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Since this case had very heavy political affiliations, period articles focused on those issues. This 1929 article provides a detailed account of the events surrounding the murder and its “resolution.” Illustrations are from period news sources. Dr. Cronin is buried in Cavalry Cenetery.
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1929 (40 year anniversary)
The murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin in a lonely cottage at 1872 Ashland avenue on the night of May 4, 1889. presents a mystery which has never been solved.
Four men were sent to the penitentiary on circumstantial evidence, one for three years only, although this was one of the most brutal crimes in history. Another of the supposed murderers was never found. The conspiracy was never fully uncovered.
Two men who did remarkable detective work in this case, Herman Schuettler and John M. Collins, later became chief of the Chicago police department. Big Dan Coughlin, detective of the East Chicago avenue station, was one of those convicted and sent to Joliet prison. He was given a new trial, acquitted, was caught in a jury bribing case, and fled to Honduras, where he is supposed to have died in 1911.
The background of this case brought it into national prominence as a part of the struggle which Irish-Americans were engaged in to free their mother country from the control of England. The Irish Republicans were divided into factions which fought bitterly. Dr. Cronin was at the head of one faction in Chicago. He is supposed to have had embezzlement evidence against the “Big Three” in the American movement. They, on the other hand suspected him of being a British spy, another Maj. Le Caron, who was then testifying before the Parnell commission.
It is not the purpose of this narrative to go into the dark trails of Irish politics at that time, but to present the mechanics of this murder, the detective work that followed, and the main evidential facts. It may be accepted as a premise that Dr. Cronin was killed as the result of a conspiracy on the part of political enemies. His friends, too, were willing to go a long way in retailiation. The police were involved, and there were jury tampering and perjury.
His Rise to Prominence.
Dr. Cronin was 43 years old at the time he was killed, a tall, striking figure with black hair and luxuriant, wavy mustache. He was impulsive, kind, yet vindictive. He had never married.
He was born in Mallow, County Cork, and was brought to this country as a baby. He was taken to New York, Baltimore, Ontario, attended the Christian Brothers’ school, and was graduated from the Academy of St. Catherine’s in 1863. He made a specialty of chemistry. He taught school and worked in a drug store in Petroleum City, Pa., and in 1867 took Greeley’s advice and came west. He landed in St. Louis in 1867, with strong letters of introduction to Archbishop Ryan. He went to work in a drug store and became tenor soloist at St. John’s church.
In 1874 he went into the drug business, but kept up his studies and was graduated from the medical department of the University of Missouri and as master of arts at ST. Louis university. He also took a degree in philosophy. He served as captain of militia during the strike of 1877 and in 1878 was appointed a commissioner to the Paris exposition. He studied in European hospitals, and on returning to St. Louis was made professor of materia medica at the university. He corresponded with Dr. S. A. K. Steele concerning a professorship in the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago, and in 1882 came to live in Chicago.Appointed on the staff of the county hospital, he soon built a good practice. This was augmented by his membership in various secret societies which made him medical examiner. He became president of the Celto-American club, and plunged into the sea of Irish politics.
Accused of Treason.
Dr. Cronin made his home with Mr. and Mrs. T. T. Conklin in a flat in the Windsor Theater building, 468 North Clark street. His office was room 501 in the Chicago Opera House block. He had become a prominent man in town in seven years, and among the Irish had a following so strong that the division division was Cronin and anti-Cronin. For four years he had been fighting the so-called Triangle in Clan-na-Gael affairs, the executive committee composed of Alexander Sullivan, Chicago lawyer; Michael Boland of Louisville, and D. C. Feeley of Rochester, N.Y. In return he had been charged with treason. Detective Dan Coughlin was on a committee appointed in 1885 to investigate him. In 1888 Dr. Cronin himself was placed on a committee to investigate affairs of the Big Three. Alexander Sullivan protested this, declaring that “the brand of perjury is so burned on the scoundrel’s brow that all the waters of the earth will not remove it.” In the trial the Triangle was cleared, but Dr. Cronin made his own notes of the testimony and had threatened to publish them in the Celto-American newspaper which he controlled. He was supposed to have had some of these papers in his pocket at the time of his death.
