The Third Degree: Chapter 22: County board to Sheriff Crosby: ‘Clean house’

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.

THE THIRD DEGREE

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Twenty-two

County board to Sheriff Crosby: ‘Clean house’

Terribly disappointed by the acquittal of Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputies Ernest Fleming and Charles Skinner, a large group of citizens presented a heavy stack of signatures to the Tazewell County Board on Monday, March 20, 1933, calling for the impeachment of Sheriff James J. Crosby and the removal of his entire force.

The Pekin Daily Times reported that about 2,310 people had signed the petition, and reported the following approximate breakdown of signatures by township:

Mackinaw, 160
South Pekin, 200
Washington, 175
Fondulac, 300
Deer Creek, 20
Tremont, 40
Delavan, 100
Groveland, 80
Morton, 25
Green Valley, 70
Hittle, 140
Dillon, 250
Little Mackinaw, 80
Hopedale, 60
Spring Lake, 170
Pekin, 190
Miscellaneous, 110.

The county board referred the matter to Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff for his legal opinion. Elliff quickly prepared a report which he presented to the board that very afternoon.

“It is my opinion that there is no power of impeachment in the board of supervisors. It is my further opinion that the board of supervisors has no power to remove from office members of the sheriff’s force. The only action which the board can take upon the petition is, in my opinion, to make such recommendations as the members may deem fit and proper under the circumstances.”

Elliff also offered to contact the Illinois Attorney General for his opinion. The county board requested that he do so, and the Attorney General confirmed his opinion.

Having considered Elliff’s advice and the opinion of the Attorney General, the board reconvened in special session the following day and issued a unanimous and urgent statement.

“Whereas,” the county board declared, “it is the opinion of the said board of supervisors that the said Ernest L. Fleming, C. O. Skinner and Frank Lee are, because of the public opinion existing in said Tazewell county, not qualified to continue in their capacities as deputy sheriffs of said Tazewell county, inasmuch as they lack the confidence and support of the people in general in said county.

“Therefore, we the members of the Board of Supervisors of Tazewell County, Illinois, do hereby recommend to the honorable James J. Crosby, sheriff of Tazewell County, Illinois, that the said deputy sheriffs . . . be dismissed from their offices as deputy sheriffs of said Tazewell County.”

This 1928 photograph shows Tazewell County Sheriff Ernest L. Fleming, who later served as chief deputy for Sheriff James J. Crosby. Fleming was one of the deputies implicated in the “third degree” death of Tazewell County Jail inmate Martin Virant in 1932, but was acquitted in 1933. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria Journal-Transcript

Sheriff Crosby did not immediately respond to the county board’s public recommendation, but rumors began to fly that some or all of the deputies implicated in Virant’s death had tendered their resignations.

However, on Thursday, March 23, the Pekin Daily Times published a short front page notice with the headline, “No Statement to Make at This Time, Says Sheriff.”

“Sheriff Crosby said this morning that he had no statement to make at this time, relative to the recommendation of the board of supervisors that he dismiss Deputies Fleming, Skinner and Lee, and would probably have none until he had conferred with his attorney, Jesse Black. There has been no change in his office force and no resignations as had erroneously been rumored.”

In fact, Sheriff Crosby would have nothing further to say publicly about the county board’s recommendation. He decided simply to ignore the board’s statement, choosing to weather the storm of controversy until it had blown over. He could not be impeached and was not subject to voter recall, and he was endowed by law with wide discretion in the use of his deputizing power, so the petition drive to remove him and his deputies was to no avail.

And there the matter would rest for the remainder of the spring and the whole of the summer of 1933. For a while it appeared that the storm had blown over.

In September, however, the controversy made its way back onto the pages of the Pekin Daily Times (although not the front page this time). At that time, a small group of citizens filed a complaint of criminal malfeasance against the sheriff.

In the edition of Sept. 13, 1933, the Daily Times announced, “Sheriff Case Is Revived; To Refer It to Grand Jury,” saying, “Among the several matters which will be presented or referred to the grand jury is a complaint against Sheriff James J. Crosby, charging that official with omission of duty and malfeasance of office. The complaint, signed by four persons, was filed by Neal D. Reardon in the office of the circuit clerk and by that official turned over to State’s Attorney Elliff.”

