Jake Stahl and The Boy Bandits

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Baseball history is littered with fascinating stories, on – and off – the field. Whether it is the emotional connection fans have to the game or a look at what happened to former Boston Red Sox player Jake Stahl in 1916 Chicago, SoSH Baseball appreciates it all.

Garland “Jake” Stahl, player-manager of the 1912 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, ended his baseball career in 1913. Red Sox fans might have been surprised to see Stahl’s name back in the headlines in 1916, but he made national news that year thanks to a spectacular bank heist led by a gang called the Boy Bandits. He found himself, in the words of one newspaper report, with “two revolvers … poked within an inch of his face,” as the gang cleaned out the tellers. Stahl lived to tell his tale, but the former first baseman was pulled into a city crime wave that involved Chicago gangsters, New York street toughs, corrupt politicians, and crooked cops.

For Stahl, banking wasn’t just a sideline. He’d begun his banking career in 1910 while still a player and worked as a banker between the seasons he managed in Boston. When he was released by the Red Sox, he could have joined another team (rumors included Cleveland and Washington), but the former home run champion chose instead to return to work full time at the Washington Park National Bank on Chicago’s South Side.

Chicago in 1916 was already showing the criminal potential of the later Capone-era metropolis. Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson ruled the city through alliances with the gangsters who controlled the gambling, prostitution, and protection rackets. Petty crime went unchecked, and police were assumed to be on the take.

Even by the roaring standards of Chicago, the Boy Bandits robbery was exceptional. The gang got its name for the youthful appearance of its members, and on January 27, 1916 they stormed Stahl’s bank wearing stocking caps. Stahl’s description of the scene made the front pages across the United States:

“I was sitting at my desk shortly before 9 o’clock, when four men entered. Their faces were masked in black and each carried two revolvers. There were about ten persons in line at the cashier’s wicket. Ten clerks, the bank’s officers and two stenographers were in the room. Three men threatened us with their weapons while the fourth entered the cage and took the money.”

The gang got away with $15,600. That amount in today’s money would be valued at almost $335k.

The robbery inspired extravagant news coverage and newspapers from coast to coast latched on to key details: the baseball star turned bank executive, the youth of the criminals, and the audacity of the crime. The heist inspired descriptions such as this one from The National Police Journal:

“Surely there never was anything quite so sensational, even in the history of Chicago’s crime. And the manner of the robbery was that of a simple holdup. There was no deep laid plot, no finesse, but simply the bold highwayman methods associated with the wild and woolly West of fiction.”

The robbers sped through crowded Chicago streets with Police Lieutenant John Hogan in hot pursuit. Hogan described the chase:

“I saw five men in an automobile driving like mad. I suspected something and turned my car in their direction. The minute they saw me they speeded and then I knew my suspicions were correct. I chased them down South Park avenue as far as 60th street where I ran into a milk wagon.”

Thanks to a tip, the Boy Bandits were tracked to a hideout a few blocks away, and as authorities closed in, a box of money was thrown from a tenement window. Thousands of dollars showered down, “paper currency in such quantities as took away the breath.” Surrounded, the gang surrendered.

If the robbery came at a bad time for Jake Stahl, the timing was excellent for Illinois State Attorney Maclay Hoyne. The politically ambitious Hoyne was trying to build a reputation as one of the few incorruptible lawmen in Chicago. His indictments of bootleggers, pimps, and racketeers brought him into conflict with the city police (whom he viewed as compromised) and “Big Bill” Thompson (whom most people agreed was on the take).

The Boy Bandit case brought attention to Hoyne’s anti-corruption crusade. One Chicago newspaper claimed the bank heist was part of a “huge plot to terrorize the city, lay the people at the mercy of the worst gunmen in the world, and throw down the attempts of State’s Att’y Hoyne to clear the city and police department of crooks.” To break the case, Hoyne needed a witness — an uncorrupted, upstanding public figure who could testify. Hoyne turned to Jake Stahl, the former baseball hero who was now “Garland J. Stahl,” a well-heeled pillar of the Midwest financial world.

