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The Murder of Dr. Patrick Cronin and the United Brotherhood or “Clan-na-gael”


Story by Thomas Duke, 1910
Celebrated Criminal Cases of America
Part III: Cases East of The Pacific Coast

The United Brotherhood or “Clan-na-gael” was an organization composed of Irishmen who were in sympathy with the movement to free Ireland from its dependence upon the British Government.

It was organized in 1869 and with a few exceptions its great membership consisted of men who affiliated with the order from motives of the purest patriotism.

Subordinate lodges or camps were instituted throughout the United States, but the order was particularly strong in Chicago.

The affairs of the organization were handled by an executive committee which, at a national convention held in Chicago in 1881, was reduced to five members.

On that executive board were Alexander Sullivan, a prominent Chicago lawyer; Michael Boland of Louisville, and D. S. Feeley of Rochester, N. Y.

It was alleged that these three men combined against the other two and were thereafter referred to as the “Triangle,” who ruled the order with an iron hand.

The members made liberal contributions toward the assistance of their brethren in Ireland and eventually dissatisfaction arose as to the manner in which this money was handled.

In 1885, Dr. Patrick Cronin, a prominent Chicago physician, having offices in the Chicago Opera House building and also at 486 North Clark Street, where he resided with T. Conklin and wife, became the leader of the opposition to the methods of the Triangle and demanded that a detailed account be furnished of the disposition of all contributions, which were variously estimated at between $100,000 and $250,000.

Shortly after Cronin assumed this attitude he was charged with treason and brought to trial before a committee composed of members said to have been in sympathy with the Triangle, among them being Dan Coughlin, a detective in the Chicago police department.

Cronin was found guilty and expelled from the order, but he had a large following and the result was that thousands withdrew from the organization and formed new camps which soon grew to be as powerful as the original body.

Realizing that the object of the order could only be accomplished by working harmoniously together, influential leaders of both factions held a conference in 1888 and the result was that Dr. Cronin’s following agreed to “bury the hatchet” and return to the original order, providing that all actions of the Triangle since 1881 be fully and fairly investigated.

This being agreed to, a committee headed by Dr. Cronin was appointed and the sessions began in New York in August, 1888.

‘The “Triangle” made a vigorous protest against Dr. Cronin remaining on this committee but the protest was overruled.

The doctor made copious notes throughout the trial and at its conclusion, four of the six investigators decided that the charges against the “Triangle” had not been proven, Cronin voting with the minority.

The physician then publicly announced that he would save his notes and that when the high National League assembled in Philadelphia in 1889, he would read a full report of the secret proceedings just concluded so that the members of the Clan-na-gael throughout the world would know the treachery of the Triangle.

When it became known that the Triangle had been exonerated, or “whitewashed” as Cronin put it, his followers became more dissatisfied than ever.

At this time Patrick O’Sullivan, who had an ice house at Lake View, a suburb of Chicago, and Detective Coughlin took an active part in the affairs of Camp 20. They were bitterly opposed to Dr. Cronin and his followers, although Cronin was not aware of the attitude of O’Sullivan.

In April, 1889, the latter persuaded Justice of the Peace John Mahoney to introduce him to Dr. Cronin.

O’Sullivan then informed the doctor that he had heard of his (Cronin’s) ability as a physician and he desired to enter into a contract whereby the doctor would attend to any of O’Sullivan’s employees who were sick or disabled.

Notwithstanding the fact that other reliable physicians were far more accessible in case of emergency ; that the iceman had only four men in his employ and their work was not at all hazardous, Dr. Cronin’s suspicions were not aroused by this peculiar proposition, although he had prophesied that his enemies would attempt to permanently seal his lips before he could make his report public.

He contracted to perform this service for $8 per month and agreed to respond whenever any one called and presented one of O’Sullivan’s cards.

At 8 p. m. Saturday, May 4, 1889, a very unprepossessing appearing man rushed into Dr. Cronin’s office on North Clark Street and excitedly announced that one of O’Sullivan’s men had just been injured in the region of the abdomen and that the doctor should render immediate assistance or the man would die.

