Monday, July 11, 2011

Chasing Charlie: criminal worlds collide

The events that occurred in 1915 and 1916 are what originally drew me to John and Charles - they were the first stories I found that substantiated my grandfather's claim that my grandmother's family was a bunch of criminals. I think he probably said it half jokingly - but oh, if he only knew!

John was released from Sing Sing in July 1915, after serving 6 1/2 years of a 10 year sentence. He was 28. Charles was 18. Only three months later, on Oct. 24, "someone" robbed the home of John Linz. Only two days later, Leib Lurie caught three burglars in the act of robbing his home, and in the ensuing confusion, one of them fired a weapon at Lurie, and accidentally hit one of his comrades instead. A call for an ambulance at 456 Glenmore Avenue led police to John, who had been shot in the chin and was pretty badly wounded - he had to be taken to the hospital for surgery. He later claimed the reason he got shot was quite innocent - really John? Not the sharpest tack in the drawer - but the police believed he was the burglar who was shot while robbing Lurie's house, and he was arrested. He was also arrested for the John Linz robbery.

Now, nowhere in the newspaper is there any compelling evidence linking John to the Linz robbery. They don't say why John was arrested. So with what happens next, maybe Charles was telling the truth. Maybe it was him, and not his older brother, who was guilty. But I find it hard to believe at that point in time. John had already shown a pattern of behavior of immediately going back to his criminal ways upon being released from prison. He had a track record of burglary sprees. Maybe Charles *was* there - maybe John brought him along, now that his brother was old enough to bring along to such a thing.

Whatever the case, John went to trial in County Court in front of Judge Mitchell May on Jan. 8, 1916 for the John Linz robbery. Charles was called as a witness toward the end of the day, and as the newspapers reported, his testimony "caused a sensation" when he confessed that it was he, and friend Henry Heinz, who were the real culprits, not John. The judge had no choice but to acquit John and arrest Charles. On Jan. 31, Charles was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years at Sing Sing. He was sent up the river that same day.

That was Charles' first time in jail. A 1921 newspaper article noted that "John was on trial as a fourth offender and to save him from a life term, Charles took the entire blame for the job." Five years is considerably less time than a life sentence, but going to prison, and a maximum security prison at that, has to change a man, and I think that first stint at Sing Sing did change Charles, and not at all for the better.

Anyway, Charles was in prison, and John's troubles were still not over, because now he was facing a life sentence if found guilty of the Lurie robbery. That trial happened in early April of 1916. One newspaper reported that he was still carrying the bullet in his chin. For that alone, having been shot in the face, John would seem to have had the worst luck in the world. But at that point in time, between his brother taking the fall and what happened next, John was the luckiest SOB on the planet.

Because on April 5, he was acquitted of the Lurie burglary. The doctor who attended to his bullet wound testified that he treated John at 2:15 in the morning, when the robbery didn't even occur until closer to 3. He had been at the Ricklefs house at 3:15, but got the time mixed up, and for his "stupidity," as Judge Aspinall called it, John got off.

Crazy frickin' justice system.

You'd think, having tempted fate twice and beaten it both times, that maybe, quite possibly John might have learned his lesson. And until recently, I thought maybe he had. But he did not. And neither did Charles, both of them back in prison within a few years, because as we all know now, those Ricklefs boys, they never learn...

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