Thursday, October 12, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 11 Part 1
King News by Moses KoenigsbergPublished by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
The Ordeal of the Red Hankerchief (part 1)link to previous installment link to next installment
The first automobile murder on record lent occasion for a typical Chicago American news raid. At daybreak on November 19, 1904, in a muddy ditch off Archer Road, two miles north of Lemont, near Joliet, Ill., a man was found sitting bolt upright in a stalled car, his hands frozen to the steering gear. He had been dead for hours. An ugly hole in the forehead told the manner of his death. A shot from behind had killed him instantly. Identity of the slain driver was traced through the vehicle’s license number. He was William, son of John W. Bate, a well-to-do Chicagoan living at 1562 Kenmore Avenue. All these facts were published in the local dailies of the Saturday on which the body was discovered. Several circumstances suggested to me the possibility of bottling up the developments of this story for use in the Evening American on Monday.
A preliminary inquest was held by Deputy Coroner John W. Buell, with Dr. Joseph Springer, coroner’s physician, in attendance. Both these officials were beholden to the American. They were confidential members of my auxiliary staff. Discreet application of pressure kept them in seclusion over the week-end. So no further details of the tragedy at Lemont got into the morning papers of either Sunday or Monday. Meanwhile, a select squad was organized—as lusty a band of brigands as ever scuttled a competitor’s scoop or looted a hold of photographs. In charge was Jack Lait, by now a battle-scarred veteran. Under his direction were Carl Pancake, George Pratt and our irrepressible camera man, Nathan Meissler. Deputy Coroner Buell arose Monday morning to find himself in the hands of this marauding crew.
Such records as are available on the subject show that Buell resisted the onset. But the vigor of his resistance decreased with each quarter-hour in the corner saloon across the street. While he manfully coped at the bar with two of his abductors, the other two were speeding to the American office. They carried a bag full of intriguing items that Deputy Coroner Buell intended to deliver to his chief, Coroner Traeger. A challenging announcement occupied a conspicuous position on the first page of our next edition. It promised that in its following issue, the Chicago American would present exclusively two full pages of pictures, love letters and other documents taken from the body of the victim of the mysterious automobile murder.
The ensuing journalistic eruption fell outside all rules of classification. Its seismic violence rocked the coroner’s office. The reverberations reached me. Shortly after eleven o’clock that morning, Coroner Traeger was at my desk. He seemed on the verge of tears. “Why have you done this thing to me?” he asked in a tone so reproachful that it marred my triumph. “All the other newspapers think I helped to cook it up. Mr. Lawson himself telephoned me. He charged me with the most outrageous things, malfeasance in office, among them.”
Traeger’s reference was to Victor F. Lawson, publisher of the Daily News and then dean of Chicago newspaperdom. Together with the editors of the Evening Post and the Evening ]ournal, Lawson suspected the coroner of favoring the American because of its political support. Traeger’s predicament stirred my sympathy. But the need for shielding his deputy held me mute. The coroner had called to get the various, articles, reproductions of which were advertised to appear in the American. He was shocked by a denial that they were in my possession. “If you make another search of your office,” I told him, “I’m sure you’ll find them.” He did.
Three different photographs of Bate, one of his mother and one of his sweetheart, with half a dozen tender missives from the girl and a variety of written memoranda were included in the promised double-page display. Readers were urged to study the facsimiles. Among them a clue to the assassin might be found by one or more persons to whose notice the connecting link would never have come otherwise. This is a useful formula. Public service is becoming livery for a sensational newspaper spread. It “takes the curse off” blatant emotionalism. Most often, it is sincerely fashioned. Sometimes, it actually produces definite results. At least, it improves malar accommodations for some editorial tongues.
