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Court of Last Resort

Accused of bigotry, forced to move, the Krafts take their case to television.

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"I need a break, my jaws are tired," says Kathleen Kraft as she takes one more call from the press. "The media's been calling and calling. They don't want to talk to my father, mother, brother, or sister. Just me, me, me."

"Get off the phone!" her father screams in the background. "It's my house."

The Krafts are the family on North Keating charged in a suit filed last month in U.S. District Court with "a persistent pattern of threats of violence and bodily harm, acts of intimidation, assault, criminal trespass and damage to property, and hate crimes"--all against their next-door neighbors. To escape the prospect of heavy court costs followed by damages reaching $10 million, the Krafts have agreed to move.

The neighbors are Isidor Ramos, who's a Chicago cop, his wife Minerva, and their three children. The Ramoses are of African and Puerto Rican descent. They charged that from the day they moved in, which was back in 1985, the Krafts tossed around racist slurs like "spick whores" and "little nigger." They charged that "blunt objects" were whacked against their garage door, setting off the alarm system; that tar was thrown on newly tuckpointed brick; and that a handwritten sign saying Do Not Throw Snow by Side of House (NIGGER) was posted facing their front door.

They charged that in 1992 Kathleen shook her fist at Minerva in the backyard and warned her, "Hey, you spick whore! We're going to kill you when you least expect it, or when your husband is out of town."

Kathleen Kraft denies all of this. She insists that her family's been set up but can't afford the cost of proving it. So the Krafts turned to a higher court--the media. Their lawyer says they've already given interviews to Channels Two, Five, Seven, and Nine, plus PBS and CNN. Kathleen's father, John Sr., boasts that Connie Chung's show wants to fly his wife and him to New York, put them up in a hotel, and have them on the show.

Nevertheless, the media cannot be trusted. "They're not printing the truth," says Kathleen. "They're not putting out half the stuff we're saying. All they want is dirt. They want us to admit that we're racists."

A man in a purple suit stops by to offer sympathy. He explains to John that as a white teacher at an all-black school he endures racist epithets all day long that he can do nothing about. What school? John asks. It's on the west side, says the teacher, and then their conversation moves out of earshot.

John Sr. and his wife, Marie, pose for a picture on their plush couch under an ornate mirror adorned with Christmas lights and a Happy Halloween sign. They ask Kathleen to join them but she refuses. She is beginning to have second thoughts about all the publicity; perhaps it will complicate their search for a new home.

Later Gregory Adamski, the family lawyer, clears the way for a reporter to spend some quality time with the Krafts, but by now Kathleen is digging in her heels.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," she declares in a state of agitation. "Where was everybody two years ago? I called the FBI and said, 'Please wire me!' This is a false felony, they're saying we're racists."

So Adamski is notified that a second trip to the Kraft household is off. He has another idea. "You should write about me and my law firm," he proposes. "We'd make an interesting story. We represented the Democratic Party against the Harold Washington Party, and John Wayne Gacy.

"On the day Gacy died he asked me when my birthday was and said he was going to be there. I said, 'You're going to be dead in seven hours.' But he called and left the birthday greeting on my voice mail."

Adamski cuts the conversation short to get back to the Kraft case. He's doing lunch with Inside Edition.

Unfortunately for the Krafts, lunch does not lead to a guest appearance, and Adamski says this week that the only money on the table is $5,000 from Rolanda. But the Ramoses have begun to wonder. Their willingness to drop the suit if the Krafts moved out was based on their neighbors' lack of assets. The Ramoses' attorneys point out in court Wednesday that the picture changes if tabloid TV offers the Krafts a windfall.

Judge Ann Williams tells the lawyers to work something out, and Adamski reassures his clients. "If you win the lottery today," he tells them, "the Ramoses wouldn't get a penny."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.

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