The following pages are a series of police and family stories, some introspective, some just plain old cop war stories, some silly or whimsical and an occasional rant or two.
The original encouragement to set some of these to paper was from the pastor of our local parish. It was many years ago at the conclusion of a dinner in our home and we were relaxing in the living room over a glass of wine. Father enjoyed police stories, having come from a law enforcement family himself. After regaling him with a few tales he looked me in the eye and said, “You’re writing these down, aren’t you? You know, just for your family so years from now they can know what you were about.”
So I wrote a couple and the Chicago Tribune even published one, but then for some reason I stopped. But the increasing popularity of computers and word processing software made writing, revising and polishing a story even easier. With the advent of blogs, sharing became a practical option.
My plan is to publish at least two stories a month, targeting the 2nd and 4th Friday on the calendar for posting. Some will be family type memoirs under the Family Stories category. For a free subscription to this blog to receive notifications of new posts by email, signup at the right. No spam, I promise! Or follow me on Twitter (click above) for a tweet each time a new story is published.
Your comments are most appreciated. I try to answer each of them.
Thanks for reading… I hope you enjoy the stories.
I was the Operations Manager at the new 911 Center the October 1996 night that Officer Jim Mullen was shot, the bullet severing his spinal cord at the neck. The paramedics updated us on his condition as they were en route to the hospital, the code they used translated to “extremely critical” the very worst classification. They did not expect him to make it to the hospital. Jim somehow survived, a quadriplegic on a respirator.
Jim gets around—local parades, speaking engagements, but I have never had the occasion to run into him even though he lives nearby.
It was a nice day, in the 70’s. I walked to the bank to make a deposit and talk to a banker and inside was Jim Mullen also waiting for a banker. In a wheelchair with a portable respirator, a thick translucent tube running from the respirator mounted on the back of his chair into his neck. Two attendants waited with him.
“Hi!” he said with a strong voice.” How’s retirement treating you?”
“I’m doing great.” I said. “How are you?” regretting the cliché as soon as it left my lips.
“I have never been better!” he said. The sparkle in his bright blue eyes told me he was more than sincere.
“You were a Lieutenant weren’t you?” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “but the night you were shot I was the Operations Manager at the 911 Center. Scary times”
“Yes they were.” he replied.
We chatted for several minutes. He’s selling applesauce, his mother’s recipe and it’s starting to take off. (http://www.mullenfoods.com/)
He’s at the bank today to try to eliminate some of the new service charges the bank has instituted in recent weeks. Me too.
He’s gotten into computers since he was shot, never knew a thing about them before but he’s pretty good at it he says… “I use the voice recognition software and it works very well for me.”
He finds the Chicago winters difficult because his system has trouble regulating his body temperature when it’s cold.
His dad, former Chicago Police, is 91… has been retired for 34 years.
His daughter, an infant when he was injured, turned 17 this year.
Idle chit chat, but his inflection was spirited, his voice strong.
He finished first and called a greeting to me as they wheeled him out.
A few moments later one of the attendants returned. “Are you Jim?” she asked. “Here, he wants to give you this.”
A jar of applesauce.
So you think you got problems bunky?
Author’s note: I learned recently that an organization named Kickstarter is facilitating a campaign to raise funds for Jim Mullen to take his applesauce business to the next level. He’s just shy of his next milestone and the campaign ends November 30, 2013. Point your browser to http://tinyurl.com/kaubgkp and read more about this project, then make a donation to this exceptional venture.
Roll the presses! We are happy to announce that our long awaited book, On Being a Cop (Aviva Publishing), is being printed as we speak.
Pre-order now on our new website www.OnBeingACop.com and take advantage of our special introductory price of $20 including tax (regular retail $29.95). Browse the site to view our gallery of photos, audio tracks and videos. Read about our upcoming Book Launch Party at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N Knox Ave, Chicago, on Friday, December 6, 2013 from 7—10 pm.
Remember, if you’re going to attend the launch party, buy your book there and save the shipping and handling charges. This book will make a wonderful holiday gift and also benefits many good causes. Proceeds are being shared with the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and the Police Chaplains Ministry. Copies of the book have been donated and will be included in care packages sent to all active-duty military Chicago Police personnel. To help make this book a success, please feel free to forward this announcement to all your friends. Thanks so much for your interest and support. We hope you enjoy the book.