That Dr. Cronin feared assassination is shown in a remarkable pamphlet which he published shortly before his death. “Is It a Conspiracy?” was the title, and it contains an interview with a mythical reporter who had come to interview the doctor concerning the origin of a rumor that he had been shot and killed. In this interview Dr. Cronin mentions “one William Starkey,” as one of the conspirators. William Starkey actually figured in the investigation after the real murder. In the pamphlet the following also appears:
- Reporter: It strikes me that your funeral would be a very largely attended one?
Doctor: Yes, and the cause of death very extensively inquired into.
Dr. Cronin’s friends were aware that his life was in danger; he usually carried a revolver with him. Once, a year before, he had been called to a room where he thought a man was feigning illness.
“My God, have you called me here to murder me?” he said and rushed from the room.
The Plot Hatches.
The successful plot against his life was hatched Feb. 8, 1889—the state contended in this case—in Camp 20 of the Clan-na-Gael, known as the Columbia Literary society. John F. Beggs was the senior guardian of this camp. He was tried as being responsible for naming the committee sent to kill Dr. Cronin. The jury found him not guilty. Coughlin was one of the members of the alleged committee.
Whatever the source of the plot, its workings will now be unfolded.
On Feb. 17 a man giving the name of J. B. Simonds bought $45.50 worth of furniture at A. H. Revell’s furniture store. Included in the lot was a large, cheap trunk. He bought a bed, dresser, carpet and other furnishings, and said he would call the next day to tell where the delivery was to be made. He did so, giving the address of rooms 12 and 13 at 117 South Clark street. The building was directly opposite the office of Dr. Cronin and from room 12 the entrance of Dr. Cronin’s place could be watched. On Feb. 18 Simonds had rented the place from Knight & Marshall, agents, telling them that his invalid sister was coming to live with him.
On March 20, when the rent collector called, the flat was empty and all the furniture had been removed. On that same day a man who gave the name of Frank Williams, appeared at the home of Jonas Carlson, his wife and son, John, in the rear of 1872 Ashland avenue, and rented a small cottage, facing the avenue at $12 a month. He said his brother and invalid sister would live with him, and he had the furniture moved in that day. The furniture, it was shown subsequently, had been taken from the Clark street flat, and was that bought by Simonds.
The Carlson cottage was situated in a particulary lonely neighborhood. The open prairie lay around it. Across the street was a cabbage patch. It was shielded by a double row of willows. One kerosene street lamp lit the corner at night. There were no other houses in the square block except of Patric O’Sullivan, an ice dealer, whose barns and outhouses were about 150 feet away. The cottage was a one-story and attic structure and had been vacant a long time. It had three rooms and a basement, and was old and weather-beaten.
Mrs. Carlson soon found she had peculiar tenants. She saw little of them; only one man came out occasionally in the evening. They seemed to do a little housekeeping. The invalid sister did not arrive. On April 20 Williams paid the rent for another month.
Some time in April Patrick O’Sullivan asked Justice Johm A. Mahoney to introduce him to his friend, Dr. Cronin, saying he wanted to contract for the medical care of his employes. They drove downtown and the contract was made.
At the rate of $8 a month Dr. Cronin was to attend any of O’Sullivan’s men who were injured. The peculiar stipulation was made that the doctor was to respond to the call of any one who presented him with one of O’Sullivan’s business cards. The ice man had just had some cards printed and he gave one to the doctor who stuck it in the corner of his office mirror.
On the morning of May 4, Detective Dan Coughlin walked into the livery stable of Patrick Dinan, 360 North Clark street, and said:
- I want you to reserve a rig for a friend of mine who will call for it tonight. Say nothing to any one about it. I will be responsible.
