The Murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin
The Murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin
The Good Doctor. Born in County Cork, Ireland, in 1846, Patrick Henry Cronin came to the United States as an infant, and, with his family, traveled from New York to Baltimore and Ontario, Canada, before setting in the mining areas of Pennsylvania. Moving to Missouri after the Civil War, he studied medicine, served in the militia during the strikes of 1877, then spent much of the following year in Ireland. In 1882, having earned a medical degree as well as a Ph.D., he moved to Chicago, where he practiced medicine and involved himself in Irish American politics.
The Clan-na-Gael. One of the largest Irish American political organizations, the United Brotherhood or Clan-na-Gael, was established in 1869 and espoused loyalty to Ireland and independence of the island from British rule. The estimated ten thousand members of the Clan-na-Gael were organized into local chapters, or ’ “camps,” which supported a central Executive Board by donating 10 percent of their revenues. At a national convention in Chicago in 1881, the board warned that the Irish movement would soon have extraordinary expenses, and that the camps needed to contribute more to the cause. The convention voted to submit all revenues, nearly $100,000 each year, to the board, whose five members were led by Chicago lawyer Alexander Sullivan. The board did not define the extraordinary new expenses of the Irish movement, though the money seems to have been used to finance a terrorist campaign in England. Over the next few years dynamite explosions occurred at the Tower of London, London Bridge, and Whitehall Palace. Between 1881 and 1885 twenty-nine Irish revolutionists connected with these terrorist attacks were extradited from America.
Charges of Embezzlement. The Clan-na-Gael Executive Board denied any possible link to the explosions. However, when the board called for more money in 1885, some camps protested. The protesters were then expelled from the organization. As a leading member of Clan-na-Gael, Cronin came forward criticizing the secret operations of the board. The board responded by accusing Cronin of treason against the Irish cause and voted to expel him from Clan-na-Gael. Nonetheless, he continued to charge Sullivan and the I board with misappropriating funds. An exasperated Sullivan was reportedly heard to say that he wished Cronin could be “removed.” On 8 February 1889 Clan-na-Gael Camp 20 appointed a secret committee that charged Cronin with being a British agent.
Abduction. On 4 May 1889, as Cronin prepared for a meeting of the Celto-American Society, a man in a carriage came to ask his assistance; an employee of Patrick O’Sullivan’s icehouse had been injured. Cronin jumped into the carriage and sped off, never to be seen alive again. Cronin’s friends were worried when he failed to return. They believed he had been killed, and their suspicions were confirmed when a bloody trunk was I discovered north of the city. But while they suspected he was dead, a friend of Cronin’s named Anna Murphy reported seeing him on a streetcar late at night on 4 May, and streetcar conductor William Dwyer also reported seeing Cronin. On 10 May, nearly a week after Cronin had disappeared, Chicago’s papers received dispatches from Toronto, filed by reporter Charles Long, reporting that Cronin was in Canada, on his way to England to testify against the Clan-na-Gael. He admitted, the dispatches said, to being a British spy, and he had arranged his own disappearance.
Cronin’s Body Found. On 22 May the public works department in Lake View received complaints about the sewer at Evanston Avenue and North 59th street. The sewer was apparently jammed, and a horrible stench was permeating the neighborhood. The men sent to clear the pipes found Cronin’s decomposing body wedged into the catch basin. Cronin had not disappeared; he had been murdered. Now that the body had been discovered, Cronin’s friends pushed the police to find the killers. There were few leads. The owner of a livery stable, though, recognized the horse and carriage described as taking Cronin away on the night of the murder. It belonged to his stable, he reported, and had been reserved on 4 May by Chicago police detective Daniel Coughlin. The stable owner reported this to Coughlin’s superior officer, Capt. Michael Schaack, who had become famous for his investigation into the Haymarket bombing. Confronted with evidence that one of his officers was involved in a murder, Schaack called in Coughlin for an explanation. Coughlin admitted reserving a carriage for a friend. Schaack promptly ordered Coughlin to find the friend. Coughlin and another policeman spent a week walking the streets of Chicago, looking for the mysterious friend; they never found him.
The Murder Scene. The police found a small cottage behind Patrick O’Sullivan’s icehouse where the murder apparently occurred. It had been rented from its owner, a Swede named Jonas Carlson, by a mysterious man named Frank Williams in late March, who was scarcely seen at the cottage. On the evening of 4 May Carlson recalled seeing Williams on the porch and later heard two men talking in loud voices. On 13 May a man identifying himself as a friend of Williams came to pay the rent. Five days later a suspicious Carlson checked the cottage and found its front room covered in blood.
Prosecution. Alexander Sullivan, known to have a great personal hatred for Cronin, was arrested but was soon released. Though he clearly wanted Cronin silenced, no evidence linked him to the murder. The police also arrested O’Sullivan and Detective Coughlin. The mysterious Frank Williams turned out to be Martin Burke and was discovered hiding in Winnipeg, Canada, trying to flee to England. He was soon extradited to the United States and, along with O’Sullivan and Coughlin, indicted for murder. Two others were also placed on trial: John Beggs was a senior member of Camp 20 accused of conspiring to commit murder while John Kunze was a common laborer accused of being an accessory.
Conspiracy. Cronin’s murder was the result of a conspiracy motivated by both personal and political reasons. The Irish patriots, having undertaken a series of bombings in England, were under investigation by the British government. The bombings had discredited the Irish movement in the eyes of many potential supporters. Charges that Sullivan, leader of the American supporters of Irish independence, had embezzled Clan-na-Gael funds could not have been more damaging. It was essential to silence Cronin. Because some members of Clan-na-Gael held positions of power and influence in the municipal government of Chicago, they may have believed they could escape detection. Even when the conspiracy was unveiled, the Clan-na-Gael still hoped its members could influence the trial’s outcome. A bailiff unsuccessfully tried to bribe jurors. On 16 December the jury returned with verdicts after seventy hours of deliberation. Coughlin, O’Sullivan, and Burke were convicted of murder and sent to prison for life. Beggs was acquitted while Kunze was convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison for three years. The police department came under heavy criticism as a result of these verdicts. Captain Schaack, whom some had charged with planting incriminating evidence in the homes of Haymarket suspects, was suspended from the police force for his failure to investigate Coughlin’s complicity.
Henry M. Hunt, The Crime of the Century: Or, the Assassination of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin (Chicago: H. L. & D. H. Kochersperger, 1889).