Mike Royko 50 Years Ago Today: Mike answers the radical bomber who wrote him a letter
Weekly Compilation January 10-16, 1972
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Why do we run this separate item, Mike Royko 50 Years Ago Today? Because Steve Bertolucci, the hero of the serialized novel central to this Substack, “Roseland, Chicago: 1972,” lived in a Daily News household. The Bertolucci’s subscribed to the Daily News, and back then everybody read the paper, even kids. And if you read the Daily News, you read Mike Royko. Read the daily Royko briefing Monday-Friday on Twitter, @RoselandChi1972.
January 10, 1972
The computer strikes again
“For those who fear computers, here is a story calculated to eliminate this fear, and to replace it with terror.”
Mike tells the tale of Betty Jean Scott, a young assistant production manager at a publishing company living with her family in suburban Hazelcrest, who got on the wrong side of a computer.
Computers in 1972 were as bad as they can be now, compounded by the fact that almost nobody knew anything about them. So you feared what you knew they could do, but even more, there was the looming fear of the unknown.
Ms. Scott bought some antiques in North Carolina and paid by personal check. People did that back then—paid with checks, and accepted out-of-town checks. In this case, the store owner took the precaution of calling Ms. Scott’s bank and verifying she had enough money in her account to cover the transaction. That’s hard to picture happening today—a bank giving out that kind of information over the phone to a stranger.
“A few weeks later she was sitting down for dinner with her parents when two sheriff’s policemen showed up at the front door,” writes Mike. “They had a warrant for her arrest…They also told her she was going to be extradited to North Carolina.”
One of the cops vaguely knew Ms. Scott’s father, so they gave her a break, writes Mike—they said she could sleep at home, and they’d come back and arrest her and send her to North Carolina the next day.
At the sheriff’s station next morning, the cops called the antiques dealer and found out the check was returned marked “account closed.” The store owner figured Ms. Scott had purposely made her purchase, then closed the account before the check could be presented. That would be against the law. So the cops let Ms. Scott called the bank, and the bank admitted their computer had made, as they put it, “a little mistake.”
Now comes the part that is unbelievable.
When Miss Scott told the guy at the bank, "Mister I am in jail right now, and I face extradition to North Carolina because of that little mistake," the bank representative apologized profusely. Later a bank manager called and apologized abjectly. Imagine that, if you can. It would never fit into the John Lennon song because it isn’t easy even if you try very, very hard.
“But now Miss Scott has something else to worry about,” writes Mike. “This kind of incident is fed into other computers, in other places. Credit reference computers, police records computers, employment computers, and who knows what others, and for what purposes...
“That is known as the curse of the computer. Better to be bitten by a werewolf.”
January 11, 1972
A lot of flap about silence
“Now that Howard Hughes has spoken, the most famous silent man in the United States is Duane Thomas, a football player with the Dallas Cowboys,” writes Mike. “Hardly a day passes without another lengthy report or an in-depth analysis of Thomas’ silence.”
This won't go where you think.
FYR, Howard Hughes was the eccentric billionaire of his time. The Leonardo DiCaprio movie (The Aviator) is a decent place to catch up on him. Give him this—Howard Hughes actually did design and fly experimental planes. As I mention this week in TCD1972’s entry on Hughes resurfacing, this is like Elon Musk personally designing and piloting his rockets.
As Mike writes this, Howard Hughes is a hermit in the Bahamas who has just broken a 15-year silence because he claims a forthcoming autobiography from McGraw-Hill, as-told-to a novelist, is bunk and not from him.
The book portrays Hughes as just plain nuts. The thing that seems to stick most from the book’s stories is that Hughes has let his finger and toenails grow to the length of 9 inches.
And where to start with Duane Thomas. A sad waste of a lot of talent. The 25-year-old phenom burst on the scene with the 1970 Cowboys, rookie of the year. But after the ‘70 season, Thomas wanted his three-year contract renegotiated and the Cowboys refused.
