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Blood in the Street

"Chicago's Toughest Cop"



By Jack Clark

In one of my earliest memories, I'm a little kid playing on a friend's front porch. A policeman comes by and shoos us into the house.

Later there's a shoot-out in the alley that runs alongside that porch, the alley behind Madison Street. Two men are killed by police.

Years later I was watching Arsenic and Old Lace on late-night TV. I didn't remember seeing the movie before, but apparently I had. There was the same cop who had chased us off the porch and, look, he was wearing that same gray suit.

Memory plays tricks, so I decided to find out whether the shooting had ever happened. The only solid information I had was the name Frank Pape. He was a well-known cop whose name I'd regularly come across in the newspapers. Supposedly Pape had been involved.

Down at the library I found the story on the front page of the September 24, 1954, Chicago American: "Police Kill 2 Ex-Convicts in Ambush on West Side." Two articles from other newspapers filled in the details: "Lt. Pape Credo: Get 'Em Alive--or Dead" and "Gunmen Walk Into 35-Hr. Police Trap."

"To a cop chasing criminals the most important thing is not to let them get away," the American said. "That's the philosophy of Lt. Frank Pape, head of the robbery detail--and he doesn't let many escape.

"The two latest desperados who didn't get away from Lt. Pape and his men were Chris Kanakes, 35, of 838 Vernon Park Pl. and Spiros Demitralis, 34, of 3748 Clifton Av.

"They ran into a trap engineered by Pape and were fatally cut down yesterday by gunfire as they resisted arrest near an auto agency at 5817 W. Madison St."

For Pape, this was just another day's work. He told reporters the two men were suspects in a series of robberies, including holdups at two Rush Street nightspots and a Cicero Avenue business owned by Cook County assessor John S. Clark.

Pape set the trap after learning that Kanakes had taken his new car into Mars Oldsmobile for a 1,000-mile checkup. The Tribune said, "Pape and 10 detectives dressed in old clothing and used three trucks to conceal themselves at vantage points about the Mars garage. Pape had a machine gun and the other officers carried revolvers and shotguns."

When Kanakes and Demitralis walked into the alley, five policemen approached them from behind. "Kanakes whirled, a .38 caliber revolver in his hand," the Sun-Times said. "He had time to fire just one last wild shot in the requiem of his career with the gun. Demitralis never even reached for the .32 pistol in his pocket.

"Both men ran about 20 steps before bullets cut into them from three directions, a machinegun in the hands of Pape leading the fire."

Demitralis was struck by 13 bullets while Kanakes took 9. "They were the seventh and eighth fatalities in gun battles in which Pape, 45, has participated since he joined the police department 21 years ago," the Tribune said. "In addition, Pape has been in 14 shootings in which robbers and hoodlums were wounded. He has never been wounded."

After the shooting, Pape was in a thoughtful mood, "his dinner appetite ruined and his evening's planned fun at a ball game disrupted," according to the American. "Pape said: 'This was more than a one-man job. It was wonderful the way everyone handled themselves, especially the men for whom this was a new experience.'" The American concluded, "Lt. Pape and his men saved the people of Illinois the cost of two trials."

Pape died a couple weeks ago. He was 91. Both the Tribune and the Sun-Times called him "Chicago's toughest cop." According to the Sun-Times obituary, Pape "sent 300 men to prison, five to the electric chair and engaged in more than a dozen gun battles, surviving without a scratch while sending nine suspects to their graves." Pape had never fired his gun in the line of duty until his partner, Morris Friedman, was gunned down. After that, he "carved for himself a reputation for fearlessness if not ruthlessness, sometimes going after criminals with a Thompson submachine gun. 'My attitude was: If you shoot at me, I'm going to kill you if I can,' Pape said years later. 'Of the nine people I shot, every one of them had a gun and in every instance they had used it or were about to use it. I wouldn't take them into custody and I don't give a damn who criticized me for it.'"

One of his critics was police superintendent O.W. Wilson, the University of California criminology professor brought in to clean up the department. Pape took a leave of absence to oversee security at Arlington Park Racetrack and returned to the force in 1965.

When he retired in 1972, Pape was head of Area 5 Traffic. "Pape's tenure with the department included the end of one era in policing and the birth of another," the Tribune said. "He was hired by a department when cops wore fedoras and natty suits and carried tommy guns on raids. But in 1963, a jury forced him to pay an $8,000 judgement for violating the civil rights of a murder suspect." In 1994 Pape said he'd never become a cop today--"the methods had changed so much."

They don't make cops like Frank Pape anymore. At least I don't think so. There's no way of knowing for sure. Nowadays the police department refuses to release the names of officers involved in shootings. For all we know there might be one or two cops with just as many notches on their guns as Pape. We probably would have heard if they were using machine guns.

Back in 1954 Pape and his men posed for photos with their victims dead at their feet. Neighborhood children looked on. My brother Vince was seven years old at the time of the shooting. Forty-five years later he still remembers the blood running in the gutter in the alley behind Mars Oldsmobile. "They didn't just shoot them," he recalls. "They cut them to pieces. Even after they took the bodies away, there were still big chunks of flesh lying there."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Arabinko-Chicago Sun-Times.

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