The Daily Times noted that there was doubt whether the complaint had been filed under the proper section of the law. That morning, Elliff affirmed that the case would be “referred” to the grand jury for their consideration, but it might not be “presented” to the grand jury, meaning there wouldn’t necessarily be a presentation of evidence and summoning of witnesses.

Just like the petition drive, however, this attempt to remove the sheriff also failed. On Sept. 20, the Daily Times reported that the grand jury had decided not to take up the criminal complaint against Crosby.

So ended the attempts to oust the sheriff and remove his tarnished deputies. Thwarted in the courts and at the level of county government, the outraged citizens’ only remaining recourse was to wait until Election Day in 1934.

But in the mean time, the case of the murder of Lew Nelan was still pending in Tazewell County criminal court.

Completely overshadowed and shoved off the stage during the attempts to prosecute the deputies and remove the sheriff, in the autumn of 1933 the case that had initially sparked these fires of public uproar finally returned to the public’s view.

Next week: The Nelan case goes to trial.

#charles-skinner, #ernest-fleming, #frank-lee, #jesse-black, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #nathan-t-elliff, #neal-d-reardon, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree

Kiwanis trip to D.C.: ‘Letter from Pittsburgh’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton used his daily “Editor’s Letter” newspaper column to chronicle the weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., that the Pekin Kiwanis Club and a party of Peoria teachers took in June 1932. The third of his daily log entries, a letter written from the train in Pittsburgh, Pa., arrived too late to appear in the June 15, 1932 Pekin Daily Times, so it was printed on page 4 of the June 16 issue. This log entry, which concludes with a 1930s version of snapping a picture of one’s meal and sharing it on social media, follows below:

*****

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pittsburgh, Pa.,
June 14, 1932

This letter is being written from Pittsburgh. Don’t get it confused with the messages which are wired.

It is the morning after the first night on the train.

Some of them, I think, didn’t sleep so well.

You see, at Chicago they hooked on two more coaches – one loaded with Peoria teachers and the other empty. We had that empty spotted and got first choice of the center seats in it.

Across from John T. and me slept Karl King and Paul Hannig. And across from Joe and Dean slept Maurice Moss and Milton Taylor. Maurice is the lad who won his trip by getting the most new subscribers to the Times. I think he deserves a prize as the best sleeper, too. He slept eight hours, with only a five-minute interruption at Akron.

By fixing the seats as I had described, we had good beds in which we could sleep full length. Our gang got the first pillows that the porter came thru with, so we were fixed.

I should have explained that the Pekin cars are on the tail end of this train. Then TWO diners. Then our coach and the Peoria teachers ahead. Some of the more alert of the teachers, as they came thru to dinner, discovered “our gang” with a coach to itself, so they promptly moved in.

They had a different technique. They hadn’t brought all their glamorous new pajamas just for girls to see. They promptly donned their new silk sleeping duds, asked us to show them how to fix their beds, and they added much color to our car – so much, in fact that when news of our harem got back “beyond the diners” we had quite a few callers. I won’t mention [microfilm damaged] Paul Schermer’s wife wouldn’t let him come up.

Being discoverers and homesteaders of our coach we sort of assumed authority. At 8:30 we set our watches ahead to 9:30. I got unanimous consent for lights out, and after a couple girls in the front end had had a smoke we bedded down for the night.

Most of us wakened at Youngstown, and before we were far into Pennsylvania, the entire car was arousing. Ablutions begin at 3:30 Pekin time. It doesn’t take boys long to wash the front of their faces, but it takes a woman forever, so we loaned them our wash room too.

Knowing the mob would be up early, the dining car crew prepared at daybreak. The first call for breakfast came at 4:30 Pekin time. The tables were immediately filled by Tazewell county folk from B. D. (back of the diners). That makes me think maybe they didn’t sleep so well back there.