Chicago Defender sports columnist “Doc” Young: “Like more than a few rookies, both black and white, Thomas had signed a complicated, long-term (three-year) contract which, with initial bonus payments, brought him more money during his first year than he was contracted to receive in his second year.”
Thomas demanded $80,000 for year two. Doc Young wrote no football player was going to get $80,000, but Thomas should get $50,000, rather than his contracted $20,000. The Cowboys did not budge. Thomas called Cowboys management and coach Tom Landry a lot of names. Coach Tom Landry was a “plastic man” or “no man at all”. Owner Tex Schramm was “deceitful,” and the personnel director was “a liar.”
Doc Young initially supported Thomas completely, but later walked that back a bit: “You cannot insult club officials nationally by impugning their integrity, calling them liars and plastic people, and then expect them to embrace you lovingly.”
The Cowboys traded Thomas to the Patriots, but that didn’t work—the reasons are too confused to get into—and he ended up back with the Cowboys for 1971, the season that has just ended as Mike writes this column.
Thomas led the NFL for 1971 in touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. He was an integral part of the Cowboys winning their first Super Bowl. But he spent most of the ‘71 season refusing to speak to reporters, and far more strangely, not even talking to his teammates. Thomas would go on to bounce around other teams for a few more years, mostly not playing due to disputes.
“Most of the sportswriters are perplexed or indignant or angry,” writes Mike. “This proves what I have always believed—that sportswriters are the most difficult of all journalists to satisfy.”
Mike points out that not long ago, Muhammad Ali “would talk to sportswriters for days on end…Were the sportswriters pleased? Not at all. They wrote about what a big mouth he had.”
“Now they are just as upset with Thomas, because all he does is curl his lips and give them an ominous stare.”
But Mike doesn’t understand what the sportswriters think Thomas would say to them anyway. Look at Howard Hughes, after 15 years of silence. “When Hughes finally talked, the most interesting thing he said was that his toenails are not nine inches long.”
It’s a myth anyway that people get along better if they communicate, writes Mike. “The moment people start communicating, they have taken the first step toward punching each other in the mouth.”
January 12, 1972
Payroll safari out in the field
“Trying to track down a city employee can be a full day’s work,” writes Mike, “Especially if you take the logical approach and expect to find the person on the job and working.”
Mike tries to hunt down Mary Ann Collins, listed on the Chicago Park District payroll as an executive secretary. But nobody knew who she was at the Park District office, where the executives work. They sent Mike to personnel.
Mike gets the run around from place to place and phone to phone. Finally the Park District employment office tells Mike that Mary Ann Collins is executive secretary to Ed Kelly, then assistant superintendent of the Park District, and she works at his “field office” at 4501. N. Clarendon.
But she wasn’t there either.
“At that point we stopped looking for Miss Collins in the park system, where she is paid to work,” writes Mike. “And we looked for her where an irate taxpayer had assured us we would find her in the first place. The irate taxpayer was right: there sat Miss Collins at 1951 W. Lawrence, the office of the 47th Ward Regular Democratic Organization.”
Park District Assistant Superintendent Ed Kelly is also Democratic boss of the 47th Ward, and his name is on the door.
When Miss Collins was “asked if she was always there”, she said, “’Yes, unless he (Ed Kelly) sends me on an errand.’ She said she is sometimes kept busy answering the phones. But when things are dull, she said, there is the TV set to while away the hours.”
“Mr. Kelly, besides using the park’s staff in his ward office, has placed two of his offspring on the payroll. His son has an $800-a-month job as a physical instructor. And his daughter is a typist at about $480 a month.”
Miss Collins’ salary “is a mere speck of sand in the great dunes of money that the city government tosses around,” Mike concludes. “But her salary still amounts to the yearly real estate taxes paid by about 17 ordinary bungalow owners….Think about that when the schools close down because we can’t afford them.”
January 13, 1972
Old friendship is evergreen!
Oh, I love when Mike plays dumb to illustrate the ludicrous story he tells.
“It is always sad when old friends drift apart,” Mike starts.
Another of those wonderful, short one-sentence ledes.
