Nov. 27, 1944—Here’s the Story Behind Slaying of Policeman
Nov. 28, 1944—Trial Witness Insists Identification False
Chicago Times, November 28, 1944
In a TIMES classified ad a mother offered her life savings, earned as a scrubwoman, as a reward for evidence that would prove her son was not a murderer.
Out of this unselfish gesture has come an intensive investigation by the TIMES into the case of Joe Majczek, serving a 99-year sentence on a charge of slaying a policeman. New evidence uncovered by TIMESmen will be related in this and subsequent articles so that TIMES readers may be able to judge for themselves what valid grounds the mother has for believing in her son’s innocence.
By JACK McPHAUL and JAMES McGUIRE
Assigned to get the story behind the ad inserted by Mrs. Tillie Majczek, a TIMES reporter visited the family home at 2038 W. 52d, a two-story frame house mortgaged in the imprisoned son’s cause.
Michael, 60, the father, had just returned from the job he held for 35 years at the stockyards, and Tillie, 52, was soon to depart on her routine as night scrubwoman in a Loop skyscraper.
Michael and Tillie were married in Poland when the latter was 15. They came to Chicago two years later with Joe—now the central figure in the family tragedy an infant in arms. Subsequently Chicago was the birthplace of three other children.
TRIBUTE TO MOTHER.
At first hearing the story they told seemed to be no more than a one-day item of the sort the newspaper world labels “human interest.” In the reporter’s mind it shaped up as a tribute to a valiant mother who alone listened to her son’s cry of innocence and alone believed.
To aid them in making clear their boy’s plight, the parents produced a document written by Joe in his Stateville cell. It was inscribed:
To my mother—the history of my case.
Side by side the elderly pair sat intensely on the sofa while the reporter read the prisoner’s account. Accustomed to rebuffs and disappointment, the two, it was apparent, were trying to conceal mounting excitement over the hope that at last they were to have help in their struggle.
The TIMESman found the case history an eye-opener—if.
If it could be accepted as gospel, Joe Majczek was one of the world’s hard luck guys, one of those innocent bystanders who try to hurry past a street scrap and end up with a black eye. If what he had to say was true, he had been enmeshed by tricky fate, and a few other things that couldn’t be blamed on fate in a chain of circumstances of the sort one might experience in a nightmare and waken from with the glad realization it was only a dream.
But the reporter couldn’t forget that a man in prison, brooding long nights over the loss of his freedom, often drifts into the realm of fantasy and delusion, and in time comes to believe the figments of his imagination. And Joe had been in prison for 11 years.
CHECK TIMES FILES
Decision was made to test one of the several hard-to-believe statements set forth. Selected was the astonishing claim that the presiding judge was convinced a wrong had been done, and understood Joe his intention of obtaining a new trial.
The TIMES “morgue” disclosed that Superior Judge Charles P. Molthrop had died in March, 1935. 15 months after he had accepted and handed down a jury’s verdict sentencing Majzcek and Ted Marcinkewicz to 99 years imprisonment for the murder of Policeman William D. Lundy.
But, fortunately, Joe, had named others who he said were aware of Molthrop’s feelings. One was Joe Zagata, as eyewitness to Lundy’s murder. Trial records listed him as living at 4318 S. Marshfield.
It was a break that Zagata hadn’t moved during the 11 years since the trial. The reporter found a stocky dark-haired man about 47 father of several children and owner of a small coal and ice business.
JUDGE EXPRESSES DOUBT
Asked if he had heard anything more about the case after testifying at the trial, Zagata replied:
Several days after the jury had found the men guilty, I was called to Judge Molthrop’s chambers. The judge asked me if I thought the convicted men were Lundy’s killers. I said I was sure they were not.
Then the judge startled Zagata, according to the latter’s statement by announcing that he, too, was convinced the verdict was a miscarriage of justice. The coal dealer quoted the jurist as saying:
I’m going to leave soon on a trip to Michigan. But as soon as I get back, I’m going to see that those men are given a new trial. If necessary I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket.
Then discussing all aspects of the case with the reporter, Zagata exploded a bombshell of his own.
HITS WOMAN’S TESTIMONY
He attacked as worthless the identification testimony of Mrs. Vera Walush in whose delicatessen at 4312 S. Ashland where Policeman Lundy was slain Dec. 9, 1932. Zagata said:
I saw the two holdup men standing in the doorway between the shop and the kitchen where Lundy and I were sitting. I looked at them for about a minute and a half before Lundy turned around.
Mrs. Wanush looked up and saw the men. Immediately she ran into a clothes closet and closed the door as I slipped out the rear. When I got around to the front I saw the killers get into an auto and drive away. I went back into the shop and saw Lundy lying there and called to Vera that it was all over. Then she came out of the closet.
STAYED IN CLOSET
I saw the men for a longer time than she did and I know she couldn’t have seen their faces any more clearly than I did. It was dark in the kitchen and all you could see plainly of the men was their size. Mrs. Walush didn’t open the closet door and she couldn’t see through it.
I said then and I’ll always say it: she was never in a position where she could get a clear look at the killers’ faces.
Zagata said he was positive the slayers were “big fellows one as big as Lundy and the other only a little smaller.
(Policeman Lundy was 6 feet 2 and weighed 230 pounds. Majczek is 5 feet, 8, weighs 160 pounds. Marcinkewicz is 5 feet, 7, weighs about 160 pounds.)
At the conclusion of the Zagata interview, the TIMESman knew this:
1. Joe Majczek’s startling story had stood up under its first test.
2. The credibility of the sole identifying witness was under sharp attack by the only other witness to the fatal shooting.
James McGuire (left) and Jack McPhaul, Chicago TIMESmen