For the last few weeks Jim Louderman and Dave Pollock have been hiking through muck and brambles, searching for clues as to who's been sabotaging an insect-collection project at the bird sanctuary in Lincoln Park. "Obviously we're not detectives by training, but this is a tough one for anyone to figure," says Louderman, who, like Pollock, is an entomologist at the Field Museum. "It's a baffling case."
A year and a half ago north-side activists and birders came up with the idea of sprucing up the bird sanctuary, located just east of the totem pole near the Waveland Avenue tennis courts. The sanctuary, established in 1920, needed a general pruning, having been overtaken by invasive species such as garlic mustard. At the request of Charlotte Newfeld, Gregg Kiriazes, and other members of the Lake View Citizens' Council, state representative Sara Feigenholtz secured state funding to help pay for the project, and the Park District agreed to expand the sanctuary by building a new fence about 20 feet outside the old one.
As part of the project, Newfeld and the others decided to bring back some of the amphibians--frogs, salamanders, and toads--that had disappeared from the sanctuary over the years. "The amphibians had died because there wasn't enough water in the sanctuary to sustain them," says Louderman. "They dehydrated. Normally they hydrate in the bottom of the muck while they're hibernating for the winter, but there wasn't enough water in the sanctuary to keep them going."
Park District officials said they would maintain a sufficient supply of water in the sanctuary if they could be sure that there would be enough food for the amphibians. That's when Louderman and Pollock were brought in. "To make sure that the amphibians can survive, we need to see if there are the insects for them to eat, since that's what they live off of," Louderman explains. "To do that we have to take an inventory--basically, catch them and count them, so to speak. It's a fairly basic procedure that we do all the time."
To do the job they use several kinds of traps. "We string black mesh across a container so that when they fly into the mesh they fall into the container," says Louderman. "We also use baited and unbaited traps." The baited traps are smeared with chicken liver. The unbaited traps are plastic buckets--"much like the ones you buy potato salad in at the grocery store," says Pollock. They put some fluid in a bucket, stick the bucket in the ground, and loosely cover it with a piece of plywood, which is held down with railroad stakes hammered into the earth. "The fluid is recreational antifreeze-- propylene glycol--which is not harmful to anything but insects," says Louderman. "If a raccoon, for instance, were to drink it by accident, it would make him sick. But there would be no ill effect other than throwing up."
They set the traps out in early June. "It was rather uneventful," says Louderman. As far as they knew, no one was even paying attention to the project, much less opposing it. "We didn't see anything unusual when we installed the traps," says Pollock. "I don't think anyone was watching us. We had no reason to think anyone was against what we were doing."
About two weeks after they'd installed the traps, they returned to the sanctuary to check them. To their astonishment, the black mesh "flight interceptor" as well as 17 of the 20 unbaited traps had been destroyed. The baited traps had been left alone.
"Actually, I don't know if destroyed is the proper word," says Louderman. "Well, the flight interceptor had been destroyed--it had been ripped to shreds. But the unbaited traps had been taken apart and put back together. That's the only way to describe it. Someone had pulled up the railroad spikes, removed the plywood tops, and dumped the fluid and insects out of the plastic bucket. Then--and this is the really weird part--they put it all back together. They placed the bucket back into the hole, and carefully placed the wood back over the top and hammered back the spikes. It was left like they found it, only without the insects or the fluid.
"That's how we knew it was the action of a human--it was 100 percent human," says Louderman. "No animal--no raccoon or whatever--could have put back the spikes and the bucket and the plywood. That's why I say it's not so much vandalism as sabotage--someone had sabotaged the project."
"I don't know. I've never heard of anything happening like this before. I don't think it's an animal-rights activist. We're not hurting any animals. I just don't know who it could be. I mean, they had to work to get at those traps, because they were fairly well hidden in the bushes. They had to walk around to look for them. I don't understand the motive. It's nuts--it makes no sense."
On July 4 Louderman and Pollock reset the traps. On July 20 they returned. "It was the same thing," says Louderman. "The mesh ripped down and the unbaited buckets emptied and carefully put back together. That was even more astonishing--they did it again."
Since then Pollock and Louderman have returned to the sanctuary several times, most recently last week, when they hiked through the bushes, carefully avoiding several spiderwebs hanging from trees. Their shoes slurped mud, and mosquitoes buzzed about as the two made their way to several unbaited traps that ran along the eastern edge of the sanctuary. This time they saw no signs--no footprints or debris--of the saboteur's return.
"Even with the sabotage we've been getting pretty good samples," says Louderman. "We've discovered a very diverse population of insects. About ten families of beetles, three families of millipedes, and two families of centipedes. But we want to be more thorough. We want to complete our study."