“Take Dan Shannon and Paul Matz.” The pals went to high school and college together, playing on distinguished Mt. Carmel and Notre Dame football teams.
“Now, of course, Shannon has become big in politics,” writes Mike— “of course” because Dan Shannon’s name was well known at this time. “Because his father is an old pal of the mayor, Shannon has become president of the Chicago Park District. He is considered one of the future leaders of the Machine. Maybe even a future mayor.”
Matz is vice president of an asphalt company.
“I have not seen Dan for at least two years,” Matz told Mike. “The last time may have been at a high school reunion in 1969.”
“That’s the way life goes,” writes Mike. “The years skip by, and old friendships are marked only by that Christmas card….One thing they could discuss is some work Matz’s company recently did for Shannon’s Park District. Since they no longer see each other, I’ll sketch some of the peculiar details so they will know what they are missing.”
Matz’s asphalt company magically underbid other contenders paving the Gately Stadium field, so artificial grass could be installed. That went 50% overbudget.
Also, turns out Matz’s asphalt company is the local distributor for Astro Turf. Astro Turf got the artificial grass contract, even though their bid was not the lowest.
“Matz says his old relationship with Shannon is a coincidence,” Mike concludes. “Which just shows that it really isn’t a small world.”
Younger Readers, you’ve probably never heard the name Dan Shannon, even though Mike refers to him today as a potential successor to Mayor Daley. Why is that? I’m glad you asked! It’s because Dan Shannon saw himself as a potential successor to Mayor Daley too. He saw it all too clearly.
Shannon quit the Park District in February 1973 “to devote full attention” to his new job as administrator of the Teamster Union’s pension fund. The Tribune headline was “Busy with teamsters – Dan Shannon quits park board”. The article said “Mayor Daley ‘regretfully’ accepted Shannon’s resignation.”
But the Tribune’s Bob Wiedrich summed up what really happened a few weeks later, and I don’t think Mayor Daley regretted anything except ever putting Dan Shannon into political office to begin with:
“Back in 1970, before Mayor Daley announced his intention to seek an unprecedented fifth term, Shannon called a parley of other regular young Democrats,” Wiedrich wrote. There was talk that Shannon should succeed Daley if he didn’t run again. “Shannon apparently wanted to line up sufficient support to make a strong bid for the nomination before Daley could anoint someone else as his successor,” wrote Wiedrich.
“Obviously, Shannon’s error was moving too fast too soon. As a former All-American at Notre Dame, he should have known better than to try an end run around Daley,” Wiedrich went on. Daley heard about the meeting and “was reportedly furious. Shannon’s star went into decline.”
In 1973, the high-paying Teamsters pension fund job opened up and Daley saw his chance to get Shannon out of politics. “It kicked Shannon upstairs into an excellent paying job with which not even his father could quarrel.”
In a 1973 year-end Daley overview, fellow Tribune columnist Michael Kilian agreed: “When youthful football hero Daniel Shannon started talking publicly about running for mayor, he was yanked from his job as president of the Park District and dumped into a union post.”
Overseeing a Teamsters pension fund in the 1970s paid well, but of course it was problematic. Shannon ended up testifying in front of a U.S. House Ways & Means Oversight Subcommittee after a federal investigation led to the Teamsters president and three other trustees resigning from the fund board. The Teamsters pension fund was forced to “reform its management and policies” because the fund was not “actuarially sound”.
After leaving the pension fund, Dan Shannon became “politically connected developer Daniel Shannon” in media accounts. Shannon had all kinds of pending big deals in the ‘80s. A couple of whoppers never happened, such as a new Sox Park on the eastern bank of the Chicago River on the south side of Roosevelt, and a gigantic $1 billion complex called “Chicago Metro Mall and Riverfront Amusement Park” that was supposed to to be “anchored by a Walt Disney Co. amusement park” on 80 acres “bounded, roughly, by Grand Avenue on the north, the North Branch of the Chicago River on the east, Randolph Street on the south and the Kennedy Expressway on the west,” according to the Tribune.