Jim and Jay Padar
Note: This story was first posted here in Oct 2012. We repeat it here in honor of Veterans’ Day
I lifted the frame reverently from the wall—I was holding a bit a family history and I knew it. The custom antique gold frame held ribbons, medals and a citation mounted on a green felt background. They had been awarded to my wife’s cousin Ralph almost 67 years ago. I only knew Ralph in his later years and he was a character with character. He was without a doubt one of the most interesting and honorable men I have ever met.
* * * *
Pfc. Ralph Meinking crouched low in the snow and bitter north wind. He was just a few miles from the town of Bennwihr in the far northeastern corner of France, over 4,000 miles from home sweet home Chicago. Just ahead was the 254th Infantry Regiment’s objective for the day, a giant mound of earth that would become known as Bloody Mountain. This day however, Tuesday, January 23, 1945, it was simply known on the military charts as Hill 216.
Ralph was 31 years old and he was a Conscientious Objector. During World War II, under the law, objectors had two choices — they could go into the military but serve in the medical corps or other non-combat duties, or they were required to do “alternative service” here at home that was “work of national importance.” Ralph chose to serve in the medical corps and he wore the white arm band with the bright red cross of a Combat Medic. He was assigned to the 254th Infantry Regiment, Company D and they were preparing to assault Hill 216.
Today an American flag flies 24 hours a day atop the hill at a monument erected by the Rhin -Danube Association. Known as the Sigolsheim, France Memorial, it honors the soldiers of all American units that fought alongside of French Soldiers in the First French Army. But this bitter cold January day the Germans occupied a heavily fortified position at the top of the hill. It afforded them a commanding view of the surrounding country.
At 0645 hours, 15 minutes before “H” hour, our supporting artillery began firing in preparation for the assault. Minds and bodies became tense as the troops awaited the signal to move forward. They had seen some of war but it always had been they who awaited the enemy in their defensive positions; now it was the enemy’s turn to wait in a hole—theirs to attack. At 0700 hours they silently and unseen began to move through the deep snow, their snow capes blending in perfectly with the world of white which surrounded them.
For a few moments after they heard the dull explosions and saw their comrades lying on the ground, they did not realize what was happening. No shell scream, no mortar whistle accompanied the bursts. Then their minds began to work once more and they recognized the barrier the crafty Germans had erected—a field of the tiny, foot-shearing Schuh Mines. The heavy snow fall of the preceding days coupled with brisk winds had perfectly hidden the mines and the footprints of the soldiers who laid them. Pfc. Ralph Meinking had his work cut out for him as the assault continued and dead and dying soldiers littered the battlefield.
Besides wreaking physical havoc on the advancing troops of the Regiment, the mines served a second purpose; the sound of them exploding alerted the German soldiers that they were under attack. Mortar fire began to pour into the minefield, quickly followed small arms fire as well as machine guns. The concentration was extremely heavy and the assaulting force began to receive even larger numbers of casualties from this shelling as well as from the Schuh Mines. Medic Meinking was working feverishly to aid as many soldiers as he was able when he felt a searing pain in his buttocks. Shrapnel from a mortar had ripped into Ralph’s backside, but he continued to work as rapidly as he could. One, two four, then it was ten other members of his unit were triaged, treated and sheltered as best as Ralph could accomplish before he himself fell to the pain and loss of blood from his wounds.
* * * *
Some thirty-five years later I had occasion to meet Ralph for the first time at one of his well-known annual birthday parties. I was a newlywed, my wife being a former Daughter of Charity as well as Ralph’s cousin. At the time I was working homicide for the Chicago Police Department. Ralph always held his parties at local German restaurants along Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue. He insisted on just one mandate for his parties—he designated where and who you sat with. To say his group of friends was eclectic would be a gross understatement. At my first party, I found myself sitting directly across from an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. My bride, the former Catholic nun sat across from an Episcopal priest. Ralph, as always, sat at the bar, peering over his brood with his cigar and double martini. Both my wife and I vowed to never miss one of his parties.
