CAR BARN MURDER SAGA
A historical summary of the notorious Car Barn Murder Saga which came to a murderous end in August 1903.
Chicago City Railway Company car barn at 79th and State Streets. (1908) DN-0006814, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.
Extra editions of the Sunday morning papers of August 30, 1903 gave to the Chicago public the story of a murderous hold-up, which, before the capture of the perpetrators, was destined to become the most sensational crime with which the Department ever grappled. Refering to the raid on the City Railway Company’s barn at 61st and State Streets, in which two men were killed and another seriously wounded.
About 3 o’clock on the morning of the robbery the four employees in the office of the cashier were startled by the breaking of a window pane, which was immediately followed by a volley of revolver shots. Frank Stewart, the night receiver, fell mortally wounded with a bullet in the abdomen, which caused death in a few minutes. John Johnson, a motorman, was instantly killed, one of the bandits encountering him in the doorway of the waiting room. The robbers quickly secured the money which was in Stewart’s care, amounting to about $32,400 and fled, leaving no clue whatever for the police to work on.
THE INVESTIGATION AND MANHUNT FOR MARX
Learning of the rapidity with which the shots were fired, as described by William Edmon, who was wounded, the officers came to the conclusion that the desperadoes were armed with a new make of gun known as the automatic. This information was given to every officer on the force, and the man hunt was taken up for the most desperate band of criminals that ever infested Chicago, and who were evidently the perpetrators of several crimes of a similar character committed during the previous three months.
The usual roundup of hoodlums and other suspicious characters resulted fruitlessly, and for weeks the Chicago Police Department was absolutely at sea as to the identity of the daring bandits. All of the old time desperate criminals were looked up and accounted for, and the reckless bravado with which the crime was committed suggested that it was the work of old hands at the game who had come from some other city and were unknown in Chicago, instead of youthful novices. Day and night with unflagging zeal the search for the robbers was continued, and dozens of clues were run down that came to naught. Even the reward of $5,000.00 offered by the Chicago City Railway Company failed to elicit any information of value.
Car barn bandit Gustave Marx sitting in a prison corridor. (December 7, 1903) DN-0001540, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.
A BREAK IN THE CASE
Patrolman John Quinn
End of Watch: 22 November 1903
About two months after the raid on the car barns Officers John Quinn and William Blaul of the 41st Precinct were given information that one Gustave Marx, who lived in that police district, had exhibited an automatic revolver in a saloon and was posessed of considerable money. Both knew Marx and they spent several days looking for him. Shortly before 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night of November 21, 1903 Quinn and Blaul saw Marx in Greenberg’s saloon at Addison Avenue and Robey Street (present day Damen Avenue). He was standing at the bar drinking with a crowd of young men.
Quinn entered through the front door of the saloon and Blaul by a side entrance. “I want you,” Quinn said to Marx, and before he could place his hands on the suspect’s shoulder he had received his death wound. Marx had whipped out a revolver and fired several shots, the first of which struck Quinn in the stomach. Officer Quinn was fatally wounded. Officer Blaul, who had witnessed the shooting of his partner, closed in on Marx and showed him no more mercy than the latter had shown Quinn and returned fire. Marx was wounded twice, once in the shoulder and another bullet striking him in the hip. As he fell Blaul leaped upon him with the ferocity of a tiger and disarmed him of two revolvers.
Marx was arrested and taken to the 41st Precinct, Sheffield Avenue Station, was interrogated and his air of bravado convinced Assistant Chief Schuettler, who talked with him, that he was one of the gang that committed the murderous raid on the City Railway Car barns. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday he was subjected to a rigid examination, and finally late in the afternoon of the last day he broke down and confessed that he had been a party to several murders, among them the car barn job. He gave the names of his companions in crime: Harvey Van Dine, Peter Niedermeier and Emil Roeski. As soon as he had weakened, the machinery of the entire police department was set in motion to circumvent the capture of the other members of the gang.