More famously, Shannon teamed with James McHugh and Daniel Levin to build Presidential Towers in a dizzying display of clout and high finance that:
--got them the land cheap from the city under Mayor Jane Byrne;
--$180 million in tax-exempt Chicago bonds to build the $200 million luxury apartment complex, plus assorted other city and federal subsidies;
--and among other legislative treats, U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski got Presidential Towers exempted from the federal rule requiring 20% low-income units for projects using tax-exempt bonds. Shannon, BTW, managed Rostenkowski’s “blind” trust.
Shannon and his partners defaulted on the $159 million mortgage in 1990, plus the $30 million in interest. It was the largest claim in FHA history at the time. A Tribune overview as the Pritzker family prepared to buy the failed Presidential Towers called it “the massive downtown apartment complex that came to symbolize everything that was wrong with Chicago’s commercial real estate market in the recession a decade ago”.
January 14, 1972
Remember Ronald Kaufman, the radical who left time bombs last week in safe deposit boxes in 3 Chicago banks—plus three New York banks and two San Francisco banks? See last week’s THIS CRAZY DAY IN 1972 on January 7, and this week’s TCD1972 on January 13, for more details.
The bomber sent letters to the media, including one to Mike Royko. The letter to Royko said there was a bomb at Continental Bank, and included a key to the safe deposit box.
Today, Mike answers the bomber’s letter.
Dear Mr. Kaufman,
Thank you for your very interesting letter of Jan 6, 1972. The key you enclosed worked perfectly, and the bomb was removed from the safe deposit box in the Continental Bank. I am glad the facts as you related them in your letter proved to be accurate, since there is nothing more irritating than a crank letter or a wild goose chase.”
“The reason I did not answer your letter sooner is that you failed to sign your name, an understandable omission. Only today did we learn who you are. You apparently left your fingerprints on the letter and on the contents of some of the safe deposit boxes.”
Mike is impressed by Kaufman’s education—Kaufman got a master’s and doctorate from Standford. “In fact, you are the best-educated fugitive from justice I have ever had contact with,” writes Mike.
Next, Mike considers the contrast between the well-educated Kaufman and Pops Panczko, a prolific thief from Mike’s old neighborhood well known already to Royko readers—and all Chicago newspaper readers.
Pops’ education “has been limited to the use of burglar tools.”
“As burglars go, he is not the best, but he is not the worst. If anything, he is the most active. He is now in his mid 50s, and has been arrested several hundred times….But, Mr. Kaufman, I will tell you one important thing about Mr. Panczko: Maybe he never went to college, unless he wanted to steal a desk. And maybe the only degree he ever got was the old third degree as bestowed in the back-room of the Racine Av. police station.
“But he has never been dumb enough to leave his fingerprints all over the place.”
January 15-16, 1972
As we here all know, weekends could be sad for a Daily News family because Mike Royko wasn’t in the Daily News’ single weekend edition. So we look for Mike elsewhere on weekends.
This weekend there’s only one thing to do—talk about Pops Panczko, a recurring character in Royko columns who is somehow a real person, even though he is far more outlandish than Slats Grobnik.
Pops got his nickname because for some short period, he actually worked legally driving a soft drink truck. His first recorded arrest was Feb. 1, 1940, and he was still getting in trouble over 50 years later.
Here’s a mere sprinkling of Pops headlines from the Tribune archives, where his name appears 351 times and he is typically referred to as “Joseph [Pops] Panczko” “of 2648 Iowa St”:
“JUST PASSING BY WHEN SHOT, SAYS PANCZKO” (1957); “A SCREWDRIVER GETS PANCZKO 3 TO 4 YEARS” (1959); “POPS PANCZKO GETS 2 YRS IN USE OF SLUGS” (1967); “‘Pops’ Panczko not the retiring type” (1985); “‘Pops’ Panczko going to prison for the 12th time” (1985); “At 75, legendary crook is back in the spotlight” (1994); “Joseph ‘Pops’ Panczko, 85: Career thief whose crimes, geniality became legendary” (2002).