We took to inviting Ralph to our home for dinner with our family. It gave us more time to visit on a personal level. Ralph was an avowed Socialist but vehemently anti-Communist. (There’s grist for spirited conversations!) He was a faculty member at Roosevelt University. He had been regular at Chicago’s “Bughouse Square” where he often mounted a soapbox to espouse his political views. Politically, he and I were about as diametrically opposed as possible. He was both articulate and good-humored and I always looked forward to his visits… and his birthday parties.
He was self-deprecating and totally without ego or arrogance.
“Ralph, I hear from the relatives that you got a Purple Heart in World War II… what was that about?” I asked one day.
“Ahhh… I got shot in the ass kid, nothin’ to talk about,” he answered.
“You were a medic?”
“Yeah!” he laughed. “Hey, did they tell you about the time I was running from one guy to another in the dark when I suddenly realized that everyone around me was speaking German? I kept my head down, finished one more and then hightailed it back to where I thought our lines were.”
He laughed heartily at himself and took a long drag on his cigar and sip from his martini.
My mother-in-law was a favorite of his and as he aged he confided to her that he was dying.
“There won’t be anything to leave you… I wish there was.”
“Ralph,” my mother-in-law replied, “The only thing I want is your Purple Heart and ribbons.”
“Now why would anyone want that!” he replied.
Never-the-less when he passed sometime later, there was an envelope with my mother-in-law’s name on it. Inside she found not only his campaign ribbons and Purple Heart medal, but also a Silver Star medal along with the citation for “magnificent courage and outstanding gallantry under fire” during the assault on Hill 216.
Pfc. Ralph Meinking: Patriot, Conscientious Objector, Combat Medic, Silver Star recipient… and oh yes… a Socialist.
“Ahhh… I got shot in the ass kid, nothin’ to talk about.”
We miss you Ralph… you were indeed one of the most fascinating persons I have ever known and at the time I didn’t even know your whole story.
Authors note: Details of the battle for Hill 216 and snow capes picture are from the 254th Infantry Regiment’s website and are used here with the gracious permission of the webmaster of the 63rd Infantry website, Fred Clinton. In email correspondence Fred also indicated that he served in the same company with Ralph and further that the 254th Regiment received a Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic actions in the battles for Colmar, France. The regiment also received a French Croix de Guerre with palm for actions in the Colmar Pocket.
Author’s Note: Names have been changed or omitted to protect the foolish.
Many people are most accustomed to a grandiose vision of a courtroom, rich mahogany panels, distinguished black-robed judges, lawyers in freshly pressed suits and ties and police officers in crisp class A uniforms. On a daily basis, the reality was something entirely different—especially during the late 60’s and 70’s at the Cook County Criminal Court at 2600 South California on Chicago’s near south side.
Branch 57 was Narcotics Court and most mornings it was a zoo. Preliminary hearings were held here for the overnight arrests. Many of the officers in court had spent the previous hours working, or if not, they were short on sleep, having drawn the short straw on who was going to attend court.
Street uniforms were the order of the day, often soiled and dusty with the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates during a tour of duty on the streets of Chicago. No trials were held here, the judge listened to the circumstances of the arrest and rendered a decision as to whether or not the defendant should be held for trial.
The judge was a character who stood and walked more than he sat. His robe was seldom closed and when he gestured, wildly at times, it would fly open revealing an unkempt open collared shirt. He drank his coffee during the proceedings, but the cup always had a tight lid lest the hot liquid spill while he was flailing his arms.
George Grady, the state’s attorney was a sharp young man who would later also become a judge. He was not afraid to argue his point with great enthusiasm.
He guided one officer through the circumstances of his case:
“What was the nature of the call officer?”
“It was a man with a gun in the pool hall.”
“And will you tell the court what you found when you arrived on the scene?”
“Well we did not find a man with a gun, but we observed the defendant coming out of the men’s room.”
“And then what did you do?”
“We patted down his outer clothing and felt a suspicious bulge in his trouser pocket.”
“And did you have an occasion to determine what the bulge was?” asked Grady.
“”Yes sir,” replied the officer. “It was what is known on the street as a nickel bag of marijuana.”
