by Gene O’Shea
George Jayne thought he had found a way to
neutralize the man who wanted to kill him.
For years, George had been
locked in a vicious feud with his half brother Silas. In the decades after
World War II, the two had pulled themselves up by the straps of their cowboy
boots to make successes in the clubby, moneyed world of the show horse
circuit, and each of them owned thriving stables in the northern suburbs.
But for reasons buried in the shadowed history of a troubled family, Silas
had grown to hate George and vowed to have him murdered.
Then, in October 1955, the
naked bodies of three dead boys were discovered in a forest preserve near
Norridge, throwing parents across Chicago into a near panic and igniting a
frenzied dragnet by police. A few days later, George apparently stumbled
upon a dark secret: He told his wife, Marion, that he had information
linking Silas and three other people to the slaying of the boys. George and
his wife, who had young children at the time, lived in fear of Silas. Now
George told Marion he had enough evidence to “put Silas Jayne and others in
the electric chair.” Marion begged her husband to go to the police, but
George, convinced that Silas had cops on his payroll, refused. Instead,
according to what Marion later told investigators, George said he would
write a letter detailing everything he knew about the murders. If anything
were to happen to him, George said, Marion was to turn the letter over to
Later on, however, George
told his wife that he had changed his mind. He realized that the contents of
such a letter would bring shame upon the Jayne family name. Whether the
letter—if it ever really existed—served to deter Silas for a time will never
be known for certain. But in 1970, George was shot to death in his home by a
man acting on Silas’s instructions.
The saga of George and
Silas Jayne is a terrifying and baffling Cain and Abel story, played out
against the tony horse show world, where rich dads spend thousands of
dollars on gorgeous pets for their daughters. Elements of the Jayne family’s
story are likely to be rerun in court in the next few weeks, as prosecutors
try to bring in another conviction for the murder of the three boys, Bobby
Peterson, 14, and his friends John and Tony Schuessler, ages 13 and 11, one
of the most haunting crimes in Chicago’s history. The defendant, Kenneth
Hansen, whose 1995 conviction in the case was overturned two years ago, was
a close associate of Silas Jayne’s.
Hansen has insisted that he
is innocent. But a prosecution witness in the earlier trial testified that
he was told Silas had helped Hansen dispose of the bodies—the secret that
may have made its way to George through the gossipy back stalls of the horse
business. It is likely that George used the information “as leverage against
Si,” speculates John Schomburg, a close friend of George’s. “It was his only
ace in the hole.”
* * *
Silas Jayne, who died of
leukemia at 80 in 1987, made a larger-than-life villain. He was a classic
bully, a muscled cowboy with a face as tough as saddle leather and intense
cold eyes. On his left forearm he bore a tattoo of a dagger, with a snake
coiled around the blade. Si, as he was known, wore a 16-carat diamond pinky
ring and had a 1907 $20 gold piece fashioned into a belt buckle. He made a
hobby of collecting $1,000 bills, which he placed in his money belt. At any
given time he carried up to $10,000 in cash—for making bail, some said. He
adorned his cars—usually the latest model Cadillac—with steer horns affixed
to the grille.
As a businessman, he had a
good eye for horseflesh, but he was utterly unscrupulous, and some who
worked in law enforcement say he ran a virtual Mob operation, using deceit,
threats, violence, and a con man’s wiles to get what he wanted. “He was a
truly lawless man,” says Ronald Safer, a former federal prosecutor who
helped expose Si’s criminal organization after he died. “It’s fair to say no
one would have cooperated with us if he was still alive.”
On the surface, George
Jayne was quite the opposite—slight of build, affable, close to his family.
“He was a businessman,” says Schomburg. And George used his suave manners to
ascend into higher social circles, which helped him pick up clients.
The story of Silas Jayne’s
operation and the Schuessler-Peterson murders lay virtually dormant until
about ten years ago, when law enforcement authorities began to unravel a
tangled knot of interweaving murder mysteries linked to the 1977
disappearance of Helen Brach, the candy heiress and horse owner. In the past
decade, at least 18 people have been convicted on a wide variety of charges
connected to the case, including conspiracy to murder Brach, arson, and
insurance fraud based on the destruction of show horses. Later this year,
Frank Jayne Jr., Silas’s nephew, is likely to stand trial for arson in
connection with a July 1973 fire that killed three horses near Dixon, in
northwestern Illinois. Though all these prosecutions came about after the
death of Si, his oversize personality looms over the sprawling
investigations. “Silas could walk in a room and charm the socks off of you,”
says David Hamm, a former State Police investigator. “He had a kind of a
country charm about him.” But, Hamm adds, “he was an evil, evil man.”