Pops’ literal life of crime began as a child of Polish immigrants during the Depression in Humboldt Park, Royko’s old neighborhood. Depending on what story you go by, Pops started by stealing chickens or by stealing coats from the coatroom of his grammar school. In court for his last trial, Pops claimed he started stealing at age 9.
As Mike put it in a 1985 column extolling Pops’ work ethic, “Oh, Pops, you done us proud”: “Since he was a young man growing up near Humboldt Park in the Depression, he has believed in getting up every day, washing his face, shaving and going out into the city to steal something.”
Pops teamed up with his younger brothers, Peanuts and Butch. He amassed over 200 arrests and got shot four times with their gang of burglars--called either “Burglary, Inc” or “Crime Inc” by Chicago cops, depending which source you go by.
In “Oh Pops, you done us proud,” Mike recounts meeting with a New York book editor and telling him about the brothers: “Pops’ brother Butch was once grabbed for stealing a cement mixer out in the suburbs. He was driving it back to Humboldt Park on the Edens Expressway…Peanuts, another brother, once did a jewelry heist in Florida and tried to escape by speedboat. But his gang forgot to untie the lines, and they never left the pier.”
The enchanted New York editor offered a huge book contract plus movie and TV rights if Pops would talk to Mike and let him write it. Mike met Pops at Pops’ lawyer’s office to discuss the offer. Pops arrived, “carrying an armload of briefcases he had just lifted from a delivery truck downstairs”. Pops and the lawyer loved the offer.
“We shook on the deal,” Mike writes. “And Pops pulled up his coat sleeve, showing an arm with a dozen watches, and said: ‘Here, take one.’”
“But a week later we met, and he said: ‘I can’t do it.’
“‘My sister doesn’t want me to….She said it would embarrass the family. It would ruin the name.’”
Peanuts Panczko was clearly a harder character than Pops, more involved with the Mob. But as Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown observed, “In their early years, at least, it appears that the Panczkos operated under the protection of organized crime, which often allowed them to escape punishment by making use of the crooked judges, police and other public officials of the day.”
This does seem the only possible explanation for the record number of continuances Pops achieved on his many criminal cases, not to mention acquittals. Take the time he got shot in the head after attempting to burglarize a jewelry store in Edens Plaza. Here’s the Tribune description of the job, and keep in mind that Pops somehow got a “not guilty” verdict at trial:
Wilmette policeman Harold Graf hid in the T.J. Cullen jewelry store, next door to the mall’s Carson Pirie Scott, after getting a tip that burglars planned to hit the place while Cullen went out for lunch.
Graf said the two men broke into the store thru a rear door at about 11:40 a.m., ten minutes after Cullen locked up and left. He said both men were carrying empty cartons.
When Graf confronted them with the shotgun and ordered them to put up their arms, Panczko threw his carton at Graf and the two burglars fled onto a loading platform. Graf pursued Panczko past stores, holding his fire because of the crowds, and into a parking lot, where Panczko got into an automobile and attempted unsuccessfully to start it.
Graf said Panczko appeared to be drawing a gun as he sat in the driver’s seat so Graf fired several shotgun blases thru the window. Panczko got out of the car and ran into a store which is being constructed for the National Tea company.
In this part of the chase, Graf emptied his shotgun and shot several times with his revolver. When he found Panczko in the washroom of the store Panczko said:
“Get an ambulance. I’m dying. I’m hurt bad.”
Pops survived, and he beat the rap. In fact, the trial produced Pops’ best headline, IMHO, mentioned above: “JUST PASSING BY WHEN SHOT, SAYS PANCZKO”. In court, Pops claimed he was “driving around looking for a house” and just wound up at the Edens Plaza. “Panczko said he was getting out of a borrowed car at the shopping center when he heard a shot, and was hit.”
Again, Pops beat this rap, even though a Wilmette policeman saw him walk in the store, chased him and shot him, and cornered him in a bathroom.
