Saturday, April 16, 2011

Silas Jayne

This is a review of a very dirty story about awful people who preyed on the wealthy – it’s filled with accounts of abuse of children, extortion and murder and even the slaughter of over-insured horses.
by Charlie Leck

It was in the summer of 1987. I walked into the horse barn where Elise was working her miracles on one of Anne’s driving horses, grooming it to perfection. She flashed an enormous smile at me and her eyes glowed with happiness. Though she was always a joyful and cheerful person, this smile went even beyond the norm. I asked her what was up, curious about her mood.

“I just heard it on the radio,” she said. “Si Jayne is dead!”

Unbridled Rage, by Gene O’Shea (Berkley Books, New York, 2005) is something of a reader’s sequel to a book I wrote about here a couple of weeks agoHot Blood, by Ken Englade (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1996). I just finished O’Shea’s book and found it a page turner and went through it in a matter of about six hours.

It also dealt with the dirty, underbelly of the Chicago horse industry – or perhaps it could be more appropriately titled “the horse racket.” Again, Silas Jayne is one of the prime characters in this true story and O’Shea doesn’t make him come off any cleaner or less evil than Englade did.

Let me explain why I’m so suddenly interested in this topic even though it is very sleazy and ugly. If you haven’t a strong stomach for violence and abuse, you won’t want to read these books. There are two reasons why I’m drawn to them. (1) My wife was significantly involved in the hunter/jumper world of horses when I met her – and so is her sister – and so were her parents. And, her mother had a very unpleasant encounter with the violent side of Silas Jayne, which would have scared the bejeebers out of most people, but only served to make Anne’s mother very pissed off. (2) I’ve met some of the minor characters in these stories and I even admired a couple of them – but I’m not having second thoughts about all that stuff. Most people in the business are good and conscientious competitors. Anne knew many of the characters in this story and a number of them more than in just a passing way.

A couple of readers of my earlier blog chastised me for making it sound like this terrible behavior and unethical approach was a common part of the horse world. If I did that, I’m sorry. Had I been doing that, I would have been including even ourselves in the stereotype. Not at all! This sleaziness was very significant in Chicagoland in the 50s and on through the 80s, but it is not typical of the hunter/jumper world nationally or, for that matter, of most of the Chicago horse owners and competitors.

Here’s where you start.
(1) People who own hunter and jumper horses are normally pretty wealthy – or they damned well better be if they’re going to survive in that competitive sport. (2) Where there are wealthy people, there are probably going to be some miserable scaly-wags who are out to take advantage of them. That’s precisely what happened in the Chicago area. Guys, like the awful Silas Jayne, came swooping in like vultures on such a crowd and tried to get into the pockets of some of these people and into the pants of some of the prettier ones (whether girls or boys).

You wanna buy a horse, lady?
One could get a pretty good taste of high society and the wealthier side of town through horses. In the 50s and 60s, there were constantly people trying to break into the hunter/jumper world in all of American’s major horse towns – New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Lexington and a number of other places. To get in, and to fit in, you needed a horse that could do some winning or at least be competitive. If you were a rookie to the world, there were dozens of no-goods who wanted to take advantage of you by selling you an over-priced horse, charging you over-priced training fees and selling you high priced tack (saddles, bridles, etc.) that was often stolen from some other wealthy horse owner.

The perpetrators of these nasty schemes didn’t feel too much guilt about it because they figured they were dealing with the super rich who wouldn’t even miss the hundred grand or so they were chiseling them out of.

That appears to be the case in the instance of the wealthy widow and heiress to the Brach Candy fortune, Helen Brach. She got taken badly for a few hundred thousand and realized she’d been made a fool of. Never mind she could afford the losses!

Helen Brach made a lot of loud noise about going to the Illinois State’s Attorney with her story about organized crime in the horse industry. She ended up missing and has never been found. There’s a pretty reliable story that she was killed by the mob and cremated by them in the Gary, Indiana steel mill furnaces.

The hangers-on that this criminal element attracted were really dirty – people you wouldn’t ever want your children to know. And that’s part of the problem. The rich were sending their children to some of these Chicago establishments for lessons and then hearing the sales pitches about buying that “very talented” child her own horse.

Silas Jayne was an evil, evil man. There’s no doubt about the fact that he was a psychopath; however, he had a large part of the hunter/jumper show horse circuit cornered in Chicago in the 50s and 60s and 70s. He liked it if the horses that came out of his stables won. He was really angry if they didn’t and he would do things about it – bad things – atrociously bad things.

“Like all good con men, Silas figured out a new angle. Unlike grafters who prey on a victim’s greed, Silas’ scam appealed to the paternal instincts of the wealthy men who frequented his stable. Into this world of greed and deceit many an unwitting parent entrusted his or her daughter. Silas often sold his wealthy patrons broken-down, ready-for-the-glue-factory nags at inflated prices. The con was a not a one-shot opportunity, but an ongoing process. After a few weeks or months, Silas would tell a girl’s parents that their daughter had a genuine talent but was being held back because she needed a better horse. In short order many parents purchase a second, more expensive horse.