“The state rests your honor.”
“That’s it?” asked the judge spreading his arms apart. “That’s all you’re going to give me?”
“I said the state rests judge.”
“Then I say no probable cause. That’s an illegal search.”
“Your honor! How can you say that?” responded Grady raising his voice. “They were responding to a man with a gun call!”
“You mean to tell me, Mister Grady, that if the police received a call of a man with a gun in this courtroom, they could search everybody?” The judge was shouting now, walking and waving, his robe flying.
“No, of course not, that’s different.”
“Then tell me Mister Grady,” still shouting. “What’s the difference between this courtroom and a pool hall?”
“Very little your honor—very little!”
The judge stopped in mid stride and whirled to face the state’s attorney. He paused a moment as laughter rippled through the courtroom and then he joined the laughter.
“Point taken Mister Grady, I guess I asked for that, but the case is dismissed.”
* * * *
In another courtroom and defendant had been found guilty of burglary and the judge sentenced him to two years in the Vandalia Correctional Center.
“But your honor,” protested the defendant. “Today is my birthday. It’s not right to sentence someone to prison on their birthday!”
The judge turned to the state’s attorney.
“Is that right? Is today his birthday?”
The state’s attorney paged through the arrest records.
“Yes, your honor, today is his 18th birthday.”
The judge rose. The odd conversation had captured the spectator’s attention. Would the judge even consider modifying the sentence based upon the fact that it was the defendant’s birthday? All eyes were on the judge as, still standing, he leaned over the rail toward the young man and began to sing in a rich baritone:
“Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Two years in Vandalia,
Happy Birthday to you!”
* * * *
It was a summertime homicide trial in the same building. We were on one of the upper floors and the heat was nearly suffocating. Two large fans ran in a vain attempt to cool the participants. I was on the stand and after questions from both the prosecutor and the defense attorneys, the judge stopped me as I was about to step down.
“Be seated detective,” he said. “I want to ask you a question”
I turned in my seat and for the first time I had a full view of him and it was a sight to behold. The judge had hiked his robe up to his waist, rolled his pants above his knees and his socks down to his shoes. His knees were widely spread and he was fanning his lower body with the morning paper.
I don’t remember what his question was, nor do I remember what I answered. But when I returned to my seat and looked back at him, he was a picture of dignity and decorum —at least from the waist up.
I don’t like non-story posts, but I did want my regular readers to be the first to know; the stars are aligning more rapidly than we had anticipated and it now appears that a release date for the book might be as early as December 1st—in time for the holiday season. Since things are moving so quickly, we have established a web page (www.OnBeingaCop.com) where individuals can register to receive information. If you are an email subscriber to this blog you will automatically be registered to receive occasional updates. No spam! Promise. Just a couple of emails to announce the release date as it draws closer and also to alert you to a special pre-release sale at a one-time special discount price, as well as the location and time of the Chicago launch party.
On Being a Cop (the book) is coauthored by my police officer son Jay and me. About half the stories have been adapted from this blog and the rest are never before published stories by Jay and me, a total of fifty-three short stories in a hardcover book that will run about 400 pages for your enjoyment.
If you are not a blog email subscriber, point your browser to http://www.OnBeingaCop.com and register your email. Facebook users can also visit On Being a Cop and “like” the page to keep abreast of the latest information.
Jay and I hope you share our excitement… the books are on their way!
To my loyal readers,
Many of you who comment, or read the comments, know that there have been requests for a book. Well, it’s happening!
My son Jay and I have signed an agreement with a publisher and the book will be released early next year. If you are on Facebook, go to “On Being a Cop” and “like” the page to keep updated on the progress and for some pre-release offers.
The book will contain many stories from this blog, some updated and expanded as well as new stories written specifically for the book. Jay has penned about 20 additional tales that I like to call “staccato stories.” They are short, but no less intense and offer perfect punctuation to many of my stories.
I would be remiss if I did not thank all of you for your loyal readership and support. The blog was indeed the origin of all of this and it will remain in place, but the pressures of getting a book ready for publication may keep me from posting new stories as regularly as I would like.
Again, thanks for your loyalty, support and encouragement of the past few years. It has been the trip of a lifetime!