So. Pops Panczko was a small-time burglar who never carried a gun, who claimed to steal from businesses rather than people, and he never seemed to make much money because he was always getting caught.
Pops’ exploits were celebrated by Chicago’s most famous newspaper columnist (Mike). He made it into Life magazine, and he got a full-length profile in the Tribune magazine by Bill Brashler in 1990. Two veteran Tribune crime reporters wrote a book about Pops and his brothers in 1992--“Polish Robbin’ Hoods: The Gang That Couldn’t Steal Straight” by Ed Baumann and John O’Brien.
When you go through the Tribune’s digital archives, you find Panczko’s name mentioned over and over again as a badge of honor in articles about lawyers and judges as they die or get promoted. It’s an achievement to have defended Pops Panczko for counterfeiting $10 bills, worthy of note in a lawyer’s obituary—or to have shot Pops in the head in Edens Plaza, spotlighted in Wilmette policeman Harold Graf’s obituary.
This week in 1972, as you read earlier, Mike invoked Pops when answering the letter from radical bomber Ronald Kaufman, who planted time bombs in three Chicago banks. To recap: Kaufman, with a PhD from Stanford, was fingered by the FBI because he left his fingerprints on his letter to Mike as well as the bombs, the safe deposit boxes, and even a safe deposit box contract. Mike said Pops didn’t have an education, “But he has never been dumb enough to leave his fingerprints all over the place.”
And yet Pops became famous not just for his prolific life of thieving, but because as we’ve seen, he was always getting caught, just like bomber Ronald Kaufman. If Pops had NOT been getting caught all the time, he could not have become a reliable headline generator with all his arrests and court appearances. Again, the Tribune archives have 351 entries for Pops Panczko.
Pops STILL wouldn’t have become a newspaper star had he not also clearly yearned for the spotlight. Pops loved to tell anybody who would listen about his crimes, his methods, his anything—and I mean DURING his life of crime, not as an old man who’d hung up his burglary tools.
Exhibit A, the Tribune on April 25, 1961: “Panczko Discusses Key to Successful Car Looting,” in which Pops is picked up by Sgt. Richard Moser at the corner of Belmont and Lincoln with a key ring holding 11 different car keys, plus some paper showing the names and addresses of 30 car owners written in code. Two of the cars were reported looted already, including the loss of $500 of hotdogs.
Joseph [Pops] Panczko, who claims professional status as a burglar, described the latest wrinkle in auto looting techniques to detectives yesterday. Panczko was willing to explain the system, which, the detectives said, makes auto looting a cinch, but he would not admit any thefts as a result of it.
Panczko explained to Sgt. Richard Moser of the north burglary detail that he would note the license plate numbers of autos which looked as tho their owners night be affluent salesmen. He would also note the name of the car dealer on the car.
The next step would be to determine the owner’s name and address by checking the license numbers.
This would be followed with a telephone call to the auto agency, using the name of the car owner. A request for the numbers necessary to make a new key for the car would be made on grounds that the old keys had been lost.
It would then be simple to locate the car and use the duplicate key to enter it without leaving a trace.
That’s how you make friends with reporters—plus, Pops was so well known for bringing doughnuts to his court appearances to hand out to the press, the doughnuts themselves spawned their own Pops Panczko story in the Tribune in 1969, when Pops had a hearing for offering a $200 bribe to a detective.
It figures that Pops was a favorite subject for newspaper stories. But it’s still odd that in decades when Chicagoans fretted about both rising crime rates and organized crime—the ‘50s and ‘60s--the entire city made light of Pops Panczko. Even the staunchly conservative, law-and-order Tribune played Pops and his crimes for laughs.
Take December 25, 1957— “POPS PANCZKO IS SHOCKED: A THIEF IS LOOSE!” The Trib playfully reports that Pops, then 41, “reputed leader of a gang referred to by police as Burglary, Inc” showed up at the North Avenue police station:
Had he been accompanied by arresting policemen, it wouldn’t have been unusual. But he came alone.