“On top of all his other traits – killer, con man and sadist – Silas was also a pederast. It wasn’t something Silas hid from people in the horse business. He often bragged about such assaults as ‘funning with them.’

“Silas had little fear that his shady horse scheme would be reported to authorities. He treated patrons that threatened to go to the police over a deal in one of two ways. Silas’ direct method included threats of violence or actual violence. One wealthy factory owner who threatened to file a lawsuit against Silas after buying sickly horses from him received a series of anonymous phone calls. When the phone calls failed to deter a lawsuit, a bomb was detonated outside the man’s home. The lawsuit was quickly dropped.

“Silas’ other method of dissuading unhappy customers with daughters was to threaten to ruin a young girl’s reputation by spreading rumors that he and a few of his stable hands had had sex with the girl. Faced with these choices, no one was willing to complain to the police about Silas.

This was the type of man some of Chicago’s leading families trusted their daughters to spend hours with….”

That is the nicer part of the whole story. It’s amazing to me how Silas Jayne could just keep on going and not get his ass hauled off to prison, but the fact is that he had very strong connections in Chicago’s mob and he had very good friends in the city and county police departments. He had paid good money for these friends. It enabled him to get away with hiring a hit man to murder his own brother and, possibly, another to kill Helen Brach.

He’s such an awful character that I’m curiously drawn to find out more about it and what made him tick. The fact that my wife and her family (especially her mother)also had frightening encounters with this man adds to this curiosity. It’s why I’m anxiously awaiting a third and more recently written book about him in this unintended trilogy: Silas Jayne: Chicago’s Suburban Gangster by Bryan Alaspa (2010).

“When the body of Silas Jayne was brought out of the hospital, the people who were the most surprised at how he died were those who had been investigating and watching him for years. Silas Jayne had fooled all of them by dying peacefully in his sleep. Given the life he had led and the things he was convicted of and suspected of doing, a far more violent ending seemed in the cards.” [The opening words of Bryan Alaspa’s book]

I’m left a little uneasy about beginning Alaspa’s book, however, because he erroneously credits the authorship of Upton Sinclair’s extraordinary novel, The Jungle, to Carl Sandberg. One, I guess, can forgive him for having a momentary mind lapse; but, why in heaven’s name didn’t his editors or publisher catch the error?

Silas Jayne also had a very close connection with one of the most famous and frightening crimes in Chicago history. It ranks right up there with the Valentine’s Day Massacre and the serial killers John Wayne Gacy and William Speck. It had the entire metropolitan area of Chicago in a state of total panic for months.

Silas Jayne was born in 1907. His brother George was born in 1923 to a different father. Silas was convicted of rape when he was 17 years old and spent a year behind bars. His stepfather, brother George’s father, represented him in court and was upset at the easiness of the sentence. He had recommended a minimum sentence of four years: “He’s a wild young man. A year in jail won’t hurt him!”

Silas and two older brothers, Frank and DeForest were rank and tough guys. They were called, by those who knew them, the Jesse Jayne Gang.

Silas opened the first Idle Hour Stable in 1932 at the age of 25. It was at Lincoln and Peterson avenues in Chicago. It was the same year that Kenneth Hansen was born. Hansen would one day go to work for Silas and commit some gruesome crimes for the gangster, including an arrangement of the murder of Silas’ brother, George Jayne. However, that would not be the worst of Hansen crimes.

A series of stables were opened by the Jayne brothers over the next 20 years, the new ones in the northern suburbs. At one of them, in River Grove, ten horses died in a mysterious fire in 1940.

During World War II, Silas and his mobster employees were involved in the horse meat scandals. Beef cattle were in short supply and enormously expensive. Silas sold horse meat to restaurants that was supposed to have been beef. He also arranged for the rustling of cattle from farmers in the rich agricultural land north and west of the city.

In 1947, Silas murdered a Chicago mobster who dared to come to one of his stables in Hickory Hills, seeking to collect a street tax for the mob. Silas buried the body at the stable.

But, the startling crime that held Chicago in fear’s grip for months and months was yet to come.

The crime occurred on October 16, 1955. Kenneth Hanson worked for Silas at that time as a general stable hand – cleaning stalls, grooming horses, doing repairs.

Three young boys, Bobby Peterson (13) and two brothers, John Schuessler (13) and Anton (11) joined up and headed to downtown Chicago in mid-afternoon to take in a movie. Somehow they met up with Kenneth Hanson and the plans were expanded somewhat. After the movie they were going out to a stable owned by Silas Jayne to ride horses. They said goodbye to a friend they’d met up with at a downtown bowling alley and told him about the riding adventure they were off to. Early that evening they were seen hitch-hiking north by several people.

Somehow, Kenneth Hanson met them at an agreed upon spot and took them to Idle Hour Stable, not to ride horses but to sexually abuse each of them in turn and, though it wasn’t his usual modus operandi in having forced sex with hundreds of boys before this, to murder them. In the process there was a great deal of screaming in the workroom where Hanson molested the children. Silas Jayne heard the ruckus and came upon the scene. Of course, he was furious, but his biggest concern was what the event and the publicity about it would do to his business. He helped load the bodies into Hanson’s car and gave Hanson instructions about where to dispose of the boys.