America’s first automobile murder was never solved. The motive was lost in the same shadows that swallowed the mysterious Mr. Dove, Bate’s patron on his last drive. The taxicab was then a novelty. Bate, twenty-five years old, had become a chauffeur for the Dan Canary Automobile Company, much as he might have started a dozen years later as an airplane pilot. At 9:25 on the evening of November 18, 1904, he was stationed in a Toledo touring car at the Auditorium Hotel. A well-dressed, blond young man stepped out of the hostelry carrying a suitcase. The doorman heard him tell Bate his name was Dove. Three minutes later the Toledo started on “a trip into the country.” Not another scintilla of evidence was found to explain how William Bate became Number One on the endless list of automobile murder victims.
A behind-the-scenes share in a hitherto unpublished chapter of political history came to me in the spring of 1905. It was the sidetracking of an issue of major importance. When the municipal ownership movement reached its zenith, it devolved on me to serve as intermediary between heads of the opposing camps. The outcome cast a penetrating light on the ways of American politicians.
A program for public ownership of public utilities had stirred torrid controversy in practically all the states. Tom L. Johnson had attracted countrywide attention to Cleveland with his fight for city proprietorship of transit facilities. But in 1905, Chicago became the cynosure of all advocates and opponents of the cult. The nation’s second metropolis was forcing a settlement of this hotly debated problem. It was the climax of the long and bitter struggle between those who favored the retention of franchises by the traction corporations and those who demanded the reversion of these rights to the people.
|Edward F. Dunne and family|
The color and pungency of the campaign brought indications of a close race. A pre-election poll was organized. My call for experts in such undertakings assembled a special staff. Infinite thoroughness was exacted. Two methods were employed. Each was devised to balance the other—a personal interrogation corps against a system of postcard ballots. We closed the tabulations four days before the election. The result was never published. It gave Harlan a lead of approximately 12,000. Dunne was elected by a plurality of 24,248.
The upset of a most elaborate statistical enterprise was not permitted to go unchallenged. It was important to determine whether the American was the victim of a casualty or a conspiracy. An intensive check-up was prosecuted. From that analysis a permanent guide was extracted. Its value was confirmed to me by kindred experiments in different communities in subsequent years. It directs the withholding of faith in the accuracy of any unofficial poll on moot matters.
Neither the form of the question propounded nor the range of individuals subjected to the questionnaire can exclude the deceptive factors produced by nuances of human nature. The defect cannot be cured by percentage allowances for changes of sentiment, by oblique approaches or by any of the stratagems yet contrived. The impasse is caused by an unascertainable volume of elements that temper the sincerity or adulterate the cooperation of the respondents. Among these unbalancing agencies are vague or illusory fears of private consequences, a desire for approbation, a recalcitrant perversity, resentment of fancied intrusion and a disposition to “outsmart the busybodies.”
On the Thursday following the election, Rafael R. Govin asked me to dine with him at the Congress Hotel. He was recognized as spokesman for the money behind Chicago’s streetcar systems. The securities were embraced in two corporations—the Union Traction Company and the City Railway Company. A protective committee acted for each. Govin was officially the chairman of one and unofficially the adviser of the other. The personnel of these bodies included Marshall Field, John J. Mitchell, Walter G. Oakman, Harlow N. Higinbotham, Norman B. Ream, P. A. B. Widener, Charles Steele, Oakleigh Thorne, Levi Z. Leiter, Nelson Morris, James B. Forgan, Ernest A. Hamill and Byron L. Smith. This was a roster that would sound like an organ recital at almost any bankers’ meeting. Also under Govin’s wings were the Chicago holdings of J. P. Morgan and Charles T. Yerkes. In his regular job as managing member of H. B. Hollins & Co., 15 Wall Street, New York, he represented the Widener-Elkins Syndicate, second to none in municipal railways banking.
Govin had singled me out, during my reportorial service on the Chronicle, as “the newspaperman who had made the most thorough study of the city’s transit problem.” We became dear friends. His dinner invitation was not unusual. But it was the prelude to what he described that evening as one of “the most momentous moves in American finance.” It was an offer to establish forthwith the municipal ownership of Chicago’s transit properties.
