The burglaries were audacious. The corruption profound. The fallout enormous.
On Aug. 1, 1959, Tribune readers no doubt enjoyed the story wedged onto Page 15 next to "The Flibbertys" and "Little Lulu" comic strips. The headline promised a good yarn: "Master thief tells his tale — hours of it!" Richard Morrison claimed to be the greatest burglar to ever hit Chicago, grabbing $100,000 in stolen goods over the prior six months. The 23-year-old wasn't shy or humble, claiming he cleverly learned his safecracking skills while pretending to shop for one on Michigan Avenue, and that he never used the same burglar tools twice. Countering his boasts: He was arrested while sleeping on the floor of a friend's apartment and had already run afoul of the law multiple times.
But that wasn't the most shocking part of Morrison's tale. Morrison sang quite a tune, but it wasn't until Jan. 15, 1960, that the world would hear the rest of it. See, Morrison didn't work alone. He committed his burglaries with the help of eight Chicago police officers working in the Summerdale district on the North Side. The officers not only covered for him during the break-ins, but also helped haul away the loot in their squad cars.
The Babbling Burglar's claims would prove the catalyst for one of the largest shake-ups and reform efforts in Chicago Police Department history, the firing of one police chief, and the hiring of O.W. Wilson.
The scheme germinated in June 1958, according to Morrison interviews and court testimony, when Officer Frank Faraci met him on the street and asked for a cut of the action for himself and his friends, adding, "You know, we like nice things too." In particular, Officer Allan Brinn wanted a new set of golf clubs.
So the night of July 31, Morrison got liquored up and went trolling for a set of clubs in parked cars in Rogers Park. No luck. He moved north into Evanston and had even worse luck: He stumbled into a sting operation. He fled, was shot at by police, abandoned his car, and was arrested in his apartment later that morning. It was then, Morrison said, that he decided — in a bit of twisted logic — that he might as well join up with the Chicago cops: "It was after that I figured I might as well go in with them since I was in trouble again anyway."
Here's how it worked: The crook would case the joints. The cops would act as lookouts and then swoop in to help cart away the loot in their squad cars. They would then meet up at one of their homes to divvy up the goods. Morrison got the cash, the cops got the contraband.
It's useful having the cops on your side when you're a crook. In one case, at a tire store, Morrison was spotted and an alarm was sounded. His buddies showed up first, told him to lie flat on the roof and convinced the other cops that they had it under control. Morrison and his pals then completed the job.
When Morrison was burgling a music store, he again was noticed and police were called. But one of his protectors raced to the scene first so Morrison could run out the back while the honest cops were coming in the front.
If a job wasn't lucrative enough, they kept going. The gang once hit three businesses in one night.
After Morrison was arrested in 1959, he was kept in seclusion at Cook County Jail while he spilled the beans. When the raids came on the police officers' homes, it wasn't pretty.
Faraci's wife ripped a necklace from her neck and cried, "Here, you might as well have this too. I got it from Richard Morrison," the Tribune reported. And when Morrison was brought into the homes to identify stolen property, he was referred to in "uncomplimentary terms" by the Faracis. Four truckloads of stolen goods was taken from seven police officers' homes, including appliances, TV sets, draperies and shotguns.
The eight cops were convicted in August 1961. Five were sentenced to terms ranging from one to five years. Two were just fined $500 each. The eighth officer, whose home was free of stolen goods, spent six months in jail and faced a $1,000 fine.
As for the Babbling Burglar himself, he survived an assassination attempt outside the Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California on March 20, 1963, and moved to Florida after charges against him were dropped in exchange for his help as a state witness.
There was another story squeezed onto Page 15 back on Aug. 1, 1959, when the Babbling Burglar first started singing his tune. The way it was written spoke to the way the city viewed its police force — and was especially ironic given the other news. It related the story of how police Officer John Naughton, who was walking his beat near police Commissioner Timothy O'Connor's home, stumbled on two couples burglarizing garages. The officer refused multiple bribes while making the arrest. For the headline writer, the news wasn't in the incident's proximity to the police chief's house nor the fact two husbands and their wives had turned to crime. No, the headline writer went with: "WRONG BLOCK! 4 RUN AFOUL OF HONEST COP."Copyright © 2015, CT Now