Hastily placing his surgical instruments in a case and picking up a package of absorbent cotton, the doctor rushed down to the Street where the stranger had a white horse and buggy in waiting. Mrs. Conklin saw this horse and buggy and just as the doctor was being driven away, a friend of his named Frank Scanlan passed and saluted him.

Dr. Cronin did not return that night or the next day and as he was ordinarily most methodical in his habits, the Conklins became alarmed.

The police department was notified and Acting Captain Herman Scheuttler was assigned to the case.

O’Sullivan, whose home was adjacent to his ice house, was immediately interrogated, and he stated that he had not sent for Dr. Cronin and furthermore had not seen him for many days. He admitted having entered into the agreement heretofore referred to, but could not explain why he had selected a doctor six miles away to attend to emergency cases.

On the Sunday morning after the disappearance of Cronin a cheap trunk was found in a ditch near Evanston Avenue and the Catholic cemetery.

Upon closer inspection it was found that the interior of the trunk was bespattered with blood and partially filled with absorbent cotton which was saturated with gore.

Human hair similar to Dr. Cronin’s was also found in the trunk.

Five days after the disappearance of the doctor, a stable owner named Foley informed the police that a young man had offered to sell him a horse and wagon for $10 and that he believed the fellow had stolen the rig. The man was apprehended and gave the name of Frank Woodruff.

He was evidently anxious to gain some cheap notoriety, even if it placed him in an unenviable position, for he invented several weird and conflicting stories to make it appear that he had used this wagon for the purpose of carrying the mysterious trunk to the place where it was found, and stated that it was used as a receptacle to convey the body of a woman who had been the victim of a criminal operation, and that a man of Dr. Cronin’s description superintended the removal.

He afterward changed his story at intervals to correspond with the new evidence produced.

To add to the confusion, several apparently responsible persons claimed that they had met Dr. Cronin after his disappearance.

A newspaper reporter in Toronto even published a long interview which he claimed he had had with the missing man in Toronto, in which the doctor was alleged to have stated that fear for his personal safety drove him from Chicago.

On May 22, three sewer men, acting on complaints to the effect that the sewer at Evanston Avenue and North Fifty-Ninth Street was obstructed, proceeded to that locality. Being attracted by the terrible stench that pervaded the atmosphere in the neighborhood of the catch basin, an investigation was instituted and they found that the nude body of a man had been thrown head first into the basin.

With considerable difficulty it was brought to the surface. A towel saturated with blood was wrapped around the neck, underneath which was found an Agnus Dei.

Although decomposition had reached an advanced stage and the body was terribly swollen, Dr. Cronin’s friends were positive it was his remains and Dr. Lewis, a dentist, positively identified some dental work as that which he had done for Dr. Cronin.

Although there were five scalp wounds, there was no fracture of the skull and the immediate cause of death was never satisfactorily proven.

After it became known that Dr. Cronin had been murdered, the Clan-na-gael and numerous other Irish societies passed resolutions denouncing those who participated in the murder and expressing the hope that the assassins would be brought to justice.

On the day following the finding of Cronin’s body, Captain Schuettler had an interview with O’Sullivan, the ice man, who stated that a man had rented a cottage on Ashland Avenue, which was within 150 feet of his (O’Sullivan’s) home, and that his actions had been most mysterious.

Captain Schuettler proceeded to the cottage and a casual glance convinced him that this was the scene of the murder. Considerable blood was found on the front steps and about the rooms, and the floor had just received a coat of yellow paint in a clumsy effort to hide the blood.

The small amount of furniture in the house bore the brand of the A. H. Revell Furniture Co. of Chicago.

A key was found which belonged to the blood-stained trunk found on the morning following Dr. Cronin’s disappearance.

Captain Schuettler then interrogated Jonas Carlson and wife who owned the cottage and lived in a smaller cottage.

Carlson’s statement was as follows:

About noon on March 20 a man of medium size with a dark mustache, hair and eyes called at my home and asked how much rent I wanted for the cottage in front. I replied $12 a month.

He finally agreed to take it and stated that his sister aind brothers would move in shortly. He paid the rent in advance and gave the name of Frank Williams.

My son and daughter-in-law were present at the time.