“Our people have become convinced that Chicago really wants to own its public utilities,” Govin said. “The sentiment of the community was expressed so clearly last Tuesday that we have decided to accept the verdict. This is not a sudden resolution. It is the result of conferences that were held during the campaign. The bitterness of the political agitation was beginning to dislocate confidence in other fields of investment. Our economic system can readjust itself to a definite program better than it can bear continued uncertainties. We had agreed that it was most important to get this question settled and to be prepared for the settlement.
“So now we are ready for an immediate liquidation of the municipal ownership issue. We have arranged a proposal so fair, so liberal and so sportsmanlike as to be safe from any possible suspicion. That is why I have invited you here tonight. As a chief executive of the newspaper that championed his cause and as a friend of Mr. Dunne you have been selected to submit our proposal to him. We have boiled it down to an irreducible simplicity.
“You are authorized to tell Mr. Dunne that we will turn over to the city of Chicago all our interests, lock, stock and barrel, on terms to be fixed by a board of appraisal of such a character as to be above any possible reproach. We nominate as members of that board, Former President Grover Cleveland, William Randolph Hearst and a member of the federal judiciary to be chosen by those two.”
Govin was accustomed to deal in hundreds of millions. The greatness of this transaction impressed him less than its collateral significance. Its completion would mark a historic milestone in the development of political economics. As for me—all sense of proportion merged into the superlative story. No feeling of individual responsibility oppressed me. The sovereignty of news frees its servants from inner shackles.
There was no dinner with Govin. Instead, there was a conference with the mayor-elect. Dunne had agreed over the telephone to see me as quickly as cabs and elevated railroads could get me to his home in Lakeview. My memory holds no interview more exasperating and disappointing. It was not my stint to debate municipal ownership. My task was confined to an explanation of the means for prompt fulfilment of the pledge on which Dunne had won his election. My views—if any existed—on the wisdom or folly of that program were never mentioned. Three hours of strenuous argument left only one conclusion. Dunne was vastly more interested in prolonging than in curtailing the controversial vitality of the platform which he had carried to its high-water mark.
Reiteration of one question dominated the presentation of my thoughts. “What message,” Dunne was asked, “will you have two years hence—at the next election—when the voters consider the outcome of your campaign promise?” The answer was repeated a dozen times. “Don’t worry,” it ran in effect. “I shall be in position to report satisfactory progress. I have my own ideas. I refuse to be swept off my feet.” At midnight, the hopelessness of my mission grown unmistakable, I bade Dunne adieu. I never spoke to him again.
Dunne’s course followed a classic pattern of American politics. His ambitions outran his performances. The extent and intensity of interest manifested in his candidacy for mayor of Chicago brought him a false perspective. The adulation of misguided friends and supporters conjured in his mind visions of the White House. Three years remained until the next presidential campaign. The municipal ownership issue had lifted him to national stature. It must not sink into the quiescence of a practical solution. It must be kept alive to sustain the eminence of his position.
A Homeric dose of exquisite irony was administered two years later, when Dunne ran for reelection. His slogan was “immediate municipal ownership.” He was defeated. That didn’t abate his rostrum ardor for the immediate conversion of public utilities into the public domain. His political path was paved with that pledge. He did reach the governorship of Illinois in 1913. Then his high aspirations came to rest on a shelf alongside Chicago’s mandate for municipal ownership.
There was little time for chagrin over the shunting off of a scoop, no matter how monumental, in the year 1905. The news throttle was wide open. A number of stories that broke in that period grew into newspaper traditions. One yielded me especial gratification. It recorded a contest between journalistic and police methods in the transcontinental pursuit of a fugitive murderer.
On Thursday, July 13th, the slashed and battered corpse of a young woman was found on the Arlington Golf Links at Belmont, near Boston. By nightfall, the authorities of a dozen states were on the lookout for her husband, John Schidlofski. It was learned that on July 12th he had bought railroad transportation from Boston to Los Angeles. The Boston American ascertained the numbers of two tickets sold to a man answering Schidlofski’s description. Superintendent Joseph E. Shaw of the Massachusetts Metropolitan District Police took charge of the official chase. He notified the proper agencies at all intersecting points of railways operating between the two coasts. Shaw felt sure he had laid an inescapable trap.
