Date: May 4, 1889
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Victim: Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin
Cause of Death: Stab wounds to the head
Accused: Members of Clan-na-Gael
Clan-na-Gael was the public name of a secret organization for Irish independence known to its members as the United Brotherhood. It was formed to replace the Fenian Brotherhood which was discredited in America after their ill-conceived attempt to invade Canada in 1866. Clan-na-Gael was modeled after secret societies like the Freemasons, with secret codes and symbols, initiation rites and other oaths and rituals. The organization had chapters, known as camps, in every major city. The Chicago camp, Camp 20, was their headquarters.
In 1881 Clan-na-Gael held a convention in Chicago at which they established a five man Executive Board to govern the organization. It wasn’t long before three members of the board realized that acting together they could control everything. Alexander Sullivan of Chicago, Michael Boland of Louisville, Kentucky and D.S. Freely of Rochester, New York—known informally as “The Triangle”— worked together to control Clan-na-Gael in secret.
Clan-na-Gael was accused of supplying money and men for the “Dynamite War,” a terrorist campaign in England. If true, this accusation would have alienated the more moderate members of the group. The Triangle vehemently denied the charge but was unable or unwilling to account for Clan-na-Gael funds estimated to be between $100,000 and $250,000. Dr. Cronin publicly denounced The Triangle and demanded an accounting.
In Chicago he met and joined the anti-Triangle faction of Clan-na-Gael and soon became their spokesman. The Triangle retaliated by accusing Cronin of being a British spy. In Camp 20 he was brought to trial before a committee of its members, including Dan Coughlin, a detective in the Chicago police department. Cronin was found guilty of treason and expelled from the order. But Cronin now had a large following within Clan-na-Gael, and thousands of members quit the organization in sympathy and formed their own camps.
Leaders of both factions realized the goal of Irish independence could not be met unless they all worked together and urged their members to “bury the hatchet.” Dr. Cronin agreed provided that the actions of the Triangle were fully investigated.
In Chicago, Dr. Cronin was approached by Patrick O’Sullivan, owner of an ice house at Lake View, offering him a job as the company physician. For $8 a month, Cronin agreed to respond whenever one of O’Sullivan’s employees needed medical attention. It was an odd arrangement, since Cronin did not live near the ice house, plus O’Sullivan had only four employees and their work was not hazardous.
On May 4, 1889 a man came to Cronin’s house in a carriage asking for assistance for an injured worker at O’Sulliavn’s ice house. Several people saw Dr. Cronin leave in a carriage pulled by a white horse. He would never return home.
The investigation began near O’Sullivan’s ice house where neighbors told police about a strange man who had rented a cottage nearby and never moved in. Though the cottage was unoccupied, sometimes lights burned inside late at night. When police went into the cottage they could tell at a glance that it was the scene of the murder. There was a considerable amount of blood on the front steps and in several of the rooms, and the floor had recently been painted yellow in a clumsy attempt to hide the blood.
Police identified the horse and carriage and found that it had been rented the day of the murder by Detective Dan Coughlin. John Kunze, a friend of Coughlin was identified as the man who drove the carriage. On June 29, O’Sullivan, Coughlin, Cooney, and Kunze were indicted for the murder of Dr. Cronin, along with Frank Burke, Frank Woodruff and John Beggs, members of Camp 20 and associates of Coughlin. Burke had fled to Winnipeg but was captured there and after a long and bitter extradition hearing, was returned, under heavy guard, to Chicago.
Alexander Sullivan was also arrested at the recommendation of the coroner’s jury. It was not the first time Sullivan was arrested for murder. In 1876 Frank Hanford, principal of the school where Sullivan’s wife was teaching, accused Mrs. Sullivan of creating dissention on the school board. Sullivan and his wife paid a visit on Mr. Hanford, a squabble ensued and Sullivan shot and killed Hanford. After two trials Alexander Sullivan was acquitted.
In the Cronin murder Sullivan was released on $20,000 bail and charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.