Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 7 years, 7 months, 13 days
Unit of Assignment / Detail: Detective Bureau
District of Incident (Present Day): 019 - Town Hall
Cause of Death: Gunfire - Enemy
Age at Time of Death: 33
Date of Birth: 18 Nov 1898
Date of Appointment: 08 May 1924
Date of Incident: 21 Dec 1931
End of Watch: 21 Dec 1931
Date of Interment: 21 Dec 1931
Cemetery: Calvary Cemetery - Evanston, Illinois
Grave Location: Lot 6, Block 43, Section Y
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # C-3
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 13
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 2, Line 31
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 20-E: 17
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: No Military Record Found
Incident & Biographic Details
Detective James Joseph Caplis, Star #1511, aged 33 years, was a 7 year, 7 month, 13 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to the Detective Bureau.
On December 21, 1931, at 1:00 a.m., Detective Caplis, while off duty was dining at a Chinese Restaurant, The Beach View Garden Restaurant located at 804 West Wilson Avenue on the 2nd floor. Detective Caplis was with his girlfriend, Miss Marie Pelzer of 4733 North Kedvale Avenue, enjoying a late night meal. The restaurant was a popular late night venue which also had a live orchestra. Outside, five men had pulled up at the main entrance on Clarendon Street and left their vehicle parked nearby. The men, part of the “42“ gang, had taken the doorman, Leon Johnson, captive as they made their way upstairs. The orchestra leader, Verne Buck, had just lowered his baton and more than a dozen patrons were returning to their seats from the dance floor when the five men armed with shotguns and revolvers entered and announced a “stick up.“ Forcing Johnson to walk in front of them as they entered, the bandits split up, one going to the kitchen, one locking the head waiter in a washroom, one commanding the orchestra, another ordering the patrons onto the dance floor, while the fifth remained at the door. The men then made their way to the cashiers’ cage where they confronted the restaurants manager, M.S. Bow and Assistant manager, J.D. King. The bandits made an announcement to all customers, “All right, no trouble. We mean business.”
Unbeknownst to Detective Caplis, prior to the robbery taking place, the bandits had planted armed accomplices in the restaurant, two men and a woman. As the 50 or 60 patrons arose to obey the bandit’s orders to line up against a wall, Caplis waited behind as the other patrons walked toward the designated wall. Detective Caplis then edged along the wall toward the door to cut off the bandit’s escape. By this act, Detective Caplis made himself the sole target for expected gunfire and was free to battle the robbers. He fired at the nearest bandit who then turned towards him and fired back. At the same time, he retreated; the robbers were still menacing the crowd, and one or two of them blazing away at Caplis. Caplis moved forward as the robbers reached the stairway, firing as he went. By this time, he was between the gunmen and several of the guests. One of the robbers fired a charge from his shotgun. It was two slugs of this charge, one of which struck a patron, Peggy Griggs, age 20. The bandits nearest the door bolted down the stairs pursued by Detective Caplis. Surprisingly, Detective Caplis still had not been shot as he raced to the head of the stairs to send a final shot at the fleeing bandits. Before he had the opportunity to fire at the fleeing robbers he was shot in the back supposedly by a bandit following, who leaped over the officer’s prostrate body where he collapsed on the intermediate landing. Detective Caplis was carried to Lakeview Hospital by a dozen citizens where he was pronounced dead at 4:00 a.m. on December 21, 1931.
Through an informant it was learned that two girls, one a 16-year-old and the other a 17-year-old, had also participated in the attempted robbery. Dorothy Evans and Marcella Royce were arrested, which led to confessions and an almost complete roundup of the bandit gang. One of the girls provided information concerning the chain of events; stating that one of the women, armed with a revolver was sitting at a table with two men, when the robber band arrived, the trio joined them. Those responsible were Nicholas Bruno; Harlborn Burlison, alias “Jack Burlison;” Ralph DeFillipis; Rocco DeFillipis, alias “DeFerro;” Dorothy Evans; Frank Freeman, alias ”Red Freeman;” Herman Glick, alias “Herman Cohen;” Tony Pape; Frank Piazza, alias “Prazza” and Marcella Royce. Ralph DeFillipis was found to have furnished the firearms. All were indicted for Detective Caplis’ murder.
On December 27, 1931, the following bandits were found guilty and sentenced as follows. Nicholas Bruno was sentenced to 20 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet. Jack Burlison was sentenced to 50 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet. Ralph De Fillipis and Frank Freeman were each sentenced to 99 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet. Tony Pape and Frank Piazza were each sentenced to 14 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet.
Dorothy Evans and Marcella Royce turned state’s evidence and their charges were dropped. On April 5, 1932, Herman Glick was murdered. Rocco Ferra, alias Rocco the Barber, was never apprehended.
On March 25, 1965, Freeman was paroled from Menard State Prison after serving 33 years. He spent 25 years of that in the psychiatric division and the remainder working as a nurse in the division infirmary. Although he was sentenced to 99 years, he was released early under the revised Illinois Criminal Code which allowed inmates serving sentences of 20 years or more a parole hearing after serving 11 years of a sentence.
Detective Caplis’ funeral mass was held at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica located at 3121 West Jackson Boulevard. He was laid to rest on December 21 1931 in Calvary Cemetery, 301 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois. His grave is located 4th from Southwest corner, center row, cement in Lot 6, Block 43, Section Y.
Detective James Joseph Caplis, born November 18, 1898, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on May 8, 1924. He earned 7 Credible Mentions and 4 Extra Compensations for Meritorious Conduct totaling $780.00 during his career. Caplis was also a winner of The Tribune Monthly Hero Award in June 1928.
Detective Caplis was survived by his parents: Mary (nee Tracey) and Thomas and sister, Mrs. Edward [Nellie] Flood.