Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Bewildering Chicago Murder of Michael Stopec in 1927.

The mysterious James Britt, who rented room 330 of the apartment hotel known as the Morelia Apartments, located at 4047 North Kenmore, in which Michael Stopec, alias Harvey Foxton, was found slain Friday night, July 22, 1927, was identified by Charles Krieger, 29 years old, a former pal of Stopec.

Stopec's body was found in his apartment, kneeling in front of a sofa and shot in the heart. His neighbors said they heard the shot and saw a woman leaving the scene. The breakfast table was still set for three people, but only two meals had been touched.

Krieger had a criminal record, and the police, comparing his description at the bureau of identification with reports furnished by residents in the hotel where Stopec was killed, decided that Krieger and Britt were the same. The search centered on Krieger, believing that he did the shooting or was a witness to it.

Two women who had been friends of the dead man were held for questioning. The police were convinced a woman was involved in the slaying. It was thought that Mrs. Emma Stopec, the victim's wife, was in the room when her husband was shot. She was sought for questioning.

Anna O'Grady, known as 'Babe,' was taken into custody. She said she was engaged to marry the man she knew as Foxton. Here was another motive, the police said, pointing out that Stopec may have been killed by his wife in a fit of jealousy. Miss O'Grady approved of this theory. She said she heard that Mrs. Stopec was extremely jealous. She also admitted the possibility of her fiancée being slain by rival bootleggers.

Miss O'Grady and Lillian Wallen were found in Stopec's apartment, 148 W. Goethe Street, where they said they were waiting for James Curtain and George Dunasik. All were questioned regarding the murder.

Another theory of Chief of Detectives William E. O'Connor is that Stopec was slain by members of a booze ring following a dispute over dividends. 

It was discovered that Stopec rented an apartment under the name James Britt. He was married but was dating at least five women. At age 28, he already had a rap sheet for larceny and burglary and was suspected of being a bootlegger.

On July 25, 1927, it came to light that a county jail prisoner Robert Stanley, 33 years old, supplied several missing links into the murder of Michael Stopec. Captain John Norton, acting on information furnished by Lilian Wallen and Babe Grady, began the search for Stanley, which ended at the cell where Stanley was being held on a larceny charge. After prolonged questioning, Stanley admitted, according to Capt. Norton that it was a message he delivered to Stopec, which sent Stopec to his death at his Kenmore Apartment. "A fellow, I won't say who told me to tell Mike to meet him up there. So I let Mike use my car, and he drove the two girls, Lilian Wallen and Babe Grady, as far as Graceland Cemetery."

Henry Guardino was suspected of firing the shot which killed Stopec. It was learned that bad feelings existed between Guardino and Stopec over the affection of Gertrude 'Billie' Murphy.
Gertrude 'Billie' Murphy, 22, is brought in for questioning in the murder case of Michael Stopec, who was shot and killed in an apartment hotel on July 22, 1927. 
Two witnesses had said they saw Guardino enter the death apartment on the day of the murder, and when arrested, Guardino was carrying a pistol of the caliber used by the killer. Guardino admitted he visited the apartment, which had been engaged by a man, still sought, who gave the name "James Britt." But Guardino persists in denying knowledge of the shooting.

Another person, in addition to the killer and his victim, is known to have been present at the time of the shooting and Capt. Norton admits there is some possibility of Stanley, the prisoner, being this third person. Another theory is that the third person was a woman.

"It is clear that Stanley hastened to give himself up at the jail to avoid arrest in the murder case," said Chief of Detectives William E. O'Connor. Mrs. Murphy was still in custody.

Police interviewed five women and four men, all with good reasons for wanting Stopec dead. His wife was one of them. So was his fiancée. Stopec was scheduled to be married the week after he was murdered, despite the fact he was already married. There were also accusations that he was a broker of shady marriages, arranging for pals to marry recently widowed women who had received large payouts from their husband's life insurance policies.

Despite all the suspects, no one was ever charged with his murder. The main suspect, Robert Stanley, was arrested in August 1927, but the grand jury and coroner couldn't find enough evidence to bring him to trial, and he was released.

Whoever killed Michael Stopec got away with it.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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