But I don’t blame them for crowding toward the diner. Read what we had for dinner last night:

Fruit cocktail, celery, assorted olives, soup, puree of green peas, rye croutons, consommé, hot or jellied, broiled fresh fish, parsley sauce, roast whole boned squab, chicken Parisienne, browned potatoes, string beans, Dixie salad dressing (lettuce, tomatoes, golden bantam corn, green peppers), rolls, muffins, berry roll, wine sauce, fruit meringue with whipped cream, cheese and crackers, coffee, hot or iced, Kaffee Hag, Instant Postum, Tea, hot or iced, milk, buttermilk.

#dean-mcnaughton, #f-f-mcnaughton, #john-t-mcnaughton, #karl-king, #kiwanis-trip-to-washington, #maurice-moss, #milton-taylor, #paul-hannig, #paul-schermer, #pekin-kiwanis-club

The Third Degree: Chapter 21: An armful of petitions for impeachment

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.

THE THIRD DEGREE

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Twenty-one

An armful of petitions for impeachment

The manslaughter trial of Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputies Ernest Fleming and Charles Skinner ended on March 4, 1933, with their acquittal on all charges that they had caused the death of jail inmate Martin Virant. But the controversy surrounding Virant’s shocking death was far from over.

There was, naturally, a lull in news coverage after the jury’s verdict, as the Virant story was immediately pushed off the front page by the death of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and the inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Struck by an assassin’s bullet thought to have been aimed at FDR on Feb. 15, Mayor Cermak finally succumbed on March 6.

But before the month was over, the Virant story was back on the front page.

Despite the jury’s verdict, probably the majority of Tazewell County’s residents understandably remained convinced that Virant had died as a result of being tortured by sheriff’s deputies. Their desire for justice remained unsatisfied.

In prior decades, the death of a man as a result of harsh or violent interrogation methods may not have elicited much disapprobation, but by the 1930s attitudes about police brutality were changing.

Pekin Daily Times publisher and editor F.F. McNaughton probably spoke for many in his editorial on the front page of the Sept. 6, 1932 edition, entitled, “THE THIRD DEGREE.” McNaughton took what perhaps most people would have seen as a moderate position on police torture, opining, “Too little third degree is weakness; but too much is outrageous.”

He began by noting that, “Use of the ‘third degree is not confined to Pekin. In the days when my job was to cover police headquarters in New York city I used to cringe as I heard the screams of men being tortured as police sought to wring confessions from them. And I may as well confess to you right now that often I didn’t care how much they were tortured.”

McNaughton defended the use of torture by police as a necessary means of dealing with known, hardened criminals. “Criminals have no qualms in the methods they use,” he wrote. “So you can’t get anywhere by using the methods of a primary teacher on them.

“But,” he continued, “dealing with a known desperate criminal is one thing. Dealing with just you or me is another. . . .

“To slap a man may be all right; or to frighten him; or to keep him awake for hours and days till he becomes too tired to tell anything but the truth is good third degree work, particularly if mixed with clever trapping questioning.

“But if there has been ‘stepping on my neck, kicking me from one side to the other, breaking my ribs,’ and the like as the now mute lips of this dead man testified under oath, the thing has been overdone and the people of Tazewell county who hire and pay the officials demand that a stop be put to it.

“Because a man is foreign born is no reason to treat him as ‘just a damn foreigner.’ . . . They are all human beings and life is dear to them.”

But many people regarded any use of “the third degree” as a grievous violation of an individual’s God-given human rights. To cite one example, in the same week that the Tazewell County grand jury considered the case of Martin Virant’s death, the 109th annual Illinois conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church was under way in Springfield.

During the conference, a resolutions committee report was adopted condemning the employment of “third degree” methods to force confessions from accused prisoners. In his denunciation of police torture, the Rev. J. Williams of Bartonville specifically cited and discussed Virant’s death.

Soon after, at the annual convention of the Tazewell County Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, held at Deer Creek on Sept. 28, 1932, a resolution was passed saying the name of Tazewell County had been put to shame, and condemning “any cruel, brutal, or inhuman treatment in methods being used by its county officers, or its law enforcing body, in third degree methods, to obtain confession or information from suspected offenders, or criminals.” The women sent a copy of their resolution to Sheriff Crosby.

Evidently the sentiment aroused among central Illinois residents by Virant’s death was very strong. Consequently, when Fleming and Skinner were acquitted, some of the outraged citizens in Tazewell County began to look for alternative civil means to obtain the justice that had been denied.

