Friday, August 8, 2014


One of the points I try to make with this blog is that every person has a story.  You cannot tell just by looking at a tombstone what the story is of the person buried there.  Such is the case with Jack Kaufman, buried at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois at Gate No. 5 - B'nai Ruven.  His tombstone, based loosely on "tree tombstones" popular at the time, gives no clue to the story buried there:

You would never guess, looking at that tombstone, that Jack Kaufman tried almost single-handedly to clean up the corruption that was rampant in the Motion Picture Projectionists Union in Chicago and as a result was murdered in cold blood - shot five times.

Let's see what we can "dig up" about Jack Kaufman and find out the story that led to his murder. Readers of the New York Times of June 22, 1931 saw the following story from Chicago:

Executive of the Motion Picture Operators' Union Is Among Those Hunted by Police.

CHICAGO, June 21 (AP). - Jacob Kaufman, said by officials to have aided them in a grand jury investigation now under way into alleged labor-racketeering among motion picture operators, was shot to death early today.  Assistant State's Attorney Varles Bellows immediately ordered the arrest of Thomas Maloy, head of the Chicago Motion Picture Operators' Union, and five other men. 

The others sought are Danny Stanton, South Side gunman, under indictment in Wisconsin for the slaying of Jack Zuta; Ralph O'Hara, an associate of Maloy; Eddie Donovan, a Cicero gunman, and Jock Quinn and Ralph La Pointe, union executives. 

Although he declined to disclose information as to the men, Mr. Bellows described the slaying as an attempt to embarrass the grand jury's inquiry.

"This is a union killing," he said.  "There is no doubt about that.  Maloy and his crowd have overstepped themselves this time.  The murder will react against them rather than disorganize the grand jury work, as apparently it was intended to do."  

Kaufman, a motion picture operator, was shot down as he stood in the entrance of a South Side radio shop by one of three gunmen who drew alongside the curb in an automobile.

The victim had long been at odds with Maloy and recently led a minority movement to unseat him in favor of Henry Gusenberg, brother of Frank and Pete Gusenberg, who were slain in the St. Valentine's Day massacre.

Wow!  Chicago is, and always was a union town, and publicly challenging the union can have dire results.  Let's see what brought Jack Kaufman to this point where he would be murdered in cold blood at a young age.

Jack Kaufman was born Jacob Kaufman in 1893 in Ukraine which was then a part of Russia.  His parents were David and Ada (sometimes spelled "Edella") Kaufman and he joined siblings Bella/Betty, Carl, and Samuel.  Jack Kaufman came to the US in 1914 when he was twenty-one years old.  He did not waste any time when he got here, because on November 4, 1914 he married Mary Leiss (1891-1955) in Chicago. 

Jack and Mary were blessed with three children:  Myron/Mike (1916-2003), Leonore (1919-1987) and Frances Edith (1922-2006).

The 1920 US Census saw the family (then spelled "Kauffman") living at 1906 S. Albany in Chicago.   Twenty-nine year old "Jake" was the head of the household.  He listed his occupation as "Moving".  I assume it was Moving Pictures not moving furniture.  The census also listed his wife Mary, and children Myron and Lenore, all of whom listed their native language as "Jewish".  Living with them were Jake's mother Edella Kaufmann, Jake's divorced sister Bella Okun, and Bella's son Norman.  Unfortunately 1906 S. Albany is now a vacant lot.

By the 1930 US Census, the Kaufman family was living at 1322 S. Spaulding in Chicago.

1322 S. Spaulding, Chicago

"Jake" now listed his job as "Electrician" in an "Electrical Shop".  But we know he was also working as a motion picture projectionist, when he could find a job.  

And that takes us up to the fateful day of June 21, 1931 when Kaufman's life was snatched from him.

As you can imagine, over the next few days the newspapers were full of news and speculation about the murder.  On June 24, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported in detail about an re-enactment of the murder at the murder scene, the garage behind 9525 Princeton Avenue in Chicago:

Children Watch Drama in South Side Garage.

With policemen acting the roles of the killer and his victim, the murder of Jacob Kaufman, insurgent member of the Motion Picture Operators' Union was reenacted yesterday in the garage at 9525 Princeton avenue, where Kaufman was shot to death last Saturday night.

A group of colored urchins gathered around as Assistant State's Attorneys Charles E. Lounsbury and Charles Bellows set the scene.  They placed Dave Greer, unemployed Negro movie operator, on the floor under a squad car, just where he lay installing a radio in Kaufman's machine when a flannel trousered gunman walked in at 7 p.m. Saturday and fired five bullets into his body.  

Place Second Witness.

Another witness, John Drake, Negro handy man, was told to take his place in the reenactment of the tragedy.  Drake, grinning goodnaturedly, picked up an oily rag and bent over the front fender of another automobile, which, with the squad car, almost filled the floor space of the weatherbeaten little garage.

"Here's where I stood, boss," Drake announced.  "I was bending over the front of the car, just polishing away, when the gun went bang.  But I didn't see the man fire the shots.  he was outside the door."

Sergt. Leo Anderson, representing the gunman, was standing just inside the door, pointing his pistol at his partner, Sergt. John Mullarkey, who crouched in the corner, simulating the posture of the dying Kaufman.  "Try it from outside the door," suggested Mr. Bellows.

Sergt. Anderson stepped over the threshold and aimed anew.  His partner, his knee joints cramped by his role, stood up and dusted off his clothes.  The Negro began to talk excitedly.

Witness Verifies Positions.

