Friday, November 14, 2008

Read: "Murder City" by Michael Lesy

Read: Murder City: the bloody history of Chicago in the twenties by Michael Lesy, 2007, 9780393060300.

Really interesting. True crime by the author of Wisconsin Death Trip. I could tell while reading it that Lesy did a lot of research but his afterward illustrates the massive amounts of time it took to research and write this book.

This is not a statistical analysis or anthropological look of Chicago crime. Lesy focused on the front page news stories of crime and murder that everyone would have followed and known about. Presented are a mix of different crimes with both domestic murder and organized crime told in chronological order.

Lesy does not cover Leopold and Loeb and other famous cases since they are already well known. He starts with smaller domestic murders and disappearances and progresses onwards, as the years pass, to the gangster wars later in the decade. The same government officials and defense attorneys appear again and again. The fallout of previous cases impacts on new cases; notably, the difficulty in convicting wives for murdering husbands. At first Chicago and Cook County's District Attorneys and policemen appear brave, steadfast, honest, and heroic. From what I know about Chicago in the twenties I figured that could not be true.

The later stories strip the veneer off the government's show and reveal the almost complete corruption paid for with the massive amounts of money earned by the mob as the decade went on. Judges, attorneys, cops, bureaucrats and politicians were taking pay-offs and, as Chicago's reputation for crime blossomed, the locals and newspapers started to get fed up. Lesy points out the irony of the newspapers campaigning against crime when just a handful of years before competing papers hired goons to beat, burn, and murder the competition. Newspaper sellers, readers, delivery boys and anyone else handy would be attacked by competing newspaper goons. Incredible.

Lesy points out that crime in Chicago was actually less than many other places. Chicago's status as "The Second City" helped earn an undeserved reputation for crime. I once ran across a listing of obituaries and headlines on a web page from that time that listed all the dumped bodies and bombings in Chicago. If other cities at the time were more violent than Chicago they must have been like Baghdad in 2004-2005.

11-17-08 EDIT: Lesy was googling himself and hit this blog. So, I googled him and found out Wisconsin Death Trip was first published in 1973. That was a surprise. I thought it came out in the '90s but the copy I saw was a reprint.

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