So it was that on March 20, 1933 – just 15 days after the end of the trial of Fleming and Skinner – a group of Tazewell County citizens delivered petitions and a heavy stack of signatures to the Tazewell County Board, calling for the impeachment and removal of Sheriff James J. Crosby and of his entire force.

“To the honorable board of supervisors of Tazewell County,” the petition said, “We the voters of Tazewell county being desirous of clean, just government and safety for inmates of our county jail, do hereby declare the present sheriff’s force, namely Crosby, Fleming, Skinner, Garber and Lee a menace to good government and unfit to serve our county.

“We therefore petition the supervisors of our county to meet in special session and impeach said force and appoint a successor until such time as the office is filled by election.”

Next week: The county board responds.

After the March 5, 1933 acquittal of the sheriff's deputies accused in the jail beating death of Martin Virant, the Virant case disappeared from the news for a while. But on March 20, 1933, the case was back on the Pekin Daily Times front page, with the news that a group of Tazewell County citizens had delivered petitions and a heavy stack of signatures to the Tazewell County Board, calling for the impeachment and removal of Sheriff James J. Crosby and his entire force.

After the March 5, 1933 acquittal of the sheriff’s deputies accused in the jail beating death of Martin Virant, the Virant case disappeared from the news for a while. But on March 20, 1933, the case was back on the Pekin Daily Times front page, with the news that a group of Tazewell County citizens had delivered petitions and a heavy stack of signatures to the Tazewell County Board, calling for the impeachment and removal of Sheriff James J. Crosby and his entire force.

#anton-cermak, #charles-skinner, #ernest-fleming, #f-f-mcnaughton, #frank-lee, #franklin-delano-roosevelt, #hardy-garber, #martin-virant, #rev-j-williams, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #tazewell-county-womans-christian-temperance-union, #the-third-degree

Presidents in Pekin on display

The Local History Room at the Pekin Public Library currently features a display of articles and mementos pertaining to the Pekin connections of U.S. Presidents. As is well known here in Pekin, prior to his election as President, Abraham Lincoln frequently visited Pekin and Tremont while working as an attorney in central Illinois from the 1830s to the 1850s. Much later, President Herbert Hoover made a quick whistle stop in Pekin during his re-election campaign on Nov. 4, 1932. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also made a campaign whistle stop in Pekin on Oct. 2, 1952. Then in June 1973, President Richard Nixon came to Pekin to dedicate the Dirksen Congressional Center here at the Pekin Public Library. Two years later, in August 1975, President Gerald Ford returned to dedicate the new library building. Pekin was next visited by Vice President George H. W. Bush in Sept. 1988 during his successful election campaign that year. During his U.S. senatorial campaign in 2004, Barack Obama made a campaign stop in Pekin, and later, during his 2005-2008 term in the U.S. Senate, President Obama visited the Aventine Renewal Energy plant in Pekin on March 14, 2005, also meeting constituents at the Pekin Public Library as senator. He later visited East Peoria as president (but not Pekin). Similarly, John F. Kennedy campaigned in East Peoria before his election, and George W. Bush visited East Peoria as president, but neither of them visited Pekin. (President Theodore Roosevelt also once went hunting in the Spring Lake area of Tazewell County.)

The Local History Room display, which will be exhibited through Lincoln’s Birthday next month, includes mementos of Lincoln, Hoover, Nixon, Ford, and Bush.

presidentsinpekin-nixon

presidentsinpekin-lincoln-hoover

presidentsinpekin-ford-bush

presidentsinpekin

Photographs by Emily Lambe, library staff

#abraham-lincoln, #barack-obama, #dwight-eisenhower, #george-h-w-bush, #gerald-ford, #herbert-hoover, #presidents-in-pekin, #richard-nixon, #theodore-roosevelt

Kiwanis trip to D.C.: ‘Eastward Bound’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton used his daily “Editor’s Letter” newspaper column to chronicle the weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., that the Pekin Kiwanis Club and a party of Peoria teachers took in June 1932. The second of his daily log entries, headlined “EASTWARD BOUND” was published on the front page of the June 14, 1932 Pekin Daily Times, as follows:

*****

Washington, D.C., June 14
Pekin Daily Times,
Pekin, Ill.

