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"A Diabolical Murder: the Clan, Cronin and Chicago in the Gilded Age."
|On May 22,
1889, the naked body of a badly beaten man was pulled from a sewer in
Lakeview. He was Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin, one of the leaders of the
Irish independence organization Clan na Gael, who had recently made
public the mishandling of the organizations funds by a rival leader,
Throughout the next eight months, details of the Cronin murder filled newspapers across the English-speaking world.
Cronin's funeral was the largest Chicago had seen since Abraham Lincoln's cortege passed through in 1865. Wax-works scenes of the murder and the suspects became popular attractions and visitors to the cottage that was the scene of the crime could purchase their own blood-stained piece of memorabilia for a dime.
The event did much to form American and British public opinion about the Irish republican movement, and it solidified the world’s impression about corruption in the Chicago Police Department and Illinois’ judiciary.
The tale was outlined at the Newberry’s weekly colloquium on 7 Nov 2012 by Dr. Gillian O’Brien, a senior lecturer in History at Liverpool John Moores University and a 2009 Fulbright Fellow, Newberry Library. O’Brian has been exploring the Newberry’s archives for a book on the Cronin murder.
“This is an interesting story, and a significant story in Anglo-Irish relations and the development of Irish nationalism in America, Britain and Ireland,” O’Brian said. “I found newspaper copies in Welsh that reported this death.”
Cronin was born in Ireland and grew up in Canada. He moved to St. Louis as a young man, and with the help of wealthy connections he went to the Missouri Medical College and became a physician. He moved to Chicago in 1882 and joined a number of Irish nationalist organizations, including Clan na Gael.
Cronin was a tall and handsome man, with a fine tenor voice and a streak of impulsiveness and recklessness. A Catholic, he also sang in a Chicago Baptist church choir.
All those involved in the murder were members of a secret society Clan na Gael,
From the book: “The Clan-Na-Gael and the Murder of Dr. Cronin” by John T. McEnnis, published in 1889. Read it at Archive.com
which had succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as a
leading Irish independence movement after the earlier organization raised a
private army and attacked British installations in Canada.“Clan na Gael had
70,000 members in 1880s,” O’Brian said. The early leadership was born in
Ireland, but there was a shift in 1880s toward those who were American-born.”
Cronin’s rival, Sullivan, was born in Ontario, and O’Brian paints an amusing picture of his checkered past.
“He was a shoemaker who burned down his failing
business. He was a federal tax collector in New Mexico who fled with the tax
money. He came to Chicago as a journalist,” she related “He was trained to be a
lawyer. He killed a man in 1876 for insulting his wife, and was acquitted after
two trials. He joined Clan na Gael in 1878.”
A major program of the Clan na Gael at the time was raising money to support independence actions in Ireland and England. O’Brian said at least $100,000 was raised by Clan na Gael to support the families of three Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) members who had blown themselves up while planting a bomb on London Bridge.
Sullivan stole the money, she said. Cronin objected, and was declared a traitor to the Clan na Gael and expelled from the organization. He left Chicago for a time, and then returned with the intention of proving that Sullivan had stolen the money.
“He wrote an account of his own death that proved to be oddly prophetic,” O’Brian said.
Cronin had been hired recently by Patrick O’Sullivan, owner of an ice house in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. O’Sullivan offered him $8 a month to give his four employees medical attention any time they needed.
On 4 May, 1889, Cronin was called to an emergency in Lakeview. Witnesses saw him being taken away from his home in a buggy drawn by a white horse, and he never returned.
“Nobody wanted a white horse in Chicago for a decade after that,” O’Brian related. He disappeared. Rumors circulated about affairs, abortions and other mysterious dealings.
Eighteen days later Cronin’s body was found by a public works crew in a sewer entry at the present location of N. Broadway and Foster Ave. (then called Evanston Ave., and W. 59th Street), naked in a sewer. He was wearing a Catholic medal of protection, an Agnus Dei, leading people to assume he had been murdered by Catholics who would have been afraid to remove the medal. He had been stabbed to death in the head, with five wounds of a narrow blade the size of an ice pick.
A cottage near O’Sullivan’s ice house was apparently the scene of the crime. It had been rented to a suspicious person with an assumed name who had never moved in. It was found to be covered in blood.
“Lakeview was a separate municipality then, with its own police force,” O’Brian explained. The Chicago police favored Sullivan because he'd found most of them their jobs.
Irish police were barred from the investigation, which soon discovered the source of the buggy and the white horse. They were hired from a livery stable by Chicago police detective Daniel Coughlin who was a close friend of Sullivan. Eventually five men were arrested:
o John Kunze, identified as the man who drove the carriage that picked up Cronin,
o John F. Beggs, a Clan na Gael member and friend of Coughlin,
o Daniel Coughlin, the police detective,
o Patrick O’Sullivan, the ice house owner, and
o Martin Burke, identified as the mysterious stranger who had rented the cottage.
Burke fled to Canada but was brought back to Chicago after a lengthy extradition proceeding. O’Brian says others were involved, but had fled. Sullivan was not charged, and the thinking of people studying the case was that he had not specifically ordered the murder.
“The jury selection took two months, which was the longest in US history at that time,” O’Brian said. .”There was some lurid coverage that was very anti-immigrant, with the Irish murderers represented in drawings in simian form while the victim appears more sympathetically.”
Dime museums were a big news source of the murder, offering Images for the illiterate public. “They even had wax images of Cronin's body,” O’Brian said. “The Carlton Cottage was also open to visitors for a dime.”
“Journalists interfered with witnesses and evidence,” she added. “They scattered blood across the cottage to make it a better picture.”
Couglin, O’Sullivan and Burke were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, and Kunze was found guilty of manslaughter. Jurors reflected the public mood of the time that they didn’t want a death sentence, and the four were sent to Joliet. In 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered new trials, and Kunze and Coughlin were acquitted.
O’Sullivan died of in prison of tuberculosis. Burke also died in prison. “Coughlin briefly ran a saloon in Chicago, and left the U.S. after being charged with bribing jurors in a civil case,” O’Brian related. “He died of tuberculosis in a banana plantation in Honduras in 1909.”
|The case forced Clan na
Gael out into the public and support for it died. “People belonged to it
in Chicago because it was the way to get a job,” O’Brian explained.
In 1990 Sullivan was arrested for bribing jurors. “He was visibly relieved to learn it was not for murder,” O’Brian said.
Cronin’s body was too disfigured to allow it to be an open casket. It laid in state a day and a half, then was taken in a cortege of 7,000 people down Michigan Avenue to Union Station, where it was sent to Evanston for burial. There were 20,000 spectators at Union Station, O’Brian said.
“It took me three trips to find it in the Calvary Cemetery in Evanston. The memorial is a simple plaque in the ground, causing one to wonder about what happened to the money raised for his 50-foot monument,” she concluded.