The Lost Boy
(page 3 of 4)
On March 24th, the county coroner convened the long-overdue inquest. There was little doubt about the eventual outcome. No one but the coroner, a political hack and an ally of Chief Shippy and Chicago’s mayor, Fred Busse, would be allowed to question the 28 witnesses, only two of whom—Averbuch’s sister Olga and his former boss at the egg-packing company—had any sympathy for the slain man. Chief Shippy trotted out his by-now-familiar story, which was then corroborated by the convincing testimony of his driver, Foley. Attempting to undermine the account of the pawnbroker who claimed to have sold Averbuch the weapons, Ickes was rebuffed by the coroner. At the end of the day, the jury huddled for an hour and then released its verdict: The shooting had been justified, and Shippy and Foley were exonerated. Eventually the three guns from the shooting (those would include the pistol allegedly used by Averbuch), as well as the dagger, were released to Chief Shippy; they, like all records of the inquest, have vanished.
Some observers were surprised that the jury made no mention of the anarchist link that had been so essential to the police’s original case. The reason would only later be found in Ickes’s unpublished memoir. Remonstrating privately with the coroner the day before the inquest, Ickes insisted that the police should not be allowed to make unsubstantiated claims about anarchy. The coroner blustered that he would allow the police to say whatever they chose. At that point, Ickes suggested that he might be compelled to introduce evidence about Averbuch’s missing brain. The coroner’s jaw “fell wide open,” related Ickes, who understood that this politically ambitious man would want the Jewish vote should he ever seek higher office. The next morning, moments before the inquest, the coroner met with Ickes. He agreed there would be no talk of anarchy, and also admitted that the police had no evidence to link Averbuch to the movement.
The coroner’s concession was Ickes’s one small victory on behalf of Olga Averbuch and her dead brother. The lawyer would perform one more service for the distraught young woman, writing to her mother in Europe with the painful news that her son—whom he identified as Jeremiah—had been killed. “I hope,” wrote Ickes, “that you and the rest of your family will realize that your daughter Olga, here in this country, is in need of your greatest kindness and sympathy, and that on her account you will bear this severe blow as bravely as you can.” Before the year was out, Olga returned to her family, who had settled in Czernowitz (today the city is called Chernivtsi and is part of Ukraine). She sent at least one letter from Europe to Ickes, begging him to establish her brother’s innocence. “Her letter tears your heart out,” says Walter Roth, the coauthor of An Accidental Anarchist—who, after a long, fruitless search, has concluded that Olga, if she lived long enough, likely met the same fate suffered by so many of Czernowitz’s Jews after the city was seized by the Nazis in 1941.
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Once the coroner’s jury released its verdict, the story of Averbuch and Shippy faded from the newspapers. Most Chicagoans were relieved to see it go, some because its departure seemed to diminish any threat of an anarchist uprising, others because it reduced the chance of reprisals against the city’s Jewish community. Or maybe people, then as now, had just grown tired of one tale and wanted something new to divert their attention. But before the story vanished completely, it was left to Jane Addams—a cofounder of Hull-House, the country’s leading settlement house—to have the last contemporary word.
In an article entitled “The Chicago Settlements and Social Unrest” that appeared in the magazine Charities and Commons in May 1908, Addams took on the critics who had assailed her for assisting Olga Averbuch. Steering clear of the issue of Averbuch’s innocence or guilt, she chastised the newspapers for their reckless reporting and the police for their oppressive tactics, focused specifically on the city’s recently arrived Russian Jews. “Because my first American ancestor bought his land of William Penn in 1684,” she reasoned, “and because Olga Averbuch has been in America for two years, does not make the least difference in our constitutional rights.” Mostly Addams lamented the lost opportunity to demonstrate to the city’s immigrants the profound political differences between the United States and czarist Russia. Among Chicago’s immigrants, Addams wrote, the Averbuch incident “registered a conviction that in a moment of panic a republican government cared no more for justice and fair play than an autocratic government did.”
In Chicago, life slowly returned to normal, though Chief Shippy would never return to the job. In the weeks after the Averbuch inquest, he began exhibiting irrational tendencies, and when a series of “rest cures” provided no remedy, he submitted his resignation. He began baselessly accusing his wife of infidelity, and, as he grew more violent, guards were assigned to his home for the protection of his family. In February 1913, Shippy was taken in tears to the mental hospital in Kankakee, though his time there was brief. Back home in Chicago—the family had left the Lincoln Place residence for a house on Monroe Street—he died on April 13, 1913. His obituaries highlighted the Averbuch incident; the Tribune, still insisting that an “anarchist” had tried to “assassinate” the chief, even linked the event to the chief’s breakdown. The cause of death was given as “softening of the brain,” or paresis—which suggests that Chief Shippy’s mental deterioration represented the late stages of syphilis.
Photography: Chicago Daily News, Inc./Chicago Daily News Negatives Collection, Chicago History Museum/ dn-0005943