Arrived here 2 p. m. Several are groggy from insomnia. Fifty are off their feet from car sickness [on] account [of a] rough mountain climb. All felt better when they set foot on solid ground again.

McNaughton.

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

This part of this letter is being sent back from Chicago; written on the Alton while the crowd looks over my shoulder.

We’ve already had our first calamity. Minnie Wilson lost the heel off her shoe. Art Kriegsman was appointed a committee to shoe her, but Art insists that she go barefoot.

You’ve got to hand it to her and Fearn, the Kiwanis president, for courage. They have their three smallest children along – the youngest aged 2. He’s a good trouper.

There, Albert Brennemann of Hopedale just came by and gave me a dandy apple. A bit ago the Jansen sisters (all four are along) treated me to taffy and chocolates.

We certainly have a dandy crowd – about 200 of us including the Peoria car we picked up in Chicago.

Everybody seems to be out for a grand time and even Ed. F. Lampitt Sr., and Al Zinger, who have seen a lot of the world, are wreathed in smiles.

I just asked the boys what to tell you, and they said to tell the gang that there wasn’t going to be any orange peel and apple core throwing on this trip. We’ll have that again next year en route to Chicago to the World’s fare (sic).

The big event that is being looked forward to as this is written is the first call to the dining car when we leave Chicago on the B. and O. tonight. What I’m hoping is that they have food enough.

I’ll try to wire you a lead for this letter from West Virginia tomorrow. Meanwhile I’ve had Bill Janssen help me get the list of names of all on the train (not including the Peoria crowd). Here they are – all agreeable folk:

Albert Brenneman, Margaret Braden, Pauline Braden, Helen Hofferbert, Kathryn Stout, Martha Schurman, Paul Hannig, Mary DeWeese, Beatrice Morrell, Bertha Williams, Helen Smith, Margaret Woelfle, Carl Woelfle, Mrs. Carl Woelfle, Mrs. W. O. Eberhart, Mary Eberhart, Karl K. King, Florence Francke, Frances Towle, Helen Aydelotte, Dorothy York, Mrs. Emma Arends, Mrs. Carry Zuckweller, Charles Alexander, Emma Melxure, Vera Herman, Miss E. Papenhause, Grace Brown, Mrs. R. Nedderman, Mrs. Fred Ferguson, Mrs. V. G. Gore, Mrs. Lena Birkey, Thelma Birkey, Paul Schermer, Mrs. Paul Schermer, Marie Skarnikat, Maurice Moss, Emma Neuhouse, Rhoda Hyatt, Mrs. William Koch, Anna Blenkiron, Milton Denekas, Willis Denekas, Irene Brown, Fred Rolf, Lenora Wilson, Karl Wilson, Henrietta Wilson, Fearn Wilson, Minnie Wilson, William Dean McNaughton, John F. McNaughton, Joe McNaughton, F. F. McNaughton, Marie Deppert, George Brines, Fern H. Smith, Robert Connibar, Mrs. R. A. Cullinan, Duane Cullinan, Dorothy Cullinan, Urban Albertsen, Orville Isenburg, Mrs. E. S. Loy, Mrs. Mae Gardiner, Jane Corbitt, Josephine Thaller, Hester Holland, Elizabeth Hunt, Theresa Jansen, Anna Jansen, Lena Jansen, Adelaide Jansen, Clara Albertsen, Elsie Albertsen, Mrs. Jerry Hurlburt, Emma Luick, Martha Lowry, Mrs. Frederick Reuling, Gertrude Ehrlicher, Freida Nedderman, Anna Gehre, Marie Schreiber, Martha Schreiber, Mary Struker, Edgar Jaeger, Elmer Kunkel, Don Kunkel, Mrs. Leslie Evler, Juanita Cook, Wilma Cook, Dolly Rupp, Dorothy Hieser, Arthur T. Kriegsman, E. F. Lampitt, A. B. Zinger, Marie Kohlbacher, Lila Greeley, Milton Taylor, Mrs. William Krieger, Ray Sloter, Freda Hild, Thelma Woll, Lucille Kaufman, Genevieve Talbott, Martha Tammens, Carl Bottin, Mrs. Carl Bottin, Eva Bottin, Albert Bottin, Hazel I. Eller, Lucy Alice Trowbridge, Sarah DePeu, Robert Schwartz, Richard Schwartz, Jennie Newman, Mrs. Fannie Spaits Marion (sic), Mrs. Jessie M. Spaits, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Lee, Mrs. Ellen E. Graham, Mrs. Lewis Doren, Miss Margaret Everly, Ruth Pendergast, Luella Rollins, Lillian Skinner, Charlotte Vogelsang, Mrs. Anna Vogelsang, Bernice Hagerman, Ethel M. Brecher, Alice James, Blanche Moehring, Elizabeth Pugh, Mrs. R. L. Lohmar, Rolland Lohmar, Oline Eller, Mary Dean, Elizabeth Strunk, Winifred Robinson, Mabel Miller, Wilbur Karsten, Bill Janssen, Mary Stalin, Laura Schwartz, Frances Watson, Louise Harte, Joseph Wetzig, Gilbert Rapp, Mildred Brigham, Lucille Weesmiller, Virginia Sanborn, Loraine Aper, Jeannette Deppert, Mary Hofferbert, Pearl Sorenson, Miss Lilly Jansen, Minnie Schurman, Louis Zuckweller, Irene Francke, Mrs. J. E. Barnes, and Gladys Hieser.

