Fighting ignorance since 1973 Its taking longer than we thought
What was up with the guy killed by his
own bomb in Lakewood/Balmoral?
I grew up in the Lakewood/Balmoral area of Edgewater. Circa 1955-56 a
bomb was detonated at the northeast corner of Lakewood/Catalpa sometime
after midnight. It instantly killed the guy who was carrying it. There was
talk it was meant for the house on the southeast corner. We walked past the
site on the way to school in the morning. The police and/or coroner had
already picked up the larger pieces, but there was enough of the bomber
spread around to cause a stir. Do you have any more information about this?
You know, Tim, after reading up on your old neighborhood, I'm going to quit complaining about the people across the alley behind me playing loud ranchera music. It's not so much that one guy blew himself up a with a bomb. Rather it's that, in 1950s Chicago, bombs were a routine means of interpersonal communication. Here's how the Tribune described the situation: "The bombing, the fifth this year and the 34th in Cook county since Jan. 1, 1954, is the first to be 'solved' since October, when a boy admitted the 'pint size' bombing of a southwest side residence because the owner chased him off the lawn." Still, even by old-Chicago standards, the Catalpa Street bombing in Andersonville! Gentle, progressive Andersonville! was in a class by itself.
The deceased was Clarence (Mike) Campbell, 59, a former gambler and south side bookie who'd been convicted of murder and kidnaping and spent eight years in prison. Early on the morning of Friday, May 25, 1956, he blew himself to pieces with a dynamite bomb in front of the home of John Olinder, 50, at Catalpa and Lakewood. Apparently Campbell had been carrying the bomb when he tripped over a string fence protecting a newly seeded parkway in front of Olinder's two-flat. Oops.
Campbell's car, with Louisiana plates, was found parked across the street with the engine still warm and the keys in the ignition. In the dead man's pockets police found a notebook with the license plate numbers of two cars owned by Olinder plus a third car owned by Olinder's neighbor, Gwendolyn Voss, 60. Police speculated that Campbell had intended to plant the bomb against either Olinder's house or one of his cars.
The story was front page news for a week. The following facts emerged:
The last bit was followed by this cryptic paragraph in the Trib:
Excuse me. The caller sounded like a bookmaker? What does a bookmaker sound like? And who said anything about there being a tavern or gambling at Olinder's summer resort? I suspected the Trib was engaging in the ancient Chicago journalism practice of "scoop recovery," in which a paper attempted to one-up or refute the revelations of its competitors. However, despite an afternoon reeling through the microfilm of long-departed dailies in this age of instant information, I felt like I was reading papyrus I could find nothing more.
Back to our story:
Other miscellaneous observations:
So there you have it. A mangled corpse on the lawn. The seemingly innocent homeowner with a knack for making enemies and perhaps a dark secret, even if it didn't have anything to do with gambling or that Wisconsin resort. The cranky neighbor. The disgruntled sister. The bowling alley owner, the real estate speculator, the missing blond wife! All of them, judging from the photos in the newspapers, looking like something out of the Chicago edition of Clue.
Some will say: in a town that saw the St. Valentine's day massacre and countless gangland assassinations, I don't see what's so remarkable about one guy getting killed by a bomb. However, consider the context. Mob killings typically involved professional criminals struggling for control of lucrative rackets. Here we have people getting blown up in an ordinary neighborhood over what, parking spaces? Furthermore, the neighborhood in question was Andersonville, so named for the ethnic origin of its inhabitants, as evidenced by names like Olinder and Svensen. I realize I stray into politically incorrect territory in saying this, but if you're looking for ethnic communities prone to violence and vendettas, do you think: those bloodthirsty Swedes?
Seriously, what was up with these people? Did Mrs. Voss and Mrs. Svensen hire Campbell to teach Olinder a lesson? If so, wouldn't sugar in the gas tank have worked just as well? How did Olinder know what bookies sounded like? Also, not to cast aspersions on the departed, what kind of numbskull gets himself blown up tripping over string?
I can't answer those questions. The last story mentioning the bombing appeared a week after the blast. I scoured the newspaper databases, but as far as I can tell, the incident never came up again.
That's not to say the participants disappeared entirely from public view. Although I found nothing further about John Olinder, Gwendolyn Voss surfaced again in the Tribune in 1965. By then a 70-year-old widow still living at Lakewood and Catalpa, she returned home one day to have robbers burst from the basement, bind and gag her, ransack the premises, and make off with $21,000 in jewels, furs, and cash.
Coincidence or payback? I have no idea. All I know is, if you're in the vicinity of Lakewood and Catalpa, watch your back.
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