who killed jake lingle?
the reporter, the chicago tribune and the mob
On April 2, 1931, a small-time thug named Leo Brothers was sentenced to spend 14 years in prison for one of the most spectacular murders in Chicago gangland history. In this case, it was not an infamous mobster that was gunned down but an ordinary reporter for the Chicago Tribune named Jack Lingle. But was he really an ordinary reporter? In the wake of his death, most didn’t think so...
For Chicagoans who lived through the turbulent days of the “Beer Wars” in the city, crime, murder and violence became commonplace, but on Monday, June 9, a new and apparently different incident became the talk of the town. It was an outrage that was splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the city. This was the murder of Alfred L. “Jake” Lingle, a crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who was shot to death while walking, smoking a cigar, and reading the racing news in the crowded underpass at Randolph Street and Michigan Boulevard during the lunch hour.
It would become the most sensational murder of 1930, even though prior to his death, the general public had no idea who Lingle was. In spite of this, his murder created a furor. In those days, newspaper reporters were not well paid, but they had a place in public regard that was generated by glamour, respect and authority. The murder of Lingle immediately assumed the importance of that of a public official – and was publicized by every newspaper in town.
Lingle’s duties on the police beat for the Tribune earned him $65 a week, which was not a princely sum. He had no aptitude for writing and could only transmit the facts. For eighteen years he had been a “leg man” who gathered crime news and phoned it in to the to the city editor’s desk. For writers at the Tribune, he was a great asset. Crime was front page news in the Chicago of the 1920s and every paper relied heavily on its in-house crime expert. In that category, Lingle had no equal. He frequently scooped the competition, for not only did he enjoy easy access to Capone, he was on intimate terms with both Police Commissioner Russell and Deputy Commissioner Stege.
Lingle never had a by-line in the paper and his name was unknown to most readers. To the public, he became much more famous in death than he ever was in life. And soon, he became notorious as details about his lifestyle began to be revealed. The supposedly humble reporter owned a chauffeur-driven Lincoln limousine and had just bought a $16,000 house at Long Beach on Lake Michigan, where his wife and two children were planning to spend the summer months. He also owned a house on the West Side but had recently taken a suite at the Stevens, one of Chicago’s most stylish hotels. He was an avid gambler at the horse and greyhound tracks, but his lavish way of life couldn’t be bought with winnings at the track.
On the day of his death, Lingle was on his way to the races. He had left his wife packing for her departure to the lake house and he planned to spend the afternoon at Washington Park in Homewood. Later that night, he planned to go to the Sheridan Wave Tournament Club, a society gambling parlor on Waveland Avenue, where the champagne, whisky and food were distributed with the management’s compliments during play. It was due to re-open that evening and Lingle wanted to be there.
In retrospect, it seems that Lingle knew he was in trouble. Attorney Louis B. Piquett later volunteered to the police that 24 hours before Lingle’s death, he had met with the reporter in the Loop. They stood on Randolph Street talking about the discovery of a murder victim named Red McLaughlin, whose body had been found in the canal. Lingle was giving Piquett his theory about the crime when a blue sedan with two men in it pulled alongside them and stopped at the curb. Lingle stopped talking in mid-sentence and looked at the men in a startled way. The two men simply stared at him. Lingle never finished what he was saying to Piquett. He simply told the attorney goodbye and walked into a nearby store. Also, on the day of his murder, after lunching at the Sherman Hotel he met Sergeant Thomas Alcock of the detective bureau and told him that he was being tailed.
And apparently, he was. After buying cigars at the Sherman Hotel kiosk, he walked the four blocks to Michigan Avenue to catch the 1:30 p.m. train to the Washington Park racetrack. He descended into the underground walkway that led to the Illinois Central suburban electric railroad in Grant Park. At that time of day, the subway was very crowded, filled with a steady stream of shoppers and office workers.
Oddly, though, even though he knew he was being followed, Lingle acted unconcerned. According to witnesses, he arrived at the entrance to the subway walking between two men. One had blonde hair and wore a straw boater hat and a gray suit. The other was dark-haired and wore a blue suit. At the entrance, Lingle paused and bought a racing edition of the evening newspaper. As he did so, a man in a roadster on the south side of Randolph Street blew his horn to attract Lingle’s attention. There were two men in the automobile and one of them called out, “Play Hy Schneider in the third!” According to a Yellow Cab superintendent who heard the exchange, Lingle grinned, waved at the man and called back, “I’ve got him!”
