The Chicago Tribune and other media often reminisce about the past history of the mob and Chicagoland, regaling in stories about mob influence in communities like Melrose Park, Cicero, Oak Brook and so many others. But you rarely read a story in the Tribune about its own ties to the Chicago Outfit. And those ties ran deep.
By Ray Hanania
The legendary mobster Al Capone was sent away to an 11 year prison incarceration in May of 1932 after a long battle with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and special agents who had been involved in fighting the sale of alcohol in violation of prohibition laws.
Capone was charged with income tax evasion following an investigation by the IRS, ironically the same year that prohibition was ended. He was paroled and released from prison on Nov. 16, 1939, but he spent the remaining years battling his disease, dying on January 25, 1947.
Capone’s mob influence ended with his jailing and his physical ailments. But despite Capones incarceration in 1932 and his death in 1947, the Chicago Tribune and other media have continued to publish stories about Capone’s ties to suburban communities back in the 1920s.
Nearly 100 years after Capone’s fall, the news media continues to hold Capone up as a symbol to imply government corruption lingering in many suburbs. But what the news media doesn’t like to discuss is its own ties to Organized Crime that surpassed the crimes of even Al Capone.
About a year before Capone was sent to the hoosegow, the Chicago Tribune’s pre-eminent crime beat reporter, Alfred “Jake” Lingle Jr., was just enjoying what he thought would be another leisurely stroll to the Illinois Central (IC) terminal at Randolph Street downtown.
Al Capone’s reign as a mobster ended in 1930 and he was sent to jail in 1932. At the same time, Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle was murdered in 1930 and pulled the covers off of his close ties to Chicago’s Organized Crime. So why does the Tribune spend so much time writing about Al Capone and so little time exploring their own mobster connections?
Lingle had much to celebrate. He had just left the old Sherman House Hotel where he had received some inside racing tips from his mobster pals about horses at Homewood, a racetrack that had opened only a few years early at 17800 S. Halsted Street. The Homewood racetrack was popular through 1977 until it burned down in a fire.
But Lingle wasn’t think about the historic racetrack, where he would often consort with prostitutes and spend the late afternoon and evening boozing it up with bookies and bagmen he knew from Chicago’s seedy streets. It was his favorite place to go. The racetrack opened in 1926 the day after his birthday on July 2, and Lingle would often brag to his journalism colleagues that the track was built as a present just for him.
He’d go there often. And he had a lot of cash to burn on horse racing longshots. Although he only earned $65 a week in salary from the Chicago Tribune, clearing about $48 a week, Lingle enjoyed a disclosed annual income of more than $60,000 and some speculated even more that was not reported to the IRS.
[Editor’s Note: $60,000 in 1930 is the equivalent of just over $840,000 in today’s dollars.]
On June 9, 1930, as Lingle walked down the marbled staircase into the station, two men, one of whom described as a tall blond haired thug, raised a .38 calibre handgun to the back of Lingle’s head and blew his brains out along the foyer’s walls.
Some argue that Lingle technically was not a true reporter, but more of a “legman,” someone who “found” stories for the Tribune editors who assigned them to writers. But it was Lingle’s reporting that was carried in the newspaper articles that carried his byline and the byline often of another crime writer. Lingle would call in his stories by telephone and they were published as he reported the information to the desk.
Lingle’s killing was reportedly ordered by Al Capone, but the truth may be that Lingle had abandoned Capone when the heat increased and he began working for Bugs Moran. Although police questioned 664 suspects — more suspects questioned than in any previous murder at the time in part because of the heightened attention Lingle’s career as a journalist had raised among an outraged public — the culprit who ordered the hit was Moran’s “greaser” Jack Zuta — a “greaser” was someone who handed out money or “greased” the palms of sources for information or favors.
Several of Zuta’s colleagues were in the station when the Chicago Tribune’s celebrated crime writer had been gunned down in front of a dozen witnesses.
Zuta fled to Wisconsin to a resort lodge that was also a frequent host to several close associates of Chicago Tribune owner Col. Robert Rutherford McCormick. McCormick was a crusading publisher when it came to international affairs and championed wars and warriors internationally. But he coveted the power of his newspaper base in Chicago and exploited reporters like Lingle, who used his ties to muscle competition from stories and popular newsstand locations.
The Zuta-Lingle connection was ironic. Zuta was Jewish and so was Lingle, until he converted to Catholicism to strengthen his ties to the mainly Catholic mafiosa in Chicago.
It’s not a story the Tribune likes to showcase. In fact, so little has been written about the seedy years of Chicago’s largest and longest surviving daily print publication or the longstanding ties that the Chicago Outfit had with some journalists over the years.
But the Lingle connection to mobster corruption peeled back a little of the onion skin that supplied the mettle to the true face of Chicago’s journalism history.
Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network news site. He is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley). And, Hanania is a stubborn and loud critic of the biased mainstream American news media.
His personal website is www.TheMediaOasis.com. Email him at: RayHanania@IllinoisNewsNetwork.com.