Lakewood - Catalpa Bomb (PLUS! Link to Cecil's SD-Chi column)

I grew up in the Lakewood/Balmoral area of Edgewater. Circa 1955-56 a bomb was detonated at the NE corner of Lakewood/Catalpa, sometime after midnight. It (rather instantly) killed the guy who was carrying it. There was talk it was meant for the house on the SE corner. We walked past the site on the way to school in the morning. The police and/or coroner had already picked up the larger pieces, but there was enough of the bomber spread around to cause a stir.

Does anyone rememeber this or know where some info would be available? I have no idea as to how much this was publicized in the newspapers or on TV.

Found this in the Trib archive for May 28, 1956:

“An inquest will open today at 10 a. m. in the county morgue in the death of Clarence [Mike] Campbell, 59, also known as James Dorris, an exconvict killed early Friday by a dynamite bomb at 1252 Catalpa av.”

Three or four other stories within the week. Don’t see much after that. Do you recall hearing the blast? How close did you live? What kind of damage was visible?

We lived 4 houses away. The blast was very loud. Educated guess is that it probably woke people within a 4-5 block radius. The four large/brick homes on the corner of Lakewood/Catalpa had their windows blown out, at least those that faced the blast. Given my age (8) and the 54 years that has elapsed, I can’t speak to other damage. I do remember smaller pieces of the bomber’s body hanging in the trees and bushes. You can only imagine the stories brought to school (St. Ita) that day. The talk w/regard to the house on the SE corner being the intended target was prompted (rightly or wrongly) by the owner’s Italian surname.

W/regard to the Trib’s archived content, is there a fee for accessing it?

Allow me to follow up on my previous message/inquiry. I found the articles “Ed Zotti” mentioned in his post. Paid the Trib a few bucks for pdf copies. If anyone would like copies, I’d be happy to forward. Unless I’m mistaken, there isn’t a function that would allow me to post them here.

Hi, I lived at Broadway & Balmoral. Remember the blast well, even tho I was only 10. The Nuns had to come there & drag us to school. Just attended 50 yr. Reunion at St. Ita’s Do you have a sister named Carol?? Pat L.

Say Tim, Cecil is going to write a column about this. Did you know either John Olinder or Gwendolyn Voss, two of the principals in the story?

Broadway Girl…Yes. I think I know you.

Ed Zotti…The Voss name sounds familiar, but can’t say I knew either. Many thought the bomber intended to do damage to the house across Catalpa, probably because the owners were of Italian descent.

Come to think of it Broadway Girl, and based upon you living at Broadway & Balmoral, you are not who I thought you were. Nevertheless, we probably do know each other. If not clear in my previous post, I do have a sister Carol. Would be your age.

Jolted awake by a thundering noise, I landed on the floor, as the bed slats from under my mattress popped free. Brutus, our German boxer, muzzled his way under a corner of the collapsed bed, with his hind-end quivering in midair. My heart was throbbing two-forty and my throat pulsed with fear. The dog’s panic validated my own. Something awful was happening. As an youngster, I reasoned that someone must have broken down our back door, while my parents slumbered at the other end of a hall much too far away. Trying to muster the courage to yell for help, my thoughts were wrenched by the sound of blaring sirens. Crawling over Brutus, I crept to the window. Trembling, I raised up just enough for a quick peek. Squad cars and fire engines sat helter-skelter, spilling onto our lawn. I sprang up and tore down the hall, screaming all the way to my parents’ room.
Dad had both heard and felt the blast and, thinking it was our boiler, rolled over. He didn’t want to know. As usual, Mom had slept soundly undisturbed, until awakened by my outburst. Once they were moving, I felt safe. Grabbing bathrobes, we scurried outside where neighbors, also clad in night clothes, sought each other amid chaos and confusion. Never had any of us seen so many police officers and fire fighters at one time. The media had yet to arrive. Karen Costello sidled up to me saying, “Bobbi, come across the street with me.”
Following Karen’s lead, I arrived in time to witness human remains being shoveled into a body bag, backlit by a yellow brick two-story home splattered a ghastly red. I was eleven years old. I later wondered: how could the blood from one body cover so vast an area?
There was much to be wondered about that night, starting with a stunned Johnny Costello, in handcuffs, being shoved up against a squad car. Why? And why was Johnny crying? At seventeen, his only offense had been singing opera with the windows open. But that night I discovered, in Chicago, merely having an Italian name could be cause for suspicion.
The man in the body bag, was reportedly carrying TNT or nitroglycerin; something powerful enough to crack our windows and shake my bed slats from their frame. In the wee hours of the morning, stumbling around in the dark, he had tripped over a thin cord running through boulevard hedges. He clutched the explosive. From below the ribs, his body had been shredded and strewn. A scrap of paper was found bearing the license plate number and address of the man living in the yellow brick building; a man none of the neighbors had ever met. We saw him for the first time on that evening’s news, pasty looking and nervously sputtering that he had no idea why anyone would want to kill him. We never saw him again.
By sun up, a crowd inched along single file, scanning the area for scattered bits and body pieces missed by the shovel. Sound waves had traveled over a mile. The spectators had traveled even further. The murmuring line wrapped all the way around the block, snaking back onto itself. Fragments of human flesh hung from sparse saplings like tinsel on a discarded Christmas tree.
After the bombing, no amount of sandblasting the yellow brick building could erase the image of what I had witnessed. I refused to sleep in my own room, unless my mother was in the kitchen nearby. If she was in the living room, at the other end of the house, I would fall asleep on the sofa. Later, Dad would carry me to bed. My startle reflex went into overdrive and so did my imagination. Prior to the bombing, occasionally, I would stay home alone. Afterwards, I was too skittish to be left, even with my aunt and uncle living downstairs in our own two-flat, just kitty-corner from the yellow brick.
I moved into the center bedroom, closer to my parents’ room, with the hall light a constant vigil. The first time they convinced me to stay alone, I sat at the window for hours, tearfully watching for their return. With practice – namely perseverance, obsessive door lock checks, and frequent calls from Mom, I stayed home. Slowly, very slowly, with a determination matched by my mother’s, I grew less fearful. Eventually, the hall light became intrusive and I opted for the security of darkness. If Mom was fearful herself, it never showed. But, looking back, I could not have been the only person wrestling with the aftermath of such a tragedy.
Johnny Costello was released by the police. What had the ordeal meant to him? All I remember about Johnny is that he did finally sing his beloved opera in supper clubs around Chicago. Dad, a police sergeant, said the man from the yellow brick two-flat turned out to be an accountant, who supposedly had pocketed monies not his own. That was when I first learned about organized crime.

