It is one of the coldest of cold cases. Who killed Amos J. Snell and why?
Amos J. Snell was one of the most prosperous men in Chicago. His various business interests and real estate holdings made him a millionaire several times over. Snell lived in a mansion on the corner of Washington and Ada Streets. During the late 1800s the Near West Side was a very fashionable place to live.
In the early morning hours of February 9, 1888, Snell was awakened by noises in his home. He grabbed a pistol and went to investigate. a gun fight ensued and Snell was shot dead. The intruder(s) fled.
Snell was found sometime later by a servant reporting for work. The rest of the household were in various rooms of the mansion. Once police arrived they started their investigation. A bag of tools was found near a safe in one of the rooms. The safe, as well as one of the doors to the home, was pried open.
There were two sets of foot prints in the snow and tracks from more than one carriage or wagon going away from the residence. Eventually it was determined, by examining the bullets retrieved from the body, that Snell was shot by two different guns.This led to speculation there was more than one intruder.
Snell's death and the resulting investigation made national headlines. Eventually the police settled on a suspect. Willie Tascott was the son of a paint manufacturer and a known thief. His brother provided an alibi, claiming Tascott had spent the night with him. Tascott disappeared shortly afterwards, never to be seen again.
Tascott, though a suspect, was never indicted for the murder. There were other suspects, what we call today persons of interest, none indicted or arrested.
Though Snell was a prominent businessman he was far from respected or admired. Some say he was generally loathed. Snell owned several hundred properties in Chicago, renting them out. He also owned what was later to be determined an illegal toll road, the old North West Plank Road. The road is now Milwaukee Avenue. The road ran from Wheeling to what is now Armitage Avenue.
Snell charged farmers and others bringing goods into Chicago or coming for a visit tolls. He kept increasing the number of booths and placing them closer to each other. His excuse was the cost of maintaining the poorly maintained road. It is rumored he made roughly four to five hundred dollars a day from the tolls. On certain weekends he made upwards of seven hundred dollars.
Snell was described as a ruthless businessman. He was admired for his business acumen while being hated for said ruthlessness.
There were plenty of people who had a motive to harm or even kill Amos J. Snell.
While Tascott remains the chief suspect, he is also the too easy suspect. It is possible Tascott killed Snell. It is more than possible Tascott could have been hired to break into the home and rifle the safe. Supposedly the safe was filled with bonds and hundreds of property deeds. Chicago was known for its shady real estate dealings and speculators like Snell were far from honest in acquiring properties.
Another scenario is the burglary was a ruse to cover up the murder.
The case of Amos J. Snell remains a mystery to this day.
Portions of this story were derived from "Challenging Chicago, Coping with Everyday Life 1837-1920" by Perry R. Duis.
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