Sunday, October 08, 2006

Can A Hero Become A Police Superintendent?

Most cops know that police superintendents and chiefs never seem to come from the ranks of working street cops. They are too often are administrative types who will do anything and everything they can to avoid police work. The types most likely to get the top spot almost always seem to have the least real police experience.

Today I had a sad revelation that far to little information is available about the former chiefs and superintendents of the Chicago Police Department. There once was an informational display in the lobby of police headquarters but it’s been since removed. Finding out who these guys were and what they did is shrouded in mystery today.

To help put this shameful mishandling of police history in perspective I will tell a story I know of the late Superintendent, James M. Rochford. Other than this story, I can’t tell you much more about this giant of a cop.

Hostage negotiations, SWAT teams or the Chicago Hostage Barricade Team did not exist when this story unfolded. Officers confronting in these kinds of events flew by the seat of their pants since police training never prepared anyone this kind of event.

At 9521 South Exchange Avenue on April 14, 1969, there was a horrific bloodbath that resulted in the deaths of Detective Jerome A. Stubig and Sergeant James R. Schaffer. Additionally six other officers and two civilians suffered serious hand gernade shrapnel and gunshot wounds.

It began when a 43 year-old, mentally disturbed former Marine, labeled as a “Mad Bomber”, Frank J. Kulak, barricaded himself in his home. Kulak began sniping at his neighbors who called police. The first two officers responding knocked on Kulak’s door and were met by fatal gunfire and tossed hand gernades.

The entire gun, battle and siege lasted six hours. Jim Rochford responded, climbed over the bloody bodies of his comrades, Schaffer and Stubig to make voice contact with Kulak. Using incredible calm, courage and negotiation skills, an un-armed Rochford took Kulak into custody ending the carnage.

Along with some deadly booby traps set at Kulak’s front door police seized 52 unexploded manufactured bombs, hand grenades, and various paraphernalia for the manufacture of explosives including gunpowder, pipes, cylinders, tape, and military-type fuses. Also seized were two carbine rifles, two shotguns and two pistols.

Kulak never faced criminal charges for his crimes. He was declared incompetent by a court and sent off to the Chester Mental Hospital at Menard for treatment.

James M. Rochford quickly rose through the ranks succeeding James B. Conlisk, Jr. as Chicago Police Superintendent where he served from 1974 through 1979. Rochford passed away in 2004.

Sergeant James Schaffer
Detective Jerome A. Stubig


Anonymous said...

Wow, the memories you just brought back. I was 14 years old at the time of Kulak's rampage and grew up down the street at 102nd & Commercial. I remember that day and all of the chaos going on, as well as seeing all of the idiot bystanders trying to get a look at what was going on. People were saying that some kid standing on 95th Street was pretending that he was a reporter and was pretending to be holding a microphone and talking to a make believe audience when he was shot in the leg by one of Kulak's sniper rifles. Don't know if that was true or not cause I wasn't about to get close enough to find out. Definitely a dangerous situation. My hat is off to all of the responding CPD officers. Salute!

Retired Illinois State Police officer.

Jim said...

Wow again ... more memories for me too. I was a cub reporter and at the scene that day. I was working for legendary City News Bureau and responded to the call of two officers down. As I recall, the killings of the officers followed their investigation of a chemical bombing a few days prior of a nearby Goldblatts store ... in the toy department, killing a family. When the offices knocked on the Kulak door, he responded with gunfire. During the 6+ hour firefight, he blew up the back stairwell, and was sniping victims more than a block away, also using a grenade launcher. I was positioned behind a nearby garage, when a piece of shrapnel hit a tree two feet away. As it became dark, the tracers from the police weapons lit up the ski. While the police undoubtedly were instrumental in Kulak's eventual arrest, I believe it was his mother who appeared at the scene and provided additional incentive for him to give up. What's amazing to me is his eventual sentencing -- a man certainly competent enough to build complex chemical bombs, but unable to stand trial! Geesh.

Anonymous said...

