shot nine times.
In 1997, informants gave ATF agents a different account of Michelle’s death: After being alerted by the dogs, Si captured the intruder and then tortured him, crushing his genitals with a pair of locking pliers. Finally, Si and two other men shot Michelle as he begged for his life.
* * *
By now, Si was more determined than ever to kill George. In November 1969, Markham police officer Edwin Nefeld, a rogue cop who was on Si’s payroll, approached a man named Melvin Adams, a building engineer by trade. Nefeld wanted to know if Adams was interested in doing “a hit” for the well-known horseman.
Adams had never killed anyone in his life, but he had pulled a gun on a man while interceding in a spat involving his younger brother. “I was a little wild in those days,’’ Adams admits. Word of the incident had apparently reached Nefeld. Adams told Nefeld he was interested. “I wanted to see if I could do it,” says Adams, 68, who now works as a janitor at a Florida department store. “I just wanted to see if I could cross that line and kill a man.” A few days later Adams met with Si and Nefeld at a tavern in Harvey. He remembers Si was in a good mood, “a happy-go-lucky, jovial sort who didn’t seem capable of hurting anyone.”
For several months Adams tailed George, following him to horse shows around the country—and on one occasion right up to his home—but found himself unable to pull the trigger. “In New Orleans I was right behind him. I wasn’t two feet from him. He was by himself . . . in the parking lot. It was dark. I had the gun in my pocket, a .38-caliber snub-nose.’’ But, Adams says, he thought of the consequences for himself. “I couldn’t do it.”
Adams went back to Si and told him George was too difficult to corner. Si raised the fee to $30,000 and suggested that Adams get an accomplice. So Adams persuaded a coworker, Julius Barnes, to help.
On October 28, 1970, Adams and Barnes drove to George Jayne’s home in Inverness. “I just saw [Barnes] go up to the house and heard a kind of muffled shot,” Adams says. “I had the hood of my car up, like I was working on my car. A kid passed on a bicycle. He got close to me. I heard that pop, and I figured [George] was shot. I got in the car, [and Barnes] got in the car. And then I said, ‘Did you take care of it?’ He said, ‘Yeah. It’s all done. It’s OK.’” The two men drove back to Chicago in silence.
Barnes had shot George once in the heart through the basement window of his home while he was playing cards with his wife and daughter Linda. George was 47 at the time.
John Schomburg says he’ll never forget the phone call he received after George was murdered. “Marion called me. She said, ‘Johnny, George is dead. Please, there’s going to be a lot of people upset. Try to keep them cool-headed. They’ll listen to you.’ Then the phone started ringing off the wall. I just stayed up all bloody night.” Many of George’s friends wanted retaliation. But Schomburg heeded Marion’s wishes, telling the others to stay clear of Si. “George had always wanted everybody to back off,” he says. “George didn’t want his friends or employees to get involved in any of it.”
Within days of George’s murder, several letters came to light that he had written to be opened in the event of his untimely death. The letters explained that Si had been trying to have him killed and listed possible suspects. In a letter to his lawyer dated July 16, 1969, George wrote, “I know without doubt that he plans to kill me and someday will probably be successful. To date I’ve been lucky for he persists in hiring only amateurs that he can control and who are frightened of him.” The letter concludes, “If he is successful . . . I ask you to guide and protect my family for they will need help. . . . [I]f there is any way to make this maniac pay for depriving my family of their support and me of the pleasures of seeing them to maturity, I ask that you proceed and prosecute to the fullest.”
None of the letters mention the Schuessler-Peterson murders. Hamm recalls that Marion, who told authorities she believed her husband may have destroyed a letter that did so, searched throughout the couple’s expansive home looking for such a document. Marion also told Hamm she believed George’s murder was tied to his knowledge of the slayings.
Meanwhile, with the knowledge of IBI agents, Marion approached Adams and his girlfriend and showed them a bag containing $25,000 in reward money. She begged the couple to tell authorities who had killed her husband. Adams caved in and began talking to investigators. “I was between a rock and a hard place,” says Adams, speaking publicly about the killing for the first time. “I knew what I did, and I knew they knew I did it. I just didn’t know who was going to get me first, the police or Silas Jayne.”
Authorities charged Adams, Barnes, Nefeld, Si, and Joseph LaPlaca, one of Si’s crew, in connection with George Jayne’s murder. Adams was granted immunity and testified against the others. After a 30-day trial, Barnes was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 to 35 years in prison (he was eventually released but later murdered in an unrelated dispute). Silas and LaPlaca were sentenced to 6 to 20 years on conspiracy to commit murder; Si served seven years in the Vienna Correctional Center. Before trial, Nefeld pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder and was sentenced to three to ten years in prison.
Adams never collected the $25,000 reward. “I didn’t want it. I didn’t deserve it,” he says. “I should have done the right thing and gone to the state’s attorney when Nefeld first approached me.’’
* * *
Within days of George’s murder, John Konen, who was then a Chicago Police lieutenant assigned to the Wentworth Area One auto theft unit, pulled out old reports on the Schuessler-Peterson case. Konen had been keeping an eye on the comings and goings of the Jayne family since the three boys were murdered, and he had always suspected that Silas Jayne may have played a role in the boys’ deaths. “Maybe the word got out,” Konen says. “If George got wind of that, it would be a powerful thing to have over his brother Silas. Silas would have reason to get rid of George from that point on.’’
In a five-page report to his superiors, Konen detailed his theory that George had blackmailed Si over the Schuessler-Peterson murders. One of Konen’s bosses arranged for him to meet with the IBI and to pass along what he had put together. He did so, but apparently the leads were dropped. “I never heard anything about it again,” Konen says.