Just after midnight the black limo with heavily tinted windows pulled to the curb in front of White’s Shrimp House on Chicago’ west side. Before the chauffeur could exit, Leon Woods opened the door, stepped out to the sidewalk and turned to help Theresa Dodson from the car. Before she could slide across the seat to grab his hand, Woods turned suddenly and exchanged words with a young man. A shot punctuated the Saturday night noises and for a moment everyone was quiet. Woods crumpled to the ground, curled into a fetal position and moaned softly. The young man fled east towards Kedzie Avenue.
“Woody! Woody!” screamed Theresa as she stumbled from the car and knelt next to her boyfriend.
The chauffeur ran around the front of the car and started east after the gunman, but he had disappeared, so he ran into White’s to call the police.
I was working days with another new homicide detective. Even though we were both experienced street cops, between the two of us, Jason Moore and I had less than 18 months homicide experience, but we perceived ourselves to be sharp and we worked well together.
At the Sunday 8:30 AM roll call the Sergeant called our names.
“Padar, Moore, you guys have a fresh one from last night. We just got the call that he died on the table at Cook County. See the midnight crew, they can bring you up to speed. The midnight detectives were just finishing a lengthy Aggravated Battery Supplemental Report when they got the word that Woods had expired.
“You guys are fresh,” they told Jason and me. “Why don’t you retype this and reclassify to a Homicide/Murder Supplemental?”
Jason and I looked at on another… we were new but not dumb and the last thing we wanted to do was spend the next several hours retyping someone else’s report.
“Why don’t you guys just retype the first page reclassifying? The rest of the pages will be the same. We’ll cover the new information in our report at the end of the day.”
They looked at us as if we were trying to trick them somehow.
“That’ll work,” said the older detective after a moment’s reflection.”
Jason and I headed out the door to re-interview Theresa Dodson.
“Hey! You guys!” shouted the midnight crew. “They found this under his body… don’t know what it means, but we’re going to inventory it as possible evidence.
We stopped and looked at an extension cord that had been wrapped in black electrical tape.
“Looks like a homemade blackjack. Are we sure it was his?”
“We don’t know, but it was under his body, so most likely it belonged to him.”
After some difficulty, we found Theresa at her sister’s apartment where she had gone after leaving the hospital while Woods was still in surgery. Thankfully, she had been notified of Woods death before we arrived. Although distraught, she agreed to talk with us about the shooting. She seemed sincere and anxious, but she couldn’t tell us much.
It was the one year anniversary of their first date and her boyfriend wanted to make it a special night. He hired a limousine and driver and they were to spend the night hopping from club to club. Around midnight they were hungry and they stopped at White’s Shrimp House for a late night snack. Her dear Woody was shot as he exited the limo.
She had the impression that Woods had exchanged words with the shooter, but she didn’t hear the conversation. After the shooting, she went to Woods side and did not pay any attention to the gunman. She thought he appeared young and was wearing jeans and a tan tee-shirt. Woods lay moaning softly until the ambulance arrived—he did not speak. The homemade blackjack belonged to Woody—he carried it for protection. To the best of her knowledge, he did not own any firearms.
Leon Woods worked with his father in a wholesale import business on Pulaski Road. It was family owned and he spent 5 ½ to 6 days a week at the warehouse. He had no enemies to her knowledge.
As we were concluding Theresa’s interview, we received word that Woods’ autopsy was about to begin and since our “morgue man” was day-off, our office sent us to observe.
As we arrived, Woods had just been moved from a morgue tray to an examination table. There was evidence of the large closed surgical incision, but as the diener (the pathologist’s assistant) opened the abdominal cavity, it was filled with free blood. A single bullet hole was located about four inches above the naval. After clearing the blood, examination of the liver showed evidence of a lacerating bullet wound and attempted surgical repair.
“They should have had a successful outcome… it’s unusual for County to drop the ball on a case like this,” said the pathologist as he gave us a running narrative.
He gently removed the liver and handed it off to the diener.
“Ah, but they were doomed along with Mister Woods,” said the doctor as he suctioned residual blood .
“Look here!” he exclaimed. The bullet transversed the liver and lodged at the edge of the anterior spine, but look, look right here.”