Lingle walked on into the subway, where he was seen by Dr. Joseph Springer, a former coroner’s physician and a long-time acquaintance. Springer later reported, “Lingle didn’t see me. He was reading the race information. He was holding it before him with both hands and smoking a cigar.”
Lingle had almost reached the end of the subway. He stopped across from the newsstand about 25 feet short of the east exit and the dark man who had been walking next to him moved away as if to buy a paper. As he did, the blonde man stepped behind Lingle, pulled out a snub-nosed .38 colt, and fired a single shot into the back of Lingle’s head. The single bullet drove upward into his brain and exited his forehead. Lingle pitched forward, cigar still clenched in his teeth and newspaper still in his hands.
The blonde killer tossed away the gun and ran forward into the crowds. Then, for some reason, he doubled back past Lingle’s body and ran up the eastern staircase. He jumped a fence, changed his mind again, ran west on Randolph Street, through a passage (where he tossed away a left-hand silk glove, probably used to prevent leaving fingerprints) and, pursued by a policeman, ran onto Wabash Avenue, where he disappeared into the crowd.
Meanwhile in the subway, a bystander named Patrick Campbell saw the dark-haired man who had been walking with Lingle and the killer hurrying towards the west exit. He moved to try and catch him, but his movement was blocked by a priest, who bumped into him. The priest delayed Campbell just long enough for the accomplice to escape. He told Campbell that he was getting out of the subway because someone had been shot. Later, Lieutenant William Cusack of the detective bureau commented gruffly, “He was no priest. A priest would never do that. He would have gone to the side of the stricken person.”
Slowly, the method of Lingle’s murder became clear. He had walked into a trap that had been formed by perhaps as many as a dozen men. But what was never put forward as a theory, and which seems the most likely explanation, was that during his progress into the subway between the two men, he was eased along at gunpoint, under orders to keep walking naturally and keep reading the paper.
That evening, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, summoned his news staff together and addressed them about the death of a reporter that he had never met and whose name he had likely never heard before. He spoke for 45 minutes and pledged to solve the murder of the martyred journalist. The next morning, the front page of the paper blared with an eight-inch banner headline that announced the dead of Lingle. The story read: “Alfred L. Lingle, better known in the world of newspaper work as Jake Lingle, and for the last eighteen years a reporter on the Tribune, was shot to death yesterday in the Illinois Central subway at the east side of Michigan Avenue, at Randolph Street.
The Tribune offered $25,000 as a reward for information which will lead to the conviction of the slayer or slayers. An additional reward of $5,000 was announced by the Chicago Evening Post, making a total of $30,000.” The next morning, not to be outdone by the Tribune, Hearst’s Chicago Herald & Examiner also offered up a $25,000 reward, bringing the total up to $55,000.
Colonel McCormick, meanwhile, continued to take Lingle’s death as an affront to him personally and an attack on the press. He regarded it as being much more serious than the other hundreds of cases of violence that plagued Chicago. He announced that Lingle’s murder was committed in reprisal and as an attempt to intimidate the newspapers into suppressing stories about the dealings of the underworld. But, he declared, this was now a war and the Tribune and Chicago’s other newspapers would not rest until Lingle’s killers had been brought to justice.
What was especially shocking was that up to that point, gangsters had taken a “hands-off” policy toward harming reporters. Lingle was hailed as a hero who died in the service of the public and over 25,000 people attended his funeral.
Police Commissioner Russell was forced into making a statement. “I have given orders to the five deputy police commissioners to make this town so quiet that you will be able to hear a consumptive canary cough,” he said colorfully, but then added, as a preliminary explanation for the lack of further action, “Of course, most of the underworld has scuttled off to hiding places. It will be hard to find them, but we will never rest until the criminals are caught and Chicago is free of them forever.”
The next day, a newspaper editorial remarked sadly, “These gangs have run the town for many months and have strewn the streets with the lacerated bodies of their victims. Commissioner Russell and Deputy Commissioner John P. Stege have had their opportunity to break up these criminal gangs, who have made the streets hideous with bleeding corpses. They have failed.”
Russell replied to the charges, “My conscience is clear. All I ask is that the city will sit tight and see what is going to happen.”
