Book excerpt

Criminal Element

Larry Cole

Hugh Holton


Criminal Element
PART 1"It ain't on the legit."--Detective Joe Donegan1JUNE 13, 1992 7:45 A.M. 
Detectives Lou Bronson and Manny Sherlock were directed to investigate the homicides by arson at the South Michigan Avenue Motel. They were assigned to the Area One Detective Division under the command of Commander Larry Cole. Their case-management sergeant was Blackie Silvestri. Bronson and Sherlock were considered two of the best detectives in one of the highest crime areas in one of the largest cities in the United States.Bronson, a stocky, balding African-American with gray hair and a wise manner, was the senior detective. He was a sharp dresser, who wore custom-tailored suits and stylish hats. He always stood out when he arrived at crime scenes, but this was not just because he looked good. Lou Bronson was the type of officer who other cops went to when they needed answers. Of course they could always go to their supervisors, but most of those seeking Bronson's aid had discovered long ago that the black detective was not only always right, but gave his advice willingly and without reservation.Manny Sherlock was white, six-feet-four-inches tall and beginning to put on a little weight after being a gangly beanpole with an Abe Lincoln lean figure for his first few years on thedepartment. He purchased his clothes from the same tailor as Lou Bronson and had also begun imitating some of the black detective's mannerisms and figures of speech. Lou Bronson had been raised on the South Side of Chicago in the predominantly African-American Washington Park Boulevard enclave. So when Manny uttered such phrases as, "Look, my man," or "Right on, brother," or "Get righteous, fool, before I bust a cap in your behind," he had generally been looked at with varying degrees of shock and amusement.But one thing was indisputable: When Bronson and Sherlock were assigned to investigate a homicide, it was usually safe to say that someone would soon be going to jail.Sherlock parked the unmarked black Chevrolet police car behind the Bomb and Arson Unit van on Michigan Avenue and the two detectives got out. Bronson was wearing a tan suit with a yellow shirt and dark brown shoes, socks and a yellow-and-brown patterned tie. On his head was a flat-topped straw hat with a brown hatband. Sherlock was dressed in a natty dark brown blazer; however, all of his accessories, at least colorwise, were exactly the same as Bronson's. Sherlock was hatless and despite his obvious efforts with a comb and brush to bring order to his dark brown hair, it was still standing up in odd places. Once, when Sherlock had complained about his unruly mop, Bronson had told him, "Don't sweat it, my man, it gives you character." This comment had made Sherlock feel marginally better about his appearance.The uniformed sergeant from the Second Police District, who was in charge at the burned-out motel crime scene, was the superbly muscular, dark-complexioned Clarence McKinnis. Mack, as the sergeant was called, had been a high-school classmate of Commander Cole. Seeing the detectives approach, hedisengaged himself from a group of uniformed cops and walked over to brief them.The sergeant possessed a deep baritone voice with a near melodious quality. "Bomb and Arson just finished up, guys, and the fire was definitely set intentionally. The point of origin was the manager's office located on the south end of the parking lot driveway. There was a gas stove in a small room behind the counter. Even with all of the debris from the explosion and fire, the arson investigators found a full book of matches inside the stove. Apparently our perpetrator blew out the pilot light, rigged the matchbook for all of the matches to ignite at once by either using a lit cigarette or a single match as a fuse, and turned on all of the gas jets. When a sufficient volume of gas built up and the matches ignited, there was an explosion.""Crime lab people through with the scene yet, sarge?" Bronson asked."Everything's wrapped up, Lou. We were just waiting for you.""Let's go, Manny."As they walked away, McKinnis called to them, "How is Commander Cole doing?"Bronson said, "Just great, Sarge. We'll tell him you said hello when we get back to the station." 
