1904 newspapers around the
country reported that a nineteen year old
employee, Frank Uhler,* had been
arrested and confessed to stealing a 4-1/2
carat diamond ring valued at $800 ($20k
adjusted for inflation) from the hand of a
deceased elderly male Iroquois Theater
victim in a wagon outside Jordan's funeral
And a brothel patron!
The story was replete with
details. Two weeks after the fire, on January
19, 1904, Uhler reportedly tried and failed to sell
the ring at a river area brothel (called a "levee
resort"). The prostitute to whom the ring was
offered was suspicious about the low price and
reported it to the police. Uhler meanwhile had
the stone reset and gave the ring to his sister,
He was arrested by police
detective John Biddinger, taken to the Harrison
street station where he reportedly confessed, the
ring was then retrieved from his sister and turned
over to city custodian Dewitt Cregier (the fellow
who inventoried victim's possessions found at
theater and collected from morgues). At
Uhler's arraignment before circuit court judge John
K. Prindiville two days later, Uhler denied having
made a confession and since a prosecutor failed to
appear, Prindiville dismissed the case.
Well, not so much
Worst Uhler was guilty of was trying to open a
slot machine. No dead bodies,
no ring, no brothel, no confession.
Of course, when it was later reported that Frank was
not a ghoul after all, the story only appeared in
Chicago papers, though the Chicago Trib
did give it a front page slot.
Newsboy had the ring
As it turned out, a
newsboy named James Boyle found the ring on the
sidewalk in front of Jordan's funeral home. He went
inside and reported his discovery
to a manager.
The manager took Boyle's name, did not
take possession of the ring and reported it to the
police. They went to Boyle's house, retrieved the
ring and it was returned to the victim's family.
No arrests were made.
Playing the slots
Back to Frank
Uhler. The night of the fire he was
arrested at the
corner of Wabash and 15th, by Biddinger and another
police detective, when they saw
him trying to open a "slot machine."*
The following morning the case was
dismissed in Prindeville's court
because a prosecutor didn't appear.
Reportersput the newsboys discovery of a ring
together with Uhler's arrest and acquittal
then added a brothel, an honest prostitute, a reset
ring and a gift to a sister to produce a juicy ghoul
It seems likely the
brothel, ring resetting and gift to a sister were not
made up whole cloth and had some grains of truth,
with either the newsboy or Uhler but the details are
probably forever lost. Sounds like the kind of
story that would have caused some laughter at the
police station and court house but am betting Uhler
and his family weren't chuckling.
After his fifteen minutes of notoriety
Frank J. Uhlir (1884-) is
thought to have been one of six children born to
Chicago saloon keeper, Jacob Uhlir, and Katrina
Uhlir, both of whom died in 1903. The family,
including the parents and four of the children
emigrated from Pisek, Austria in 1883; the last two
kids, including Frank, were born in the United
States. By 1900 the children were grown
and worked in a variety of trades, including a
machinist, butcher, tailor and painter.
There were several men named
Frank Uhler / Uhlir in Chicago then. If I have
the right man, in 1913 he married a woman named
Bessie Blazek. By the 1930s they owned their
home in the village of Stickney, Illinois and he
worked as a salesman for a bread company. No
evidence that they had children.
* Spelled Uhler in 1904
newspapers and in the 1900 U.S. Census but I think
the family spelled it as Uhlir.
** The newspaper report was
not specific as to the type of machine with which Uhler was accused of tampering. In 1903 any
device requiring the insertion of a coin into a slot
was sometimes referred to as a "slot machine,"
including machines that in modern times are called
"coin ops" or "vending machines," for dispensing
gum, candy and cigars, as well as pay telephones,
juke boxes, one-arm bandits, etc.
That Chicago law enforcement
was keeping an eye on such machines was demonstrated
in January of '03 when the city brought indictments
against one hundred thirty-five saloons and cigar
store owners. (Interestingly, one of those was
saloon operator named Louis Witz, who turns up
in another of the ghoul stories.) To circumvent
anti-gambling laws, nickel machines were labeled as
paying out a cigar for every nickel inserted,
thereby posturing a gambling machine as a cigar
dispenser – that gave out random cash prizes.
Few players were interested in the low quality penny
If you have additional
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