A True Psychopath

“If you want to write about crime you have to meet Dickie,” said Chester Z, a friend from a former life, and that was how I met a true psychopath.

Richard Cain was sitting at the bar with a flashy looking gal in a club called The Scotch Mist, on Rush Street in Chicago. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. He could tell from my garb and demeanor (that of a mere journalist, not even a gossip columnist) that there was no point introducing me to the gal. Fixing important guys up with showgirls was one way Cain made friends in the right places.

He and I exchanged a few pleasantries, nothing memorable. By then he’d been a Chicago cop and a Mafia enforcer (at the same time), a CIA operative, a troubleshooter for U.S. corporations in the Caribbean, and a double-triple- sometimes quadruple agent acting on behalf of, and contrary to, the interests of those entities and others. According to a U.S. Senate committee, Cain made several attempts on Fidel Castro’s life. Cuban intelligence put together a compelling case that he was involved in the plot to assassinate President John F Kennedy. He served time for armed robbery under the name Enrico Scalzetti, one of his many alter egos, and immediately went back to work for the Cook County Sheriff’s Dept when he got out of prison. By the time I met him he was playing the final role of his life, bodyguard and financial adviser to the mobster Sam Giancana.

In retrospect, the only thing that struck me as pathological about Cain was his physical presence – handsome almost pretty, flawlessly groomed, not a wrinkle in his suit, not a scuff on his alligator shoes, hanky peeking out of his breast pocket just so, mild whiff of aftershave that hung in the air like a force field. He was a little too perfect. I got the feeling that spilling beer on his suit, or stepping on his exquisitely shod foot, would be a bad mistake.

I met Cain in 1971. He was murdered in 1974, a crime that was said to be the result of a Mafia quarrel. By sheer coincidence I’d begun looking into another seemingly unrelated murder around that time, and that was how I discovered who really killed him and why. Read it in “Danny’s Boat”, a story in an anthology of true crime stories – The Family That Couldn’t Sleep at Night – published by Calumet Editions.

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Dirty Cops

Just watched a TV series called Low Winter Sun. Here’s an excerpt from a review: “Anytime the focus shifts to crooked cops Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) and Joe Geddes (Lennie James), Low Winter Sun proves to be a gripping drama.”

Not really. They’re good actors, especially James, but the plot is so convoluted and superficial that I ended up wondering what all the hullabaloo was about most of the time.

Dirty cops are at the heart of most of these morality plays. Their angst and their tortured souls are what juices the drama. The plot involves crimes they either solve or cover up according to some code they’ve devised amongst themselves, and the really dirty ones go down because they violate said code, usually by preying on the helpless. Sometimes this formula makes for interesting viewing, but it doesn’t have much to do with the truth.

I’m working on a true crime story about an actual dirty cop who thrived for years in possibly the most corrupt big city dept there is (i’ll let you guess, send a comment).  He epitomized everything that can go wrong with policing, and made a very lucrative career of putting himself in situations in which he could leverage the great moral hazard of his profession, his gun and the authority to use it, for monetary gain. I put him a notch below someone like Officer Michael Slager, who shot a fleeing man in the back 8 times, probably because the victim was black, but certainly because Slager thought he could get away with it and he enjoyed killing.  The guy I’m writing about shook down criminals for cash by threatening to pin murders and other crimes they had nothing to do with on them. He committed some of those crimes himself, probably including a few murders. Why is he worse than Slager? Because he didn’t even harbor a nasty passion like the urge to kill. He was devoid of passion, more like a coin counting machine than a human being.

Thanks to some good reporting by traditional media we’re in the midst of finding out how many cops like Slager there are. Way too many, that’s for sure, but percentage-wise fairly small, that’s my guess. As for cops like Frank Agnew and Joe Geddes, I doubt if they exist in the real world. Some cops are on the take from drug dealers, but the take is drugs in the situations I’m familiar with, and the cops are what you’d expect a junky with a gun to be – dangerous if provoked, but easy to work around. What interests me as a writer is whether the cop I’m writing about is sui generis. Maybe there are versions of him in all big departments (his racket simply wouldn’t work in a smaller department, it requires lots of serious crimes being committed on a daily basis).

The dirtiest cop I’ve written about to date plays a role in The Key Man, a story in an anthology of my true crime stories – The Family That Couldn’t Sleep at Night, published by Calumet Editions.

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