George Jayne knew that
about his brother, yet some investigators suspect that George’s decision to
keep quiet about the boys’ murders eventually cost him his life and the
lives of five others.
* * *
The Jayne family used to
tell a story about young Silas: One day, a goose on the family farm near
Lake Zurich bit him. Though Si was only six, he took matters into his own
hands. Grabbing an ax, he chased down and slaughtered the entire flock.
Blood-spattered, he then excitedly exclaimed to horrified family members
what he had done.
Si was born on July 3,
1907, the fourth child and first of four boys in a family that would
eventually grow to 12 children. Si’s father, Arthur, bounced around as a
farmer, truck driver, and, during Prohibition, a sugar supplier to
bootleggers. Si’s mother, Katherine, tried to keep a hand on her unruly
brood. “They were rodeo people, every bloody one of them,” recalls John
Schomburg. “The whole idea of moving into showing [horses] and that kind of
thing was a step up in the world to them.”
Si never got past the ninth
grade; instead, he worked on the family farm. Arthur and Katherine
separated, and Katherine took a liking to a man named George W. Spunner, a
Waukegan lawyer who owned a campground of summer cottages along the shores
of Lake Zurich. On November 2, 1923—when Si was 16—Katherine gave birth to
George William Jayne. Though Spunner was the child’s father, Katherine gave
the boy the Jayne surname, probably to avoid any scandalous talk in the tiny
town where she and her children lived.
Si’s trouble with the law
started early. In 1924, at age 17, he was charged with rape. Spunner
represented him in court, but apparently didn’t mount much of a defense. Si
was convicted, and by some accounts Spunner was not too disappointed that
Silas would be spending some time behind bars. Later, some people suggested
that the case had catalyzed Si’s hatred toward his brother.
The Jayne boys were
excellent horsemen, and several years after Si was released from prison, he
and his brothers De Forest and Frank went into the stable business, working
at, among others, the Green Tree Stables in Norridge and the Elston Riding
Academy in Chicago. By the 1930s, the Jaynes owned a ranch outside Woodstock
and began shipping trainloads of wild horses from the West to the railyards
in town. The Jaynes used some of the horses at their stables; others were
shipped off and slaughtered for dog food. In any case, the brothers drove
the herds through Woodstock out to their ranch, causing a memorable
“They were just a little on
the rough side, maybe too much on the rough side,” recalls Raymond Murphy,
an 81-year-old Woodstock resident. Murphy remembers that the Jayne brothers
and their buddies had earned such a notorious reputation that a local cattle
auctioneer dubbed them the “Jesse Jayne Gang.” The name stuck and the Jaynes
did nothing to dispel their rough image. “I didn’t mind being around them,”
Murphy says. “You had to watch your step, though. If you saw them, you said
hello. But, man, you didn’t want to get mixed up with the Jesse Jayne Gang.”
De Forest Jayne, who was
nicknamed “D,” was considered an outstanding trick rider and gifted
instructor. He took George under his wing, and the two developed a close
relationship. D also did his best to keep his other brothers out of trouble.
But in 1938, D’s fiancée, Mae Sweeney, a former riding student, committed
suicide by drinking arsenic. The day after she was buried, De Forest dressed
himself in his rodeo costume, grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun, and headed to the
cemetery. He shot himself at Mae’s freshly turned grave.
D’s suicide removed an
occasionally moderating influence from Si’s life; it also may have
aggravated the antagonism between Si and George. Before she died of cancer
in 1996, Marion Jayne—George’s widow—told federal agents that Si had been
furious because D supposedly left 20 acres of land at Waukegan Road and
Caldwell Avenue in Morton Grove to George.
During World War II, Si, a
convicted felon, was barred from the draft. Instead Si and the Jesse Jayne
Gang turned a handsome profit in the black market by selling horsemeat as
beef, which was rationed during the war. The gang also rustled cattle from
farmers in the northern suburbs. The black-market action brought Si into
contact with members of the Chicago Outfit, and investigators say that Si
forged relationships that he maintained throughout his life.
George was in the horse
business with his brothers, but the bad blood with Si remained. In a
statement he gave in the 1960s, George recalled that Si had owned a vicious
Doberman pinscher named Geezer that he liked to let loose on people for
entertainment. One night in 1940, as George was walking up to the front door
of Silas’s house, Si let the dog go. George said he had to beat the animal
off with a cane.
* * *
The show horse circuit that
George and Si entered after the war is a high-cost, high-stakes amalgam of
business and hobby. It is not unusual for owners to pay tens of thousands of
dollars for a horse, and the expense of maintenance and training go up from
there. The sport is as much about bragging rights as it is about beautiful
animals trained to perfection, and over the years showing horses has
remained one of the favorite pursuits of the daughters of the rich. For the
horse dealers and trainers, though, the sport is a deadly serious business.
