Saturday, June 26, 2010

Clan-na-Gael and the Murder of Dr. Cronin.

Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin was a prominent Chicago physician and a member of Clan-na-Gael an American political organization formed to promote Irish independence from British rule. Clan-na-Gael was very effective at raising large sums of money for the cause, but the money was administered in secret by three members of the Executive Board led by Chicago lawyer Alexander Sullivan. When Dr. Cronin criticized the board’s secrecy and accused them of embezzling funds he was denounced as a traitor and a British spy. When his accusations persisted, Sullivan marked him for death and on May 4, 1889 Dr. Cronin disappeared.

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.

Patrick Henry Cronin was born in County Cork in Ireland in 1846 and moved with his family, while quite young, to Canada. When he was 23 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Cronin was a very charismatic and ambitious young man. He had a fine tenor voice and, though a devout Catholic, Cronin sang in the choir of the Second Baptist Church. He began working as a porter for a wholesale house but his winning personality impressed several St. Louis businessmen who provided him with better employment and assisted with his education. Cronin began studying pharmacy but changed to medicine and graduated from the Missouri Medical College. He set up a private practice in St. Louis and joined a number benevolent groups and secret societies such as Royal Arcanum and Chosen Friends. In St. Louis he also joined Clan-na-Gael. When he moved to Chicago in 1882 he joined the Foresters and the Royal League.

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.

A committee of six, including Dr. Cronin investigated the Triangle but voted four to two that the charges had not been proven. Cronin called it a whitewash and threatened to take to make his notes of the proceedings public so the world would know the treachery of the Triangle. Triangle leader Alexander Sullivan, was reportedly heard to say he wished Cronin could be “removed.”

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.

Dr. Cronin’s friends suspected that he had been murdered. When a blood stained trunk was found north of the city containing what appeared to be strands of Dr. Cronin’s hair, they were convinced. But he was reportedly seen on a streetcar by a friend late that night. The sighting was verified by the streetcar conductor. And on May 10, Chicago’s newspapers received a dispatch from Toronto claiming that Dr. Cronin was in Canada, on his way to England. He had admitted to being a British spy and was on his way to testify against Clan-na-Gael.

The matter was settled on May 22 when the public works department in Lake View was investigating a jammed sewer. The workmen found the decomposing body of Dr. Cronin wedged into the catch basin. He was completely naked with a bloody towel wrapped around his neck. Beneath the towel, around his neck, he wore an Agnus Dei— a Catholic medal depicting the Lamb of God. When the body was examined the coroner found five scalp wounds made by a sharp, narrow weapon such as an ice pick.

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.

They traced the furniture to Revel’s furniture store and there learned the furniture items, as well as the blood-stained trunk had been rented by a man calling himself J.B. Simmonds. Police suspected that Simmonds was actually Pat Cooney, alias “The Fox”, a companion of O’Sullivan and Detective Coughlin, and a bitter enemy of Cronin’s.

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.

Trials: August 26, 1889 – Beggs, Caughlin, Burke, O’Sullivan, Kunz

The trial lasted three and a half months, with closing arguments lasting fourteen days. The prosecution charged that Dr. Cronin had been condemned to die…
“By a tribunal self-constituted; a tribunal that was accuser, witness, judge and executioner at the same time; a tribunal which hides itself from the light of day.”
The defense tried to paint Dr. Cronin as, alternately, a violent radical and a British spy.

The jury deliberated for seventy hours before returning the following verdicts:

John F. Beggs – not guilty

John Kunze – guilty of manslaughter

Danial Coughlin, Patrick O’Sullivan and Martin Burke – guilty of first degree murder.

Kunze appealed and was granted a new trial which resulted in his acquittal. Coughlin was granted a new trial on the grounds that two jurors were prejudiced against him. He was also acquitted on his second trial. There was not enough evidence against Frank Woodruff and his case was stricken from the docket.

The murder of Dr. Cronin was called, at the time,  “The Crime of the Century” but as Edmund Pearson pointed out:
“…anyone with the faintest knowledge of Chicago will remember that that city has a Crime of the Century every four or five years.”
Dr. Cronin certainly had one of Chicago’s most spectacular funerals. Nearly 8000 men—Hibernians, Clan-na-gaels, Foresters, and members of Catholic benevolent societies and other orders of which Cronin was member –marched in line. The procession included several drum corps and a marching band.

After his release from prison, Danial Coughlin opened a saloon in Chicago but he did not stay in business long. He was charged with attempting to bribe jurors in damage suit cases when he was an employee of the Illinois Railway Company. When the indictments were brought against him, Coughlin fled to Honduras.

Patrick O’Sullivan and Martin Burke died in the penitentiary.

A modern observer of the murder of Dr. Cronin is left with the feeling that the real conspirators were not charged and the true story has never been told. To quote Edmund Pearson once more:
“It was one of those murders over which men nod their heads and look portentous and intimate that ‘everything hasn’t come out yet.’”

This is one of 50 stories featured in the new book
The Bloody Century


Hunt, Henry M.  The Crime of the Century Or, the Assassination of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin(Chicago: H. L. & D. H. Kochersperger, 1889).

McEnnis, John T., The Clan-Na-Gael and the Murder of Dr. Cronin. San Francisco: G. P. Woodward, 1889,

Duke, Thomas Samuel, Celebrated Criminal Cases of America
, San Francisco, The James H. Barry company, 1910.

Pearson, Edmund, ed. Gerald Gross, Masterpieces of Murder: An Edmund Pearson True Crime Reader. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1924.


NorthsideRasta says:
November 28, 2020 at 10:51 PM

Al Sullivan was a made man, well connected,& adept at beating raps against him. How he didn't get convicted & do time for his role in the murder is illogical.

Post a Comment