The second floor of the motel had collapsed and pancaked onto the first-floor ceiling making the complex appear to have consisted of only a single story. Of the thirty rooms on the first level of the former motel, all of the windows and doors were gone and in order to effectively fight the fire, the Chicago Fire Department was forced to ventilate the individual units by knocking holes in the rear walls. The surviving injured hadbeen removed to the Burn Unit of Cook County Hospital. The dead were left on the scene in the exact positions in which they were found to make it easier for the homicide detectives to discover who had caused their deaths and why.Despite it being the origin of the fire, the motel office was in fairly good shape, although every surface had been charred to a crisp. Yellow barrier tape bearing the admonition in bold black lettering, "Police Line--Do Not Cross," was stretched completely around the property. Water dripped from the ceiling and walls, which forced Bronson and Sherlock to return to their police car. There they removed their jackets and donned rubber raincoats and knee boots. Then they entered the burned-out structure.Bronson and Sherlock were inside for forty-five minutes. Once, during that period, Sherlock came out and asked a crime lab technician to go back inside with them to photograph an area of the crime scene from a particular angle. When they finally did exit the burned-out building, their faces and hands were streaked with soot, but, when they removed the rubber coats and boots, their clothing was still immaculate.Sergeant McKinnis and four officers were waiting for them. It was only after the detectives gave the word could they remove the bodies to the morgue and cease protection of the crime scene. The sergeant stood by as they packed their gear, including kelite flashlights and a metal case containing magnifying glasses, a metal tape measure, and miscellaneous investigative tools, into the trunk of their squad car. Beneath the dirt on the detectives' faces, Mack could tell that they were far from happy."Is it that bad, guys?" the sergeant asked.Bronson was lost in thought, so Sherlock responded,"We've got a textbook arson here, Sarge. It doesn't look like the work of a professional torch, because there was no attempt to make the fire look like it started accidentally."Bronson came out of his mood of deep concentration. "That fire was set to cover something up. I'd also be willing to bet that when the woman inside the office is autopsied, the M.E. will discover that she was killed before the fire started.""Where are you guys going to go from here?" Sergeant McKinnis asked."After we get cleaned up, we've going to interview the owners of this place. But I've got the feeling that it won't lead us anywhere."Detective Bronson was absolutely right. 
Detective Joe Donegan got to his desk early at the Area Six Police Center located at Western and Belmont on the North Side. He had been up all night, but didn't feel the slightest bit tired. Last night had been the most important of his life. The five hundred dollars he had collected from the Lake Shore Tap was now, in the vernacular of the Chicago streets, nothing but chump change.Donegan now had a Chicago alderman in his pocket, which was a powerful bargaining chip for a cop of Donegan's ilk. And the criminal-minded cop planned to suck everything he could out of Alderman Phillip "Skip" Murphy, Jr.The majority of the cops who go bad do so after they've been on the job awhile. Then due to greed, deteriorating moral character, and, in some cases, peer pressure, they surrender to negative influences and become part of the criminal element they are sworn to combat. Donegan was an exception to this rule, because he had joined the Chicago Police Departmentwith the specific intention in mind of using his badge to steal.Joseph Patrick Terrence Donegan had been born in the same year and in the same city as Alderman Skip Murphy. However, they were raised in completely different worlds. Donegan came up in the Marquette Park neighborhood, which was known for the high number of city employees who resided there, the good quality of its parochial and public schools, and its virulent racism. Racism that had been known to erupt into open violence against innocent blacks and Hispanics who happened to wander into the area.In 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led an open housing march into the all-white neighborhood, which resulted in the residents coming out en masse to pelt the peaceful marchers with bottles and rocks. Joe Donegan was raised in this environment.Donegan's father, Robert "Bob" Donegan, Sr. was a Chicago fireman, who was capable of single-handedly consuming an entire case of Budweiser at one sitting. The future cop couldn't remember much about his father and had no recollection at all of him without a beer can in his hand. Lieutenant Bob Donegan of the CFD perished in a warehouse fire when young Joe was seven. The family managed to get by on his line-of-duty-death insurance policy.The Donegan clan consisted of four children: Bob Jr., the oldest, Ted, Joe, and their baby sister Megan. Their mother Barbara, who had been two years older than their martyred father, never remarried. As the years went by, she developed a fondness for vodka, which she drank by the fifth. She rapidly aged toward debilitation, forcing her children to care for her. This was a task that Joe hated. He also developed a pronounced aversion to liquor in any form, which he never touched. Andalthough his father's pension was generous by middle-class standards, in Joe's estimation there was never enough money when he was growing up.There was enough for the necessities of life, but little more. The oldest son, Bob Jr., kept a tight rein on the purse