In his annual report for 1903, General Superintendent Francis O’Neill, remarked that there are carping critics of his department who maintain that to “sweat” or persistently interrogate a prisoner is barbarous and that such a practice should be abolished. All I care to say in reply is, that if the “the stomach pump,” as it is sometimes called, had not been applied to Marx he never would have confessed to complicity in the raid on the car barn; neither would he have “squealed” on his accomplices in that and several other crimes.
Photographs of Van Dine and Niedermeier were secured and circulars with their pictures, were sent broadcast on the day following Marx’s confession. The pictures were also printed in the Chicago newspapers, and in this way a wide circulation was gained. During the time that Marx was locked up and before he “squealed” his partners, who knew of his arrest, remained in Chicago, but kept under cover. When they read Marx’s confession in the Wednesday morning papers they decided that flight was the only thing left for them, and consequently they fled from the city that night, going to Indiana.
It developed later that the rescue of Marx from the Sheffield Avenue Police Station was planned by Van Dine and Niedermeier. They had rented a building in the vicinity, which was to be set on fire. The patrol wagon and crew would respond and so would any commanding officers in the station except the desk sergeant. To take the latter and lockup keeper unawares and shoot them if necessary was the program, and liberate their confederate during the progress of the fire. The publication of Marx’s confession effected a sudden transformation in their sentiments, and their desire to destroy him was more intense than their desire to effect his liberation. The assassination of Officer Blaul at this time by Van Dine and Niedermeier was frustrated merely by the officer’s absence from the city until after Marx’s confession.
THE MANHUNT FOR VAN DINE, NIEDERMEIR AND ROESKI BEGINS
On November 26, 1903, Thanksgiving Day, the outlaws stopped at a little grocery near Pine, Indiana, where they bought something to eat. A country school teacher, who that day had seen the pictures of Van Dine and Niedermeier in a Chicago newspaper, recognized them as the hunted bandits and he informed the Chicago Police Department by telegraph of his suspicions. Acting under instructions from the Superintendent’s office the following men were despatched that night to Indiana: Detective Sergeants Mathew Zimmer and James Gleason, and Officers Martin J. Qualey, Joseph Baumer, John Sheehan, Joseph Hughes and John Driscoll.
At a late hour that night the seven officers arrived at Pine, Indiana, having driven ten miles across the country from Indiana Harbor. They conferred with the school teacher and took up the trail.
On November 27, 1903, at 5:00 a.m., the next morning the officers saw smoke curling from a dugout alongside the railroad tracks some distance from Pine, Indiana. Suspecting that they had found their quarry they approached the hut with drawn revolvers and commanded those inside to surrender. A slanting door was thrown open and one of the bandits showed himself, discharging his revolver at the same time. Officer Driscoll was mortally wounded in the first volley of shots that belched from Niedermeier’s automatic gun, and Detective Sergeant Zimmer was the next to fall a victim with dangerous wounds in the head and right shoulder. The officers withdrew to care for their injured companions and Officer Driscoll was rushed to a hospital and died of his wounds four days later on December 1, 1903 at Mercy Hospital in Chicago.
Patrolman Joseph D. Driscoll
End of Watch: 01 December 1903
Police officers with rifles at the slanting door where the car barn bandits were found hiding. (November 28, 1903) Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0001560, 1561. Courtesy of Chicago History Museum.
THE MANHUNT HEATS UP
Officer Sheehan ran to Calumet Heights, where he secured a handcar that conveyed him to Miller’s Station, the nearest telegraph point. He sent a message to police headquarters informing, General Superintendent Francis O’Neill, of the wounding of Driscoll and Zimmer and asking for reinforcements. In less than half an hour fifty officers equipped with rifles and ammunition, in charge of Assistant Superintendent Schuettler and Secretary James Markham, were on board a special train speeding for Indiana.
While Sheehan was gone on this errand Van Dine and his two companions emerged from their hiding place, and a lively exchange of shots took place between them and the officers still on guard. The desperadoes succeeded in getting away, although one of them, Roeski, was hit by a bullet in the leg. They made their escape through clumps of underbrush and over snow crusted marshes to the sand pits at East Tolleston, where there was a locomotive on a sidetrack. Here they saw a chance to escape by taking possession of the engine. Brakeman Sovea was standing near the locomotive and on his refusal to climb into the cab, was shot and killed by Niedermeier. This, perhaps, was the most cold blooded murder that they had committed.