The brutalized naked bodies were found two days later in a nearby forest preserve. The murders and the investigation of them held the city spell-bound and sent it into a panic for days and days that stretched into weeks and months. It would be nearly 40 years before an arrest was made in the case and only then because clues were turned up during the investigation of the murder of candy heiress, Helen Brach.

During those 40 years, Silas Jayne had arranged the murder of his brother George and a number of other people who had gotten too close to exposing his crimes, including Helen Brach.

“Silas Jayne was as cold and brutal as Capone on his worst day. He ordered the killing of people and their entire families with the ease of ordering a cheeseburger at a hamburger stand. He was not above brutalizing women, children and even his own family. These days, those who feel little or no remorse for the crimes they commit are known as sociopaths. Had Silas Jayne lived in different times, he would have been given the label and perhaps been treated for his illness. Since he did not, however, he committed his crimes almost without reprisal for a very long time.” [Alaspa]

In the Spring of 1973, Silas Jayne was tried for the 1970 murder of his brother George. He was defended by the famous F. Lee Bailey. Silas was found guilty only of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to spend six to twenty-six years in prison. He continued to give orders to his gangster employees while imprisoned. In April of ’76 a fire destroyed a horse stable in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The arsonist, who had been a cellmate of Silas Jayne was captured and claimed that Silas paid him $30,000 to torch the place where 33 horses died.

While Silas sat in prison, a jury awarded George Jayne’s widow one million dollars in a wrongful death suit against Silas.

Six years after entering prison in connection with the murder of his brother, Silas was released. He offered George’s widow 250,000 dollars. She refused.

In 1980, Silas was tried for the Wisconsin stable fire and was acquitted.

In 1987, at the age of 80 years and 10 days, Silas Jayne died of leukemia. I remember that day quite well. A young and wonderful lady who worked on our farm and groomed horses for us beamed a broad, bright smile at me when I walked into the barn that day while she was tending to a horse.

“Hey, why the big smile?” I asked.

“I just heard it on the radio. Si Jayne is dead!”


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  1. This guy is so right about Silas Jayne. I would avoid doing business with any of them. This is one scary guy and one of his living relatives talks just like Silas in an Vanity Fair interview.

  2. I'm reading with interest your comments regarding Helen Brach's murder. I was very good friends with the housekeeper's daughter, spent weekends at her family's Schaumburg farm, and knew her dad, the housekeeper (I'll keep his name out, so as not to attract), and he was nothing like they wanted to portray him. Yes, I was young, but I think they saw this guy as the perfect "fall guy". Well, now he's passed, and any information that could vindicate him is welcomed by me. Were it that easy...His getting the blame for her death ruined his family's life, and took his daughter away from me at a time when keeping in touch was not as easy as it is today. She went through so much, since she took her dad's side (long story), which I believe has made for a very lonely life.

  3. How dare you defame Silas Jayne. I do not believe you ever met him. I was a child from 8 years old until I became 18 years old.
    He treated me with respect and taught me horsemanship. He was kind to me. There was never anything wrong and he never murdered anyone; you can find a lot of erroneous information about Silas on the internet if you search long enough. I lived this era: you, sir, are incorrect. mmquin

  4. I knew them all.George ,Silas,George's stuck up daughter Linda. My horse got crippled at George's while in her stall. Silas cleaned my boots and never made a dime. George would order tack and blankets and if you didn't want the tack, he 'd retort,"What"s you problem? Can't afford it?" George was smart conman and cheated Silas over and over. George had the advantage of an immoral old attorney for a father to give George some gloss and bad advice not ethics or loyalty. George came back on leave to marry the girl he impregnated when she was 16. So they where both statutory rapists. Si was 16 at the time George 20. You figure it out. Georges father got Si imprisoned and out of his way George got married to a pregnant 17 year old. Life was really fair with the mother and the conniving married attorney she took up with.A woman with 11 children might try taking care of them instead of having an affair. Si was helping to support the family when his mother saw a old man with deep pockets and took a jobs with benefits. Everytime Si trusted his mother, her lover or George he was betrayed. He bankrolled George and George paid him off with the commissions he stole from selling Frank and Si's horses.George knew the car was a potential hazard when he had Cherie go start it. George was blackmailing Si with the Irs and Hansen's crimes.It hard to keep trying with a brother who's advent caused problem after problem and the idiot would never let Si alone. George kept being helped by the immoral illegitimate father and his we can't do wrong wife.She couldn't see the bad in George or the good in Si. George never helped his sisters. Si made sure they were all feed and housed. George bought airplanes for his wife. Si bought houses for his family.George was financed by Si till he betrayed him and broke his word. I rode at George's. Horses died or disappeared there regularly. I remember watching George train jumpers. He would throw a ski pole from 20 feet in their rump if it looked like they'd refuse a jump. This was the sixties. Si wasn't bugging George's car or sending intruders to George's home after the family truce. George never knew when to lay off. In the seventies Alex was young, handsome, hardworking and talented. A better rider than George ever was. Alex married a lovely woman. They and their children deserve all the success they've worked to achieve.

  5. The devil rides horses