strings and, at an early age, all of the Donegan children were forced to get part-time jobs after school. Then, as each of them became old enough, they were given city jobs. Bob Jr. and Ted followed in their dead father's footsteps. Megan got a job as a clerk for the Water Department at City Hall and Joe joined the police department. Joe arrived at this decision after giving his choice of career a great deal of thought.There was a saying about the internal workings of the government of the City of Chicago, as it applied to the all-white Marquette Park neighborhood, that went, "It ain't on the legit." This meant that anything could be taken care of in the Windy City if one had the right connections and the requisite amount of cash. All of the Donegan family's city jobs had been obtained through the local precinct captain's ward office and, although each of them was required to go through screening for their positions, there was no chance of them being rejected as "unqualified." This was because, "It ain't on the legit."The first day he entered the police academy, Donegan began working toward his goal. This entailed learning as much as he could about not only the department, but also the officers who commanded it. Probationary Police Officer Joseph Patrick Terrence Donegan was an exceptional recruit in the estimation of his instructors at the Chicago Police Academy. In fact, on more than one of his monthly fitness reports, the word "obsessive" was used. And, despite the hours he spent in training, PPO Donegan went home and hit the books for an additionalfour to six hours a night. On the pistol range, he was also superior. The only area in which he did not excel was physical training, because he simply didn't possess the physical gifts of some of his classmates. However, he still finished first in his class.Donegan was initially assigned to the Sixteenth Police District near O'Hare International Airport. "Sixteen" was known as a country-club station, because the volume of calls was very low and there was little reported crime. Officers possessing limited ambition were known to spend their entire careers in the Sixteenth District. Joe Donegan had no such intentions.As soon as he was off probation, Donegan requested a transfer to the Eleventh Police District, which was in the heart of a high crime, ghetto area known as the "Wild Wild West Side." There he jumped into high intensity police work with both feet. To say that Donegan was "gung ho" would be a gross understatement. He was so aggressive that he was often called to the side by supervisors and veteran officers and told to slow down before he got himself killed. But despite appearances, Joe Donegan was being extremely cautious. Being a city martyr, like his dead firefighter father, was not in his plans. His aggressive attitude toward police work enabled him to learn faster. And he was learning a great deal.At this early stage of his career, Donegan had yet to engage in any form of corruption. He was patiently awaiting the right opportunity, which he was certain would eventually come.Unlike the citizenry of the "country club" Sixteenth Police District, the residents of the Eleventh District were all black and poor, and the number of crimes in "Eleven" was substantially higher than in more affluent neighborhoods in the city. There were also certain societal elements present, which contributedto particular types of law-breaking. These elements were blatant racism, lack of proper education for the majority of the residents, narcotics and alcohol abuse. The law-breaking these conditions bred was a high incidence of public drunkenness, a plethora of illegal firearms on the streets, and a large number of violations by vehicle operators.At the beginning of his second year in the department, Donegan, working alone, conducted his first traffic shakedown. It was of a reputed drug dealer, who was driving drunk and carrying a pistol. Faced with a choice between going to jail and paying the cop off, the dealer paid. The price was two hundred dollars. Donegan did a few more of these traffic shakedowns; however, he realized that they were too high-risk for the return gained. As the third year of his police career began, he decided to take his plan to the next level, which was to seek an assignment out of uniform. 
The Area Six squad room was filling up rapidly with day watch detectives. None of the men and women in civilian dress spoke to Detective Donegan and he ignored them as well. He was not very well liked by either his fellow officers or his supervisors. Also he was the only Area Six Detective, specializing in the follow-up investigations of violent crimes, who was allowed to work alone. This was by way of mutual agreement between Donegan and the other detectives.The commander of Area Six Detectives was Richard Shelby, who was a nondescript type and who seemed out of his depth to command a detective area. In the cheap conservative business attire that most of the detectives in the room wore, and with his hair slicked back from a high forehead and held in place with hair tonic, Shelby stepped to the podium atthe front of the room. The lieutenants in command of the Violent Crimes and Property Crimes sections stood behind him.Donegan suppressed a sneer. Shelby was about to spout off about some big operation he wanted to initiate. This commander was a notorious grandstander, a shameless butt-kisser, and an unrepentant blowhard. Shelby didn't know it, but he had provided a single item about which Detective Joe Donegan and his fellow detectives were in complete agreement. That was that they all felt that Commander Dick Shelby was a total asshole."Could I have your attention please," the commander said. "I'll only take a few minutes of your time."Shelby talked for half an hour. 
