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As we near the end of the Ragged Stranger story, there are a few characters that have been touched on in the story that merit having their tales told a little further. Today we'll look at a few of them; Chicago Herald-Examiner reporter Charlie MacArthur, coroner Peter Hoffman, Illinois Governor Len Small, Judge Joseph David, and attorney Irene Lefkow.
A few posts back we wrote how Miss Lillian Gish, The First Lady of American Cinema, had attended the trial for the murder of the Ragged Stranger. That tidbit was a small blurb in a Chicago Herald-Examiner article likely written by Charles MacArthur (bylines were few and far between in those days but we know he was covering the trial for the Herald).Years later, after MacArthur and Ben Hecht had found fame and fortune on Broadway and in Hollywood, MacArthur married actress Helen Hayes, The First Lady of American Theater.
The First Lady of American Theater Helen Hayes and The First Lady of American Cinema Lillian Gish were very close friends for over 60 years. Miss Gish even served as godmother to MacArthur and Hayes adopted son James.
It was a bit before my time, but James MacArthur was the subject of a catchphrase you likely know from when he played policeman Danny Williams on CBS's Hawaii Five-O,
"Book 'em Danno."
MacArthur's web of people you vaguely know stretches even further. If you've ever watched an episode of Frontline on PBS, you've done so through the sponsorship of Charlie MacArthur's little brother as the younger MacArthur was one of the 3 wealthiest men in the world at the time of his death. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur donated their fortune, to a foundation bearing their name that now provides funding for viewers like you.
After getting a change of venue granted, Governor Len Small would go to trial on his embezzlement charges in Waukegan, 40 miles north of his powerful Chicago backers rather than 200 miles south in the state capital of Springfield. His “final verdict from the great people of Illinois” would be acquittal on all charges related to the embezzlement of Illinois funds and he would be reelected to the governorship in 1924. That’s not to say he wasn’t guilty; eight of the 12 jurors in his trial later received government jobs with the state of Illinois. A mobster and two jurors would later go on trial and be acquitted of jury tampering. The Chicago political machine kept churning.
The machine is still churning today; four of Illinois’s last ten governors have not only been indicted but convicted and sentenced to prison. How many other jobs have a recent 40% incarceration rate?
Before former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went to prison in 2012 he didn’t live too far from the Wanderer house in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. Our old dog walker once encountered a jogging-in-place Blago at an intersection down the street while his corruption charges were coming to light. Our dog snarled (miss you Kaya) and our dog walker (miss you Spike) told Blago, “you can run, but you can’t hide.” Unless he somehow winds up with a pardon Blagojevich will be in prison until at least 2024.
Peter Hoffman was coroner from 1904-1922 and sheriff from 1922-1929. Hoffman had been elected sheriff on the particular mandate of cleaning up the graft and corruption in the county jail. Later Hoffman and his deputy sheriff would both be charged for contempt of court in 1925 for giving gangsters Terry Druggan and Frankie Lake special privileges while in jail, namely being able to come and go from the jail as they pleased. After being found guilty, Hoffman was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $2,500 (over $35,000 today). After numerous appeals failed, Hoffman was forced to serve time in the very jail he was sheriff of and in charge of overseeing.
While Judge David may have arrived at the correct sentence in the long run as it related to Carl Wanderer, how he got to that point left much to be desired. His open disdain for alienists tainted the jury and gave the prosecutors unfettered leeway to change the focus of the trial. The toxicity of anything Wanderer was likely the only thing that kept a higher court from hearing Wanderer’s appeal and with such an appeal, the likelihood of fault being found with Judge David, a situation that happened often in later years.
Judge David had originally been appointed to the bench to fill a vacancy 1916 and spent the majority of his time in the civil courts while he filled in from time to time on the criminal bench. It was such a fill-in in 1921 that landed the Wanderer trial in his lap. Months after helping the State obtain the death sentence for Wanderer, Judge David was named by State's Attorney Robert Crowe to a permanent position on the criminal bench.
Crowe would later regret the assignment, though; in 1922 Judge David halted a trial, not believing the prosecution had made its case. The judge ordered the jury to issue a not guilty verdict on the spot despite some members of the jury later telling the press, they believed a guilty verdict would have been appropriate. Less than a year after Judge David had proceeded over two of Carl Wanderer's trials, State's Attorney Crowe announced he would seek to have Judge David removed from the bench.