He took the handle of the scalpel and gently probed the aorta, exposing a small ¼” laceration.
“The bullet nicked the aorta. The surgeons were dealing with a blood filled abdominal cavity and a lacerated liver. But hidden deep behind the liver was a second more serious hemorrhage source, the aorta. I doubt anyone could have saved him.”
After photographs, he gently removed what appeared to be a .25 caliber bullet. We would be looking for a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol as the murder weapon, but if it was a semi-auto, where was the shell casing?
We checked back with the office where the midnight crew had finished their report. No casing was mentioned—in fact, the scene had not been processed as a homicide. At the time of the initial investigation, Leon Woods was a shooting victim, not a murder victim.
Jason and I headed back to the sidewalk in front of White’s Shrimp House. With the aid of bright sunlight, we found a shiny.25 caliber shell casing nestled in a crack of the sidewalk. The mobile crime lab responded, took pictures and recovered the casing.
We looked to the east. Witnesses had reported that the shooter had fled in that direction and quickly disappeared. Several doors down was a shoe shine parlor. It was a large establishment with about a dozen shine stations along one wall and chairs for waiting customers along the other. Manned mostly by teenagers from the neighborhood, it was a thriving business. The owner did not tolerate alcohol or drug use on the premises and the boys worked hard and probably made a good buck. It was favored by cop and civilian alike, some coming from great distances. In my estimation, it was by far the best shoe shine in the city.
Jason and I decided we both needed a shine and as we walked in we were immediately descended upon by the boys.
“Shine officer?” they shouted over one another. They recognized detectives and uniformed officers with equal accuracy. They knew that the owner would not charge the police and most officers tipped generously, double the cost of the shine. We were desirable customers.
We settled into our chairs and casually inquired if our polishers had been working last night. We dared not ask anything more with the other boys all ears. We finished and tipped the boys and approached the owner at the counter. He waved us out, indicating that the shines were on the house, but we stopped and asked him if he was there last night at the time of the shooting.
Yes, he had been there, no, no one had seen the shooting from inside the shop. Yes, he would call if he learned anything. Fat chance. We left business cards.
Jason and I had inherited the case from the midnight crew. It was technically their case, but it would be difficult for them to do any in depth investigation during midnight hours. We tackled the assignment with great enthusiasm.
Witnesses were re-interviewed and then interviewed again. The best of the lot was the limo driver who described the shooter as 5” 10”, dark complexion, wearing a tan tee-shirt and blue jeans. He had run east on Madison and disappeared quickly.
After a week, the investigation languished. We felt the key to the case was in the shoe shine parlor. It was a community gathering place and while the gunman might not be one of the boys, we felt that they knew who it was and in fact we strongly suspected that the shooter may have fled through the store to the alley to make good his escape. But no one was talking.
Eventually, our nearly constant pressure in the 3200 block of west Madison made enough people so nervous that bits and pieces of anonymous tips and clues began to filter into us. It was all second or third hand information, none of which could be attributed to any individual:
- The shooter was not from the neighborhood
- The shooter was not one of the boys at the shoe shine parlor
- The shooter did run through the store to the alley behind
- Most all of the workers at the shoe shine parlor knew who he was
Most of the information came from emissaries of business people in the area. In short, they didn’t want us hanging around constantly—it was bad for business. We could care less of course—we would continue to stop in every day until we got something substantial enough to clear the case. We needed to step up the pressure somehow.
Jason and I came up with a plan. We would find one of the shoe shine workers who most closely matched the description of the offender and bring him in for questioning. It was certainly a legitimate thing to do, question someone on the basis of a physical description. Hopefully skilled questioning would yield information that would help us identify the real killer. It all seemed so simple, but in reality it would lead us down the path of multiple errors in judgment, born in part of our inexperience. Would we blow the case entirely?
The hapless lad was Larry Wilson, age 17. He was 5’ 10”, dark complexion and on the day we snatched him from the shoe shine parlor, he was wearing a tan tee-shirt and blue jeans. We put the word out on the street that Larry was our man and he would be charged with murder. Nothing could be further from the truth of course—we had no case against him other than his physical description.
