Book Review: Gangsters & Grifters by the Chicago Tribune
Image Above: Murphy, pg. 36: "Gertrude 'Billie' Murphy, 22, is brought in for questioning in the murder case of Michael Stopec, who was shot and killed in an apartment hotel, circa July 1927. Murphy had been a friend of the married Stopec and his suspected killer Henry Guardino. The Tribune reported that Stopec and Guardino were 'bitter rivals for the favor of Billie' and that Murphy had tired of Guardino and was going to stay with Stopec. Murphy was also married to a man in the Joliet penitentiary." (
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Gangsters and Grifters
by Agate Publishing and the
Standing side-by-side against a marked white wall, the handcuffed men bear the mark of their time. Each suspect adorns a dark Fedora Homburg hat, double-breasted coat and sinister expression, heightened by the fantastical lighting, which casts long, striking shadows. In the center of the lineup is Joseph Schuster, a paroled convict, who was later identified as the murderer of Chicago police officer Arthur Sullivan.
This is one of many ominous and slightly disturbing images included in Gangsters and Grifters, published by Midway Press. Drawing on the Chicago Tribune’s extensive archive, this book showcases images taken by photographers who were assigned to the beat. Featuring some of Chicago’s most notorious, and not-so notorious, hoodlums, Gangsters and Grifters depicts startling crime scenes and the raw emotion felt by victims’ family members.
Lipstick Killer, pg. 56: "Detective Chief Walter Storms, second from left, and Capt. Michael Ahern, far right, accompany University of Chicago student William Heirens, 17, to a detective bureau lineup on July 1, 1946. On Jan. 7, 1946, Heirens was convicted of kidnapping, strangling and dismembering Degnan as well as murdering Frances Brown, 33, and Josephine Ross, 43, in separate crimes in 1945. On Brown's apartment wall the murderer wrote in lipstick, "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself." This gave Heirens the nickname "The Lipstick Killer."(Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago Tribune.)
Leopold and Loeb, pg. 42: "Richard Loeb, left, and Nathan Leopold Jr. stare at each other after each gave a separate confession to the murder. They finally confessed on May 31, 1924, after Leopold's glasses were found next to Franks' body at the 121st Street and Pennsylvania railroad tracks. The teenagers had said they were out in the remote area to bird-watch." (Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago Tribune.)
In 1837, Chicago was officially incorporated as a city. It accommodated a population of 4,000, and by 1900, it exceeded 1,500,000. The industrialization of this city played a significant role in this increase, and during the early 1900’s, the expansion of its industries saw an unprecedented influx of both domestic and migrant workers.
Chicago’s suburbia exploded, and with a lack of regulatory infrastructure, coupled with a large percentage of the population seared by poverty, a spike in criminal activity and homicide rates ensued. Interestingly, it was also during this time, known as the Progressive or Prohibition era, that Chicago defied the authoritative voice of American capitalism by enacting laws that accommodated small businesses.
Unfortunately these laws supported the proliferation of organized crime, and the notion of accommodating small business extended to bootlegging. Thus, kingpins like Al Capone, Dion O’Banion and Bugs Moran emerged from the folds of this resistive society.
Gangsters and Grifters chronicles some of Chicago’s more spectacular gangland crimes, like the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, the death of the first known Sicilian mafia boss, Joseph “Diamond Joe” Esposito, and the Alphonse Capone case. These events are amplified by the Tribune’s use of partially corroded images from dated 4x5 glass-plate and acetate negatives, original headlines and captions from their historical newspaper articles.
Naturally the narrative of ‘Public Enemy No. 1’, John Dillinger, was also included in Gangsters and Grifters. In one image taken after the death of Dillinger, it depicted an eager crowd who had besieged the Cook County morgue to view Dillinger’s body. Although only his head was visible, this photograph stands as a testimony to the eerie fandom that began to seep into the pores of American culture.
Dillinger, pg. 122: "John Dillinger, center, is handcuffed to Deputy Sheriff R. M. Pierce, left, during Dillinger's murder trial hearing in Crown Point in early February 1934. Dillinger's trial date was set for March 12, 1934, but he would break out of the Crown Point jail on March 3, 1934." (Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago Tribune.)
Another fascinating image, which also gives an insight into that era, is of Arthur Bauer with the Assistant State’s Attorney, Robert Cooney, holding a hatchet. Bauer is transfixed on the camera, however Cooney seems to be looking despairingly to the side. According to the Tribune, Bauer had killed an eighteen-year-old woman for resisting his advances. He explained, “I’ve been drinking since I was 15. I black out when I’m drinking. I don’t know what’s happened to me.”
Some of the photographs included in Gangsters and Grifters are quite graphic, often showing cars riddled with bullets and lifeless bodies slumped over inanimate objects. However, it is through these gruesome images that the Tribune recalls its murky past. As Rick Kogan wrote in the Foreword, “There is no city on the planet that can boast more world-famous bad guys and bloody deeds than Chicago, and – in a mildly disturbing way – we relish the association…of the past bloodshed and tears that have fallen on our streets.”
Statesville Prison, pg. 50: "State highway policemen restore order in the circular cellblocks at Statesville Prison in Joliet, Ill., after 1,500 convicts rioted on March 18, 1931, lighting several buildings on fire. Three convicts were shot during the rioting; one of them was gravely wounded with a bullet to the abdomen." (Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago Tribune.)
By Kyla Woods