Chief O'Neil's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago. By Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch, eds. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 2008. Cloth, $28.95).
Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers. By Gus Russo. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing. 2006. Pp. xiv, 598. Cloth, $34.95, paper, $16.95).
First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chicago, 1875-1920. By Jeffry Adler. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2006). Cloth, $35.00.
Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties. By Michael Lesy (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. 2007. Cloth, $29.95, paper, $15.95).
Sin and the City: Chicago and Revivalism, 1880-1920. By Thekla Ellen Joiner. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press. 2007. Cloth, $39.95).
Chicago has acquired a reputation colored by crime and corruption that few places rival. While much of this characterization is unwarranted, much of it is deserved. The city has elicited feelings of fear and disorder in part because of its long entrenched networks of organized crime, high murder rate, and history of labor disruptions. This chaotic past of the Midwest Metropolis has long attracted the attention of scholars and the reading public alike. Nonetheless, recent publications continue to reexamine the subject. The following five histories specifically help to explore the relationship between crime in Chicago and broader social, familial, and cultural developments.
The formation of police forces paralleled the rise in crime and "disorder" during the nineteenth century. Chief O'Neil's Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago offers a first-hand glimpse of the expanding Chicago Police Department and the challenges the city's underworld posed to it. Editors Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch provide few changes to former Police Chief Francis O'Neil's original hand-written manuscript that he wrote in 1931 and have included a number of useful photographs and other documents. Because O'Neil became involved in numerous activities, his autobiography includes information concerning a variety of topics, for instance navigation, immigration, ethnicity, and Irish culture. The appendix, a bibliography of O'Neil's library of books, now located in the Special Collections at the University Libraries of Notre Dame, is the most comprehensive collection concerning Irish traditional music.
Sketchy Recollections covers almost eighty years and numerous continents. O'Neil spends much of the text on his time traveling around the world as a sailor, taking the reader along the global transportation and trade routes on which Chicago was situated. After marrying, O'Neil settled in Chicago in 1870. Like many fellow immigrants from Ireland, he eventually found permanent work with the Chicago Police Department following many unsuccessful attempts at steady and gainful employment. In remembering his time in the force, he describes many difficulties. Political disputes affected police operations, one chief after another was replaced by new municipal regimes, and captains attempted to prevent his advancement. O'Neil's vigilance and reform mentality eventually won him appointment as superintendent of police in 1901. As chief, he led a national movement for police reform and restructuring, the successes of which his written memories might have exaggerated. The text also includes his speeches from national police chief conventions.
O'Neil witnessed many important and tumultuous events in Chicago. Radical movements such as anarchism concerned him more than anything else. In his first address to the annual convention of police chiefs, he focused solely on anarchy and its philosophical underpinnings. He labeled Emma Goldman, who he helped arrest and later release in Chicago following President McKinley's assassination, as "one of the most dangerous apostles of anarchy in America" (118). Labor strikes receive much mention as well. Interestingly, his account of the 1894 Pullman upheaval includes testimony of the workers' general calm and lack of violence and of soldiers randomly shooting into crowds.
Sketchy Recollections briefly tells of the pickpockets, thieves, safe blowers, "car-barn bandits," "defiant saloonkeepers," and other criminals with whom O'Neil came into contact. His description of an offer to him to join the "ring" when politicians could not transfer him away from a certain station is revealing of how systems of graft worked (92). While it is hard to criticize him, one is left wanting more information about "the dangerous classes" he encountered daily. His recollections, however, are a unique source for understanding Chicago's police force in its early years and the lawlessness with which they were concerned.
The increase in criminal activity in the nineteenth century was tied to religious developments of the era as well. Thekla Ellen Joiner's Sin and the City examines the Third Great Awakening at the turn of twentieth century. The study is not so much concerned with "sin," but of the organization of evangelicals against what they perceived as the proliferation of sinful activities in Chicago, particularly commercial sex, liquor, and often secularization and commercialization. Joiners' primary concern, however, is the present, tying the Third Awakening to the current religious or New Right. Utilizing previous studies as well the documents produced by the revivalists themselves, Joiner follows the campaign in each chapter as it developed in four separate stages: the beginnings as represented by Dwight Moody and Emma Dryer, the 1893 World's Fair Campaign, the 1910 Chapman-Alexander Simultaneous Campaign, and the 1918 Billy Sunday Revival.
Joiner's interpretation of the Third Awakening builds upon other histories of revivalism between the 1880s and 1910s, particularly by examining how gender, class, and race affected the movement. According to Joiner, evangelical morality consisted of assumptions of the purity of white, middle-class women and the righteousness of white, middle-class men. These beliefs resulted in "negative implications" for African Americans in stereotypes such as the promiscuous black woman and the black male rapist (12-13, 74).
Echoing recent studies of women's ventures into public places and discourse, Joiner describes the issues surrounding female revival efforts. She uses conflicts between Moody and Dryer to argue that women's revival ambitions were stymied by the influence of men. A "lack of independence" and "a context of female submission," she sees characterizing much of their work during this time (52). Women had to negotiate and redefine moral taboos, such as their presence in public places. While women's entrance into saloons and commercial sex districts caused concern, they justified their actions by claiming they were bringing their domestic values to the sin-ridden parts of the city.