Separately, during the course of the Jayne murder investigation, David Hamm interviewed Kenneth Hansen and walked away convinced that Hansen—who had the reputation for picking up boys—was involved in the murders. Hamm shared his suspicions with superiors, but no witnesses could be found, and the trail again turned cold.
The case remained dormant until December 1991, when William “Red” Wemette, who had been reading about the Helen Brach investigation, telephoned James Delorto to say he knew something about the murders of three boys in 1955. Wemette had been in the federal witness protection program since his testimony in 1989 had helped convict a Mob hit man. He told Delorto that he had lived with Hansen for several years, and he claimed that Hansen had admitted murdering the three boys.
Delorto assigned two of his top agents to look into the matter, and they began to build a case against Hansen. The investigation moved slowly, but it picked up after Kenneth’s brother Curtis died in 1993. One witness, Herbert Hollatz, was in such fear of Curtis Hansen that, according to Delorto, he refused to testify against Kenneth Hansen until he was shown a snapshot of Curtis Hansen’s headstone and a copy of his death certificate.
At the trial in 1995, the prosecution’s case was built largely on the testimony of four former associates of Hansen’s who said he had confessed at various times to killing the boys. One of the witnesses, a man named Roger Spry, who said he had been abused by Hansen as a young boy, provided a scenario that placed Silas Jayne at the scene of the Schuessler-Peterson murders. Spry testified that one night when he was 15, Hansen opened up to him about the crime: “Somehow or other Si’s name come up and I said, you know, ‘One of these days I’d like to ride with Si,’ and Kenny goes, ‘You don’t want to ride for that man; you don’t want to have nothing to do with him; he’s crazy.’”
Spry then testified that Hansen told him he had picked up the three boys hitchhiking and was having sex with both of the younger boys when Bobby Peterson walked in. When Bobby started talking about going to the police, Hansen grabbed him in a chokehold and “accidentally” strangled the boy.
The testimony continued:
Q: What did he tell you he did after he accidentally choked the older boy to death?
Q: What did he tell you happened after he killed the remaining two boys?
Q: What did he tell you happened after Si showed up?
Q: What did he tell you Si said to him?
Q: What happened next?
* * *
Defense attorneys for Hansen tried to discredit Spry’s testimony, showing that he had been paid $4,000 to relocate after agreeing to testify and that the government had arranged a plea bargain for him in which he received 18 months’ probation on an arson conviction instead of three years in prison.
After deliberating for just an hour and 40 minutes, the jury found Hansen guilty, and he was sentenced to 200 to 300 years in prison. In May 2000, a state appeals court overturned the conviction on the grounds that jurors had been allowed to hear prejudicial testimony about Hansen’s pederasty. The appellate court ruled that, in particular, the trial judge should not have allowed evidence that showed that during a 20-year period after the Schuessler-Peterson murders Hansen routinely picked up young male hitchhikers and abused them.
Prosecutors say that in the retrial, which is scheduled to get under way on June 10th, they plan to put on a case almost identical to the one they presented against Hansen in 1995. Hansen’s lawyer Leonard Goodman would not comment on whether he would elicit testimony suggesting that another Chicago man, Jack Reiling, committed the murders (see Chicago, June 1999). Reiling died in December 1980, but in 1999 one of his ex-wives and their daughter came forward claiming that Reiling had admitted to them that he had committed the murders. Judge Michael P. Toomin, who had presided over Hansen’s first trial, held a hearing to weigh the new defense evidence and found the testimony about Reiling unconvincing.
Meanwhile, time has taken its toll on Hansen, 69. He underwent a triple heart bypass operation in 1999, is blind in one eye, suffers from diabetes, and broke his hip and arm when he fell in the prison exercise yard. His lawyer says the passing years have also dimmed many memories that Hansen could have called upon to exonerate himself. “It’s hard to prove something 40 years later,” Goodman says. “If he had been charged in 1958, he would have had an airtight [defense].”
* * *
Silas Jayne emerged from prison in 1979, but his troubles with the law were not over. Seven months later, a federal grand jury indicted him on charges that from his prison cell he had plotted an arson that destroyed 33 show horses at a stable outside of Milwaukee in 1976. The case was based largely on testimony from one of Si’s former cellmates, who also said that Si had a “hit list” targeting George’s widow, Marion, her oldest daughter, Linda, and Melvin Adams. At a trial in April 1980, Si beat the arson charges.
Si spent the remaining years of his life at his modest ranch-style home in Elgin. Though he managed to buy homes for his sisters and a new Cadillac every six months, Hamm says, Si typically reported his yearly income at around $5,000. He was a millionaire when he died. “Though he was an uneducated man, he was a master at deception,” the retired investigator says.
Before he succumbed to leukemia on July 13, 1987, Si apparently laid the groundwork for one last scheme—one that sent Hamm on a wild goose chase through Minnesota looking for the body of Helen Brach. A former cellmate of Si’s told investigators he had been paid by Si in 1979 to remove Brach’s body from a stable in Morton Grove and rebury it in a cemetery in the Twin Cities. The story turned out to be false. FBI agents learned later that Si had concocted the scheme to throw off the investigation into the disappearance of Helen Brach. Hamm remains convinced that Si played a significant role in the presumed demise of Brach.
Today, the fiefdoms of the Jayne family have largely faded from the landscape. The site of Si’s Idle Hour Stable is now the parking lot for an office building located across Higgins Road from the O’Hare Marriott. George’s first stable, Happy Day, is a parking lot for a Baskin-Robbins store. The pain and disruption caused by Si and the brothers’ feud can’t be erased so easily.
This article was originally published in the June 2002 issue of Chicago magazine.
Gene O’SheaCopyright 2002. All rights reserved