Between 7 and 8 o’clock that evening a man called for the rig Coughlin had ordered. He was given a white horse and a top buggy. He objected to the color of horsse; he wanted a darker one. He also wanted side curtains on. Dinan would not change the horse and the man drove away in the direct of the Windsor Theater building. About 9:30 o’clock he returned, tossed the reins to a hostler, and hurried out. The horse was covered with lather and had been driven hard.
About 8 o’clock on this same evening Dr. Cronin sat with friends in his flat and was preparing to go to a meeting of the directors of the Celto-American society when the bell rang. Mrs. Conklin answered. A rough looking man brushed in and said he wanted to see the doctor. Dr. Cronin heard him, and came into the hall. The man presented the card of O’Sullivan, the ice man, and said one of his men had been injured badly. He indicated it was across the abdomen and said it was a matter of life and death. He said he had a buggy and horse waiting.
Mrs. Conklin looked out of the window and saw the famous white steed from the Dinan stable. Dr. Cronin gathered his bag of instruments, taking splints and cotton, and ran down the steps. He met Frank Scanlan Jr. on the sidewalk. Scanlan was calling to take him to the meeting. The doctor explained his call, and said he would be back in an hour, and jumped into the buggy. The driver whipped the white horse, and they started north at a hard pace.
Pauline Hoertel, a washerwoman, was passing the Carlson cottage a little while after this and saw a white horse and buggy drive to the door and stop. A tall man carrying a black satchel got out and ran up the wooden steps. The other man struck the horse and galloped off. The tall man had hardly reached the door when it was opened for him from the inside. She heard a cry, “O, God.” There was a noise, shouting, the sound of blows, a fall. As it was interpreted for her, she said:
- I heard the far away cry of ‘Jesus.’
William Mertes, a milk dealer, was passing down Ashland avenue about the same time. He saw the horse and buggy stop, and Dr. Cronin go into the house; heard angry viices, and a crashing fall. There was a light in the front room, seen dimly through the shutters, one slat of which had been removed. He did not know at what time who the man was that had entered the house.
Found in Catch Basin.
It was not until May 22 that Dr. Cronin’s body was found. It was nude, the neck broken, bent in a catch basin at Evanston avenue (now Broadway), and Foster avenue. Wounds in the head indicated he had been killed by stabbing with a sharp instrument, such as a chisel or an ice pick. There was a towel around his head and cotton batting around the wounds. A scapular was still around his neck. Identification by his frienmds was positive, and Dr F. W. Lewis, his dentist, identified gold fillings he had recently placed for Dr. Cronin.
At 2 o’clock Sunday morning on May 5 police had seen a carpenter’s wagon and bay horse going north from Clark and Diversey. There were two men in the seat and a large trunk in the back. At 7:30 o’clock that same morning an empty trunk, spattered with blood on the inside and a lock of dark hair clinging there, had been found in the bushes along Evanston avenue near Graceland, about a mile from where the body was found This trunk was the one that Simonds had bought. The hair was that of Dr. Cronin. On Nov. 8 Dr. Cronin’s clothes, his satchel and instruments were found in a manhole at Evanston and Buena avenues. His clothes had been cut from his body. His watch and purse were gone. There was a large polished box with a brass handle.
Dr. Cronin’s murder had been accomplished, but the plot to have him appear as a suicide, through the planting of his clothes in some other part of the world, had failed for some unknown reason.
Evidence of Conspiracy.