The group photograph, a recent donation from Morton's to Pekin's public library, shows the members of the Pekin Kiwanis Club and the Peoria teachers party who toured Washington, D.C., in June 1932. The trip was chronicled day-by-day on the front page of the Pekin Daily Times by the newspaper's owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton.

The group photograph, a recent donation from Morton’s to Pekin’s public library, shows the members of the Pekin Kiwanis Club and the Peoria teachers party who toured Washington, D.C., in June 1932. The trip was chronicled day-by-day on the front page of the Pekin Daily Times by the newspaper’s owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton.

#art-kriegsman, #f-f-mcnaughton, #kiwanis-trip-to-washington, #pekin-kiwanis-club

The Third Degree: Chapter 20: ‘We, the jury, find the defendants . . .’

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.

THE THIRD DEGREE

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Twenty

‘We, the jury, find the defendants . . .’

On Thursday, March 2, 1932, the defense rested its case in the manslaughter trial of Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputies Charles Skinner and Ernest Fleming, who were accused of the death of jail inmate Martin Virant.

As the defense lawyers concluded the efforts to exonerate Fleming and Skinner, they delivered a compelling attack on the credibility of the state’s star witness Elizabeth Spearman, whose testimony implicated Skinner and Fleming in the severe injuries Virant had suffered.

In the end, the defense attorneys moved to have the whole of Spearman’s testimony quashed and stricken from the record.

Though Spearman, as an accused criminal and jail inmate, probably had just as great a problem with her credibility and accuracy as most of the defense’s jail inmate witnesses, nevertheless, Menard County Judge Guy Williams granted the defense’s motion.

In closing arguments lasting the entire morning of March 3 – arguments the Pekin Daily Times described as a “powerful oration” – defense attorney Jesse Black, reveling once more in the courtroom drama at which he excelled, denounced and ridiculed the state’s case.

“At times the attorney could be heard a block away as he shouted his denunciation of an attempt to deprive men of their liberty and ‘put them behind grey walls’ without any proof whatsoever,” the Daily Times reported.

In contrast, Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff delivered his closing arguments in a calm and quiet demeanor. “As to doubts about this case, I have just two doubts in my mind. One of these is whether this is a murder or a manslaughter. The other doubt in my mind is whether or not we’ve got all the defendants that are guilty,” Elliff said.

After closing arguments, Judge Williams gave instructions to the jury, reminding them to disregard Spearman’s testimony. The case went to the jury at 3:30 p.m. on March 3.

The jurors came back with a verdict at 2:20 p.m. Saturday, March 4, 1933.

JAIL DEATH JURY SAYS ‘NOT GUILTY,’” ran the Pekin Daily Times headline that day.