The next morning a Swedish expressman brought a few articles of furniture to the house which Williams helped him to unload.

A whole month passed, and Williams again paid the rent but stated that the reason the family had not moved in was because his sister was very ill.

Up to May 18 the cottage was still unoccupied, although occasionally at nighttime lights were seen inside, and it became known as ‘the house of mystery.’

On May 18, I received a note from Hammond, Ind., which read as follows:

Mr. Carlson. Dear Sir: My sister is low at present and my business calls me out of town. If you will please put the furniture in your cellar for a few days I will pay you for your trouble. I am sorry that I lost the key to the cottage door, but I will pay you for all trouble. My sister told me to paint the floor for her so that it would not be hard to keep clean. I am now sorry I gave the front room one coat.

That afternoon, Carlson’s son inspected the cottage and was horror-stricken at finding it in the condition already described, but dreading notoriety, the family hesitated about notifying the police. Notwithstanding the fact that O’Sullivan informed Captain Schuettler that the conduct of the tenant in Carlson’s cottage should be investigated, it was proven by the Carlson family that the minute Williams rented the cottage he proceeded direct to O’Sullivan’s house, and addressing O’Sullivan, said, within the hearing of Carlson, “Well, the cottage is rented.”

Afterward, when the Carlsons became suspicious of their strange tenant, O’Sullivan assured them that he was all right and even offered to pay the rent if Williams did not.

Captain Schuettler then proceeded to Revell’s furniture store, where he learned that the blood-stained trunk and all of the furniture found in the Carlson cottage had been purchased at their place on February 17, by a man giving the name of J. B. Simonds, and at his request it was delivered to rooms 12 and 15 at 117 South Clark Street, which was across the street from Dr. Cronin’s office.

It was the theory of Captain Schuettler that it was the original intention to inveigle the doctor into these rooms and murder him there, but that the Carlson cottage was afterward chosen because of its isolated location.

The description given by the real estate agents of the man who rented the rooms tallied with that of the mysterious Simonds who purchased the furniture. Simonds was never apprehended, but it was suspected that he was none other than Pat Cooney, alias “the Fox,” who was a companion of O’Sullivan and Coughlin and a bitter enemy of Cronin’s.

The next important information came from a milk dealer named William Mertes.

On the night that Dr. Cronin disappeared, Mertes passed the Carlson cottage at 8:30 p. m.

He saw a buggy drawn by a white horse stop in front of the cottage and observed a man of Dr. Cronin’s general appearance alight and go up the steps.

He knocked at the door which was opened and as soon as the man entered and the door was closed, he heard angry voices, but believing it was an ordinary quarrel he passed on.

As soon as the man entered the door the man in the buggy drove off.

The next important witness located by Captain Schuettler was the Swedish expressman Martinsen, who stated that in the latter part of March a man whose description tallied with that of Frank Williams, engaged him to haul the furniture from 117 Clark Street to the Carlson cottage.

Every effort was made to trace the white horse and buggy which carried Dr. Cronin to his doom.

Detective Dan Coughlin, who was one of the committee which found Dr. Cronin guilty on the treason charge, was connected with a police station near Patrick Dinan’s livery stable, located at 260 North Clark Street.

On the day of Dr. Cronin’s disappearance, Coughlin instructed Dinan to have a horse and buggy in readiness for a friend of his who would call that night at 7 p. m., and he furthermore cautioned him to say nothing about it.

Believing that the rig was to be used in detective work, Dinan kept his word for a time, but as it answered the description of the horse and buggy used on the night of the murder, he finally decided to have a talk with Captain Schaack of Haymarket riot fame, who was then in command of the police station near his stable. When he reached the station Dinan was met by Coughlin, who asked him what he wanted. Dinan told him and Coughlin replied:

“Now, look here, there’s no use making a fuss about this thing. You keep quiet or you’ll get me into trouble as everybody knows Cronin and I were enemies.”

Dinan pretended to acquiesce in the suggestion, but at the earliest opportunity the matter was reported to headquarters.

Frank Scanlan, who saluted Dr. Cronin as he was being driven away in the buggy, and Mrs. Conklin, Cronin’s landlady, were shown this horse and buggy and they declared it was the same one in which the doctor left his office, and the de-icription of the driver,’ as given by Dinan and Mrs. Conklin, was identically the same.