In top competitions—in which horse and rider show off their jumping ability
or their form in following a course—purses can run as high as $100,000.
What’s more, owners or
potential owners want to buy from the winning stable or from the trainer who
produces the best horse. At many horse shows, animals are bought and sold on
the spot, their price directly correlating to their performance that day.
And there is no Blue Book for these animals; the value of a horse is
whatever someone will pay.
Despite his rough demeanor,
Si was not terribly out of place in the horsy set. He knew horses well, and
he could turn the charm on and off when needed. And like all good con men,
he figured out a new angle. State Police investigator David Hamm and agent
James Delorto of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms—both now
working elsewhere—pieced together many details of Si’s operation. They say
he preyed on the paternal instincts of the wealthy men who wanted to provide
the best for their young daughters.
“He loved to get the
daughters of well-to-do businessmen and professionals, 12- and 13-year-old
girls,” Hamm says. “There’s a whole history of him escalating the price of
the horse up and up. He would tell the father of a young girl, ‘Your
daughter’s got talent; she could win a blue ribbon. But she needs a better
horse.’ Now, what father won’t fall for that? Well, the next thing you know,
her $1,500 horse becomes a $20,000 horse.”
The lawmen say that Si
would often sell a “glue factory nag” that he doctored up to look good. “By
the time the girl’s father started to figure out what was happening, the
horse would mysteriously [develop] a broken leg and need to be destroyed,”
Delorto says. To keep the heat off, Silas would insist that buyers purchase
insurance right away; the policy payouts seem to have calmed the buyers.
Worse, young girls would
often spend hours at the stables unsupervised by a parent, and, according to
investigators, Si introduced some of them to sex. He often bragged about his
exploits, describing his assaults as “funning” with the girls. Later, if the
parents complained about an overpriced horse, Si would threaten to humiliate
the girl. “‘She’s [had sex with] half the guys in my stable,’ he would say,
if the parents talked about going to the police. ‘Do you want all that to
come out?’ That was usually the end of it,” Hamm reports.
Hamm and Delorto say they
were told that over the years Si conned, threatened, or manipulated dozens
of families in this fashion. In some instances Si never touched the girls.
But the threat of a scandalous rumor about their daughters was enough for
many socially ambitious parents to drop the matter.
Silas also was not shy
about carrying out various acts of violence against those who infringed on
his business interests. Dr. Thomas Phillips, founder of the Illinois Equine
Hospital and Clinic in Naperville, says he was approached by Si and one of
his associates in 1967 and asked to sign off on the prepurchase health of an
animal that Si was selling. Phillips says he refused because an X-ray of the
animal showed it was lame. Si apparently had injected the horse with a local
anesthetic that masked severe arthritis, and the buyer was unaware the beast
was afflicted. Si then tried to bribe Phillips, offering him 5 percent of
the purchase price of whatever horses Phillips would vet for him. Phillips
says he told Si to “go to hell.” Shortly thereafter a bomb exploded at
Phillips’s clinic on Eola Road, destroying a part of the building.
“The next morning I had a
phone call and they said, ‘Dr. Phillips, if you don’t change your way of
vetting horses, the next blast will be at your house,’” Phillips says now.
Despite the threat, Phillips says, he decided he could not back down. “I had
no choice,” he insists. “I had a wife and four kids and every bit of money
in that building. I had to stay here.” Phillips purchased a handgun and
began wearing it around the office in a shoulder holster. And while police
investigating the explosion could not tie the crime to Si, a family friend
in the Naperville city government arranged for police protection at
Phillips’s home around the clock for a period of two weeks.
Si and his organization
also became adept at insurance fraud. Property owned by Si and other members
of the Jesse Jayne Gang had a way of catching fire. Homes, barns,
businesses, and horses were destroyed. The gang also used arson and bombings
as a weapon against enemies and rivals. In 1961, a wealthy Riverdale factory
owner sued Si after a horse he had bought from him proved to be lame. The
businessman dropped the suit after a bomb exploded at a farmhouse that he
owned, causing $5,000 in damage.