“Some blankety-blank thief stole the radio out of my new 1958 car,” Panczko complained to Detective Kevin Ryan. “This neighborhood is getting so bad that a guy can’t park his car in front of his house without somebody breaking into it.”
“Are you sure you didn’t break into your own car by mistake?” asked Ryan. “Maybe we had better pick up your hoodlum brothers and see what they know about the crime.”
“Nuts,” replied Panczko. “You don’t think we got our reputation by breaking into cars. There’s a thief loose in our neighborhood.”
Mike Royko amplified Pops Panczko’s fame, of course. But the Tribune and other papers were chronicling Pops’ every little pinch and smallest court appearance over a decade before Mike even got a column in the Daily News.
Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown puzzled over the question of the city’s acceptance of Pops’ crimes when he wrote about Pops at the end of his life. Brown tracked Pops down to a nursing home when concerned neighbors wondered where he’d gone. Brown even visited Pops in the hospital as he lay dying, and held his hand.
“Pops was regarded as a gentle criminal,” wrote Brown in his obituary for Pops. “But back in 1941, Pops was fleeing police in a speeding car that caused an accident in which a pedestrian was killed. That one probably weighs heavily on his life’s ledger….This is the first time I’ve written an obituary for a crook who wasn’t a politician….But to ignore his death would be to turn our backs on his life, a life that tells you plenty about where this city once was and how it keeps changing—mostly but not entirely for the better.”
Here’s another dark note, albeit about Peanuts, from the April 4, 1953 Chicago Defender, dateline Nashville: “2 Prisoners Drink Paint Thinner, Die”. Two inmates from Tennessee State prison died from “drinking an alcohol product used for paint thinning” and ten others were seriously ill due to “the concoction which officials traced” to one of the dead inmates and “Paul ‘Peanuts’ Panczko, formerly of Chicago. Panczko is one of three men convicted last year for a $100,000 robbery of a diamond salesman in Nashville.”
Pops’ last arrest came in 1994, four years after getting sprung from his final jail stint. He was 75, passing counterfeit money at the Jewel at 3120 N. Pulaski. Pops died in 2002 at 85, having spent 15 years behind bars at one time or another.
Here’s a fun recent addition to Panczko lore, tweeted Feb. 9, 2022 by McKie's Disc Jockey Show Lounge (@mckiesdjlounge):
I don't know if this counts as a 'Chicago story' but here goes: early '50s, my uncle was foreman at construction yard near LeMoyne/Artesian. One day two guys he sorta knew from the n'hood pulled up in a car and asked him if he could drill open a safe they had in the back seat...
...he obliged (he wasn't off the turnip truck but had no reason to be suspicious). Safe open, nothing in it. They give him a couple bucks, thanks, off they go. Some time later at a family event, other relatives who worked at used car lot on Western were telling a story...
... about a car stolen from the lot. 'and it was the strangest thing, they found the car the next day and it had an empty safe in the back'. That was my uncle's introduction to the Panczko brothers.
I’ll leave you with my favorite Pops quote, from a 1986 trial in which Pops testified as a government witness against an ex-partner over a $250,000 jewelry theft from a salesman’s car trunk. His ex-partner’s defense attorney understandably accused Pops of lying for a light sentence.
"Lying is a useful tool of the trade. It is the way I do business,” said Pops. “Show me who is not a liar in the U.S."
By the way, this feature is no substitute for reading Mike’s full columns. He’s best appreciated in the clear, concise, unbroken original version. Mike already trimmed the verbal fat, so he doesn’t need to be summarized Reader’s Digest-style, either. Our purpose here is to give you some good quotes from the original columns, but especially to give the historic and pop culture context that Mike’s original readers brought to his work. You can’t get the inside jokes if you don’t know the references. Plus, many columns didn’t make it into the collections, so unless you dive into microfilm, there are some columns covered here you will never read elsewhere. If you don’t own any of Mike’s books, maybe start with “One More Time,” a selection covering Mike’s entire career and including a foreword by Studs Terkel and commentaries by Lois Wille.
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