Crime and Community

Vol. XXIII No. 1 - SPRING 2012

An exhibit at the Edgewater Historical Society curated by Morry Matson

Gangsters and drive-by shootings. speakeasies and bathtub gin. murder and mayhem, bombings and shoot-outs, dirty cops and crooked politicians, jewel heists and fraud. In Chicago, these things go together like bacon and eggs, pork and beans, death and taxes. In the diverse neighborhood of Edgewater, our community is not immune from these activities.

Edgewater enjoyed a relatively low crime rate during its first three decades, thanks in part to its country setting, a sparse population and upper middle class residents. Its streets lined with electric lighting, a country club, a golf course and recreational clubs seemed to repel the criminal elements. A pair of carelessly thrown garden shears at the Saddle and Cycle Club changed all this. Few today know this story or many of the stories in this special exhibit. This is really an exhibit for the curious.

The exhibit will show some of the infamous crimes in Edgewater and the efforts at community policing in the late 20th century.

The grand experiment of Prohibition during the 1920s turned ordinary citizens into joyful law-breakers. Organized crime took over the bootlegging industry and served jazz and liquor to clamoring customers in underground speakeasies in Edgewater.

Mob bosses like Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran patronized the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Alarming crime and murder rates, gangster turf wars and a Great Depression ended it all.

The historically low crime rate of World War II gave way to a post-war escalation of mayhem. Two grisly murders received national attention, and a baseball player almost had his career cut short by a deranged fan on a summer day at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

The innocent and naïve era of the 1950s was riddled with police shoot-outs with escaped convicts, feuding neighbors trying to bomb each other and a motor oil drum found along the lakefront that contained a gruesome discovery. City police reform was the result of the Summerdale police district scandal that involved dirty cops and a “babbling burglar.”

Social and cultural upheaval in the 1960s, began a new era for Edgewater. When federal agents raided a party at the Edgewater Beach Hotel that nabbed the Chicago mob boss and 200 guest “hoods,” it put Edgewater in the spotlight.

National distrust in federal government (Watergate) led to a skeptical public scrutinizing local activities which led to an alderman being exposed as a crooked politician in the 1970s.

Local residents organized to combat the record crime rate and chase out drug dealers and slumlords. The urban renewal movement began sprouting green shoots.

Community policing organizations and new sense of urgency in historical preservation helped to reduce the crime rate just in time for Edgewater’s centennial in 1886. In the meantime, another local crooked politician was exposed, and a prized jewel was heisted in England by resident of Edgewater.

Edgewater Hospital practiced wholesale Medicare fraud during the entire decade of the 1990s, which caused it to shutter its doors in 2001. One of Edgewater’s recent high profile crimes occurred 10 years ago, when a podiatrist murdered a patient who was threatening to expose the doctor for fraud.

Today, Edgewater is home to one of the quietest police districts in Chicago. The crime rate is at a low level currently, although criminal activity does occur now and then. Such is life in the Big City.

New community policing techniques such as positive loitering and renewed interest in past crime prevention programs ensure that Edgewater remains a safe and peaceful place to live and work and raise a family and enjoy all the amenities the lakeside has to offer.

Crime & Community

An exhibit at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum April 7 to July 8. We are open on weekends 1-4 p.m.

This exhibit includes a few details like the white chalk line shown in so many TV shows. Here Kathy Gemperle creates the line with curator Morry Matson laying on the floor of the museum while two gangster-type manikins observe. Thanks to Sandee Remis for the creative windows for this exhibit.

Also in the exhibit are objects from the police department and from Operation Whistle Stop and some interesting things loaned to us by the Chester Gould Dick Tracy Museum. Come in and see some very old handcuffs, and take your own fingerprints.

Editor’s note:  We have found no evidence that Al Capone or Bugs Moran ever visited the Edgewater Beach Hotel.