Friday, June 17, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

September 3, 1945

Brady Residence                 Hellstern Residence

The investigation of the double-murder at Lunt and Clark was immediately underway.  Based on the dying description of his victim, the murderer was 30 or 35 years old, about 5 feet 10 inches in height, with a dirty complexion, a slouch hat, blue shirt, and dark trousers.  He wore a single black rubber glove on his left hand, suggesting that he may have had an artificial or injured hand.

Three people claimed to have seen the killer.  Elmer Leitner, 22, of 1772 W. Estes, Paul Piro, 18, of 1908 W. Estes, and Opal Hamann, of 6959 N. Clark. They corroborated Detective Brady's description, but didn't add much new information.

Mrs. Brady                             Mrs. Hellstern
Police Commissioner Allman swore that the department would not rest until the killer was captured.  Five suspects were rounded up, two of whom wore gloves over artificial left hands.

As the police investigated, the families grieved. At that time, widows of police killed in the line of duty received $10,000, along with $1,800 per year until their youngest child reached the age of 18.  Converted into today's values that would translate to a lump sum of $132,000 and $24,000 per year. Of course, no amount of money could replace the loss of a husband or father.

September 4

Location of Inquest
At the request of Captain Michael Ahern, an inquest into the murders was held at the John E. Maloney Funeral Home at 1359 W. Devon.  The inquest was an opportunity for the police to explain their lines of investigation and discuss additional evidence, including a ballistics report.  Mrs. Brady and Mrs. Hellstern both attended this session, hoping to learn more about what had happened to their husbands.

The inquest pointed to a potential motive. At the time of his death, Detective Hellstern had over $3,000 in cash in his pocket.  His fellow officers noted that he distrusted banks.  Could his murder have been a hold-up that went bad?  Did the man with the black rubber glove know that Detective Hellstern would be carrying a large sum of money that night? What was he planning to buy? It wasn't clear, and his wife never gave an explanation of why he was carrying the modern day equivalent of $39,000 as he was walking down Clark Street.

Boundaries of the Search
September 5

In an effort to gather additional evidence, the police began a systematic interview of every individual in the Rogers Park community. Officers swarmed through the streets, the local Rogers Park force augmented by squads from the detective bureau, the homicide bureau, and even the park district.  All told there were 127 uniformed policeman and 10 plainclothes detectives working on this case.  These officers were sent on a house-by-house investigation throughout the neighborhood, interviewing local community members about the crime. Their search turned up Mel Ogren, who had been bowling that night at the corner of Lunt and Ravenswood, and witnessed the exchange of gunfire on his walk home.  He was positive there had been no glove, contradicting several eye witness accounts.

September 8
Sherwood Wolf, 19

A few days later, Sherwood J. Wolf, 19, of 7006 N. Paulina was arrested.  Mr. Wolf was supposedly the Peeping Tom that the detectives had been on their way to investigate.  Maybe he was a little creepy, but the police quickly discovered that he had nothing to do with the murders. It was a dead end. To share the killer's description more widely, the police generated a sketch based upon the statements given by witnesses. Since forensic artists were still rather uncommon, the portrait was drawn by an artist friend of Captain Ahern.  It
was displayed at the Rogers Park police station.

September 9

Eight additional witnesses identified in the canvassing of the neighborhood were interviewed by police. Paul McMahon of 1648 W. Lunt confirmed that the shooter had a glove on his left hand.

By the end of September, the police had little to show for their community-wide manhunt. After hundreds of interviews, the arrest of Sherwood Wolf, and some new eye witness testimony, all they had was an amateur sketch of the perpetrator, a half-baked theory about a robbery, and a fruitless search for a man with a glove on his left hand.  But the case would come roaring back into the headlines on December 14th when the events of that evening would finally be revealed, along with the identity of the murderer. 

Part 3 to follow.

Information above is taken from a series of Chicago Tribune articles accessed through the Chicago Public Library.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 1

September 2, 1945

At 11 p.m. Detectives George Hellstern and his partner Charles Brady were walking down Clark Street in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.  Earlier that day, Japan had formally surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, and, while the celebrations were more subdued than they had been a few weeks earlier, the atmosphere in Rogers Park was cheerful on that cool autumn night. A waning crescent moon could be seen in the cloudy skies.

Crosses indicate where the detectives fell.  The arrow shows the route of the assailant.

A- Police Station, B- Peeping Tom, C- Shooting

The detectives had been sent to investigate a report of a "Peeping Tom" at 7022 N. Paulina. Since the police station was then located at southeast corner of Clark and Estes (a topic of a previous blog post), the detectives walked south along Clark Street. It was the end of their shift, and they probably intended to head home after taking a statement.

At Lunt and Clark, they saw a man in front of the corner drug store with a dirty face and a glove on his left hand.  Detectives Hellstern and Brady crossed to the southeast corner and identified themselves as police officers.   In response, the man pulled out a revolver and began to fire.  Detective Hellstern was hit.  He managed to fire three bullets at the man before dying on the sidewalk.  Detective Brady was also hit.  He fired two shots at the man as he fled down Lunt Avenue.  In less than a minute the violent exchange was over. 

Unobserved at the time, a black car across the street started up and drove away.

Charles Brady, 36
Paul McMahon, a friend of Detective Brady, heard the gunfire and ran to the intersection.  Brady handed him his gun and told him to shoot at the suspect.  McMahon ran half a block east on Lunt and fired once into a dark alley.  He never saw the face of the assailant.

A district patrol wagon crew returning from another assignment was stopped by cries from a gathering crowd. Brady had time to give his account of the incident before he was rushed to St. Francis hospital in Evanston, where he received numerous blood transfusions.  He died 3 ½ hours later.

George Hellstern, 52
Witnesses remained to give their statements to the police, but the shooter was long gone.

Detective Hellstern left behind a wife and two daughters.  Detective Brady a wife and 9 children, with another on the way. 

Soon, the full force of the Chicago Police Department would be directed to this case, resulting in a massive manhunt for the murderer.  Eventually, their police work would reveal one of Chicago’s many networks of organized crime in the 1940s.

Part 2 forthcoming.

The above information is taken from Chicago Tribune articles accessed online through the Chicago Public Library.  Portraits are adapted from published Tribune images.