Uncle Leo, the Con Artist - Part III (the end)

By
Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker Residential

And here's our final installment on the saga of Uncle Leo (I'm sure, based on all the comments - not -that you've been waiting with "bated" breath... but here it is anyway)

Okay... when last we left Uncle Leo he was on the lam (I love that word - say it with me... "lam".), and had just purchased a small resort in Nova Scotia, to escape the law. (Part I, Part II)

As Leo created a new life in rural Nova Scotia, detectives from Chicago were trying to find him. One of the most important clues they had was that Leo was a diabetic, Insulin was a relatively new medication, and Leo needed it to survive.  Since insulin was only a couple of years old, it was still rare & expensive, so the detectives began calling hospitals and doctors trying to trace an insulin user matching Koretz' description.  They did find a trail leading to Montreal, and from there to Nova Scotia, but the trail went cold there.

Out of the blue, a telegram arrived in Chicago from Flemming, the Halifax banker (see Part I), seeking more information on the man named Leo Koretz.  Within a few days, the detectives arrived in Halifax.  Setting up a sting, coordinated with the local authorities a trap was set for Nov. 23rd at the Halifax Hotel. When arrested, Leo said "All right... you'll have no trouble from me", and went along willingly, but dejected and defeated.

Koretz was extradited to Chicago for trial.  Halifax was not eager to lose their now infamous citizen.  Koretz had been free with his money in the area, paying his way (in cash) all the while. Local Realtors, car dealers, antique dealers and contractors had profited handsomely from Uncle Leo's presence. Flemming and the banker split the $10,000 reward, and in January 1925, when the contents of Pinehurst were put up for auction, the locals lined up to get furniture, artwork, linens, sporting goods, etc... at bargain prices.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Crime (where I learned much of this information) the exact amount of Leo's fraud will likely never be known, since many of those swindled were unwilling to divulge that they'd been taken advantage of so easily, and suffered their losses in silence in order to protect their images as astute businessmen.

On December 3rd, 1924, one year after fleeing Chicago, Koretz pleaded guilty to four counts of theft,  embezzlement and confidence.  He appeared "tired and defeated, and yet was still flawlessly dressed" in a green suit and grey cloth-topped shoes, according to one reporter.

There was no doubt that Koretz would serve time, but how much time?  He pleaded guilty to charges that each carried 10 years, a maximum of 40 years was possible.  During the sentencing, a doctor testified that Koretz was seriously ill, with Diabetes, in an effort to gain sympathy from the court.  Chief Justice Hopkins was not persuaded, and imposed the maximum sentence which carried a minimum of 6 years in prison.  At his sentencing, Leo said, "I'll never serve a day in Joliet State Prison".

January 6, 1925, while in Cook County Jail, awaiting transfer downstate to Joliet prison, Leo took matters into his own hands.  He convinced a girlfriend to smuggle in a five-pound box of chocolates.  Koretz sat down on his prison bunk, ate the entire box of candy in one sitting, lapsed into a coma and due to his diabetes... died.  The massive ingestion of sugar sent him into a diabetic shock and killed him, as he knew it would.

Leo had escaped prison (and hadn't spent a single day in Joliet, as he predicted), Leo's "Death by Chocolate" remains one of the most bizarre suicides on record.

 

So... that's the story of my wife's great-uncle Leo.  I want to point out that he is on my wife's side of the family, not mine. (That was a low blow... sorry, honey) My wife's father, and his uncles & aunts remember the tragedy and shame that Leo's arrest, trial and subsequent death brought to the family, and were fairly unwilling to discuss many aspects of Leo's Life. They only discussed it with us, reluctantly, when quite by surprise one day, the Chicago Tribune Magazine decided to run a large article about Leo as part of a "great con-men" of Chicago story.  They called a family meeting, and wanted us to hear it from them, rather than read it in the paper. Even 65 years later, they were still mortified about the shame that Leo had visited their family.

As a Realtor, when I found out about Leo, I did some research, at the Evanston Historical Society, learning that Leo's Evanston house on the lake, with the terraced gardens, was a little over a mile from my office.  A little further research uncovered many of the details I've share with you, and the tax records provided who the current owners of the property were.  I called my wife, Amy, at her job as a preschool teacher to tell her that I'd found out which house was Leo's and gave her the address and the current owners name.  She said in surprise... but that's my student's grandmother... and she's standing right here!!

We explained the circumstances, and she told us.... "Yes, I remember the house... when we bought the property, the house was in terrible condition, and we tore it down and built our new contemporary home.  The only thing we saved from the old house was the door knocker, which was incredible."  So Leo's house was gone.

My in-laws have since passed on... but they would likely not have approved of me airing our 'dirty laundry' in public, so I'm not going to publish their names.  But I find it a fascinating tale, too good to hide away in the annals of the family bible.  We did find family letters in my father-in-law's estate after he died. The letters are between the siblings and show some true distress and shame, as well as a propensity for fine quality penmanship, that has been lost on today's generation (but that's another post) ... oddly enough my father-in-law kept those letters (in a small locked box, on a high shelf in the back of his closet), reflecting a chapter in his life that he'd have preferred to forget.

btw... credit for much of this information in Part I, Part II and Part III should be given to My in-laws, Crime Wave by Dean Jobb, the Canadian Banker's Association, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, the Evanston Historical Society and the Encyclopedia of American Crime by Carl Sifakis.