Coughlin was then called upon to explain his conduct. He admitted that Dinan’s statement was true and claimed that the man who used the rig introduced himself as Thomas Smith, a friend of his (Coughlin’s) brother, in Hancock, Michigan. He said that Smith stated that he wanted to use a horse and buggy that evening and asked Coughlin to engage one for him at Dinan’s.

As Coughlin could not produce Smith and as his conduct convinced the investigating authorities that he had a guilty knowledge of the murder, he was taken into custody.

The next day, a William Smith, who knew Coughlin in Hancock, called on the authorities to convince them that he knew nothing of the conspiracy.

On May 26, Dr. Cronin was buried, the funeral being extremely spectacular.

There were nearly 8000 men in line, representing the Hibernians, Clan-na-gaels, Foresters, Catholic benevolent societies and other orders of which the deceased was a prominent member. There was also a band and several drum corps.

On the day following the funeral, the authorities made a careful analysis of the evidence against O’Sullivan, the ice man, and it was decided to take him into custody.

It was also learned that prior to May 4, O’Sullivan and Coughlin were in daily communication over the telephone while Coughlin was in the police station.

At the coroner’s inquest, Luke Dillon, the great Irish leader, gave testimony in which he denounced Alexander Sullivan of the Triangle as a rogue.

After receiving all the evidence gathered at that time, the coroner’s jury rendered a verdict on June 11, in which it was recommended that Alexander Sullivan, Patrick O’Sullivan, Coughlin and Woodruff be held to answer before the grand jury for the murder.

Sullivan was immediately taken into custody, but there was really no legal evidence to justify his arrest and he promptly procured his release on $20,000 bail.

Some months afterward a demand was made that the bondsmen be released and Sullivan discharged, and the application was granted.

This was not the first time that Sullivan was arrested.

On August 7, 1876, at a meeting of the Chicago City Council, a communication from Principal Frank Hanford of one of the high schools was read, in which he charged that Sullivan’s wife, who was also a prominent educator, was creating dissension in the board of education.

That same night Sullivan and his wife called on Hanford and demanded a retraction. A squabble followed, during which Sullivan claimed that Hanford struck Mrs. Sullivan, whereupon Sullivan shot and killed him.

After two trials Sullivan was acquitted on March 10, 1877.

Before the disappearance of Dr. Cronin, one Martin Burke, alias Delaney, hung around the Market Street saloons and spent money so freely as to attract attention. He was a member of the same camp as Coughlin and O’Sullivan and boasted that these men were his friends. He also expressed the opinion that Cronin was a British spy and should be killed.

It was known that he made frequent and mysterious visits to the neighborhood of O’Sullivan’s home and after the disappearance of Cronin, Burke also suddenly disappeared.

Officer John Collins informed Captain Schuettler of these facts, and after some clever work a photograph was obtained of a group of men which included Burke. This picture was shown to the three Carlsons and the Swedish expressman Martinson, who at once picked out the photograph of Burke as the likeness of the much-wanted “Frank Williams,” who moved the furniture from 117 Clark Street and rented the Carlson cottage.

It was learned that Burke had left the city, so Captain Schuettler had a complete description and photograph sent to the police of all Eastern and Canadian cities.

On June 16, Chief McRae, of Winnipeg, saw a man of Burke’s description at the Winnipeg depot, and observing that the man became extremely nervous when he noticed that he was being scrutinized, the chief finally became so positive that the man was Burke that he approached him and said : “What is your name ?”

The man replied “W. J. Cooper,” but he almost immediately afterward admitted that he was Martin Burke, alias Delaney.

Chief Hubbard of Chicago was notified and the necessary steps were taken to extradite the prisoner.

Expressman Martinson was sent to Winnipeg and he picked Burke out of a line of fifty-two prisoners. Prominent attorneys were employed to prevent the extradition of Burke, but after a long and bitter legal battle he was returned to Chicago.

The feeling throughout the country was so strong against him that it was feared that he would be taken away from the officers and lynched at some of the stations.

On June 12, the grand jury began their investigation.