Over the years, one of Si’s
key colleagues was a thug-of-all-trades named Curtis Hansen, who was the
brother of Kenneth Hansen. As a member of the Jesse Jayne Gang, Curtis often
participated in Si’s schemes; at the same time, federal agents say, Curtis
was a hit man for the Catura crime family in Chicago Heights, suspected in
seven Outfit murders. The association with Curtis Hansen gave Si additional
leverage. But Hamm and Delorto say Si stayed independent of the Outfit and
gave it a wide berth. The mobsters treated Si the same way. “[Members of the
Outfit] weren’t in the horse business, so they weren’t going to try and
muscle him out,” says Delorto. “Plus, he had a bunch of guys working for
By 1952, George had started
to break away from Si. Marion later told investigators that George had begun
to distance himself after Si ordered him to break the leg of a healthy
horse; George refused, enraging Si. The two remained close enough, however,
that Si lent George $90,000 to buy the Happy Day Stables at Cumberland and
Montrose Avenues in Norwood Park. Si used one of the Happy Day barns for his
horse brokering. But around 1954, he moved into his own facility, the Idle
Hour Stable at 8600 Higgins Road in Park Ridge. Instead of being in business
with Si, George was now a rival.
* * *
On Sunday, October 16,
1955, Bobby Pe- terson and John and Tony Schuessler left their Jefferson
Park homes to go downtown to a Disney movie. Their exact activities that day
are uncertain, but they didn’t return home that night. Two days later, their
bodies were found in a ditch near the Robinson Woods.
John Konen was one of a
team of sergeants assigned to the Chicago Police task force responsible for
investigating the crime. He says the Schuessler-Peterson investigation was
flawed from the start. None of the detectives and supervisors later assigned
to the task force had visited the scene when the bodies were found. The
scene itself was altered before police arrived—an overzealous coroner’s aide
had moved the boys’ bodies for the benefit of newspaper photographers before
any forensic evidence had been gathered.
Over the next two years,
the task force interviewed thousands of people and compiled more than 6,000
pages of reports in hopes of catching the boys’ killer or killers. Almost
immediately, Konen says, it was obvious to him and others that the Idle Hour
Stable was a likely spot for the murder scene. In 1955 the Chicago police
knew little of Silas except that he was a foul-mouthed brute, Konen says.
But several residents living near the Idle Hour had reported hearing
children screaming in the vicinity of the stable on the night the boys
disappeared, and one had heard a car peeling away.
“We realized the logical
place [for the murder] would have been something adjacent to where the
bodies were found,” says Konen, who today is retired and lives in Tinley
Park. “You look at the city map: right down Higgins Road off of River Road
there is the stable, the Idle Hour.”
A team of detectives
visited the Idle Hour ten days after the bodies were found, but returned
empty-handed. “Nobody knew anything. Nobody heard anything,” Konen recalls.
“This team talked to an old couple who lived on the premises and they talked
to four stable hands. They never talked to Silas.”
The team also never
interviewed Kenneth Hansen, and the question of whether Hansen worked at the
Idle Hour Stable became a point of contention in his first trial. Hansen was
definitely close to Si—close enough to refer to him publicly as “Uncle Si”—and
prosecution witnesses placed Hansen at the stable at the time of the
murders. Hansen’s defense team, however, presented evidence showing that in
October 1955 Hansen was on an extended honeymoon with his wife, Beverly, in
“There was no relationship
between Silas Jayne and Ken Hansen until the early 1960s,” says one of
Hansen’s defense attorneys, Leonard Goodman. “He was not around the Idle
Hour in 1955. It’s a complete fabrication.” Hansen never worked for Silas
and visited the Idle Hour only once or twice, Goodman says.
Another team of detectives
went to the Idle Hour on December 5th. They also came back empty-handed. The
investigation, Konen says, “went nowhere; it just died.’’
In hindsight, Konen and ATF
agents looking into the murders almost 40 years later were flabbergasted
that detectives had not followed the apparent leads in 1955. And finally,
both Konen and the federal agents came to the same possible conclusion: Si
had used his influence with key police officials to avoid scrutiny. Indeed,
within a few years of the boys’ murders, Si had developed close
relationships with corrupt police officers.
“When you look back over
the years you figure, Why in the hell didn’t we pursue that more?” Konen
says. “Why didn’t we do this or that?”
* * *
By the late 1950s, Si and
George were in direct competition. George’s wife, Marion, rode horses for
his stable, while Si’s future wife Dorothy McCloud rode for him. (In all, Si
would be married three times and divorced twice; he never had children.)
George’s reputation for producing winners began to take a toll on Si’s
wallet. Si’s anger boiled over in 1961 when George’s 14-year-old daughter,
Linda, took top prize at the Oak Brook Hounds horse show, beating Si’s best
horse. Si bellowed to his brother, “I’ll never talk to you again, you
bastard!” From that day on, Si actively harassed George, court testimony
shows. In July 1962, George’s office was burglarized. In September someone
loosened the front wheel lugs on George’s truck/trailer at the Ohio State
Fair. After that, George hired security guards. He and his friends started
carrying guns for protection. “Back then everyone was armed,” Schomburg
says. “You never knew what was going to happen. If [Si] got up on the wrong
side of the bed that morning he might kill someone for entertainment.”
