Saturday, August 6, 2016

Murder at Lunt and Clark, Part 3

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2

November 29, 1945

Cecil "Red" Smith
"Guys, where are we going?" asked Red Smith.  What's the plan tonight?" Everyone maintained an icy silence.  "Is this a suburban job?"  Silence.  He didn't ask again.

It was a cold, drizzly night in Chicago. Tiny Mazzanars was driving, and Red Smith was riding shotgun.  In the back were Renoro Lolli and Christ Perres.  All four were members of a gang specializing in handbook robberies, preferring to rob payroll and receipts of the gambling syndicate.  They weren't above a random armed robbery, which Red assumed was the plan for this evening. Tiny kept driving west along Irving Park.  The stores, apartments, and city street lights soon gave way to a dark road, made even darker by a thickening fog. Tiny turned north onto a narrow dirt road. Although it was just past Chicago's city limits, it felt a world away from the streets of Rogers Park.

Lawrence "Tiny" Mazzanars
Tiny Mazzanars and Red Smith had been working together when Tiny was invited to join the handbook robbery gang.  He vouched for his friend Red and brought him in, too. It turned out that Red already knew one other member of the group--James Kelley.  The men got acquainted in the Joliet Penitentiary, where Red had served 5 sentences since 1916.  Kelley knew Red was not above acting as an informant if it was in his best interests.  But that didn't matter too much until September 2nd, when Red shot two Chicago detectives on the corner of Lunt and Clark.

James Kelley
Red and Tiny had cased the drug store at the southeast corner of Lunt and Clark on Saturday, September 1st. It was a busy location, and the manager had a predictable schedule. He tallied the week's receipts on Sunday night, and, then, come Monday morning, he took all of the cash to the local bank. If they could catch him on Sunday night, just as he was locking up, they could escort him back into the store and leave with a week's worth of earnings. It was a perfect plan.

On September 2nd at 11 p.m. they parked their car on Lunt Avenue.  Tiny stood on the northeast corner, while Red waited across the street right in front of the drugstore.  Just as their setup was complete, Detectives Brady and Hellstern walked by looking for their Peeping Tom.  They immediately noticed Red acting suspiciously and identified themselves as police officers. Recognizing trouble, Tiny began to walk west on Lunt.  He was less than a block away when he heard the gun shots. Red had shot and killed both detectives. As a crowd began to gather, Tiny got into his car unobserved and drove away.

North Avenue Bridge, where they tossed the gun.
Tiny visited several bars in the area looking for Red, but he didn't find him until the next day.  Red had hidden the murder weapon in a backyard.  A week later, they both went to retrieve it. They dismantled the weapon and dropped the barrel and some other pieces into the Chicago River at the North Avenue Bridge.  Tiny took some parts with him as spares, and stashed them in the basement rafters of his apartment building on Lyndale.

Renoro Lolli
In the meantime, the police kicked their investigation into high gear.  Renoro Lolli and James Kelley were pulled in and questioned on unrelated charges.  Kelly knew that if Red were picked up there was a good chance he would confess to the shooting and "squeal" about his involvement in the handbook robbery gang, endangering Lolli, Kelley, and the other members of the group. It wasn't long before Red Smith saw Kelley, Lolli, and his good friend Tiny huddled together, talking quietly.  They fell silent when they saw him watching. As a joke, Kelley started to refer to him as "Squealer." Red pretended to find it funny, but he became increasingly nervous around the other members of the gang.

What Red didn't know that night in the car--but may have suspected--was that the location of his grave had already been chosen.  Shovels and pick axes were in the trunk. James Kelley, who had suggested the murder, decided not to get his hands dirty. "Three of you is plenty to murder one man," he said. "There's no need for me to go along."

Extrapolated Route, using 1939 Aerial Photo
As the car drove north along River Road, Christ Perres leaned forward from the back seat and placed the muzzle of his gun against Red Smith's head.  His gun jammed.  Renorro Lolli was ready.  Before he fired he said, "You're a rat and a stool pigeon, and we're going to let you have it."  Then he shot twice.  One bullet struck the back of Red's head behind his left ear, and the other went into the rear of the seat.

They continued to drive north, then turned west onto Lawrence Avenue.  After the explosion of bullets, the car seemed deathly quiet.  Red Smith slumped forward. They drove a block west on Lawrence and then pulled off into a corn field.  Tiny dug the grave, deep enough so that Red wouldn't be caught in the plow.  It was the least he could do.

Christ Perres
The unpleasant work done, they returned to their car, only to find that it was stuck in the cold, late November mud.  After trying to push their car out they flagged down a bus and rented a tow truck to retrieve their car.  A homicide, a corn field burial, a city bus ride, and a middle-of-the-night tow truck rental, and, somehow, no farmers, neighbors, bus drivers, or Schiller Park police officers became suspicious. Once their car was freed from the mud, they all headed back to Chicago. Perhaps they wondered whether the gang was truly safer now.  Or maybe they didn't think about it at all.  Soon, snow began to fall, covering Red Smith's grave.  He had outlived Detectives Hellstern and Brady by less than 3 months.

Part 4 will detail how the police solved the case and broke the gang.  And there's a shootout!

As usual, information was taken from historic Chicago Tribune articles.  Some literary license has been taken...


  1. Enjoyable! I am interested in how police cracked the case. Part 4 must wait!

  2. It's really convoluted, but impressive. Probably it will be ready some time in September.