Attorney John Beggs was Senior Guardian of Camp 20, and when testifying before the grand jury it was claimed that his statements were inconsistent and contradictory regarding the allegation that, at the request of Dan Coughlin, he selected a secret committee to investigate the charge that Dr. Cronin was a spy.

It was therefore concluded that he had a guilty knowledge of the murder.

Mertes, the milk man who saw the buggy driven up to the Carlson cottage on the night of the murder, identified a little German named Kunze, a friend of Coughlin’s, as the man who drove ,the buggy away, and another man claimed to have seen Kunze at 117 Clark Street, where the furniture was first moved in.

On June 29, the grand jury indicted Beggs, Coughlin, Burke, O’Sullivan, Woodruff, Kunze and Cooney on the charge of murder.

The trials of all the defendants, except Woodruff and Cooney, began on August 26.

While prospective jurymen were being examined it was charged that at least two court bailiffs were parties to a conspiracy to bribe jurymen in the interests of the defendants and as a result several indictments were found.

In addition to the witnesses who appeared before the coroner and grand jury, several others testified before the trial jury.

John Garrity testified that Coughlin had once asked him if a man named Sampson could be hired to “slug” Dr. Cronin and disfigure him for life.

Mrs. Addie Farrar testified that O’Sullivan told her that Cronin was a British spy and should be killed.

On November 8, while the trial was in progress, a complaint was made that the sewer at Evanston and Buena Avenues was obstructed. This was about a mile from the catch basin where Cronin’s body was found.

Laborers were dispatched to the scene and within a short time they found all of Dr. Cronin’s clothes, which had been cut from his body, his leather satchel and prescription book on which his name was written.

Mrs. Paulina Hoertel corroborated the statement of Milkman Mertes in regard to the white horse and buggy driven up to the Carlson cottage. She also saw a man of Dr. Cronin’s general appearance enter the house and then heard some one cry “Jesus.”

William Neiman testified that O’Sullivan and two men who resembled Kunze and Coughlin drank wine in his saloon, which was a block from the Carlson cottage, at 11 p. m. on the night of the murder, although O’Sullivan denied having left his home at all that night.

Detective B. Flynn of the regular department testified that he searched Detective Coughlin when the arrest was made and that he had found two knives in the prisoner’s pocket which were afterward identified as being similar to knives which belonged to Dr. Cronin.

Coughlin produced witnesses who swore that they had seen both knives in the possession of the detective long before the disappearance of the doctor.

The defendants then put on several witnesses, principally for the purpose of proving an alibi.

On November 30, both sides had completed their case and fourteen days more were consumed in argument.

On December 16, the cause was finally submitted to the jury. After deliberating seventy hours the jury returned the following verdict :

“We, the jury, find the defendant John F. Beggs not guilty.

“We, the jury, find the defendant John Kunze guilty of manslaughter as charged in the indictment and fix his punishment at imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term of three years.

“We, the jury, find the defendants Daniel Coughlin, Patrick O’Sullivan and Martin Burke guilty of murder in the manner and form as charged in the indictment and fix the penalty at imprisonment in the penitentiary for the term of their natural lives.”

Shortly afterward, Kunze was granted a new trial, which resulted in his acquittal.

On January 19, 1893, the Court of Appeals granted a new trial to Coughlin on the ground that two of the jurors were prejudiced against him. The second trial resulted in his acquittal.

O’Sullivan and Burke died in the penitentiary.

As there was no evidence against Woodruff except his own conflicting statements, none of which could be corroborated, his case was stricken from the docket on April 21, 1890.

After Coughlin was released he opened a saloon in Clark Street, Chicago, but it was subsequently charged that while employed in the Illinois Central Railway Company’s claims department he attempted to bribe jurors in damage suit cases.

Several indictments were found against him and he fled to Honduras.

On August 21, 1910, John Tyrell, attorney for Frank B. Harriman and others, who were formerly high officials on this road, but whose trials on charges of graft were then pending, charged that considerable of the money alleged to have been lost through car repairing frauds, was really expended in supporting Coughlin’s family and keeping the fugitive in affluence in his Central American exile.

President J. H. Harahan states that the charges are false.