There were death threats—in
1963, after George’s horse won the open jumping event at the Lake Forest
Horse Show at the Onwentsia Club; in May 1965, at the Cincinnati Horse Show.
There, George’s horses were ridden by Cheryl Lynn Rude, a 22-year-old
champion equestrian who had ridden for Si until, her sister says, he
demanded sex. A month after that show, back at the Tri-Color Farms, George
asked Rude to move his two-door gold Cadillac. When Rude turned the key,
dynamite alligator-clipped to the ignition detonated, killing her.
focused on the rift between George and Si. Cook County Sheriff’s detective
Bernard Singer noted the differences between the two brothers in a report he
wrote in 1965: “George Jayne . . . has an exceptionally pleasing personality
and is able to project an image of polish and good breeding, although there
is no doubt that this has been an acquired talent.” Silas, Singer wrote,
“may be a pathological liar . . . and presents an extremely rough exterior
both as to . . . speech and demeanor.”
Detectives quickly zeroed
in on a Morgan Park resident, James Blottiaux, as a prime suspect, but the
case against him was dropped after evidence disappeared from the Chicago
Police Department. Rude’s parents were aware that police had a prime suspect
in the case, and their tragedy was compounded when the investigation was
dropped, says Marla Bryan, Rude’s older sister. “My mother and father were
so distraught,” Bryan says. “They knew Silas Jayne was behind it, but no
arrests were ever made.” Rude’s death virtually destroyed her parents, Bryan
Years later, federal agents
reopened the case following their initial success in the Schuessler-Peterson
murders, and in July 1999, Blottiaux was convicted of murdering Rude. At the
trial, testimony indicated that Si had paid Blottiaux $10,000 to plant the
bomb in an effort to kill George.
“Though we never had to
determine a motive, we were entitled to do so,” says assistant state’s
attorney Mary Lacy, who prosecuted the case. “There were a lot of reasons
why Silas wanted to kill George. One was professional jealousy. Trying to
keep George quiet about what he knew about the Schuessler-Peterson murders
could have been [another].” (Blottiaux is now serving 100 to 300 years in
After Rude was killed, John
Schomburg suggested that George hire a hit man and retaliate. “I told him,
‘Jeez, the son of a bitch is trying to get you,’” says Schomburg. “‘Why
don’t you just do it?’”
George did take some
precautions. He never ate at the same restaurant twice in a row; he would
start his car with his feet sticking out, so a blast would blow him out
instead of through the roof. “He knew he was a target,” Schomburg says.
“He’d walk up to the ring with a horse on either side of him. That way, if
somebody took a shot at him, the horse would get killed.”
* * *
Five days after Rude was
killed, two other men that Si had hired to kill George arrived in Chicago.
Si offered them $15,000 to do the job. But they balked and soon confessed to
George. George then sent them to the Cook County Sheriff’s Police.
The Sheriff’s Police set up
a sting to get Si on tape ordering the murder of his brother. Wearing a
recording device, one of the men, Stephen Grod, met with Si at a horse show
in Wisconsin. Si told him, “It’s time to buy a horse.” Grod later claimed
that was Si’s code to kill George. Si also gave Grod a $1,000 down payment.
The authorities indicted Si for conspiracy to commit murder, and the case
went to trial in March 1966.
When Grod took the witness
stand, he claimed he couldn’t remember anything about the $15,000 offer to
kill George, although he had told a grand jury about it in detail. “I can’t
even remember what I had for breakfast this morning. I’m sick,” Grod said.
The case against Si collapsed. Grod—who Hamm says had been influenced by one
of Si’s allies—was found in contempt of court and jailed for 30 days.
A few months later, three
young horse enthusiasts—Ann Miller, 21, Patty Blough, 19, and Renee Bruhl,
19—disappeared and have long been presumed murdered. The three were last
seen getting into a blue-and-white speedboat at the Indiana Dunes State Park
on July 2, 1966. Hamm and federal agents say that the girls may have seen
who planted the bomb that killed Rude, and that Si may have been behind
their disappearance. The case remains unsolved to this day.
Though he would not hire a
hit man, George tried other ways to keep the peace. In 1967, in a deal
brokered at a family reunion, George agreed to quit competing in horse
shows. When George’s two oldest daughters were married, he paid off Si,
Schomburg says, “to make sure that there wouldn’t be trouble at the wedding
or the reception. He told me it had cost him a lot to get the peace.”
