Washington Post on Frank Pape


Wednesday, March 15, 2000 ; Page B05

Frank Pape, 91, a retired Chicago police captain who walked down mean streets for 39 years and gained a widespread reputation as the Windy City’s toughest cop, died March 5 at his home in suburban Park Ridge, Ill., after a heart attack.

Chicago, a city as well known for its violent crime as its broad shoulders, was not only preyed upon by legendary mob figures but also defended by the likes of Capt. Pape and the elite robbery detail of the Chicago police.

Capt. Pape joined the force in 1933 and did not fire a weapon on the job for 12 years. Then, in a gun battle with an armed robber, his partner was shot and died in his arms.

After that, Capt. Pape seemed to live to combat crime. Before he hung up his badge and gun, he was credited with sending 300 men to prison, including five men to the electric chair. In 16 gun battles, he shot and killed nine suspects.

Ed Burke, a Chicago alderman and former police officer, told the Chicago Sun-Times after learning of Capt. Pape’s death that “Frank was probably the most feared lawman in the history of the Chicago Police Department. He was a legend in his own time, tough because of his courage, his nerves of steel and his skill with firearms.”

Capt. Pape’s career was featured in about 50 national magazine stories over the years. His character and cases were used as a basis for the old “M Squad” television series.

Phil Cline, who is now deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department’s organized crime division, told a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1994: “When I came on the job in the 1970s, all we heard about was Frank Pape. He had the reputation that when criminals heard that he was looking for them, they’d turn themselves in. He was the kind of guy we all wanted to work for.”

Capt. Pape, a native of Chicago, was a sheet-metal worker before joining the Chicago police in 1933 — two years after Al Capone went to prison and three years after the death of Wyatt Earp. But the eras they represented had not entirely ended, at least not in Chicago.

Capt. Pape became known for his tenacious loyalty to his squad and cops on the beat and his belief in the right of citizens to live without fear of violence.

To further those beliefs, he carried a .38-caliber Police Positive, kept a .44-40 Colt Army Special in his car and had been known to carry a Thompson submachine gun (once known as a “Chicago Typewriter”) on occasion.

His philosophy was a simple one. He told a writer for the Illinois Police and Sheriffs News: “Our theory was, if you shoot at us, you do so at your own peril. We’re going to shoot back and we’re going to kill you if we can.”

Capt. Pape spent the bulk of his career in robbery, including most of the 1950s as its chief.

He was promoted to captain in 1959. In the early to mid-1960s, he left the force to serve as security chief at Chicago area racetracks. He returned to the police in 1965, to a force and a public that was changing.

His own troubles with a new age began as early as the late 1950s. He led a police raid on the residence of a murder suspect — without either an arrest or search warrant. The suspect, in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, collected $8,000 from the city for his treatment. Later, Capt. Pape lost another Supreme Court case when he sued Time magazine for libel, the court finding for Time because “actual malice” could not be proved.

His last seven years on the force included complaints from a public that no longer tolerated police methods of a more violent era and a police force and city hierarchy increasingly leery of lawsuits. Capt. Pape retired in 1972 as an area traffic chief.

In retirement, Capt. Pape remained in the public eye, counseling new generations of cops and crime reporters. Although he may have deplored what he saw as increasing constraints on police officers, he was not a knee-jerk defender of all police actions.

He told one reporter of his sorrow concerning the Rodney King incident, in which a nation saw a group of Los Angeles County police officers beat King. Capt. Pape not only deplored the beating but also the inability of the officers to quickly subdue King. Capt. Pape also pointed out that such actions alienate the public from the police, two groups that he felt desperately needed each other.

He said: “Keeping the streets safe is a veritable war and has to be treated as such, and we’re now losing. The big cities are like armed camps. Gunfire goes on every day with impunity. No one feels safe in their community.”

Survivors include his wife, two children and seven grandchildren.

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.