"It was just like that," the witness averred.  "The man with the gun was outside the door, where I couldn't see him run away.  The the crowd gathered 'round and we carried Mr. Kaufman outside and laid him on the sidewalk."

The prosecutor glanced around the garage.  His eyes fell on a bullet hole, drilled through an upright joist and through the tar paper wall to the left of where Kaufman fell.

Inserting a pencil in the bullet hole and projecting a yardstick from the end of the pencil, Mr Bellows produced a shaft indicating the bullet's supposed path.  Again Sergt. Anderson raised his gun, but the angle of the pistol barrel and the yardstick would not jibe.

"Drake, you're lying," said Mr. Bellows sternly.  The Negro shrugged, rolled his eyes and made no answer.  

Lie Detector Shows Response.

Prosecutor Bellows said he had reason to believe that both Drake and Greer know more about the killing than they have been willing to tell.  The state has been using a "lie detector" in its investigation of the case and Mr. Bellows says both the Negroes have shown well defined reactions on the machine when questioned about Kaufman being "Put on the spot."

The prosecutors decided to question other witnesses.,  In a cottage across the street they found Mrs. Anna Freeman, colored housewife, who saw the killer flee.  Leo Del Magro, an unemployed stage hand, arrested as a suspect Monday night because his brother-in-law had been supplanted by Kaufman in a moving picture job, was marched along to confront Mrs. Freemen.

"No, he's not the man," she answered.  "They're about the same size, but the other man was fairer.  He had white pants and a cap.  He was younger, too, and he ran with a springy step."

"How many suits have you got?" the prosecutor asked Del Magro.  The prisoner said he had only one, the gray suit on his back.  he added that he'd never worn white trousers.

After a moment's conference the prosecutors decided to send the sergeants up and down the street in search of other witnesses while they returned to the garage.  Mrs. Freeman, apprehensive over being mixed up in a murder case, but also inquisitive, called them back.  

"Have you found the man who took the notes?" she asked.  Mr. Bellows looked blank a moment before asking what man and what notes she meant.

New Witness Sought.

The woman then explained that, while Kaufman lay dying on the sidewalk, she saw a motorist alight from a sedan in which a woman sat, take a cushion from the seat, and place it under the victim's head.  Then, for perhaps three minutes before the police arrived, the mysterious motorist talked to Kaufman, taking notes of what the victim said.  

The witnesses, Greer and Drake, were called.  They, too, had seen the note taker and believe he drove away soon after the first police squads arrived.

Casting about for other possible clews, Prosecutor Bellows noticed a skull and bones with a question mark beneath, painted on a garage window.  But Crawford Johnson, mulatto owner of the place, said the sinister design was on the glass when it was put in place of a broken pane some months ago.  Johnson said he got the new pane from a neighbor's basement.

The party returned downtown, Greer, Drake, Del Magro, and Johnson being locked up at the detective bureau.  Mr. Bellows announced they would continue in custody "until we clear this thing up and get the truth.

Statement by Maloy Lawyers.

Meanwhile, Thomas Maloy, autocratic business agent of the movie operators' union, issued a statement through his lawyer, Michael Ahern, regarding a notarized memorandum Kaufman wrote three years ago, asserting that Maloy had slugged him and threatened to "take him for a ride." Maloy, having refused to sign an immunity waiver for appearance before the grand jury Monday night remained at liberty.

"Certain features of the memorandum are true, but in the main it's a lot of boloney," said Mr. Ahern.  "In the first place it was written three years ago and if my client sought to harm Kaufman he'd hardly take three years to do it.  As  of fact the union records will show that Maloy, far from feeling enmity for Kaufman, provided him with work whenever he wanted it."

Acting Police Commissioner Alcock was asked whether the secret service division, recently established under Capt. William Shoemaker, would grapple with the murder mystery.

"You've been calling Capt. Shoemaker's division Scotland yard," the commissioner replied.  "Bear in mind, then, that Scotland Yard always works in secret."

Kaufman, who left a widow, three children, two brothers, a sister, and his mother, will be buried at 10 a.m. today in the Jewish Waldheim cemetery after services in a chapel at 3125 Roosevelt Road.  He was 41 years old.  

The garage is still standing today.  They have built a new house at the front of the lot but you can still see the garage in this photo, at the back of the lot on Princeton:

The June 24, 1931 Chicago Daily Tribune also contained the death notice for Jack Kaufman:

In the days after the murder there were stories in the papers almost every day about new witnesses or lie-detector tests or ballistics tests, and even an indictment of Thomas Maloy in mid-July (for racketeering, not murder), but as they days turned into weeks, the trail grew cold.  In fact, the murder of Jacob Kaufman was never officially solved.  On December 19, 1939, the Chicago Daily Tribune published a list of 29 slayings in Chicago that remained unsolved.  Number 3 on the list of unsolved murders was Jacob Kaufman.  The paper reported that Kaufman:

"was shot to death in a garage at 9525 Princeton Avenue June 1, 1931. He was an insurgent member of the Motion Picture Operators' Union. The grand jury was told that Tommy Maloy, the union czar, had threatened to have him taken for a gangland ride."   

Jack Kaufman

Jack Kaufman - he tried to clean up the union but instead he paid with his life - may he rest in peace.

But what about Tommy Maloy?  Did he really get off scot-free from his crimes?  Did he ever stand trial for the murder of Jack Kaufman?  Did Maloy ever spend a night in jail? That is an interesting story, as well. Check back with this blog next week, when I'll tell the sordid tale of the life and death of Tommy Maloy.

No comments:

Post a Comment