Back at the homicide office we cajoled Larry with the promise that if he was the wrong guy, giving us information leading to the right guy would earn his immediate release. Larry was a pleasant young man, but he told us nothing. Time to increase the pressure—thus began our series of mistakes.
We could have held a faux lineup and told Larry he was identified as the offender. But we contacted our best witness, the chauffeur, and held a real line-up and much to our surprise, the chauffeur positively identified Larry Wilson as the shooter. Because Jason and I were inexperienced, our supervisors were doing their job and watching us closely. Of course we had not advised them of our masterful scheme and they were convinced we had cleared the case by the arrest of Wilson. Department regulations required us to notify the States Attorneys’ office in any case where a lineup identification was made. Jason and I were convinced that the chauffeur was basing his identification solely on the clothing Larry Wilson was wearing but the Assistant States Attorney wasn’t buying it. He advised us to book Larry and charge him with murder.
Our pleas for release, or at least delay, fell on deaf ears. Both our supervisors and the ASA felt we had done a fine job wrapping up the case and making an arrest. Larry Wilson had remained silent, offering neither a denial nor an alibi. He was transported to Central Detention to await a bond hearing.
For the next several days at morning roll call when the sergeant asked each team what homicide they were working, we would respond.
“Woods is cleared. Pick another case.”
“But we got the wrong guy!”
“You can’t work a cleared case, pick another one.”
We would reluctantly give him another name, but when we hit the street, we worked the Woods homicide.
Back at the shoe shine parlor on West Madison, if we were greeted coolly before, we definitely were persona non grata now. Our shoes had been shined about a half dozen times in the preceding days, but when we walked in now, none of the boys pleaded for our business.
“Look,” we told the owner. “We don’t think Larry did this either, but if you want to help him, you’ll have to help us find the right guy.”
A week went by and Larry Wilson was assigned an initial court date well into the following month. It was a Friday about noon when we popped into the shine parlor once again. The owner nodded to us, the first recognition he had afforded us since Larry’s arrest. Then he looked to the far end of the counter and nodded to an older gentleman who had watched us walk in. We approached him and he held out his hand as if to shake ours. I felt a slip of paper in my palm, but I kept my fist closed.
“What’s this?” I asked in a low voice.
“It’s the right guy,” he answered as he turned and walked away. We needed to know who the old man was so we headed back to the owner.
“Who is that?” we asked.
“Larry’s grandfather. Don’t worry man… he’s solid… to the bone, but he won’t talk to you. Ya jus gotta take what comes to ya.”
We drove several blocks away before we stopped and opened the crumpled piece of paper. Scribbled in pencil was:
“Herman Wilson, Goldmine, Apt 510”
Both Jason and I had worked the Cabrini projects and we recognized “Goldmine” as being the ghetto designation for the building at 714 West Division Street. We stopped by the 018th District, cornered a friendly Youth Officer, and ran an alpha name check on Herman Wilson. He had a juvenile record for burglary and a couple of curfews and he lived at 714 West Division in Apartment 510. He was now 17, which under Illinois law made him an adult.
Jason and I stopped for lunch and took a booth in a far corner of the restaurant.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
“We pick him up, of course,” said Jason.
“And then what.”
“He must suspect that we know something,” said Jason. “If he’s the right guy, he might even be expecting us… you know, the homicide mystique.”
“Yeah, we’re so mysterious we arrested the wrong guy.”
“Let’s just come on strong and confident, let him think it’s all over except the paperwork, and see were that takes us.”
“Oh I love these crystal clear plans,” I said. “What could go wrong?”
“That doesn’t sound ‘strong and confident,’ Jim. Do you have a better plan?”
“You mean a better plan than no plan?” I answered sarcastically.
“Okay, I’m listening…” said Jason… silence.
“Alright, let’s do it, but I just don’t want to dig ourselves a bigger whole,” I answered, not exactly strongly or confidently.
We had a Task Force unit meet us at the 714 building and on the fifth floor we pounded on the door to apartment 510. A heavyset black woman answered.
“Herman Wilson,” we said without further explanation. She held the door open and we cautiously stepped in.
“Herman!” she called. “You ‘all come here boy… they’re here for you.”
