Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I have met some very nice people through my genealogy research and Find a Grave.  Not only have I had the privilege of finding and photographing a grave for someone who lives in Jerusalem, I have also been contacted by cousins I didn't know I had.  Unfortunately some of the nicest people I have met are connected to some of the saddest stories.  Case in point:  Morris Shames.

The family of Morris Shames was not even sure that he had existed.  For so long he was thought to just be a figment of the imagination of one family member - no name no connection - always just a story about a 'brother' killed in Chicago during the time of Al Capone.  Then, late last year while one of the relatives was researching the family back in Lithuania they found an extra brother ... they suddenly thought that there may be some truth to the story - but how to prove it?  Well, the genealogy community is a very sharing/giving group.  Not long after the family posted a query to the Cook County Illinois Mailing List on RootsWeb voila! Morris was found.  But the deeper they got into his story the more horrific it became.  Here's the story from the Chicago Daily Tribune of December 29, 1927:


At the command to put up his hands, shouted from behind his back, Maurice Shams (sic), 31 years old, turned around inquiringly last night at 45th street and Wabash avenue.  Without another word one of two colored youths fired one shot.  The bullet struck Shams in the abdomen.  He died an hour later at the Chicago hospital.

Just before he died, Shams told Sergt. Arthur Specht that he was a newcomer in America and did not quite understand that the youths meant to rob him and that he was shot because of his failure to raise his arms quickly.  Shams was a Roumanian Jew and has no relatives here, police were told.

He was employed as a clerk and watchman for the Freeman Piano and Furniture company, 4504 South State street, where he had living quarters.  He had locked up the place to go for a short walk when halted by the robbers.  He was unable to give a good description of his assailants.
Chicago Daily Tribune - December 29, 1927. 

But by New Years Eve, "Chicago's Finest" had their men:


Two Negro boys confessed early this morning to police that they had murdered Maurice Shams (sic), 31, 4504 South State street, who was slain Wednesday night in an attempted holdup.  According to Lieut. Ed Murphy and Sergt. Edward Callahan, the youths are William Kindricks, 17, 4554 South State street, and Charles Pickett, 17, 4724 South State street.

An automatic pistol found upon Kindricks when he was arrested at 46th and State was purchased by mail, he admitted, for the purpose of committing robberies.  Shams, a Roumanian Jew and not long in America, was shot when he was slow about putting up his hands.
Chicago Daily Tribune - December 31, 1927

At least Morris' family could take some solace from the fact that his murders were caught and convicted - or were they?

There is a searchable database called "Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930"  (http://homicide.northwestern.edu/database/)  If you check the database for Morris Shames here is what you'll find:

December 28, 1927
Shames, Morris - Age 31 - Fatally shot 8 PM, 12/28/27 in front of 4501 So. Wabash Ave. by two young Negro boys who tried to rob him.  He did not understand their order to throw up his hands and was shot.  On 12/30/27 Wm. Kindricks and Charles Pickett, both 16 years old, were arrested and on 1/12/28 held by the Coroner.  3 Dist. 4/28/28 - Kindricks and Pickett acquitted - McGoorty.  Case number 9108 

Acquitted?  How could two confessed cold-blooded murders be acquitted - even in Chicago?  The database does not give details, just the results.  Justice in Chicago has always been "different".

And now we come to the final mystery in the strange case of Morris Shames - where is the body?  His death certificate is below:

Take a look at Box 18 - Place of Burial.  Genealogy researchers are usually good at deciphering handwriting but this one is tough.  It looks like South Helmer or something similar to that.  However, there is no "South Helmer" Cemetery in Chicagoland.  The folks on the Mailing List were consulted again and someone remembered that one of the gates at Waldheim Jewish Cemetery in Forest Park was called "South Side Hebrew Congregation".  A quick call to Waldheim verified that indeed Morris Shames was buried at Gate 33 - South Side Hebrew Congregation.

Unfortunately since Morris had no family in Chicago, they did not buy a family plot -- just one grave - and no one had the money to buy a tombstone.  Morris' grave is unmarked, but the nice people in the office at Waldheim gave me the approximate location of his grave.

Poor Morris Shames - he came all the way to Chicago from Lithuania to make a better life for himself. He had hardly started building his life in Chicago when he was murdered in cold blood.  Then to add insult to injury his murderers were acquitted.

Thanks to the persistence of  researchers and his family, Morris was not forgotten and he will live on through the miracle of the Internet. Morris, I am sorry that Chicago didn't treat you better, but I am telling your story to help make up for that.  May Morris Shames rest in peace. 

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