Gangsters & Grifters: Gritty Crime Photos from the Archives of the Chicago Tribune

New book compiles vintage images of small time crooks and criminal masterminds of old-time Chi-town

Billie

Billie

Gertrude "Billie" Murphy, 22, is brought in for questioning in the murder case of Michael Stopec, who was shot and killed in an apartment hotel, circa July 1927.Chicago Tribune

You’ll find all the evidence you need of Chicago’s crime-ridden past in the belly of the Chicago Tribune.

Five stories below the building in a temperature controlled room there are rows of numbered boxes, stuffed to the gills with decades worth of glass plates and acetate negatives, some of them nearly 100 years old. Two years ago, the Tribune's photo staff began digging through these archives, unearthing images that in many cases hadn't been seen since they were first captured. Now, these historic photos of Chicago's criminal past have been compiled into a new book, Gangsters & Grifters: Classic Crime Photos from the Chicago Tribune.

“I was looking for photos that are so compelling that they would just stop you dead in your tracks,” says Erin Mystkowsk, one of the photo editors who worked on the project. “You know it when you seet it and it just gives you chills.”

Although many of the negatives came with their share of dust, scratches and finger prints, Chicago Tribune photo editors Erin Mystkowski and Marianne Mather Morgan said the bulk of the archive was in solid condition, and those little flaws actually add to the photos.

“We decided early on that we wanted to do as-is. We simply scanned them even if they had cracks and finger prints or dust and scratches,” says Mather Morgan. “We wanted them to be very truthful to their age.”

A willingness to work with those imperfections actually led to a number of surprises during the editing process. Photos of John Dillinger on trial for murder and a young Al Capone (when he was still going by his alias Al Brown) didn’t seem like much on the negatives, but when scanned in produced some incredible results.

“The John Dillinger negative is kind of low light, when we scanned it in and instantly you could see Dillinger in the center in white, handcuffed to the sheriff deputy next to him,” says Mather Morgan. “He looks like he is in control of the room, he almost looks bored.”

The images are often presented alongside their original headlines and subheads, with brief descriptions about the nature of the crimes committed. “It was so interesting to see how the newspaper covered these crimes,” says Mystkowski.

Guards wait for John Dillinger

Guards wait for John Dillinger

Guards surround the courthouse and jail in Crown Point, Ind., as they wait for John Dillinger's arrival. A few months earlier Dillinger had escaped from jail in Lima, Ohio with the help of members of his gang. Authorities feared his gang would attempt to rescue their leader a second time. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
The Lipstick Killer

The Lipstick Killer

Detective Chief Walter Storms, second from left, and Capt. Michael Ahern, far right, accompany University of Chicago student William Heirens, 17, to a detective bureau lineup on July 1, 1946. On Jan. 7, 1946, Heirens was convicted of kidnapping, strangling and dismembering Suzanne Degnan as well as murdering Frances Brown, 33, and Josephine Ross, 43, in separate crimes in 1945. On Brown's apartment wall the murdered wrote in lipstick, "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself." This gave Heirens the nickname "The Lipstick Killer" Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
Joseph "Diamond Joe" Esposito

Joseph "Diamond Joe" Esposito

The FBI credited Joseph "Diamond Joe" Esposito, the beloved Republican boss of the 19th Ward, as being one of the first known Sicilian mafia members to immigrate to the United States. He was involved in bootlegging, extortion, prostitution and labor racketeering, and he was a prime rival of Al Capone before being murdered in 1928. Undated photo. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
Tillie Klimek and Nellie Stermer-Koulik

Tillie Klimek and Nellie Stermer-Koulik

Tillie Klimek, right, and her cousin Nellie Stermer-Koulik were accused of poisoning 20 husbands, children and friends with arsenic. "WE have here a woman of average intelligence, a modern housewife and a good cook. When she is among women she is affectionate and it is said, she is the most popular woman in the jail. Yet, the testimony showed, cold bloodedly, without feeling or remorse, she killed three of her husbands and attempted to kill the fourth," said Judge Marcus Kavanagh as he sentenced her to life in prison. Stermer-Koulik was found not guilty. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
John Dillinger at Trial

John Dillinger at Trial

John Dillinger, center, is handcuffed to Deputy Sheriff R. M. Pierce, left, during Dillinger's murder trial hearing in Crown Point in early February 1934. Dillinger's trial date was set for March 12, 1934, but he would break out of the Crown Point jail on March 3, 1934. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
Gertrude "Billie" Murphy

Gertrude "Billie" Murphy

Gertrude "Billie" Murphy, 22, is brought in for questioning in the murder case of Michael Stopec, who was shot and killed in an apartment hotel, circa July 1927. Murphy had been a friend of the marries Stopec and his suspected killer Henry Guardino. The Tribune reported that Stopec and Guardino were "bitter rivals for the favor of Billie" and that Murphy had tried of Guardino and was going to stay with Stopec. Murphy was also married to a man in the Joliet penitentiary. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
Stateville Prison

Stateville Prison

State highway policemen restore order in the circular cellblocks at Stateville Prison in Joliet, Ill., after 1,500 convicts rioted on March 18, 1931, lighting several buildings on fire. Three convicts were shot during the rioting; one of them was gravely wounded with a bullet to the abdomen. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
John Dillinger

John Dillinger

FBI agents shot and killed John Dillinger on July 22, 1934, at the Biograph Theater. Here Betty and Rosella Nelson (in bathing suits) view the body of Dillinger, 32, at the Cook County Morgue. In the days following his death, massive crowds lined up outside the morgue to get a glimpse of the notorious public enemy. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr.

Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr.

Richard Loeb, 18, left, and Nathan Leopold Jr., 19, stare at each other after each gave a separate confession to the murder of Bobby Franks, 14. They finally confessed on May 31, 1924 after Leopold's glasses were found next to Frank's body at the 121st Street and Pennsylvania railroad tracks. The teenagers said they were out in the remote area to bird-watch. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
Rose Neary Strangled in Home

Rose Neary Strangled in Home

Police officers look over the body of well-to-do spinster Rose Neary, 50, who was found murdered in her apartment in the 3200 block of Franklin Boulevard on June 2, 1939. Neary was strangled with cord cut from her kitchen radio; towel was then placed over her head, which as them bashed in with a claw hammer. Her murder was never solved. Chicago Tribune photograph for one-time use only in conjunction with reviews or coverage of Gangsters and Grifters by Agate Publishing and the Chicago TribuneChicago Tribune
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