During the eighteen days that relapsed between Dr. Cronin’s disappearance and the finding of his body there were several manifestations of conspiracy. Dr. Cronin’s friends thought he had been murdered, but strange reports of his having been seen began to crop up. Miss Anne Murphy and William Dwyer came forward with the positive statement that he had been seen by them on the night of May 4, after 9 o’clock, on a North Clark street car. Reports began to appear in the newspapers that he had been seen in New York and other places/
Finally, there came a story from Toronto, signed by Charles T. Long, son of a Toronto publisher. that he had talked with Dr. Cronin there on May 10. He went to give a long interview with Dr. Cronin on Cha-na-Gael affairs. It developed later that Long, who formerly been in Chicago, had fallen under the influence of William J. Starkey, who was in communication with Dr. Cronin’s enemies. His stories were fabrications.
When Dr. Cronin had failed to return home O’Sullivan, the ice man, was the first man sought. He expressed great surprise and said no one of his employes had been injured and he knew nothing of the man who had presented his card to Dr. Cronin. This did not satisfy Schuettler, who got from him later the tip that there was something mysterious at the cottage owned by the Carlsons. Schuettler and others went there the day after the body was found and saw at once this was the scene of the crime.
Bloodstains led from the sidewalk to the wooden steps and into the front room, which was still spattered with blood on the walls and stained on the floor. An effort had been made to paint over the stains, but it was a careless job. The mark of a paint-stained hand was on the window shade, and on the floor were marks of a stockinged left foot. The rocking chair had been broken in the struggle. There were many fingerprints around, but such evidence was not used in those days in scientific manner. The key to the trunk was found, and the mark on the furniture showed that it had come from Revell’s.
This led at once to the man Simonds, and to search for the man Williams, who had rented the cottage. The flat on Clark street was also found.
① Carlson’s Cottage, where Dr. Cronun was killed—1872 Ashland, near Belmont Avenue
② Sewer where Dr. Cronin’s body was found—Evanston Road (Broadway) and Foster Avenue
F. M. Snyder’s Real Estate Map of Cook & DuPage Counties
O’Sullivan was pressed further when the Carlsons recalled that in the day they rented the cottage to Williams they had seen the man walk over to O’Sullivan, who was in the yard, and had heard him say:
- Well, the cottage is rented.
Later, when they became suspicious of their tenants, they asked O’Sullivan about them, and he had replied they were all right and he would guarantee the rent. On May 13, after Dr. Cronin had been missing nine days, a stranger called on the Carlsons and offered a third month’s rent. They refused unless their tenants occupied the house. On May 19a note signed “F. W.” was received from Hammond, Ind. In this Williams said he had been called away on business, his sister was still ill, and asked the Carlsons to put the furniture in their cellar. He said he had painted the floor for his sister. The Carlsons looked at the cottage and were alarmed, but decided to do nothing until Williams called.
Inn the meantime the white horse clew was followed. Detective Dan Coughlin was supposed to be working on this. On the Monday morning after te disappearance Dinan, the livery stable keeper, met him at the station and asked him who the man was that he had rented the horse and buggy for, and told him he was about to report it to Capt. Schaack.
“Keep quiet about it,” Coughlin told him. “Me and Cronin have not been good friends and if you go to talking you may get me into trouble.”
But Dinan did not ket it rest. He carried the story to Schaack, who accepted Coughlin’s statement that he had rented it to a man named Smith who was out of town and that it was not the same horse. Dinan went to Chief of Police Hubbard. Coughlin was called in and cross examined and placed under arrest. Schaack was suspended fom the force, but later reinstated. and he did good work in the Luetgert case. Coughlin’s friend Smith was located, but proved that he knew nothing of the white horse and that he was a stranger from Hancock, Mich.
Out of the Picture.
The investigation was muddled further by the alleged confession of Frank J. Black, alias Woodruff, who was arrested on May 9 for horse stealing. He said he was in Sol Van Pinag’s gambling house at 392 South State street, had lost money, and was hired on May 4 by one William King to get a horse and wagon and take a trunk away from 528 North State street. He said they drove to the north end of Lincoln park and met two other men, one of whom he thought was Dr. Cronin. The body of a woman was taken from the trunk and thrown in a manhole, and the trunk was dropped off in another part of the lake shore. He said he got $25 for the job.