The trio climbed aboard the engine, and with their revolvers held at his head, compelled the fireman to run it down the tracks to Liverpool, where it was fortunately derailed. Unable to proceed further they abandoned the locomotive and sought safety in flight across the country, and eventually took refuge in a corn field, on seeing that they were being gradually surrounded by Chicago policemen. In the language of Van Dine: “The country was alive with policemen.”
The shooting of the brakeman back at the sand pits aroused the other employees that worked there, and some of them having shotguns, started in pursuit of the engine. They were joined by farmers who were shooting rabbits, and it was not long before the posse came to Liverpool, and by footprints in the snow, trailed the bandits to a corn shock in which they were hiding. The farmers and the men from the sand pits blazed away at the corn shock, peppering the faces of those inside with shot. Roeski, although suffering severe pain from the wound in his leg, inflicted in his encounter with the police at the dugout, made a dash for liberty and escaped to the Calumet river, which stream he followed for miles, partly on the ice, until captured at Aetna by a policeman while waiting for a train to Chicago. Van Dine and Niedermeier begged for mercy and threw their weapons, five revolvers and 250 rounds of cartridges, out of the shock.
After the escape of the bandits from the dugout, a second telegram calling for more men to surround them in the Indiana wilderness was promptly responded to with a second expedition of forty men armed with rifles, in charge of Lieutenant Harding and Sergeant Mooney.
THE CAPTURE OF VAN DINE, NIEDERMEIR AND ROESKI
The incessant tramping through the snow, trailed by the policemen, who, coming from all directions were steadily closing in, so fatigued and alarmed the bandits that they gladly surrendered to the Indiana hunters in preference to falling into the hands of Secretary Markham’s company of police, who were less than one thousand yards behind them.
Van Dine and Niedermeier were brought to the Office of the Superintendent of Police, where they confessed to the car barn robbery and murders and several other crimes preceding that. Roeski arrived later in charge of the officers who captured him in the Aetna depot. The latter was not implicated in the car barn raid, but he had been in former holdups with the gang and killed his man.
General Superintendent Francis O’Neill, remarked “without doubt this quartet of youthful desperadoes was the most reckless and daring that ever operated in Chicago or vicinity. None of them was over 23 years old, and up to the time of their identity being discovered through the arrest of Marx, they were never suspected of being criminally inclined.”
CONCLUSION AND SENTENCE
Jurors on the Car Barn Bandits case gathered around a table at breakfast. (April, 1904) DN-0001939, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.
Their initial crime was committed July 9, 1903 when they held up a saloon at 1820 North Ashland Avenue. Otto Bauder, a young boy who was in the place when the robbers invaded it, was shot and killed in attempting to run away. This was followed August 2, 1903 by the robbery of a saloon at 2120 West North Avenue, in which B. C. La Grosse, the proprietor, was shot and killed. Adolph Jensen, a customer, also was shot, dying the next day from his wound. Then came the raid on the car barn, which later resulted in their capture. Several other lesser crimes than those mentioned were committed by them and to which they confessed. They were speedily indicted.
On December 5, 1903, they were held to the Grand Jury by the Coroner. On March 26, 1904, Niedermeier and Van Dine, and a fourth, Marx, were convicted of the robbery and murder of railway employee Frank W. Stewart and sentenced to hang by Judge Kersten. On April 22, 1904, the 21 year old offenders were executed by hanging at the Cook County Jail. The third suspect, Roeski, was convicted of one of the saloon murders and sentenced to life in prison.
Crowd gathered on Illinois Street outside the jail on the morning of the car barn bandits’ hanging. (April 22, 1904) DN-0003451, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum.
- Chicago Police Department “Chicago Police Department Annual Report – 1903.” Retrieved from ChicagoCop.com. Accessed 14 March 2014.