One of George’s schemes for
self-protection backfired terribly. In 1969 he had a transmitter affixed to
Si’s car, so that a receiver would beep for George whenever the car was
near. When the device stopped working, George figured the transmitter’s
battery had died and hired the son of a former Inverness police chief to
change it. Frank Michelle Jr., 28, an ex-convict, was to sneak onto Si’s Our
Day Farm near Elgin to do the job. Michelle’s wife, their two children in
tow, dropped him off there. But Si’s dogs spotted the intruder, and Si shot
him to death. At a coroner’s inquest, Si successfully claimed self-defense,
alleging that Michelle had rung his doorbell and then fired at him through
the door. Si testified that he had grabbed an M-1 carbine and chased
Michelle into his yard. “I closed in on him as he tried to pull himself up
to a fence and from a distance of eight feet I emptied the gun into the
man,” Si said. Michelle was shot nine times.
In 1997, informants gave
ATF agents a different account of Michelle’s death: After being alerted by
the dogs, Si captured the intruder and then tortured him, crushing his
genitals with a pair of locking pliers. Finally, Si and two other men shot
Michelle as he begged for his life.
* * *
By now, Si was more
determined than ever to kill George. In November 1969, Markham police
officer Edwin Nefeld, a rogue cop who was on Si’s payroll, approached a man
named Melvin Adams, a building engineer by trade. Nefeld wanted to know if
Adams was interested in doing “a hit” for the well-known horseman.
Adams had never killed
anyone in his life, but he had pulled a gun on a man while interceding in a
spat involving his younger brother. “I was a little wild in those days,’’
Adams admits. Word of the incident had apparently reached Nefeld. Adams told
Nefeld he was interested. “I wanted to see if I could do it,” says Adams,
68, who now works as a janitor at a Florida department store. “I just wanted
to see if I could cross that line and kill a man.” A few days later Adams
met with Si and Nefeld at a tavern in Harvey. He remembers Si was in a good
mood, “a happy-go-lucky, jovial sort who didn’t seem capable of hurting
Si confided that he had been trying to kill George for almost ten years and
offered Adams several ideas on how to carry out the act, such as
machine-gunning George on the expressway or blowing him up with a bomb. Si
also urged Adams not to leave any witnesses, instructing him to kill
George’s wife and children if they got in the way. “I’ve got everything you
need, you know, a string of lawyers, money, anything,” Si promised. Adams
took $20,000 to do the hit.
For several months Adams
tailed George, following him to horse shows around the country—and on one
occasion right up to his home—but found himself unable to pull the trigger.
“In New Orleans I was right behind him. I wasn’t two feet from him. He was
by himself . . . in the parking lot. It was dark. I had the gun in my
pocket, a .38-caliber snub-nose.’’ But, Adams says, he thought of the
consequences for himself. “I couldn’t do it.”
Adams went back to Si and
told him George was too difficult to corner. Si raised the fee to $30,000
and suggested that Adams get an accomplice. So Adams persuaded a coworker,
Julius Barnes, to help.
On October 28, 1970, Adams
and Barnes drove to George Jayne’s home in Inverness. “I just saw [Barnes]
go up to the house and heard a kind of muffled shot,” Adams says. “I had the
hood of my car up, like I was working on my car. A kid passed on a bicycle.
He got close to me. I heard that pop, and I figured [George] was shot. I got
in the car, [and Barnes] got in the car. And then I said, ‘Did you take care
of it?’ He said, ‘Yeah. It’s all done. It’s OK.’” The two men drove back to
Chicago in silence.
Barnes had shot George once
in the heart through the basement window of his home while he was playing
cards with his wife and daughter Linda. George was 47 at the time.
John Schomburg says he’ll
never forget the phone call he received after George was murdered. “Marion
called me. She said, ‘Johnny, George is dead. Please, there’s going to be a
lot of people upset. Try to keep them cool-headed. They’ll listen to you.’
Then the phone started ringing off the wall. I just stayed up all bloody
night.” Many of George’s friends wanted retaliation. But Schomburg heeded
Marion’s wishes, telling the others to stay clear of Si. “George had always
wanted everybody to back off,” he says. “George didn’t want his friends or
employees to get involved in any of it.”
Within days of George’s
murder, several letters came to light that he had written to be opened in
the event of his untimely death. The letters explained that Si had been
trying to have him killed and listed possible suspects. In a letter to his
lawyer dated July 16, 1969, George wrote, “I know without doubt that he
plans to kill me and someday will probably be successful. To date I’ve been
lucky for he persists in hiring only amateurs that he can control and who
are frightened of him.” The letter concludes, “If he is successful . . . I
ask you to guide and protect my family for they will need help. . . . [I]f
there is any way to make this maniac pay for depriving my family of their
support and me of the pleasures of seeing them to maturity, I ask that you
proceed and prosecute to the fullest.”