Posted by

 ALAN MAY, Realtor®
Specializing in Evanston Real Estate and North Shore Real Estate

Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, 2929 Central Street, Evanston, IL 60201
847.425.3779      Cell: 847.924.3313      Email: Almay@aol.com

Evanston Real Estate & North Shore Real Estate
Licensed in Illinois

   

Do not copy the content of this blog, without first contacting the author for permission. 
Reblogging IS allowed. All other use is strictly prohibited without express permission from me.

close

This entry hasn't been re-blogged:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
Topic:
ActiveRain Community
Groups:
"Whacked"!!!
The Lounge at Active Rain
Diary of a Realtor
Almost Anything Goes
Active Rain Block Party
Tags:
alan may
real estate
evanston
north shore
leo koretz

Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Ambassador
1,682,681
Richard Weisser
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers - Newnan, GA
Richard Weisser Coweta Newnan Homes for Sale

Alan...

I enjoyed this series ...thanks.

Oct 16, 2008 08:03 AM #1
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

Thank you Richard... it's a unique story.

Oct 16, 2008 08:09 AM #2
Rainer
50,457
Chastity Guevara
Camelot's Quest Realty - Casa Grande, AZ

Hi Alan...I found you from Liz Moras blog post on the friendship ball and I love her writing so I thought I would stop in and take a look.  I haven't yet read this series, but it looks like you put a lot of work into it.

Oct 16, 2008 11:55 PM #3
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

Chastity, thanks for visiting.  I did put quite a bit into it, but it's a story I know well, and have told more than once... and since it's part of our family's history (my wife's side... I'm just sayin') it's a labor of love.

Oct 17, 2008 07:45 AM #4
Rainmaker
514,775
Russell Lewis
Realty Austin, Austin Texas Real Estate - Austin, TX
Broker,CLHMS,GRI

Alan, I missed the fist two installments of this Triple Shot deal. This is quite entertaining and I plan to look at PT. 1&2 later. You have really taken off on this blogging thing, keep it up!

Oct 17, 2008 01:02 PM #5
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

Russell, I'm sorry that you started, at the end... but I have links to Parts I, and Parts II in the story, so you can catch up.  It is indeed entertaining, and quite something to have a family relationship to one of the greatest "scams" in Chicago history.  (I'm just so proud!)

Oct 17, 2008 02:59 PM #6
Rainmaker
514,775
Russell Lewis
Realty Austin, Austin Texas Real Estate - Austin, TX
Broker,CLHMS,GRI

Oh no problem, we also enjoy some very interesting characters in our family. I am a 5th generation Texan and you can imagine the tawdry and interesting back ground...Have a great weekend!

Oct 17, 2008 07:21 PM #7
Rainmaker
40,650
Kristin Hunteman
Coldwell Banker Gundaker - Saint Charles, MO
Short Sale Negotiator

I'll have to go back and read the first two installments.  Very interesting story.  Thanks!

Oct 17, 2008 08:25 PM #8
Anonymous
Dana

Great account! I've visited Pinehurst many times (it's now uninhabitable - owned by a European couple - and sitting in the middle of the woods, on a lake, in a dilapidated state, but some of the original tubs, sinks, etc., are still there). My mother lived in the builder's other home, the Bear Trap Lodge, and you could walk to Pinehurst along obsolete woods roads in 10 minutes. I've been fascinated about this story. The Pinehurst property is pretty rich in history as well - it was first inhabited by a retired sea captain who'd run away from society with a broken heart, then, before Koretz, owned by a poet/academic named MacLeod who'd written a book on the property (entitled "Pinehurst"). If you have any questions about the NS part of the story, I might be able to fill you in on that side of things (gungee78@hotmail.com). Thanks again!

Jul 19, 2009 08:52 AM #9
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

Dana - that's fun information... thanks for sharing.

Jul 20, 2009 03:21 PM #10
Anonymous
DS

Alan - very interesting.

My Great Uncle built Pinehurst...we knew most of this story - but not all....

Thanks

Jul 30, 2009 11:16 AM #11
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

Fascinating stuff, DS.  Fascinating.

Jul 30, 2009 11:44 AM #12
Anonymous
George

Mr. May,

    I have some recent pictures of what I believe to be the Pinehurst Lodge. If you are interested, I can email them to you. I enjoyed reading your information on it. Do you have any more information about the Lodge itself? Or do you have any pictures of the Lodge? I found it very interesting. Thank you.

George

Nov 19, 2009 07:22 PM #13
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

I only have the images I've been able to find online... I'm sure you've found them too.  I'm glad you liked it... it's certainly a fun story amongst our family, George.

Nov 19, 2009 08:24 PM #14
Anonymous
George Van Norden

Just wanted to update everyone, Pinehurst is no longer with us,it has been demolished.It is now flattened to the ground!I cannot express how much this bothers me,i don't really know why i guess being there all those years and the  history behind it.I had a chance to walk through it weeks before demo,and i was consumed in awe,of just how great of a place it must have been.I walked up the stairs,in all the rooms, just an interesting visit as well as a disapointing one.So much damage and neglect. Wish it could have been saved.

THANK YOU

GEORGE VAN NORDEN

LIVERPOOL.NS

Dec 19, 2009 08:38 PM #15
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

George, thanks for the update.  It certainly is a shame to lose all that history.  What a shame that pinehurst couldn't have been saved.

Dec 19, 2009 09:14 PM #16
Anonymous
Lynann R
I was there at Pinehurst today. It's a shame there is nothing left. Just piles of lumber from where they tore the house down. Some really neat jars laying around. There is a really cool history behind this place. Thanks for the posts.
Dec 30, 2011 07:02 PM #17
Ambassador
1,012,773
Alan May
Coldwell Banker Residential - Evanston, IL
Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate

Lynann - what kind of "really neat jars"?

Dec 31, 2011 10:09 AM #18
Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Ambassador
1,012,773

Alan May

Evanston & Northshore of Chicago real estate
Ask me a question
*
*
*
Spam prevention

Additional Information