A few weeks ago, I saw in a local paper that the former police station at 1940 W. Foster Avenue, here in Chicago, that was shuttered a couple of years ago when a larger, more modern facility was built about a mile away, was going to be taken over by the Griffin Theater company. I was happy to see that; it’s a handsome old Art Deco building that’s about a mile from my home and not far from the popular Hopleaf Bar and Restaurant. It also has a big role in Chicago’s history.
According to Richard Lindberg's book "Return To The Scene of the Crime: A Guide to Infamous Places in Chicago," (1999, Cumberland House Publishing), one night in 1958, Chicago police officer Frank Faluci ran into Richard Morrison. Faluci demanded a cut of Morrison’s take—Morrison was quite a successful burglar, hitting safes with payrolls in them. He was thought to have taken in about $100,000—quite a haul in the late fifties.
Officer Faluci specifically requested a nice set of golf clubs. This set the pattern in motion—police officers requesting specific loot from Morrison. It would go from police officers overlooking Morrison’s crimes, and veer into far worse territory—police officers actually participating in the burglaries.
Soon, Morrison tried to fill that order, heading up into one of his favorite places to pilfer, Evanston, a well-to-do suburb just north of Chicago. What he didn't know was that the Evanston police correctly suspected him of being behind a rash of burglaries there, and as luck would have it, had set up a stakeout with a bag of golf clubs prominently displayed in the back of a station wagon as bait. As Morrison attempted to take the bait, the police tried to nab him and a wild shoot-out broke out at Forest Avenue and Sheridan Road. Morrison managed to escape, ditching his car on the way back to Chicago.
Morrison was arrested by the Evanston police. A wiser man might have cut his losses and found another profession. But not Richie Morrison. He decided that he needed money and clout, and agreed to commit burglaries-to-order for a group of Chicago policemen, including Faraci and seven others.
The cops who were involved were in what was then known as the 40th, or Summerdale police district. They knew Morrison because he used to deliver them free pizzas from the pizza joint he worked at, at 1116 W. Bryn Mawr, right under the Red Line Bryn Mawr El stop. They were all assigned to the night shift, midnight to 8 am.
Their first hit was at Western Tire and Auto Store, which was at 5100 N. Broadway, in the Uptown neighborhood. Morrison and an accomplice, Robert Crilly, piled the items that had been ordered-- television sets, guns, tools, tires and radios-- near the loading dock of the store. The items were picked up in four squad cars. Morrison and Crilly were told that they could keep the cash they got in the burglary as their part of the haul.
There were ten more burlaries in the Uptown and Edgewater neighorhoods over the next nine months. Toward the end of it, the cops involved were actually helping the burglars carry the stuff out of the stores.
Fortunately, the corrupt cops were in the minority in the department. Dectectives Jim McGuire, Howard Rothgery, Pat Driscoll and James Heard entered Morrison’s home at 4332 N. Sacramento, which is just a few blocks from my own home, to arrest him. According to Lindberg, Morrison pulled a gun, but thought better of it. He threw it down and the detectives arrested him.
At first, Morrison kept his mouth shut. He appealed to his police accomplices to help him out. When this aid was not forthcoming, Morrison lost no time in ratting out the cops to save his ass. He came to be known in the press as "The Babbling Burglar."
In the wake of the scandal, which got nation-wide attention, Mayor Daley brought in O.T. Wilson, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking man who was the Dean of the University of California’s Criminology department to clean up the Chicago police department. One of the biggest changes was the end of "political" appointments of police officers. Advances were to be earned by merit and testing.
There were some expected-- and unexpected-- changes. Since the name had become notorious, the Summerdale district had its name changed—it became the Foster Avenue station. The eight cops were all convicted. Two paid modest fines and the other six spent prison time.
There was, however, one change that was unexpected. For decades, Chicago bars had made their money largely on "numbers" games. The booze was sold basically at cost or even a loss. Bars were the center of social life for Chicago neighborhoods. The bars paid a part of the take from the numbers games to local cops in order to have them overlook it. With Wilson's reforms, this ended, and so did the numbers, largely. This began a decline in the tavern as a social center in the neighborhood, and combined with the increase in car ownership, along with the pull of the suburbs, many would say that this was part of the decline of Chicago neighborhoods.
And what of Richard Morrison, the “Babbling Burglar?” According to Lindberg, he continued his ways, the way of the rat. He was testifying about mob-hired physicians who treated gunshot wounds without reporting them to the police, when he was shotgunned outside the Chicago Criminal Courts building on March 20, 1963. He lived, but one of his arms was shattered. After he healed, he was dropped at the Illinois-Indiana border and told to beat it. He made his way, according to Lindberg, to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where in a humorous bit of irony, he worked as a police photographer for a while, and then disappeared. Nobody has seen or heard from the “Babbling Burglar” for decades.