|Chicago gangster James Clark|
However, Clark is probably best known for being slaughtered in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, when he and six of his colleagues were lined up against the north wall of the S.M.C. Cartage garage at 2122 North Clark Street and mowed down by hitmen masquerading as police officers. Most people do not know that nineteen years before Clark got his fatal love letter from a pair of Thompson submachine guns, he botched a burglary at a University of Chicago fraternity house and got a whole lot more than he bargained for in the process. The details of Clark's bungled crime are darkly funny, as if they were ripped from the pages of the script for Animal House.
Albert Rudolph Kachellek was born in Krojanke, Germany (present-day Krajenka, Poland) on February 25, 1889, and landed in America with his mother Anna and siblings a month after his fourth birthday. While growing up in Chicago, he quickly fell in with the wrong crowd. By the age of sixteen in 1905, he did a four-month jail sentence in the Bridewell for robbery. That same year, he also drew a four-year sentence for burglary. By this point, Kachellek started calling himself "James Clark"; his sister stated that "he did not want to hurt my mother's feelings." While he was destined to eventually become a professional gangster, James Clark in the winter of 1910 was a twenty-one-year-old ex-convict who was firmly planted at the bottom of Chicago's criminal totem pole. Clark began setting his sights on houses in the affluent South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park which bracketed the University of Chicago. A few of the stately homes in the district acted as rooming houses for fraternities at the nearby college. For a tough skel who had done hard time at Joliet, surely those college kids would be easy marks.
Alpha Tau Omega was established at the Virginia Military Institute on September 11, 1865 by Otis Allan Glazebrook, Erskine Mayo Ross, and Alfred Marshall as a means of using Christian brotherly love as a way of fostering reconciliation after the Civil War. The fraternity is noted for holding several retreats and training conferences; Altitude, Encounter, Valiant, President's Retreat, and Emerging Leader's Conference. All had specific goals; Altitude was meant to challenge members physically, mentally, and emotionally and currently entails a rigorous hike into the Rocky Mountains and the attainment of a 14,000 foot summit; Valiant puts roughly 100 members through a values-based curriculum that emphasizes effective leadership, communication, ethics, goal setting, and teamwork.
By the winter of 1909-10, Alpha Tau Omega had over one hundred chapters all over the United States and outside many major universities. The University of Chicago's chapter featured about twenty young men from such diverse states as Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, Texas and Louisiana. Most of the young students who were members of the fraternity lived in a house at 923 East Sixtieth Street that fronted Midway Plaisance Park. It was a quiet residence in a generally quiet neighborhood that houses one of the best colleges in the state of Illinois. It was towards this house that James Clark went in the early morning hours of March 6, 1910.
Although it was still technically winter in Chicago, the weather was quite mild and a harbinger of the coming spring; the temperature peaked at sixty-three degrees earlier that afternoon. Around five-thirty on that Sunday morning, Clark approached Alpha Tau Omega frat house on Sixtieth Street. Standing outside the dark and silent building, and with no one to be seen or heard in the pre-dawn stillness, Clark jimmied open a downstairs window. Whether Clark acted on impulse or pre-planned the burglary is unknown; the former seems likely, as he brought nothing to hold his loot. Once inside the quiet frat house, Clark moved with the noiseless stealth of the long-term burglar.
As the Alpha Tau continued their slumber, Clark's nimble fingers pocketed an array of loot such as brushes, neckties, change purses, gloves, spectacles, a knife, fountain pen, and an open-faced gold watch. With his pockets crammed to capacity, Clark reached for a packet of love letters tied with a maroon ribbon. Just as he was putting the letters in his jacket, Clark's heart leaped up into his throat at the unexpected sound of an angry voice asking him just what he was doing. The voice belonged to Henry Brown, the "porter" of the frat house. The sight and sound of the frightened, muscular Black man seemed to have caused Clark to freeze. In the blink of an eye, Brown struck Clark with a stick and quickly went away to find a gun.
On the third floor of the house, pajama-clad frat brothers were aroused by the commotion and began spilling from their beds. Loud footsteps and numerous voices bombarded the concussed Clark, who despite his befuddlement at the sudden wrong turn the evening's burglary had taken had enough presence of mind to make way. Clark managed to hop right out the window that he had originally entered no more than fifteen minutes earlier. The fleeing thief found his legs and sprinted across the street and down Midway Plaisance with porter Henry Brown hot on his heels.
The roused Alpha Tau frat brothers saw the beginning of the chase and promptly burst out the front door of the frat house and joined Brown in persuing the suspect. While James Clark was in reasonable shape, he wasn't exactly a track-and-field star, and Brown and the Alpha Tau brothers ran him down in the park, about a block and a half away from the house. Clark was pinned into the grass and pummeled with curses, fists, feet, and general righteous indignation. And the Alpha Tau were just getting started.
The frat brothers hauled the dazed and bleeding Clark to his feet, and with Brown marched him back to the house. The adrenalized youths began singing their college songs loud enough to wake residents of the surrounding homes. Once they reached the stone steps of their frat house, the youths punctuated their songs with a unison bellow of "CHICAGO!" They then proceeded to haul their prize catch up the steps and into the house. Said prize catch was probably wondering by this point just what the hell he had gotten himself into.
Exactly what the Alpha Tau brothers did to James Clark in the frat house may never be known. An anonymous Chicago Tribune scribe, tongue planted firmly in cheek, wrote, "…did they place Mr. Burglar in a large leather chair? No. On second thought, they took Mr. Burglar upstairs and put him in the bathtub. They gave the treatment usually accorded unwilling and recalcitrant freshmen. They then called up a doctor to 'fix up' Mr. Burglar. Lastly, they called the police."
At six-thirty that morning, Lieutenant John L. Hogan and Officers Curtin and Loey arrived at 923 Sixtieth Street from the Woodlawn Station. According to the same Tribune reporter their arrival, "saved Mr. Burglar from further punishment à la college." James Clark was booked for burglary while eight of the frat brothers donned buttoned-up sweaters and Dutch trousers to come down to the Woodlawn station in order to identify some of their property if they could. Louis T. Curry claimed a knife and a muffler; Dwight Hill a watch and a change purse; J.M. Sutherland of Marlin, Texas a $5 watch and fifty cents in change; M.E. Seeley from Ohio reclaimed two pairs of eyeglasses while D.T. Long of Indiana claimed his $30 watch and two neckties.
Suddenly the mood turned sour when Lieutenant Hogan decided to hold all the stolen property as evidence against Clark. Young Seeley protested, "…if you don't give me back those glasses, I'll have a deuce of a time. One pair is for reading and the other is for seeing where I'm going. If you don't give 'em back to me, I won't be able to study or find my way back to the frat house." Seeley's pleas went for naught. The only piece of property that the lieutenant failed to get his hands on was the packet of love letters tied with the ribbon. They had mysteriously disappeared in the commotion of the hazing and arrest. The youths pointedly declined to reveal which one of them had written the letters.
|Six of the seven victims of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Lying perpendicular at the base of the wall is James Clark.|
Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1910.
Keefe, Rose. The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story. Nashville, Cumberland House, 2005.
World War I Selective Service Draft Card, Albert Kachellek.
Ellis Island passenger arrivals, 1893.