Sin and the City is cognizant of the cultural constructs of both sexes. While the nineteenth century was a period of the feminization in the church, by the beginning of the twentieth century, Joiner detects a movement to make it more masculine. Leaders of the Third Awakening attempted to attract men back into the "feminized" church and brought in elements such as greater centralization. By the Billy Sunday revival, planning, commercialization, and corporate organization took precedent and participants ceased previous "reaching out" efforts to saloons and brothels. Instead, the Sunday revival took place in a centralized lakefront tabernacle where a spectacle "not unlike amusement parks, theaters, or the moving pictures" advertised the religion (193). Further, Sunday worked closely with corporations such as Marshal Field's to promote morality among female workers. Joiner does not, however, fully examine the growing contradictions within the revivalists' increasing secularization and commercialization.
The conclusion compares the Third Awakening to the present-day religious right, particularly examining the issue of gay marriage. Joiner reflects on the inconsistencies inherent in an amendment preventing members of the same sex from marrying by a movement that espouses less government. Sin and the City overall provides further argument to the notion that sinful and "criminal" behavior is defined by culture and that revivalists, particularly Chicago revivalists, have done much to shape these definitions and hence patterns of crime.
Despite the efforts of reformist enforcement officials and revivalists, violations of law in the twentieth century continued to proliferate, particularly murder. Two recent studies describe this increased bloodshed. Jeffery Adler's First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt and Michael Les/s Murder City both advance the notion that homicide rates are not necessarily a function of increased populations but are tied to a number of cultural, economic, and emotive factors.
Deepest in Dirt provides the first quantitative study of murder in Chicago. Using an analysis of over fifty-six hundred cases, Jeffry Adler produces a novel understanding of the circumstances surrounding murder between 1875 and 1920. Using statements of the murderers themselves and witnesses found in court records and newspapers, Adler offers a broad view of the social conditions that led to each loss of life and attempts to give "logic" to these acts of brutality. He demonstrates that murder rates were not directly tied to the influx of migrants but instead "ebbed and flowed in response to changing urban conditions" (2).
First in Violence set out two major transformations in homicide that accompanied social transitions. Most bloodshed in the 1870s and 1880s stemmed from "drunken brawls," occurred in saloons, and often involved alcohol (17). Adler, however, does not attribute this fact to intoxication alone; instead, he credits the plebeian culture of male honor and violence prevalent among the immigrant bachelors. Customs of "volatility and public demonstrations of toughness" thrived inside saloons that catered to the growing number of young, unmarried men who were "trapped in a kind of protracted adolescence" (27, 24). While specific quarrels might have provided a trigger, each murder was rooted more in this deep-seated view of the world than in personal animosity. Drinkers, in fact, often tangled with fellow friends and companions.
At the turn of the century, as domesticity and "civilization" diminished the influence of saloon culture, violence and murder began to change, but not in the way one might expect. While the role of plebeian culture became less prominent as working-class men married and moved up the social hierarchy, many of these men were ultimately unable to fulfill the expectations, financial and otherwise, of a companionate marriage. Further, women gained new powers within the home and more wives took it upon themselves to separate and divorce their husbands. Men, in response, committed more murders against their wives as they expressed greater power to terminate marital bonds. Citing the same transformations that led to a high rate of uxoricide, Adler provides a separate chapter demonstrating that women committed murder more against their husbands as they struggled to defend themselves. By the late 1890s, both working-class social life and homicides moved out of public spaces such as saloons and into the private world of the home. Contrary to Norbert Elias's theory of civilization, the murder rate in Chicago actually increased with the "civilizing" influences of domesticity.
Adler provides separate chapters examining patterns of murder among blacks and Italian-Chicagoans, as well as a chapter on the decrease in women killing their offspring. He attributes the high murder rate among African American to the same circumstances as the rest of the population. Racist culture, however, amplified the effects of industrial-capitalist society and the pressures of family between the 1890s and 1910s. Italians also exhibited a higher murder rate, which he attributes to honor killings, typically committed within families but not as often between husband and wife as the rest of the population.
Lastly, Adler examines a second major transformation: the increase in killings in the process of robbery, usually occurring between strangers and often involving firearms used by younger killers. To many observers, these murders appeared more menacing as perpetrators ignored traditional "rules" of violent engagement. In its combination of statistical and sociocultural analysis, Deepest in Dirt provides a novel conception of the foundations of violence and an example for future studies of crime and civilization.
Beginning chronologically where Adler ends, Michael Lesy takes a different approach to homicide by concentrating on specific murders during the 1920s. Lesy provides detailed histories of the city's most notorious killers, written primarily through the lens of the city's newspapers, at times even quoting at length from articles. Murder City is about the media and the city's fascination with murder and murder trials as much as the actual crimes. Mystery and confusion often surround each death, contributing to the public's attraction to them. Lesy further depicts the struggle of the police, court system, and detectives to convict guilty defendants.
