May 5, 2011

The Great Undercover Operation of 1950

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Corespondant

As a group of 14 year old Uptown boys with a lot of time on our hands, we formed an Explorer / Sea Scout Group. At one of our meetings, a Sheriff's Deputy showed up and wanted us to join the Junior Deputy Sheriff's League of Cook County, which was designed for us "underprivileged kids" to keep us off the streets.

Well, no one wanted to join, until they showed us the badges we could carry, complete with serial number. We even had to be fingerprinted and bring a letter from our clergyman.

After much discussion on what a clergyman was, we joined and forgot about it until the following June, when I received a call from Deputy King. "Hello, is this Bill, with badge number 4881?" Wow. I said it was, and then he proceeded to lay out a plan.

I was to get two other Jr. Deputies, bring our badges, and meet him at the end of the Lawrence Ave street car line, at Austin Ave.

The old Red Rocket street car ran from Broadway on the East to the City Limits on the West., which was Austin Ave.

Me, Bob Carter, and Aki Inaba got off the street car and there were two men leaning up against a building reading newspapers, trying to look inconspicuous.
They asked if we had our badges, which we showed them, and then we were taken to the Sheriff's Station on Milwaukee Ave in Morton Grove.

Just outside the City Limits of Chicago were fireworks stands, because it was illegal to sell exploding fireworks within the City Limits.

Here was the plan:

We each went with two deputies and were given a five dollar bill. Serial number was recorded. My "cover" story was I was going on vacation with my dad and my uncle. I needed to take some firecrackers with me, so my job was to talk the operator into selling me some. Now, anything that exploded was considered illegal. The deputies also told me to only spend $4.50 and always get change so as to not arouse suspicion. So I approached a stand and bought some firecrackers. I got back to the car, got in the back seat, showed them the packs of "china boy" firecrackers; they turned on the siren and we raided the stand. We brought all illegal fireworks into the station and got set to go back out again. They gave me another $5 bill, I said I still had .50 from the first five, and they told me no, I didn't. "You spent the whole five." "No, look, here's the .50 piece." Dep King said, "Look, kid, you spent the whole 5 dollars," and then he winked. I caught on real fast.

We went to another stand; I went up, and with the new $5 bought .50 worth of firecrackers and kept the change.

The deputies laughed and we went out again with another $5. I spent .50
We made four raids that day and I have $14 in my pocket. I had a newspaper route and only made $3.50 a week. So I found a new vocation.

We did the same for three more days, and I'm rolling in money, but not from just keeping the change. At the end the first day, Dep. King sent me to the jail cell with a bag to get him and his partner some confiscated fireworks. I told the jailer who it was for and he said ok. I brought up a large bag full of goods, then I asked if it would be OK for me to have some and they said sure. So we all had a little bag of firecrackers.

The next day, I brought with me two shopping bags from Goldblatt's filled with crinkled newspapers and covered over with old polo shirts, which I explained away by saying I was going over to my aunt's at the end of the day. These bags I left in the sheriff's station and would pick them up later.

Next day was basically the same as the first day, and before we knocked off, I went down to the jail cell to get my two Goldblatt's Bags . I removed the paper and filled them up with "goods", covered the tops with the shirts, and came home on the streetcar.

I sold all the fireworks in the neighborhood and made about $80 with what I kept from the change. I was so rich I had to hide money from my mom; she found one of my stashes and she thought Dad was holding out on her. That was one nasty fight, until my dad read the Sun-Times paper on July 3 1950, and right there on page three was a picture of me, Bob, and Aki with a description of our wonderful work keeping fireworks off the street and out the hands of kids.

Mom and Dad realized who was stashing the money and I confessed the whole story.
Mom gave me a lecture on doing the right thing and Dad Borrowed $10

—Bill Matteson


Anonymous said...

Very interesting-but you are old!! Wow. Some of these bldgs have been gone for ages-hard to believe you actually talk about them.

Interesting stuff, are you still writing??

tdap said...

Hot damn, that is golden!


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