Crime and Community in Edgewater
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.
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 changed all this.
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 throughout 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.
With desperate times came desperate measures. Prominent Edgewater residents were lured to untimely demises, and grieving relatives cashed in on the lucrative life insurance policies of their dearly departed.
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 that contained a gruesome discovery. City police reform was the result of a local police district scandal, Summerdale, that involved dirty cops and a “babbling burglar.”
Social and cultural upheaval in the 1960s, as well as residents moving from a decaying inner city resulted in a steady increase in crime. When federal agents raided a party at the Edgewater Beach Hotel that nabbed the Chicago mob boss and 200 guest “hoods” this was a sure sign that the neighborhood was on the federal radar.
National distrust in federal government (Watergate) led to a local 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 developed under the Edgewater Community Council and new sense of urgency in historical preservation helped to reduce the crime rate just in time for Edgewater’s centennial in 1986. In the meantime, another local crooked politician was exposed.
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 currently at a low level, although a resident can still stumble upon a body in an alley or witness a gang related shooting 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.
The Crime and Community Exhibit was curated by Morry Matson with help from Robert Remer, LeRoy Blommaert, Megan Hudgins, Tiffany Middleton, Pat McParland, Chris Biersdorf, Reggie Griffin, Ed McClane, Richard Friedman, Dorothy Nygren, Marty Stewart, Sandra Remis, Kathy Gemperle, Pat Duff, Thom Greene and Tom Murphy.
Special thanks to:
- G. Mark Harding for the donation of the Degnan collection
- Commander James Roussell of the 24th District for various materials
- The Chester Gould Dick Tracy Museum for the loan of materials
- Our members who have donated family collections and various objects in the exhibit