All that actually happened was that Russell and Stege, in the words of the newspaper, “staged a mock heroic battle with crime by arresting every dirty-necked ragamuffin on the street corners, but carefully abstained from taking into custody any of the men who matter.”
Meanwhile, some of the blanks that had remained in the accounts of Lingle’s character and lifestyle began to be filled in. It is fair to say that the management at the Tribune was unaware of them, or they likely would not have turned Lingle into the martyr that they did. Some of the facts that had remained so far unmentioned were that he had himself hinted that he was the man who fixed the price of beer in Chicago; that he was a close friend of Al Capone and had stayed with him at his Florida estate; that when he died he was wearing a diamond-studded belt buckle that had been a gift from Capone; that he was on improbably friendly terms, for a newspaper reporter of his lowly status, with millionaire businessmen, judges, and county and city officials, and that he spent golfing holidays and shared stock market tips with the police commissioner – a boyhood chum whom Lingle had helped elevate to his current position in 1928.
By the time a week had passed, certain reservations had started to temper the anger about the newspaperman’s slaying that had been displayed on the front page and in the editorial columns of the Tribune. As more details about Lingle’s extracurricular activities began to emerge, McCormick and his editorial executives began to back-pedal away from their earlier statements and demands. Rumors about Lingle’s background and liaisons were racing around Chicago, supported by muckraking stories in other newspapers, and the Tribune began to take a different stance. They admitted that Lingle was apparently involved in some unsavory activities but they noted that the gangsters who killed him were still out there – and they still needed to be brought to justice.
McCormick’s investigators, as well as the police, had learned a lot about the background of Jake Lingle, a semiprofessional baseball player from the slums who had wormed his way into the lowest levels of Chicago journalism. His first job after leaving a West Jackson Boulevard elementary school was as an office boy at a surgical supply house. He was playing semiprofessional baseball at the time and he met William Russell, at that time a police patrolman, with whom he struck up a friendship. Lingle was hired as a Tribune copyboy in 1918. He had no aptitude for writing, but it was his long list of contacts (mostly made through Russell) and timely telephone calls to the city desk that made him indispensable to editors and rewrite men. The brash and cocky reporter cultivated acquaintances in the courts, the jails and in the gin mills of the North and South sides. Relying on the word of informants and friendships, he became one of the city’s least-known but cleverest crime reporters. He also became one of the wealthiest but whether this was from his dealings in the stock market, his investments in gambling clubs on the North Side, or from some other source is unknown.
Some believed that Lingle operated as a liaison between the underworld and the city’s political machine. Many out of town newspapers were referring to the slain reporter as the “unofficial Chief of Police,” who, for a sum, was able to “put the fix” in for gamblers, bootleggers, and anyone else who was having a problem involving law enforcement. Among the city hall insiders with whom he maintained a close relationship wias attorney Samuel A. Ettleson, the corporation counsel for Chicago and an operator in city government.
Al Capone confirmed that Lingle was “one of the boys” during an interview in Florida in July 1930. He said that Lingle was a friend and that he didn’t have any sort of disagreement with him that led to his death. Capone also stated, “The Chicago police know who killed him.”
The question of who killed Jake Lingle was temporarily forgotten during exposure of his fascinating financial affairs. In addition to the secret bank account that Lingle kept with the Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank, he was also known for carrying large sums of cash in his pocket. He had $9,000 dollars on him the day that he was killed. Another interesting branch of his activities that came to light were his “loans” from gamblers, politicians, and businessmen. He had “borrowed” $2,000 from Jimmy Mondi, a Capone gambling operator in Cicero and the Loop, -- a loan that had never been paid back. He had also borrowed $5,000 from Alderman Berthold A. Cronson, nephew of Samuel Ettleson, who later stated that the loan was a “pure friendship proposition.” That loan, too, had never been repaid He also had $5,000 from Ettleson himself, who only said that he had never loaned money to Lingle but often gave him some small remembrance at Christmas. He had a loan of $2,500 from Carlos Ames, president of the Civil Service Commission, that Ames stated was a “purely personal affair.” He had $300 from Police Lieutenant Thomas McFarland, who said that he had given Lingle the money because they had been close friends for many years. It was also alleged that Sam Hare, a roadhouse and gambling parlor operator, had “loaned” Lingle $20,000. Hare denied it.