To me, Det. Jerome A. Stubig was "Uncle Jerry." He wasn't really my uncle, but he and my father were the best of friends. My father was a pall bearer at Uncle Jerry's funeral. I was only 5 years old at the time, but I still remember him and that horrific day quite clearly. Thanks for posting.

James Aldrich said...

My name is James Aldrich.

On the day of the toy store bombing, I was 6 years old. My parents and I were at that Goldblatts toy section to buy me a birthday present. In the department was a large bag that the cashier couldn't retrieve-she couldn't leave her station. So she asked my dad to get it for her. When he did, she tipped it toward her to look inside. Then the bomb went off.
This type of bomb was specifically designed to injure or kill someone only when it was tipped over-not at a random time when it might not injure anyone. Kulak was a weapons specialist in the Marines so he knew this despite his claim of insanity.
Although the cashier died instantly that day, my parents did not. Yet they were horribly and irreversibly maimed for the rest of their lives. My mother's legs were permanently damaged from all of the shrapnel that hit her. If she hadn't stepped in front of me at the last second before the blast occurred, I certainly would have died. She had to learn to walk again after many years of confinement to a wheelchair.
My dad's face and hands were almost completely blown off and he had to live with excruciating suffering all his life. He lived the rest of his life with only one eye, most of his hands completely missing and was only kept alive in the hospital by having the carotid artery in his neck blocked. He was bleeding much too fast to stay alive any other way. He lived the rest of his life with many pieces of metal in his brain that the doctors could never take out, or else he would have died horribly. Both of my parents were in intensive care for years after Kulak did this.
Most of my relatives came to the hospital from wherever they were in the world upon hearing the news to adopt me. My parents were given no chance of survival. Yet my dad died in 1988 and my mom died in 1992, both in Florida. We had to move from Chicago because the winters were too cruel for my parents to endure their injuries.
I must completely agree with Jim's comment here. Kulak built such a huge arsenal of weapons, and then planned such an attack on so many innocent lives, killing and maiming so many. Yet he never faced criminal charges based on a plea of insanity. This entire incident was obviously and completely planned to the last detail.
My parents lived the rest of their lives with injuries so horrific, that their doctors had never even seen such before. Kulak had no injuries, yet consider the pain of the families and friends of all those that Kulak hurt and killed that day.
There were rumors about us receiving a large sum of money from this, but that never happened...the store didn't want to admit fault and even attempted to claim bankruptcy so as not to have to pay anything. Kulak's attorneys didn't feel he was liable either, since he was supposedly incompetent to stand trial anyway. Therefore, we basically got nothing but lives of pain and suffering...just like all those others that he did these unspeakable acts to.
I can be contacted by email at if anyone can provide me with more information about this tragedy, or if anyone needs to hear from me. Yes, I actually lived through this carnage and am willing to verify any amount of knowledge necessary to corroborate this.
I was never told about all of the details of this, and I have my parents to thank for that. They knew I never would have been able to comprehend such a horrific situation at 6 years old-I am still not sure that I can now-but I want to learn more about this.
This happened when we didn't have the luxury of the internet or worldwide cable news to get information, so I have had trouble finding anything about this. Can anyone help me fill in the many blanks that I have about this?

All my parents wanted to do was buy me a birthday present at that toy store.

Anonymous said...

Response to James Aldrich.

My father and I were in Goldblatts when the bomb went off. James, I sent a response to the email address in your comment. Hope you are reading this post. Please contact me at

Anonymous said...

To James and higley03:
My name is Misty Lebeter. I was attempting to find out information about the bombing. My great-grandmother was the cashier who died that day, Kathren Lebeter. I'll send a message via email. Thanks to James for the insight into exactly what transpired that day and how people (such as your family) were affected.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was Sgt James Schaffer. I visited his grave and that of my grandmother, James' wife, Johanna yesterday.Looks like nobody has been there in over a decade to visit their resting places. Drove by their home off 83rd and Kedzie, grandma's house still looks nice. And then stopped by the house of horrors at 9521 Exchange, place is still there. James was also career Army, which many over look. At the time of his untimely death he was a Colonel in the Reserves. Decorated Officer in WWII. Never got to meet Grandpa personally, so I feel Kulak cheated me. So may Kulak's soul burn in the lake of fire deep in hell. rest in peace Grandpa and Grandma.