Both deputies were found not guilty of all charges. It was a stunning victory for Black and his fellow attorney William J. Reardon (though Reardon was called away from the trial at the very end due to the death of his brother in St. Louis on the night of March 2). Their decades of courtroom experience obviously had served them well.

And it was an embarrassing defeat for Elliff, whose youth and inexperience were frequently evident during the course of the trial.

“In Attorneys Reardon and Black, the defense has a pair of crafty barristers of long experience in court cunning. They know when to object and when to be silent,” wrote Pekin Daily Times reporter Mildred Beardsley in the Monday, Feb. 27, 1933 edition of the newspaper.

“They know when to shout in feigned anger and when to ‘Pooh! Pooh!’ in apparent disdain,” Beardsley continued. “These things, I suppose, are learned thru years of experience. More than once Judge Williams has told the youthful prosecutors that he would have sustained them if they had objected.”

In the final analysis, however, perhaps neither the inexperience of the prosecutors, nor the talent of the defense attorneys, nor the valiant attempts of the defense to explain away the convincing forensic evidence that Virant had been beaten and had not died of hanging, were that important in the exoneration of Fleming and Skinner.

The greatest challenge the prosecutors faced wasn’t proving that Virant had been beaten while in custody at the jail, nor that he had already died prior to being hanged – it was proving that Fleming and Skinner were connected to the crime.

Without Virant’s own testimony at the inquest of Lew Nelan, and without Spearman’s testimony, the jury had no evidence that Fleming and Skinner, or any other deputy, had done violence to Virant or faked his suicide. Proving that Virant was the victim of a crime was one thing. Proving that the crime had been committed by Fleming and Skinner was something else altogether.

And so the trial was over. Fleming and Skinner were free men.

Nevertheless, the tragedy of Virant’s death was nowhere near its final act.

Next week: Petitions for impeachment.

The front page of the March 4, 1933 Pekin Daily Times carried the banner headline, "JAIL DEATH JURY SAYS ‘NOT GUILTY'." Thus concluded the trial of the county deputies accused of the "third degree" torture death of Martin Virant. But the tragedy of Virant’s death was nowhere near its final act.

The front page of the March 4, 1933 Pekin Daily Times carried the banner headline, “JAIL DEATH JURY SAYS ‘NOT GUILTY’.” Thus concluded the trial of the county deputies accused of the “third degree” torture death of Martin Virant. But the tragedy of Virant’s death was nowhere near its final act.

#charles-skinner, #elizabeth-spearman, #ernest-fleming, #jesse-black, #judge-guy-williams, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #mildred-beardsley, #nathan-t-elliff, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon

Kiwanis trip to D.C.: ‘On Our Way’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton used his daily “Editor’s Letter” newspaper column to chronicle the weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., that the Pekin Kiwanis Club and a party of Peoria teachers took in June 1932. Here is the first “log entry,” headlined “ON OUR WAY” and published on the front page of the June 13, 1932 Pekin Daily Times.

*****

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

As this is being read by those of you who get your papers in the evening, I am trying to write you another letter on my knees.

I don’t mean that I am on my knees.

But the letter I am writing is on my knees.

We are on our way to Washington.

Some 200 of us left Tazewell county this noon over the Alton with a nice send-off from the Broadway depot of the Alton in Pekin.

We followed the circuitous route of the Alton to Bloomington and from there we rolled over the main line of the Alton to Chicago.

We are about due in Chicago as the average reader is picking up his paper this June Monday afternoon at 5 o’clock.

We might as well set our clocks ahead right now for Chicago goes on daylight saving time which is eastern standard time.

So we’ll be on time an hour ahead of yours the rest of the week.

That means that daylight will leave pretty early in the evening.

So this means the night’s sleep will not be overly long. Daylight will come at an hour earlier than usual, and into the day coach the light will pour at this midsummer dawn, wakening all of us.

I shall try to post a short note to you from Chicago tonight, then maybe wire you a few lines from the east for tomorrow.

By the way, a couple tips.

If you haven’t filed your claims at the Farmers National bank, better do so this evening, and be sure to do so by tomorrow.

Another tip. There is to be a tax on motor oil go on a week from today – 4c a gallon. But it is not on yet this week.

Well, we’ll be wiring you.

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