Matson, Watson, and Reporters Solving Crimes

drivers-to-view-slain-man-6-23-1920-chicago-daily-news

 

Part 7 can be found here if you missed it...

While the police went to track down the E. Masters lead with the John Robinson Circus, Chicago's newspaper reporters were essentially tasked with chasing down another lead, Matson or Watson.

The night of the murder dozens of police, reporters, and neighbors had gazed upon the Ragged Stranger and attempted to identify him. The only partial identification was that someone thought he might have been a driver for one of the city's many newspapers and was believed to have been named Matson or Watson or something along those lines.

It can be difficult for us today to appreciate just how ingrained the newspapers were into our lives back then. They were the cellphone of the day; want the news, weather, or entertainment? There were only a few places to get information in 1920; radio was just a burgeoning field and television wasn't even on the horizon. Get on an elevated train or a streetcar and much like today, most of the riders would have their heads buried in their laps, with the glow of a cellphone lighting up their faces replaced by ink stained fingers and hands.

In 1920, Chicago was the second largest city in the country with 2,701,212 residents. That population supported dozens of newspapers that were spread out between weekly and daily papers; morning edition and afternoon editions; and English language as well as German, Polish, and Italian among others. Just like you can't walk a block downtown without passing a cellphone store today, you couldn't walk a block back then without passing a newsboy on a street corner shouting the days headlines.

With such competition for circulation sales, that competition trickled down to the newsroom where reporters were often competing not only against other papers but other writers in their own newsroom. With everyone out in pursuit of the next big scoop, lines were crossed that would not normally happen today.

While it is difficult to get through an entire day today without hearing a particular two-word phrase, back in the day it was known as yellow journalism and muckraking. Stretching the truth to sell papers or slander one's enemies or the enemies of a reporter's benefactor is not a new phenomenon.

Often, finding that big scoop involved gaining details or information about the inner workings of a crime network or a particular crime. Just as investigative journalists today occasionally 'break' a case, with so many more papers back then, and hence so many more reporters, it was a rather common occurrence for a reporter to not only break a case, but solve it.

Those of you previously familiar with Carl Wanderer and the Ragged Stranger case might assume at this point that I'm leading up to telling how Chicago Daily News reporter Ben Hecht solved the Wanderer case. Trust me, I'm not. I think a great disservice has been done to the job the police did, as well as his fellow reporters back in the day, which included his future collaborator and partner, Charlie MacArthur of the Chicago Herald-Examiner.

Benson Pratt, reporter for the Chicago American, testified at the Ragged Stranger trial. So did MacArthur. Harry Romanoff's testimony in the trial for the murder for Ruth Wanderer completely shatters one of the myths surrounding Hecht's supposed solving of the mystery. Meanwhile, Hecht was never called at trial, not in Ruth Wanderer's trial, not in the Ragged Stranger's trial, nor in any of the subsequent trials and hearings on appeal.

So, not to say that reporters didn't play a vital role in the Ragged Stranger case, they did, it just wasn't Hecht that solved the crime. Again, as I alluded to in Post #1, The Mystery of The Ragged Stranger, Hecht will be delved into much deeper in later posts and his inclusion here is an acknowledgement to his storytelling, not his veracity. In fact, the best evidence that Hecht didn't solve the crime is the fact that he never said he did. A man who pens his own biography to the tune of 650+ pages would likely have said he had solved the crime if he had, but Hecht devoted only one sentence to Carl Wanderer and it was in reference to Wanderer singing a song on the gallows.

 

Ben Hecht in 1918.

Ben Hecht in 1918.

With a partial identification of the Ragged Stranger as a newspaper delivery driver, it only made sense for the police to leave the Chicago reporters to suss out on their own whether any of the papers had someone named Matson or Watson that was missing. It didn't take long. With front page headlines devoted to the mystery surrounding the murder of young, pregnant Ruth it was not long before the police and every reporter in town had determined that there was no chauffeur nor any newspaper delivery driver from any of the various daily, weekly, morning, and evening editions in Chicago named Watson or Matson that was unaccounted for. Neither Matson nor Watson, chauffeur or newspaper wagon driver, was the Ragged Stranger.

Part 9 coming Monday, June 18 - Strangers Galore

 

This blog aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct false narratives that have branched away from the truth, and most importantly, to entertain and enlighten. It has been sourced from research for my upcoming book Kisses for Julia, Bullets for Ruth: The Mystery of Carl Wanderer & the Ragged Stranger.

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