Unknown said...

My name is Ray Clark and I knew Jerry Stubig ever since I was a little kid growing up on the northside of Chicago. He was like family to me and I always admired him. Only weeks before his murder, he visited me in the hospital where I was recovering from a stab wound. (typical Chicago street kid). I'll never forget this wonderful human being. As luck would have it, I randomly met his youngest son Scott in a sports bar in Palatine. (small world). I actually knew his dad before he was born. He was quite young when Jerry died and I was only 16 years old myself. Scott was kind enough to give me a framed picture of his father which I display in my home. God bless him and God damn Kulak.

Anonymous said...

Hi, My name is Mike Kerr. I am a fiction writer. What I’m hoping to write is a slice of the Chicago neighborhood of Austin as it existed in 1969. It was under siege from white flight and disastrous integration, which incurred greed in realtors/blockbusters, but there were other effects crushing the city, even America, at that time. America was not only losing a war, but the 1968 My Lai massacre has turned Americans against the soldier, and veteran. The courts, meanwhile, have taken a trend to find ruthless killers not accountable for their actions due to being unstable. They don’t receive capital punishment or life imprisonment. They’re sent to a mental institution where there is opportunity for theme to be deemed cured. Further, the once powerful Daley machine that managed “the city that works” is crumbling. For my character, a journeyman reporter, it all a lack of accountability. He wanted to be like his heroes, the men o'sf the WWII generation, who saved the world, rescued millions from torture camps and led the greatest economic recovery. They built the world of families that are the neighborhood of Austin, his home. His generation is only known for the post-war traumas. He’s labeled by his generation: baby-killer and unstable.

The Frank Kulak story touches all of these. He’s a veteran gone mad. He’s unstable, non-productive, unable to cope with the death of his mother. He received a verdict that he kept him out of prison and eligible for release. If anyone has details as to whether he finally was released or how he died, I can be contacted at My condolences to all who have suffered.

Anonymous said...

It was the Monday after Easter. I was 13 at the time and it was a holiday as I went to Catholic School, St. Michael's to be exact. I was at Goldblatt's at the time of the Goldblatt's bombing, spending some money I had gotten as gifts from Grandma and Grandpa for Easter. I had already purchased several records including the Cowsills' "Hair". I was at the book department looking at paperbacks regarding House Plants when the very loud explosion went off. I walked just a few yards over to see what had happened. No 13 year-old would ever be prepared for that. There was a woman, a little on the heavy side with black hair, James' mom I'm guessing, sitting on the floor with what appeared to be missing legs. She was surrounded in blood and screaming for help. I couldn't move. I know that I should have done something and to this day feel shame for not doing anything. I walked over to the sales lady back in the book department and told her that I wished to buy this book which I still had in my hands. Not knowing what had caused the explosion she told me she wasn't about to touch the cash register. I then took the book and ran home to 83rd and Houston. On the way people were already coming out of stores as the first responders were on their way (fire trucks, police and ambulances). Several shop owners tried to stop me to ask what had happened. I did not stop. Once home I realized my parents were at my grandparents so I raced across Russell Square Park to 84th and LSD, aka Bond Avenue. Once they opened the door and let me in I cried uncontrollably for probably several hours. They tried to lie me down and calm me down. They, of course, wanted to know what had happened. I couldn't talk. For months afterward I continued to hear that woman screaming for help, the ambulances, etc. I am now 65 and retired but am still emotional when I recall that day. I could never listen to those records I bought with the same enjoyment as I had with others and to this day I still have that book. In some ways, it is amazing how well human beings can adjust to whatever life throws their way. In other ways, it is amazing how truly horrid and evil we can be to each other.