None of the letters mention
the Schuessler-Peterson murders. Hamm recalls that Marion, who told
authorities she believed her husband may have destroyed a letter that did
so, searched throughout the couple’s expansive home looking for such a
document. Marion also told Hamm she believed George’s murder was tied to his
knowledge of the slayings.
The boy on the bike and another witness gave Illinois Bureau of
Investigation agents a description of the car seen near George’s driveway
and a partial license plate number. The information led to Adams. For
several weeks IBI investigators—David Hamm among them—shadowed Adams,
waiting for him to slip up. Adams says he knew it was a matter of time
before he would be charged or Si would have him murdered to keep quiet.
Meanwhile, with the
knowledge of IBI agents, Marion approached Adams and his girlfriend and
showed them a bag containing $25,000 in reward money. She begged the couple
to tell authorities who had killed her husband. Adams caved in and began
talking to investigators. “I was between a rock and a hard place,” says
Adams, speaking publicly about the killing for the first time. “I knew what
I did, and I knew they knew I did it. I just didn’t know who was going to
get me first, the police or Silas Jayne.”
Authorities charged Adams,
Barnes, Nefeld, Si, and Joseph LaPlaca, one of Si’s crew, in connection with
George Jayne’s murder. Adams was granted immunity and testified against the
others. After a 30-day trial, Barnes was convicted of murder and sentenced
to 15 to 35 years in prison (he was eventually released but later murdered
in an unrelated dispute). Silas and LaPlaca were sentenced to 6 to 20 years
on conspiracy to commit murder; Si served seven years in the Vienna
Correctional Center. Before trial, Nefeld pleaded guilty to conspiracy to
murder and was sentenced to three to ten years in prison.
Adams never collected the
$25,000 reward. “I didn’t want it. I didn’t deserve it,” he says. “I should
have done the right thing and gone to the state’s attorney when Nefeld first
* * *
Within days of George’s
murder, John Konen, who was then a Chicago Police lieutenant assigned to the
Wentworth Area One auto theft unit, pulled out old reports on the Schuessler-Peterson
case. Konen had been keeping an eye on the comings and goings of the Jayne
family since the three boys were murdered, and he had always suspected that
Silas Jayne may have played a role in the boys’ deaths. “Maybe the word got
out,” Konen says. “If George got wind of that, it would be a powerful thing
to have over his brother Silas. Silas would have reason to get rid of George
from that point on.’’
In a five-page report to
his superiors, Konen detailed his theory that George had blackmailed Si over
the Schuessler-Peterson murders. One of Konen’s bosses arranged for him to
meet with the IBI and to pass along what he had put together. He did so, but
apparently the leads were dropped. “I never heard anything about it again,”
Separately, during the
course of the Jayne murder investigation, David Hamm interviewed Kenneth
Hansen and walked away convinced that Hansen—who had the reputation for
picking up boys—was involved in the murders. Hamm shared his suspicions with
superiors, but no witnesses could be found, and the trail again turned cold.
The case remained dormant
until December 1991, when William “Red” Wemette, who had been reading about
the Helen Brach investigation, telephoned James Delorto to say he knew
something about the murders of three boys in 1955. Wemette had been in the
federal witness protection program since his testimony in 1989 had helped
convict a Mob hit man. He told Delorto that he had lived with Hansen for
several years, and he claimed that Hansen had admitted murdering the three
Delorto assigned two of his
top agents to look into the matter, and they began to build a case against
Hansen. The investigation moved slowly, but it picked up after Kenneth’s
brother Curtis died in 1993. One witness, Herbert Hollatz, was in such fear
of Curtis Hansen that, according to Delorto, he refused to testify against
Kenneth Hansen until he was shown a snapshot of Curtis Hansen’s headstone
and a copy of his death certificate.
At the trial in 1995, the
prosecution’s case was built largely on the testimony of four former
associates of Hansen’s who said he had confessed at various times to killing
the boys. One of the witnesses, a man named Roger Spry, who said he had been
abused by Hansen as a young boy, provided a scenario that placed Silas Jayne
at the scene of the Schuessler-Peterson murders. Spry testified that one
night when he was 15, Hansen opened up to him about the crime: “Somehow or
other Si’s name come up and I said, you know, ‘One of these days I’d like to
ride with Si,’ and Kenny goes, ‘You don’t want to ride for that man; you
don’t want to have nothing to do with him; he’s crazy.’”