While Stahl did the reasonable thing in not resisting during the robbery, he still displayed a measure of courage in cooperating with the subsequent investigation. With so many city cops controlled by gangsters, Stahl’s willingness to testify was not without risk and Stahl was able to identify the leader of the Boy Bandits:

“Two of Hoyne’s men talked with Jake Stahl, officer of the robbed bank, yesterday to get clews [sic] to the robbers. Stahl gave an imitation of the peculiar walk of one of the robbers.

“It’s Eddie Mack,” said both the detectives.

Hoyne had his break. Edward Maciejewski, aka Eddie Mack, was a notorious pickpocket and murderer who had recently relocated to Chicago from New York. The New York Times reported that Mack and other street toughs had been ordered to “get revenge on Maclay Hoyne, State’s Attorney, for his recent successful prosecution of police graft cases.”

On the strength of Stahl’s description, Hoyne’s detectives picked up Mack and offered immunity in exchange for his testimony. The state’s star witness appeared in court wearing a new silk shirt, “suave, affable, smiling, [and] condescending” in his “natty bow tie and wing collar” with “swagger patent leather” shoes. Mack spilled his guts and the rest of the Boy Bandits were convicted in a speedy trial. The Urbana Daily Courier, reporting the verdict, hailed the conviction of “the men who robbed Jake Stahl.”

Hoyne rode the Boy Bandit convictions to re-election as State Attorney, and later in 1916 he turned to larger targets: He raided the offices of Mayor Thompson and indicted Police Chief Charles Healey, moves the Chicago Tribune called “perhaps most sensational chapter” in Hoyne’s career. Chief Healy escaped conviction thanks in large part to a brilliant defense mounted by Clarence Darrow, the attorney later known for the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Like many Chicago politicians, Hoyne could not maintain a spotless reputation. There were complaints that he was too willing to grant immunity in order to secure convictions. Baseball historians agree that Hoyne’s friendship with White Sox owner Charles Comiskey led the State Attorney to ignore rumors that the 1919 World Series was fixed. Hoyne was defeated in his re-election bid in 1920, and cleared out his office, taking the signed confessions of the Black Sox players with him. Conveniently for Comiskey, the confessions were never recovered. Hoyne returned to his private legal practice and died in 1939.

Eddie Mack’s life took an unexpected turn after he avoided jail time by ratting out the Boy Bandits. In Detroit, Henry Ford had heard about the robbery and the great industrialist offered Eddie Mack a job in an attempt to keep the charismatic criminal on the straight and narrow. One news report held out hope that Ford could save Mack:

“When he first announced his intention of giving convicts a chance to live and work as other human beings his friends tried to dissuade him. But Ford held to his ideals and went right ahead. He has found, he says, that the convicts have made good and he numbers them among the best workmen in his shops. Chicago will watch with interest Ford’s effort to regenerate Eddie Mack. Everyone here is familiar with Mack’s life of crime.”

Alas, Mack was not made to work on an assembly line. He remained active in Chicago and a few years later was an accomplice in the shooting of the police chief of a Chicago suburb. In 1933, Mack was gunned down by police during a botched robbery attempt.

The Boy Bandits robbery did little to interrupt Jake Stahl’s busy life. In the summer of 1916 he helped form the amateur Chicago Baseball League. When America joined World War I in 1917 he served in France as a Lieutenant in the Air Corps. He was named President of the Washington Park Bank in 1919.

Stahl’s promotion should have been a high point among his athletic accomplishments, social successes, and honorable military service. Now leading the bank, his financial skills drew attention:

“Jake Stahl of the big league has now become Mr. Garland Stahl, bank president. In the game of finance Stahl is “batting .300.” He is president of the Washington Park National Bank, on the South Side of Chicago, which was “in the bushes” when Jake became dominant in its affairs with deposits of about $250,000, and which now has deposits of more than $5,000,000.”

As a bank president, however, Stahl was prone to overwork. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1920 and died in 1922. At 43 years old, he was just a decade removed from his World Series title.


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