This started the police to searching manholes, but they stopped two blocks short of the right one. Woodruff’s story was considered false, but he was indicted and demanded a separate trial. There was no evidence against him, and, as he was wanted in Kansas for horse stealing, the police let him go. He died in prison a few years later. He told fellow prisoners he had actually driven the wagon in which Dr. Cronin’s body was taken away. This put out of the picture two men who knew something—Starkey and Black.
From various stool pigeons in north side saloons and gambling houses the police found evidence that further implicated O’Sullivan and Coughlin. They had been talking about Dr. Cronin. They had called him a spy and said he ought to be put out of the way. William Niemann, a saloonkeeper in North Clark street, said that about 10 or 11 o’clock on the night of May 4 O’Sullivan. Coughlin, and a third man afterward declared to John Kunze had been talking together, whispering as though in possession of some great secret.
Detective John M. Collins did a good piece of work. He searched the gallery of his mind for men who might be implicated in a job like this. He thought of Martin Burke and Patrick Cooney, known a s “The Fox.” He learned that they had been drinking steadily after the murder of Dr. Cronin and had plenty of money, and then had disappeared from their usual haunts. He discovered a picture of Burke in a group and took it to the Carlsons. They at once identified him as Frank Williams. Cooney answered the the description of Simonds. He was never found by the police. Descriptions of Burke were broadcast, and Chief McRae of the Winnipeg police arrested his as he was getting on a train with a ticket for Liverpool in his pocket. Chief Hubbard, Schuettler, and Collins went after him and he was brought back to Chicago after a long extradition fight.
Burke and Kunze, who was arrested, were stool pigeons of Dan Coughlin. Both had been in trouble, and Burke had been suspected in two murders. Coughlin held this information and made them his tools, according to the stat theory. There may have been a mistake about Kunze. He was identified by a boy who said he had been washing his feet in the Clark street flat. Mertes, the milkman, said he was the man who drove Dr. Cronin to the Carlson cottage. Kunze, a German, declared all along that he was innocent. The jury hesitated in his case, and gave him only three years in prison.
The coroner’s jury attempted to clear the mystery by holding Alexander Sullivan, the lawyer and enemy of Cronin, to the grand jury. He was arrested and spent a night in jail, where he slept soundly. His conscience was clear, he said. The grand jury never found enough evidence to indict him, and the bond against him was released. Sullivan was active in city politics. Coughlin was his friend, and it was said he had once aided Burke to get a city job. But all this was suspicion, not court evidence.
Four Found Guilty.
There were non real confessions. No one ever told who killed Dr. Cronin. The trial was held in the fall of 1889 before Judge S. P. McConnell. Joel M. Longenecker, the state’s attorney, was assisted by Luther Laflin Mills, W. J. Hines, and George C. Ingham. The defense by half a dozen lawyers was led by the brilliant William S. Forrest. The white horse ws the strongest witness against Coughlin., although two knives taken from his pocket were identified as Dr. Cronin’s. The identification by the Carlsons was the evidence that convicted Burke. The contract with the doctor and the incident of the business card were the worst things against O’Sullivan. Letters and testimony of fellow clansmen implicated Beggs in the appointment of a secret committee to take care of Dr. Cronin. Burke was also identified by H. Mortenson, an expressman, as the man who hired him to move furniture from the Clark street flat to the cottage.
During the early part of the trial the state uncovered an effort to get at the jury, and traced it to the defense, through Max Solomon, a bailiff. Six men were sent to jail for this. The defense was chiefly that of alibi witnesses. It took forty-five days to get a jury, so great was the prejudice and fear in the town. The medical evidence was interesting. Taking blood stains from the floor of the Carlson cottage, bloodstains in the trunk, and hair from Dr. Cronin’s head, also a thread of hair found on a cake of soap in the kitchen of the cottage, the experts deduced that a human being, and thus human being Dr. Cronin, had been killed in the cottage, his body placed in the trunk and then dumped into the manhole.