Murder City is about specific men and women and their actions in particular places; seldom does Lesy take the reader outside the events and provide explicit interpretation. The work does, however, seek to reveal the personal, social, and cultural determinants of the murderers, despite the explanations being latent at times. Money and material goods are important factors behind many of the slayings: Harvey Church killed for a Packard car; Thomas Catherwood was so broke he strangled his sister-in-law for fifty dollars. Even thrill led to violence, as in the case of Leighton Mount, killed during a Northwestern fraternity hazing. Lesy also traces the development of professional killings in the 1920s, in examining a number of gang murders, including those of "Hymie" Weiss, "Big Tim" Murphy, and "Diamond" Joe Esposito.
The first case of former soldier Carl Wanderer, who killed his pregnant wife, introduces the potential relationship between the military and violence. The case also presents the difficulty of defining insanity. Observers and jurors wondered, did Wanderer shoot her for money? Was he in love with another woman? And does having a motive such as these make Wanderer sane? Much as First in Violence, Murder City reveals Chicago's history of domestic murder, as many victims are related to their killers. Factors such as love, jealousy, hatred, and intoxication are all apparent. Women often appear as killers, as in the cases of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan (the sources of inspiration for the play and movie titled Chicago). As does Adler, Lesy discusses the unwillingness to convict females, as juries often saw them as the victims of male aggression.
In conclusion, Lesy states that "the bloody fog that covered Chicago had drifted north and settled over the countryside," while discussing a Wisconsin homicide that appears in the book (309). The contentious statement suggests that violence in Chicago directly impacted other places and deserves additional examination. Nevertheless, with a knack for suspense and mystery, Murder City adds an interesting psychological element to the history of homicide.
Understanding the Chicago Outfit is mandatory in understanding crime, culture, and politics in the twentieth century, not only in Chicago but across the country. Gus Russo's Supermob focuses on Chicago-born lawyer Sydney Korshak to examine how the Outfit expanded their influence, both into legitimate business and geographically westward. Russo dedicates much of this well-researched and detailed book to establishing the seemingly infinite relationships between members of "the Supermob," the group of lawyers, businessmen, and real estate moguls who helped legitimize and establish organized criminal activities, and the mob.
Moving from Korshak's boyhood Lawndale neighborhood to Korshak's LaSaIIe Street office headquarters, to Nevada and Southern California, Russo follows the Supermob's social and spatial development. He reveals not only Korshaks' ties to crime but his influence in Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C. as well. Russo links men like Korshak, Joseph Kennedy, David Bazelon, Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Sinatra, Abe Pritzker, Lew Wasserman, and Max and Jake Factor to Oufit heads Al Capone, Sam Giancana, Tony Accardo, Jake Guzik, and other mob leaders in New York, Miami, and New Orleans. Politicians and other government officials make frequent appearances as likely protectors of illegal activities. Russo portrays Ronald Reagan as a Supermob chum willing to enact beneficial policies in the Screen Actors Guild and as governor of California.
While much of Russo's prolonged story is familiar, he does use an array of primary sources to expose the little-known Korshak. The most valuable new evidence is a series of interviews with men and women close to Supermob members and law enforcers (some of which were confidentially conducted), FBI files, and the report of the Kefauver commission. Appendixes list Supermob investments and the holdings of the Pritzker family. Also appended are tax and real estate documents linking Paul Ziffren, of the California Democratic party, with one-time Capone assistant Alex Greenberg.
Supermob illustrates the infiltration of crime into all sectors of society. Russo shows how the Outfit and their cohorts attained sway within unions and corporations alike, and command over politicians, actors, musicians, and other performers, often using intimidation, blackmail, violence, and murder. He traces much of the profit to the depletion of the Teamsters Pension Fund and the skimming of profits from casinos, hotels, and entertainment companies like MCA. While Russo tries to prove Korshak's importance, he also leaves the impression of him as a tool of the Outfit, not the master puppeteer. Additionally, it is ambiguous exactly how connected the individuals in the mob and Supermob were to each other.
Because Russo offers scant explicit examination in explaining Korshak's incentives and ultimate success other than pointing to his impoverished Russian-Jewish heritage, other reviewers have confounded his interpretation with stereotypes of Jews as members of a secret ultra-elite class. While an unfair assessment, the text might have elaborated further to explain exactly what made profit at all costs tolerable-and possible-for lower-class Chicagoans like Korshak. Further, attention to gender might have helped to explain the disposition of Supermob men. Nonetheless, the work is one of the most comprehensive and thoroughly researched histories of the under-workings the Outfit's nationalization. Russo has documented the more sinister and "invisible" powers of the twentieth century (xv) .
While leaving scholars with more questions concerning the structural sources of crime and their gendered, ethnic, racial, and class implications, the above studies successfully explore the causes and consequences of Chicago's history of lawlessness and murder. The works additionally begin to explore the religious and moral dimensions of crime and that are involved in defining what behaviors are criminal. The authors present a bleak vision of the "the city that works": a wicked city spreading its violence, bloodletting, and depravity geographically, culturally, and politically.