Chicago Crime, 1900 To 1910

In the first ten years of the twentieth century, the good and the bad of Europe poured into Chicago by the thousands, bringing with them their historic customs and hatreds, their feuds and vendettas and their characteristic methods of revenge and reprisal. In addition to German and Irish, of all American cities, Chicago had the largest number of Poles, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Bohemians, Dutch, Croatians, Slovakians, Lithuanians and Greeks.

As in previous boom eras, the underworld more than kept pace with other phases of municipal expansion. Powerful gambling syndicates, open brothels, the appearance of the Black Hand extortionists and the development of criminal gangs of young boys and men made Chicago a very dangerous place to live. While it was lauded for it’s financial institutions, parks and school systems, it was also noted for crime, political corruption and an inefficient and corrupt Police Department.

In one six month period of 1906, there was a burglary every three hours, a hold-up every six hours and a murder every day. Bands of thugs prowled the streets from dusk to dawn, robbing, beating and sometimes stripping their victims, tying them to a lamp post and cut shallow slits in their flesh with razors.

Women were afraid to leave their homes, even in broad daylight. Thugs would pursue them unafraid, drag them into alleys and rape them. A Board of Education member said (in part) in the Chicago Tribune, “Hunting women and hitting them on the head with a piece of pipe seems to be the favorite sport of Chicago men.”

Mayor Carter Harrison seriously suggested that if citizens left the shelter of their homes at night, that they “might carry revolvers strapped outside their clothing.”

The Chicago Tribune declared that “a reign of terror is upon the city…..No city in time of peace ever held so high a place in the category of crime-ridden, terrorized murder-breeding cities as held by Chicago.”

From “Chicago, Gem of the Prairie by Herbert Asbury, published 1940