The jury found Beggs not guilty, Kunze guilty of manslaughter, an Coughlin, O’Sullivan, and Burke guilty of murder. These three were sentenced to life imprisonment.
One Juror Holds Out.
The jurors debated the case for three days, returning their verdict on Dec. 16. There might have been a hanging verdict but for the resistance of one man, John Culver of Evanston. Long afterward he gave his diary to Joe Dillabough, a reporter who covered the case. This showed that he was moved more by religious conviction than anything else. The jurors held religious service every night. Culver in his diary called Dinan an untruthful witness. Also, Mrs. Conklin did not impress him. He wrote once:
- I am seeking the Lord’s help that I may, in my heart, realize, and know that ‘he doeth all things well.’ I have been afraid of Mills’ eloquence—not his reasoning power—but his power to capture the thought or imagination, to picture things and to make even the untrue appear real and true. I have prayed much to the Lord to keep me that my mind may be clear and my judgement correct. God help me and keep me, for Jesus’ sake, amen.
In 1893 the Supreme court granted Coughlin a new trial. Burke and O’Sullivan had died in prison., Two of the jurors, Bontecou and Clark, were declared disqualified by prejudice. The decision stated that the evidence failed to show that the Clan-na-Gael was an unlawful or criminal organization or that, as an organization, it had anything to do with the murder. Coughlin was brought to trial again before Judge Richard S. Tuthill, in 1893. The only new witness of importance was Mrs. Lizzie Foy, whose husband, Andrew, was identified with the Clan-na-Gael. Her story was attacked as that of a mad woman. In 1889, she said, Martin Burke, Cooney the Fox, and others repeatedly at the Foy house, in Oak street near Market, where they always inquired fo Dan Coughlin. Foy was present at some of the meetings.
She heard them talking about Dr. Cronin and his alleged treason. They decided to kill the doctor. Burke and Cooney were selected for the actual killing. The weapon chosen was the chisel of Andrew Foy. She thought Foy, instead of Kunze, had driven the doctor to the house. O’Sullivan, she said, watched outside. She named others of the conspirators and said the plan was to take the body out in the lake and sink it deep. That was part of Coughlin’s job, and he was said to have gone to the cottage soon after the murder. On the evening of the murfer Foy took his brickmason’s chisel and wrapped it up, saying it would remove “another Le Caron.” Monday morning he brought in a newspaper containing the story of Cronin’s disappearance, and told one of the boys to take it to his mother.
This and other evidence against Coughlin failed to impress the second jury, which voted an acquittal.
Dan Coughlin Escapes.
Coughlin returned to Chicago, opened a saloon, and in 1899 was indicted for offering a bribe to a juror in a damgage suit against the Illinois Central railroad. The juror took a diamond from Coughlin as security for the money, and went to Judge Tuthill with the story and the diamond. Coughlin fled south, was arrested in Mobile, and released on habeas corpus just before Chicago officers arrived. He went to South America and worked for many years in Puerto Cortez, Honduras, as a foreman for Capt. J. W. Grace, a contractor in sharge of public improvements. He is supposed to have died there from tuberculosis.
Nothing more was done about the Cronin case. Dr. Cronin’s funeral was magnificent, and his death was “extensively inquired into,: as he had predicted.
Chicago was brought to a standstill as the funeral cortege made slow, mournful progress through the streets on Sunday, March 26. 1889. At 10:45 a.m. the casket was carried from the First Cavalry Armory and placed in a hearse drawn by four black horses to Holy Name Cathedral. Several carriages filled with friends and family traveled behind. They were followed by a procession of seven thousand mourners led by Reed’s Drum Corps and members of the Hibernian Rifles, who marched with weapons reversed, the traditional military mark of respect. The funeral route was crowded with upwards of forty thousand onlookers.