So, tell me Bobbi Zehner…where did you live? Assume it couldn’t have been too far off the corner. Lost track of the Costellos after they moved.

We lived on the corner of Magnolia and Catalpa, Tim, in the red brick two-flat. The Costello family was immediately across the alley on the SW corner. The bombing was on the NW corner, diagonally opposite our place. The Shapiro family lived in two-flat on the NW corner of Lakewood and Catalpa.
Nancy Shapiro said that her grandfather was first on the scene and first to call the police.

Hi to all my former neighbors around Lakewood and Catalpa (St Ita’s and Peirce School) in the 1940s-1960s. I’m Nancy Shapiro whom Bobbi mentions in her wonderful posting about the famous neighborhood bombing. My sister, Barbara, just told me about this site. She met people last week in Portland Oregon who live now on Lakewood just south of Catalpa. Apparently everyone still talks about the incident and the possible involvement of the lady with the cats in the white house. I too pulled the article from the Tribune archives a few years ago, and learned a great deal that my parents didn’t tell us pre-teens. THe internet is great! When I used to tell my own children about this most important event, I would wonder if I made it all up because it was just so incredible. So the article brought it all back and how reassuring to hear from the other kids as to what an impact this incident had. [Hi Bobbi. Do you still have the same email from 20 years ago? I think I still have it. ]

Our house was on the north-west corner of L&C. We had windows blown out. My sister and I used to give tours to our classmates re location of the body parts in the trees. Why wasn’t there a girl scout badge for that activity? Nevertheless, I went on to become the police spokesperson for the Montgomery County Police Department in the suburbs of Washington D.C. :o

Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s the Master’s account, the most complete I’m aware of. Further details always welcome.

Happy New Year, Nancy Shapiro ~ Was delighted to see that you signed
on (back in May) to add to the tales of the bombing. Yes, my e-mail address is the same. If you ever read this, please drop me a line. ~ Bobbi

I (we) lived on West Carmen when this happened. I was a junior at St. George HS at the time. Our family attended St. Ita Church.

I understand that someone noted that the Sun-Times account says the explosion occurred May 28, 1956, a Monday. My recollection has the explosion being the previous morning, meaning the bomb exploded around 6 am Sunday morning, and killed the bomber.

Here is what I recall to support this account:

We went to church that Sunday and parked on Lakewood as usual and then walked east on Catalpa to St. Ita’s Church.

The bomb exploded on the north side of Catalpa, near midblock, not the corner. The blast ripped the bark off the northwest side of an elm tree growing between the sidewalk and the street, the parkway.

It was a gray sort of rainy morning…

The house directly south of the cratered area near the tree had, as I recall, had a terracotta (green?) tiled “hip” roof, large home. One the side of the roof facing north, a foot or shoe remained on the roof and some pieces of flesh or clothing as well, looking very dark, maybe black.

The reason I mention this is the idea that if the explosion had occurred on Friday, even in those days, I would guess the body parts and so on would have been collected by the CPD.

We saw no police than morning before or after services.

Crazy as it may sound, the incident was not a big deal to us, but we did note it…our family and another were attending mass that morning, so there were quite a few of us, but we did not linger.


I remember that the blast blew out most or all the windows in houses facing the blast, including the Costello’s right across the street. And there was a car parked near the spot where the bomber tripped over the wire and fell - the car had huge dent in the side door. Overall, this was an unforgettable event for sure.

The link to Ed’s column is dead. Here’s one via the Internet Archive.

I presume that these places are all in Chicago? Around here, Lakewood is a suburb of Cleveland, and Edgewater is a park in Cleveland relatively close to Lakewood.

Back when this thread was first posted, it was on the Chicago-specific board (which no longer exists.) Hence the lack of context.