Observation had shown me that general notices elicited only routine or perfunctory responses. Schidlofski had a good chance to slip through Superintendent Shaw’s net. On the other hand, those unaccustomed to personal telegrams are put on edge by wires addressed specifically to them. A yeast of flattery raises a reciprocal importance between sender and recipient. On this theory, Walter C. Howey was assigned to obtain the full names of all train and Pullman conductors scheduled for westbound trips during the current week on trunklines running between Massachusetts and California. He was also to get the complete addresses of railroad baggage agents in the same area. Howey was a brilliant reporter. He rose in later years to managing editorships in Chicago, New York and Boston. To the list he compiled, forty-seven identical messages were wired. They read substantially as follows:
MOST IMPORTANT TO FIND MAN HOLDING B & M TICKET FORM S4, 832A, NO. 408 OR NEXT SERIAL NUMBER. HIS NAME IS JOHN SCHIDLOFSKI. KEEP SEARCH SECRET FROM HIM. HE IS WANTED BY THE POLICE. WE WILL REWARD YOU HANDSOMELY FOR TELEGRAPHIC NEWS OF HIS WHEREABOUTS.
Thirty-six hours brought no reply. Meanwhile, detectives searching trains at Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and elsewhere found no trace of the hunted man. Apparently, he was outwitting all pursuers. Schidlofski had passed into the limbo of my forgotten efforts, when at 1:16 o’clock Sunday morning this telegram reached me:
HAVE LOCATED MAN IN SMOKING CAR HOLDING B & M TICKET FORM S4, 832A, NO. 408.
S. M. KISER, PULLMAN CONDUCTOR
The whale we had thought gone now suddenly hove into view, transfixed on the harpoon we had considered lost. Hurried study of time tables indicated that Pullman Conductor Kiser was aboard Train Number1 of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Its next stop was marked at La Junta, Colo. There our gloating was cut short. The sole telegraph operator handling public traffic in La Junta had “shut up shop” for the night at nine o’clock. With our prey in sight, we were powerless to effect a capture. It would be criminal to let Schidlofski pass beyond La Junta without informing the nearest authorities. Probably alarmed by Kiser’s search, he might slip away at any moment. And his escape could then be charged to my intermeddling. Was my psychological experiment to cost me a season of nose-thumbing?
The Santa Fe Railroad owned and operated its own telegraphic system. Could it be persuaded to transmit a dispatch for delivery when Train Number 1 reached La Junta? Even if such a message were actually sent—in violation of prohibitory federal regulations —what could it accomplish? The Santa Fe would not forward to any of its employees from a mere journalist a direction to take into custody one of its passengers. The illegality of such a step was not the only obstacle. There were too many possibilities of damage suits and worse consequences from a false arrest.
No matter how unpropitious the prospect, it was my last recourse. The headquarters of the Santa Fe’s superintendent of wires was in Chicago. F. W. Keeler was in charge. It is gratifying to make this record of his cooperation. Possibly I was oversanguine about the rewards he might expect from the Santa Fe’s board of directors. At least, he gained the approval of his own conscience for risking his job to comply with “the most irregular and extraordinary request” of which he had ever heard. He turned over to the Chicago American a thousand miles of main wire. The line was looped from a sending instrument near my desk into the dispatcher’s office at La Junta.
It was my duty to compose such instructions as would bring about the desired action with a minimum of liability to the Chicago American. This was attempted in a series of telegrams that read in substance thus:
CHIEF OF POLICE OR TOWN MARSHAL, LA JUNTA, COLO.
MAN ANSWERING DESCRIPTION OF JOHN SCHIDLOFSKI, ALIAS JOHN CLINE, IS A PASSENGER ABOARD SANTA FE TRAIN NO. 1 DUE AT LA JUNTA AT 4:15 THIS MORNING. SCHIDLOFSKI IS WANTED IN BOSTON FOR WIFE MURDER. PLEASE COOPERATE WITH TRAIN CREW.