As they described their project, they were joined by Gregs Kiriazes, who'd hiked over from his office on North Sheffield. He reminded them that theirs wasn't the only mystery involving the sanctuary this summer. There was also the matter of the destroyed ferns.
"We planted between 50 and 70 ferns earlier this summer," said Kiriazes. "Then sometime in June someone came in and tore them up."
"I don't know. Maybe they don't like ferns. But think about it--what's not to like with ferns? But they did it. All but one or two were uprooted. I don't think that's related to the insect sabotage, but I don't know. It's spooky, I tell you."
Louderman and Pollock say they plan to install new traps sometime after Labor Day. "If I could talk to whoever's doing this I'd tell them to let us get our sample done," says Louderman. "If it is someone who's worried about the treatment of animals, please, the only thing we're collecting is insects--we're not harming any vertebrates. We're doing this to improve the environment. We don't want to put amphibians in here if they don't have food to eat. That's the only reason we're doing this. We're just taking our samples, and then we're getting out."
Paul Newey's Well-Lived Life
Paul Newey liked to joke that his whole life would have been different had he got his chance to work for the FBI. When he was a kid growing up on the north side, that was his dream. He says the bureau ultimately rejected his application because in those days it wasn't hiring "ethnic-looking people"--Newey was of Assyrian ancestry. So he went to work for the Secret Service and the CIA before coming home to take a job as chief investigator for Cook County state's attorney Ben Adamowski.
Newey and Adamowski were unique crime and corruption busters for Cook County. Unlike most of their predecessors, they didn't look the other way or settle for small fish. Instead, they went straight to the top and tried to expose the mob's influence in City Hall. They prosecuted some of the city's most notorious corruption cases, including the infamous Summerdale police scandal, in which eight north-side cops were busted for running a robbery ring.
For their efforts, they were hounded by Mayor Richard J. Daley's Demo-cratic machine and ostracized by leaders of their own Republican party, who were afraid to cross Daley. At one point in 1960, First Ward alderman John D'Arco met with Daley's chief investigator, a man handpicked by the mayor to root out municipal corruption. The next day D'Arco met with two mobsters and told them he and the investigator had talked about killing Newey before he got too carried away with his investigations and revealed--what? One can only guess what secrets they wanted contained.
While D'Arco talked, FBI agents listened with the help of a concealed microphone. A transcript of the con-versation was sent to Hoover, yet the FBI did nothing. It never even notified Newey that his life might be in danger.
That transcript, with its shocking revelations, lay buried in FBI files until one day in 1998 when the retired Newey, searching for information about a gangster he knew, stumbled on it. The discoveries outraged him, and he decided to go public with his story, believing that people should know how public officials and the FBI had betrayed him.
Newey, a lifelong Republican, a man who got Christmas cards from the Bush family, became far more skeptical about the American political system than he would ever have dreamed. "I know from my own experiences that we aren't living in a democracy," he told me. "We live in an oligarchy, and there are guys behind the scenes who are pulling the strings. Most people don't know it, or they don't want to know it. They just want to go on with their lives."
We worked on his story for several months. Mostly we talked by phone, though I occasionally visited his home in Lincoln Park, a modest one-bedroom apartment strewn with books, magazines, and files filled with clips. He'd had open-heart surgery, and he moved slowly and used a walker. But his mind and memory were sharp. He could stay on the phone for hours, answering questions, telling stories. Working on the article, he said, was like "doing a case--once I get started I don't want to stop." And he was driven by a deadline more urgent than any editor's demand. "I'm 86. I don't have a lot of time. I want to see my story in print before I die."
The story came out on April 13. Two weeks later a piece of property he owned in Lincoln Park burned to the ground. The police investigation found no evidence of arson. "Maybe it was just a coincidence," Newey said. "Or maybe someone was trying to send me a message. I don't think I'll ever know for sure."
He was delighted with the general reaction to the story--old friends and colleagues called and wrote to congratulate him for his courage in fighting corruption and in telling the story. Remembering the events, he said, made him think about "why people do what they do in their lives. I think a lot of the people who went bad were basically good--they just couldn't resist certain temptations. Everyone's got their vulnerabilities, things they can't resist. Some people, like Daley and Hoover, want power. Others want wealth. It's what motivates them in life, for better or worse."
What motivated him?
"Honor. I think Ben [Adamowski] was the same way. We always wanted to be honored by our peers and friends."
On July 26 we went out for lunch, and he revealed that he'd recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on August 22. "I've had a good life," he said in our last conversation. "I'm glad I lived long enough to see my story told. I hope it makes it harder for people to avoid the truth."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.