Police Officer Joe Donegan realized, after only spending three years on the CPD that being assigned to uniform duty was an extreme drawback to his larcenous pursuits. Actually, everything about working "in the bag," as it was commonly called by police officers nationally, made undetected misconduct virtually impossible. This was due to the traditional police uniform being festooned with identifiers.Every badge bore distinctive numerals and the cap shield bore a duplicate of these numbers, which were as individual to the officer as his social security number. Additional identifiers were their district or precinct numbers on their uniforms, and marked police vehicles bore not only license plate numbers, but also individual police vehicle numbers with oversized numerals. However, the simplest way to identify an officer wearing a police uniform was to read his name tag over the right breast of his outer garment. Because of this, most officers working in the bag conducted themselves in an appropriate manner.This became even more intensely the case with the advent of civilians videotaping police actions.But Joe Donegan was not about to let such encumbrances make him vulnerable to a system that was set up to elevate the privileged at the expense of the little guy. In addition to this philosophy, Donegan had also discovered that uniformed street work was dangerous. During the three years that he was assigned to the Eleventh Police District, four officers were killed in the line of duty.With the help of his older brother Ted, Joe obtained a transfer to the Vice Control Section of the Organized Crime Division. Vice Control was responsible for spearheading investigations into organized narcotics, gambling, and prostitution operations. Most of the investigations conducted were undercover, which authorized the assigned officers to work in casual clothing and drive undercover cars. For Joe Donegan, working Vice Control was the equivalent of celebrating every Christmas and birthday of his life. And although the Chicago Police Department didn't know it, he had just been issued a license to steal.Utilizing the same "obsessed" attention that had taken him to the top of his police academy class, Donegan studied every mission undertaken by his fellow cops in the Vice Control Section. Despite being assigned to the Prostitution Unit, which primarily kept an eye on the mob-operated call girl operations in the city and contiguous suburbs, he closely and carefully monitored the Gambling and Narcotics Units. Hacking into the Vice Control Section's central computer from his home computer was the "careful" part. The "closely" part was that during the three years that he was assigned to the Prostitution Unit, Donegancollected extensive files on every mob figure, major dope dealer, Mafia pimp, and high-stakes gambler that came to the attention of the Chicago Police Department. Along the way the crooked cop used the "careful" part of his illegal enterprise to make a great deal of money by engaging in simple, but anonymous "cash for information" exchanges. Officer Joe Donegan became so good at making anonymous contacts and setting up dead-letter money drops to collect cash bribes from the criminals he was helping, that he began considering himself invincible. This was a mistake. 
The mental reference to him being "invincible" brought him back to the here and now in the Area Six squad room on the morning of June 13, 1992. Commander Shelby was still talking. As far as Donegan was concerned the commander was a complete idiot. Had it not been for Shelby using the same source of political influence that Donegan did, Shelby would still be on a beat car. Donegan also had a negative opinion of the majority of the department's command officers. However, there were a few whom he respected, because they were good cops. And good cops were a serious threat to all levels of the criminal element. One of these cops was Commander Larry Cole, Shelby's opposite number in Area One Detectives. Another cop that Donegan was wary of was a crazy undercover Narc he had known when he was in the Organized Crime Division. Her name was Judy Daniels and she went by the moniker, "The Mistress of Disguise/High Priestess of Mayhem." She had forced Donegan's hasty transfer to the Detective Division three years ago. He still owed her for that.Finally, Shelby concluded his lengthy remarks by saying, "I want all of you to do your jobs and be careful out there."As the Area Six Detective Commander stepped from the podium, he didn't see Detective Joe Donegan smiling at him. In the mind working behind those black pools that Donegan called eyes, the crooked cop was thinking, "I always do my job, Commander, and I'm also always extremely careful."Copyright © 2002 by Hugh Holton Police Lieutenant Hugh Holton was a twenty-nine year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He authored several bestselling novels, including, Time of the Assassins, The Left Hand of God, and Violent Crimes. At the time of his death, Hugh Holton was the highest ranking active police officer writing novels in America.