S. M. KISER, PULLMAN CONDUCTOR, ABOARD SANTA FE TRAIN NO.1
MANY THANKS. JOHN SCHIDLOFSKI, ALIAS JOHN CLINE, IS WANTED IN BOSTON FOR WIFE MURDER. PLEASE COOPERATE WITH THE TOWN AUTHORITIES AT LA JUNTA, COLORADO, AND TELEGRAPH US SOON AS POSSIBLE THEREAFTER, INCLUDING YOUR HOME ADDRESS.
JAMES HILTON, CONDUCTOR SANTE FE TRAIN NO. 1.
PASSENGER ON YOUR TRAIN ANSWERING DESCRIPTION OF JOHN SCHIDLOFSKI, ALIAS JOHN CLINE, WANTED IN BOSTON FOR WIFE MURDER. PLEASE COOPERATE WITH THE AUTHORITIES AT LA JUNTA, COLORADO.
It is worth noting that nobody was asked to perform an individual act. Reliance was placed on the power of suggestion. A dash of mystery, mixed with a call for cooperation, makes a potent stimulant in the wide open spaces. It brought the fruition of my strongest hopes in the odd case of John Schidlofski. There was no waiting for a reply from La Junta. The Chicago American published a Sunday morning edition. It was in this issue that our scoop appeared under the streamer heading: “Schidlofski Found.” The story went to press before Santa Fe Train No. 1 had reached La Junta. It was printed verbatim within the hour in the Boston American, the name “Chicago” being changed to “Boston” wherever it occurred.
A marplot voided my enjoyment of the celebration that followed in a nearby restaurant for night-working journalists. He plumped a most untimely question. “What would happen,” he asked, “if that fellow on the train proved that he wasn’t Schidlofski, after all?” The query exerted on me all the virtues of an acute attack of insomnia. The late Sunday opening of newspaper wires prolonged its influence. Relief came in a brief special at noon. The man spotted by Pullman Conductor Kiser was actually the much-sought Schidlofski. When seized, he made a break for liberty. He was not recaptured until several shots had been fired. Then he made a full confession of the murder of his wife. The satisfaction this afforded me contrasted with the mortification it heaped on Superintendent Shaw in Boston.
|Final report on the Schidlovski murder|
I, GEORGE BARR, SHERIFF OF OTERO COUNTY, COLORADO, PERSONALLY, WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF BEN WILLIAMS, SPECIAL AGENT OF THE SANTA FE; F. N. ROSE, DEPUTY SHERIFF; NIGHT MARSHAL A. H. WIENEKE AND DEPOT MASTER WITTINGILL, ARRESTED JOHN SCHIDLOFSKI, ALIAS JOHN CLINE, ON THE ARRIVAL OF TRAIN NO. 1. UNTIL 2:45 A.M. YESTERDAY, I HAD NEVER HEARD OF SCHIDLOFSKI. UNTIL THEN I DID NOT KNOW OF ANY CRIME HE COMMITTED. MY FIRST AND ONLY INFORMATION ON THE SUBJECT CAME TO ME IN A TELEGRAM SIGNED BY THE CHICAGO AMERICAN.
GEORGE BARR LA JUNTA, COLO., JULY 17, 1905
Corresponding statements from the other members of the posse were accompanied by a deposition from the County Clerk of Otero County, setting forth that attested copies had been deposited in his files. As a sort of rivet for this clincher, W. S. Brons, the Chicago American’s wire superintendent, added a sworn testimony. It averred that he personally telegraphed all the messages that had gone to the railroad employees and possemen at La Junta and that he had witnessed their origin. Superintendent Shaw, discredited as a police official, became the butt of ridicule.
He died suddenly a short time afterward. Published details of the manner of his passing were meager. The feeling prevailed that it was of his own choosing. It set a damper on the glee of our victory. Several months after Shaw’s death, Schidlofski was electrocuted at Charlestown State Prison.
Chapter 11 Part 2 Next Week
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