Spry then testified that
Hansen told him he had picked up the three boys hitchhiking and was having
sex with both of the younger boys when Bobby Peterson walked in. When Bobby
started talking about going to the police, Hansen grabbed him in a chokehold
and “accidentally” strangled the boy.
The testimony continued:
Q: What did he tell
you he did after he accidentally choked the older boy to death?
A: He said he had no other choice but to kill the other two kids. . .
Q: What did he tell
you happened after he killed the remaining two boys?
A: He said that Si showed up.
Q: What did he tell
you happened after Si showed up?
A: He said . . . Si was like he was wild, he was crazy, he was really
Q: What did he tell
you Si said to him?
A: Si told him, he said, “Why do you have to get me into this stuff?”
He said, “This could ruin me. . . .”
Q: What happened
A: He said that him and Si took and loaded the kids in the car
because Si figured to cover himself up, you know, he’d help Kenny and they
would take them and they dropped them in the forest preserves.
* * *
Defense attorneys for
Hansen tried to discredit Spry’s testimony, showing that he had been paid
$4,000 to relocate after agreeing to testify and that the government had
arranged a plea bargain for him in which he received 18 months’ probation on
an arson conviction instead of three years in prison.
After deliberating for just
an hour and 40 minutes, the jury found Hansen guilty, and he was sentenced
to 200 to 300 years in prison. In May 2000, a state appeals court overturned
the conviction on the grounds that jurors had been allowed to hear
prejudicial testimony about Hansen’s pederasty. The appellate court ruled
that, in particular, the trial judge should not have allowed evidence that
showed that during a 20-year period after the Schuessler-Peterson murders
Hansen routinely picked up young male hitchhikers and abused them.
Prosecutors say that in the
retrial, which is scheduled to get under way on June 10th, they plan to put
on a case almost identical to the one they presented against Hansen in 1995.
Hansen’s lawyer Leonard Goodman would not comment on whether he would elicit
testimony suggesting that another Chicago man, Jack Reiling, committed the
murders (see Chicago, June 1999). Reiling died in December 1980, but in 1999
one of his ex-wives and their daughter came forward claiming that Reiling
had admitted to them that he had committed the murders. Judge Michael P.
Toomin, who had presided over Hansen’s first trial, held a hearing to weigh
the new defense evidence and found the testimony about Reiling unconvincing.
Meanwhile, time has taken
its toll on Hansen, 69. He underwent a triple heart bypass operation in
1999, is blind in one eye, suffers from diabetes, and broke his hip and arm
when he fell in the prison exercise yard. His lawyer says the passing years
have also dimmed many memories that Hansen could have called upon to
exonerate himself. “It’s hard to prove something 40 years later,” Goodman
says. “If he had been charged in 1958, he would have had an airtight
* * *
Silas Jayne emerged from
prison in 1979, but his troubles with the law were not over. Seven months
later, a federal grand jury indicted him on charges that from his prison
cell he had plotted an arson that destroyed 33 show horses at a stable
outside of Milwaukee in 1976. The case was based largely on testimony from
one of Si’s former cellmates, who also said that Si had a “hit list”
targeting George’s widow, Marion, her oldest daughter, Linda, and Melvin
Adams. At a trial in April 1980, Si beat the arson charges.
Si spent the remaining
years of his life at his modest ranch-style home in Elgin. Though he managed
to buy homes for his sisters and a new Cadillac every six months, Hamm says,
Si typically reported his yearly income at around $5,000. He was a
millionaire when he died. “Though he was an uneducated man, he was a master
at deception,” the retired investigator says.
Before he succumbed to
leukemia on July 13, 1987, Si apparently laid the groundwork for one last
scheme—one that sent Hamm on a wild goose chase through Minnesota looking
for the body of Helen Brach. A former cellmate of Si’s told investigators he
had been paid by Si in 1979 to remove Brach’s body from a stable in Morton
Grove and rebury it in a cemetery in the Twin Cities. The story turned out
to be false. FBI agents learned later that Si had concocted the scheme to
throw off the investigation into the disappearance of Helen Brach. Hamm
remains convinced that Si played a significant role in the presumed demise
Today, the fiefdoms of the
Jayne family have largely faded from the landscape. The site of Si’s Idle
Hour Stable is now the parking lot for an office building located across
Higgins Road from the O’Hare Marriott. George’s first stable, Happy Day, is
a parking lot for a Baskin-Robbins store. The pain and disruption caused by
Si and the brothers’ feud can’t be erased so easily.
This article was
originally published in the June 2002 issue of Chicago magazine.