"It is with the greatest reluctance I criticize the conduct of a member of the bench and I do so now only because in my judgement, public justice requires me to perform this unpleasant task. Judge David has demonstrated by his conduct in the trial of criminal cases that he is, to say the least, temperamentally unfit to preside in the trial of cases where the public is interested in seeing the law enforced."
The judge disagreed; the June 23, 1923 Chicago Daily Tribune reads, "Judge David, however, said that it didn't make any difference what the jurors thought about the case, 'I had a perfect right to take the case away from the jury and instruct a verdict of not guilty. The state had no evidence worth mentioning... it was simply a waste of the people's money to go on trying the case.'" The effort to remove the judge from the bench stalled and he remained on the bench for another 15 years after this.
In 1925, Judge David, a noted spiritualist and ghost believer, presided over a civil trial that saw a supposed voodoo spiritualist suing for slander another spiritualist. The alleged slander was to a spirit medium known to both spiritualists. But how do you get the testimony of a spirit? With a seance of course. Judge David ordered the courtroom darkened; the lights turned off, shades drawn, and candles lit. Plaintiff Julia Johnson attempted to summon the spirit, known as Mr. Jones, but instead got the dead mother of one of the court spectators.
Judge David asked if the spiritualist could summon a dead relative of his or a jury member. "O, get my father- he's been dead a long time" the judge said from the bench in the middle of a trial. Later he wondered about spirits communicating in the afterworld.
"Can they talk to each other in the spirit world? Could Napoleon and Caesar hold a discussion? I suppose they would have an argument over which was the greatest butcher."
It was on the criminal courts bench in July 1923 that the case of Mrs. Sabella Nitti Crudelle and Peter Crudelle came before the judge. The married couple was on trial for the killing of Sabella’s previous husband Frank Nitti. The trial presided over by Judge David would find Mrs. Nitti Crudelle guilty and sentence her to the death penalty, the first white woman to ever be sentenced to death in Cook County. The judge would use this case, and the Wanderer case, in a November 1923 election advertisement touting his accomplishments.
In early, 1924 Mrs. Nitti Crudelle appealed and had her death sentence reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court and the charges against her dismissed. Mrs. Nitti's story is featured in a recent book, Ugly Prey, by former Chicago Tribune writer Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi.
Judge David would serve on the bench until his passing in 1938. His obituary would mention his presiding on the bench for famous trials, the trial of Carl Wanderer being first and foremost. The obituary would also say, “One of the most energetic judges on the bench, he was criticized at times for taking a too active part in proceedings.”
Carl's attorney for the Ragged Stranger murder trial and his subsequent appeals, Mrs. Irene Lefkow, might be a familiar name to many Chicagoans. Unfortunately, the Lefkow story is a tragic one.
Her grandson Michael Lefkow, was a prominent attorney and civil right activist that marched with Dr. King in Selma. Mr. Lefkow met his future wife Joan Humphrey in the library at Wheaton College and they would spend 30 years together with both working in the law. Mrs. Lefkow, a federal judge, came home one evening in 2005 to find her husband and mother having been murdered in the Lefkow's Edgewater home.
Despite initial suspicion focusing on white supremacist Matthew Hale, who had been sent to prison for soliciting the murder of Judge Lefkow after she presided in a previous trial involving Hale, the murder was found to be completely unrelated to him. A former electrician named Bart Ross, who had been badly disfigured and financially ruined after contracting a mouth cancer, had filed multiple lawsuits alleging malpractice by the University of Illinois-Chicago Hospital and ultimately held beliefs that the legal system was conspiring against him. After Judge Lefkow had dismissed one of his lawsuits, he broke into the Lefkow's house in March of 2005 with the intention of murdering the judge but was confronted instead by Mr. Lefkow who Ross then shot and killed. After killing Mrs. Lefkow's 90 year old mother, Ross had regrets and left the house before Mrs. Lefkow returned. Ross would commit suicide the next week in Wisconsin upon being pulled over by a state trooper.
Mrs. Joan Lefkow remains upon the bench today serving the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois as she has since 2000.
And lest you think we end this post without talking about the most famous person to emerge from the Ragged Stranger saga, Ben Hecht... we will cover Hecht with multiple posts next week.
A new blog post coming Wednesday, September 19- He Suffered from Periodic Throwbacks to Cannibalism
A new podcast episode coming Monday, September 17- Podcast Episode #7- The Governor is Doing What?
This blog aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct fallacies where they 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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