Jason and I glanced at one another with raised eyebrows. Mama didn’t seem surprised. We searched Herman thoroughly and then cuffed him behind his back, looping the handcuff chain through his belt.
“Herman,” I said, “You’re under arrest for murder, you have the right to remain silent, you have the right…” I ran through the Miranda warnings, mostly for effect—we normally did that back at the station in the interview room.
“How’d you find him?” asked Mama.
“We’re detectives ma’am’, it’s what we do,” I answered curtly. This “strong and confident” thing was growing on me.
Once out in the squad, Herman tried to speak…
“We don’t want to hear it,” I cut him off. “It’s all over, Herman.”
We pulled out onto Division Street and headed west. We caught the red light at Halsted and Herman tried again.
“You probably won’t believe me, but…”
Jason was driving but he turned in his seat.
“Believe what, Herman?”
“I threw the gun off the bridge right up here”
We stopped just short of the single lane bridge over the Chicago River.
“I’ll show you… right up here.”
We exited the car and the Task Force unit pulled up behind us.
“He’s showing us where he threw the gun,” we explained.
“What kinda gun was it?” I asked.
“A little one, a 25 automatic. On the way home I got scared and threw it in the river.”
“What happened that night?” asked my partner in a kinder gentler tone.
“I was coming out of the Shrimp House when this gangster pulls up in a black limo with tinted windows. He looked at me and reached under his coat and started to pull out something black… I got scared and shot him.”
“How many times?” I asked.
“Just once, he went right down and I ran.”
“What was he pulling on you?”
“I don’t know, but he dropped it when I shot.”
“Where did you run?”
“Towards Kedzie Avenue, but I cut through the shine parlor. Those kids in there didn’t have anything to do with this, I swear… I just ran through there to the alley and then walked home. I threw the gun in the river when I crossed the bridge.”
Ten minutes later we were marching Herman Wilson into the Area Four Homicide office on west Maxwell Street.”
“Who’s this?” asked the sergeant.
“The right guy… the Woods homicide… and his story is corroborated by what actually happened.”
It was mid-afternoon on a Friday when I found myself and a States Attorney along with Larry Wilson standing in front a bewildered judge explaining why we wanted Larry released immediately.
“Well…” said the judge as he pondered the facts. “This case is not on my docket, but I understand that Judge Murphy has left for the day. I won’t interfere in his case, but I’ll release Larry Wilson to your custody, Detective. You have him back in Murphy’s court first thing Monday morning, do you understand?”
I nodded, but I didn’t understand. Released to my custody? What the hell did that mean? Was I supposed to bring this kid home with me for the week-end?
Back at our Maxwell Street office I walked in with Larry in tow and as we passed the interview room where Herman was manacled to the wall, they caught each other’s eye and almost imperceptibly nodded to one another.
In the office, out of earshot I asked Larry Wilson if he knew Herman Wilson.
“He’s my cousin,” answered Larry.
“Did you know he did this?” I asked.
Larry hung his head and nodded.
“And you were going to take a murder rap for him?”
“Well, when we was kids, we burglarized a factory. He got caught and I got away… he never told on me, so I wasn’t going to tell on him.”
“Larry,” I said patiently, “Do you understand the difference between a juvenile burglary and an adult murder?”
Larry looked at me, totally mystified.
I dropped Larry off at his home near Central and Lake Streets… with the warning that I would hunt him down and kill him if he wasn’t waiting for me Monday morning.
“Larry, do you know that if you go back to court with me Monday, this will all be over… but if you don’t, you’ll either be dead or back in jail depending on who finds you first. Understand?”
Larry nodded silently. He met me at the appointed time Monday and his case was dismissed. I bought him lunch and drove him back home.
Herman Wilson went to trial for murder about 2 ½ years after his arrest. He spent the whole time in custody. At a bench trial, the judge found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, based upon the “black object” that victim Leon Woods was pulling from under his coat. Herman was sentenced to 5 years in prison, but the remaining portion of his sentence was suspended.
And the two rookie homicide detectives, Jason and me, considered the whole case a learning experience. Jason left the department a few years later in a major career change. I stayed on of course, vowing never to repeat the same mistakes twice.