Investigations also revealed that Lingle had been in an investment partnership with his old friend, William Russell. The account, used for stock market speculation, was opened in November 1928 with a $20,000 deposit. On September 20, 1929 – preceding the market crash in October – their joint paper profits were $23,696. Later, a loss of $58,850 was shown. Lingle showed paper profits at a peak of $85,000 that, after the crash, were converted to a loss of $75,000. Russell’s losses were variously reported as $100,000 and $250,000.
As to the source of the money put up by Lingle and deposited by him into his bank account, investigators noted, “We have thus far been able to come to no conclusion.”
But the press and the public had come to conclusions – and they were painfully obvious ones, which again confirmed that they were the residents of a city that was governed by dishonorable leaders and corrupt officials. The newspapers theorized about why Lingle had been murdered, but the fervor, and righteous anger, had waned. The unofficial verdict was that Lingle had “asked for it,” so to speak, by becoming involved with gangsters and dirty politicians.
Most theories of his death identified Lingle as a favor-seller and most placed the blame on Capone’s opposition, the Moran-Aiello merger. One story that made the rounds in gangland was that Lingle had been given $50,000 to secure protection for a West Side dog track, that he had failed to do so and kept the money.
Another story implicated him in the re-opening of the Sheridan Wave Tournament Club, which had been operated by the Weiss-Moran gang, but which, after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, had closed. Moran worked for eighteen months to try and find sympathetic officials to help him re-open the club, giving the job to Joe Josephs and Julian “Potatoes” Kaufman. It was said that Kaufman, an old friend of Lingle, had approached the reporter and asked him to use his influence with the police to get the club open again. Allegedly, Lingle agreed to do so – but only if he were cut in on the action. He demanded fifty percent of the profits but Kaufman refused. Lingle then allegedly retorted, “If this joint is opened up, you’ll see more squad cars in front ready to raid it than you ever saw in your life before.” In spite of this, the story said, the club was permitted to re-open anyway. It was widely advertised that it would be opening on June 9 – the day on which Lingle set out for the races for the final time.
An equally plausible story stated that he got too deeply involved in the struggle for money and power in the gambling syndicate. For years, there had been a bitter war between the General News Bureau, a racing news wire service that existed entirely for the purposes of betting, and the independent news services. As an appointed intermediary, Lingle brought the two opposed factions together in January 1930 and a two-year truce was agreed upon. The truce, it was said, may not have extended to Lingle.
Perhaps some of these stories were true, or perhaps all or none of them were. Whatever the reason behind his murder, Lingle likely just got mixed up in the violence and bloodshed of gangland, an arena where even the most experienced can sometimes be torn apart.
The biggest question remained – who pulled the trigger that ended the reporter’s life?
Weeks, then months passed before the police produced a suspect. The serial number on the handgun that the killer had dropped had been filed off, but ballistics expert Colonel Calvin Goddard traced the origin of the gun to a sporting goods store owned by Peter Von Frantzius on Diversey Parkway. Records showed that the gun had been sold to Frankie Foster, a member of the North Side Moran gang. Foster fled to Los Angeles after the Lingle shooting, but was indicted in Chicago as an accessory before the fact to murder. Foster, whose real name was Frank Citro, was eventually extradited to Chicago and was held in the county jail for four months before the evidence against him was deemed inconclusive and the charges against him were dropped.
A short time later, a new suspect was named. Leo Vincent Brothers, a labor union slugger from St. Louis, was arrested in New York and indicted for the Lingle murder. Brothers had started out as a member of Egan’s Rats and soon graduated into labor racketeering and contract murder. Dodging a 1929 murder indictment, Brothers fled to Chicago, where he found work with Al Capone. Brothers was convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in prison for killing Lingle on April 2, 1931.
“I can do that standing on my head!” Brothers quipped after the sentence was handed down. Most observers, then and now, believe that Brothers was handed up to the state by Al Capone as a sacrifice, taking the fall for Jack Zuta, a racketeer who ran a string of whorehouses. Zuta was already dead by the time the trial wrapped up.
It seemed that just about everyone had a motive to kill Jake Lingle, but crime historians are in general agreement that Brothers took the rap and served time for a substantial cash payoff – but we’ll never really know for sure.
After his release in 1940, Brothers returned to St. Louis, beat his original murder case, and became hooked up with the local mob. Three months after an abortive attempt on his life, Leo Brothers died of heart disease in St. Louis on December 23, 1950. He took the secrets of the Lingle murder with him to the grave.