Eye For An Eye Or Shot For Shot

Eye For An Eye Or Shot For Shot

There’s no doubt that from the first day of Prohibition until its inglorious end, the Chicago police department and federal Prohibition agents were outmatched.  Chicago was just not going to go dry without a fight, and that spirit opened up a space for the gangsters to thrive.  In many respects, Chicagoans treated Capone and the gangsters as a sort of perverse drunk-Robinhood saving them from sobriety.

As Prohibition made its way through the 1920’s, Prohibition agents grew increasingly more frustrated with the openness of crime, particularly, it seems as that crime made its way out of Chicago and into the suburbs.  In 1928, it’s estimated that there were four hundred speakeasies, gambling houses and brothels in Kane County, Illinois alone.  People were tired of living their lives underground and it was not a well kept secret that one particular filling station was filling flasks as frequently as automobiles.  Enter the De King family that soon found itself at ground zero of the Prohibition saga, despite being relatively small-time moonshiners.

Lillian De King and her husband Joseph De King ran the filling station in Aurora and otherwise lived quietly with their twelve year old son Gerald De King until March 25, 1929.  A relatively new dry spy claimed to have purchased moonshine from the filling station for $2.00 and that it had been sold to him by a woman.  Joseph had been in just a couple of dust ups with the Prohibition agents before, the most significant resulting in a sentence of 96 days in jail and a fine.  Lillian had never been convicted of anything more serious than a speeding ticket.  Based upon that information and Joseph’s small-time booze records, the feds secured a search warrant and went back to the De King residence where they were greeted by Joseph and his two pistols.

The whole thing might have ended there, but for the agents’ wounded pride and determination to run crime out of Kane County—and presumably back to the city where they thought it belonged. Instead, the agents regrouped and came back with more ammunition and more agents and fatally shot Lillian almost immediately upon entering the house for the second time.  Mr. De King was clubbed in the head and the child may have been responsible for shooting a federal agent in the leg.  All told, one woman was dead, a man severely injured, and a twelve year old stuck somewhere in a strange Prohibition purgatory.

No charges were ever filed against anyone involved in the saga.

But the agents did find the evidence of the crime they sought—about a half gallon of wine and a pint of whiskey.  Whew! Good thing they got the bad guys, huh?

Before Prohibition ended, there were approximately two hundred Americans nationwide that were killed by Prohibition agents, and that estimate is potentially very low given that it’s based on the federal government’s numbers.

Look, every crime has a punishment, that’s the American way, but a shot for a shot seems a little extreme by any measure of law and order.  That may also be the last reported sale of $2.00 liquor in the northern part of Illinois!

Written by Amy Williams

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