|The general scene of the wreckage after the explosion on November 3, 1935. (Originally published in Milwaukee Journal.)|
Autumn, 1935 was a tense time on the South side of Milwaukee. The Great Depression was entering its sixth year. The initial stock market avalanche had wiped out the family savings of both millionaires and mill workers. Since then, the constant pressure of no work - no money had slowly ground away people's confidence, self-esteem and even hope. It is no wonder that individuals snapped, causing sporadic outbreaks of violence in varied and unlikely places. One of those places was the strike at the A.J. Lindemann and Hoverson Co. (See Featured Profile #1) where striking workers and replacements exchanged insults, as well as paint and rocks. While this was occurring, another more lethal flash point was festering in the heart of the Milwaukee's South side.
Hugh "Idzi" Rutkowski was a somewhat clever individual with some manual skills. He had attended St. Vincent's Academy and Boy's Technical High School where he learned the auto mechanic's trade. Unfortunately, he had not been able to find consistent employment. In the Fall of 1935, he was 20, unemployed, living with his parents, and frustrated. He was also a bully with an inflated sense of his abilities and a total lack of respect for the law and the rights of others. Unfortunately for him, and his innocent victims, those are the qualities he drew upon to formulate his plan to get rich quick.
|(as published in the Milwaukee Sentinel)|
On October 22, 1935, Idzi stole a West Milwaukee police squad car from two unsuspecting officers who were in the police station at 4755 W. Beloit Road. He stripped it of its siren, radio, red spotlight and license plates. He placed these items on a Ford V-8 coupe (which he had probably also stolen) to make it look like a police car and then hid the coupe in a garage at 2960 S. Thirteenth Street. This garage had been rented for him by Paul Chovanec, a small, 16-year-old neighborhood boy whom Idzi dominated. It is not known to what extent Paul Chovanec would assist in the ensuing crimes, but he undoubtedly was involved.
On Saturday, October 26th, the main event began when at 7:32 p.m. an explosion erupted under a 5-inch sewer outside the Shorewood City Hall at 3930 N. Murray Ave. It tore a hole through the cellar, splintered one of the large columns supporting the roof and shattered every window in the structure. Because of the smell of dynamite in the air, and the effects of the explosion, the police suspected that the explosion was the work of human hands, but no one had any idea who might want to attack Shorewood.
The next bombings occurred less than twenty-four hours later when two banks were targeted. At 6:10 p.m. on October 27th, another bomb went off against the rear wall of the Citizens branch of the First Wisconsin National Bank located at 3602 W. Villard Ave. It weakened the building's foundation and sprayed glass over the surrounding homes. Using his stolen car that was made up to look like a police vehicle, Idzi then sped away to the site of his next target. Less than 30 minutes later, another bomb exploded, this time at the East Side branch of the First Wisconsin National Bank at the corner of N. Farwell and E. North Avenue. The dynamite had been placed on the ground at the rear of the building, so much of the force of the explosion went outward, wrecking near-by parked cars.
Now the city knew that the explosions were the work of one or more individuals bent on terror. The mood of the city darkened even more. Everyone was cautious and worried, not knowing when the next bomb might explode. For four days, the police searched frantically for clues, rounding up large numbers of random "suspects" in the desperate attempt to find the bomber through shear luck. The rest of the city waited, suspended in fear. Then on Thursday, the next two bombs exploded in quick succession. This time, the police stations were targeted. At 6:47 p.m. a bomb that had been left on a window ledge of the Fifth Precinct Police Station at Third and Hadley went off. Although the damage to the building and surrounding houses was severe, the occupants of the police building luckily escaped injury. The same was true less than 11 minutes later when the second bomb went off, this time at the Third Precinct Police Station at Twelfth and West Vine Streets.
At this point, the police began to suspect how the bombers were eluding capture. About the time of the first bomb exploded, three false alarms had been called in. The confusion caused by the response to these false alarms and to the real bombing had let the bombers make their escape. The police also suspected that the bombers were using the equipment stolen from the police car to disguise their own auto as a police vehicle.
Thursday was also the day that a "ransom" note of sorts and a blasting cap were discovered on a desk in the Palmer Street School. The note apparently had been typed on a typewriter stolen from the school the Monday before. The letter was so long, rambling, and filled with misspelled words and ungrammatical sentences that it was difficult to read. It demanded $125,000 in set specified denominations and then went on:
plan mus be got or up go sity [My plan must be accepted or up goes
i gif far wrnig i do it to 125,000 I give fair warning. I do it, too. $125,000
is leetl is little]
if no tak ofer wtmj by fri, it wel betoob [If you don't take the offer on WTMJ by
bad dis is de las chance.... Friday, it will become bad.
This is the last chance.]
The note rambled on, taunting the police with their incompetence, bragging about how clever the bomber had been so that the police could not identify him, warning that if the offer to trade peace for money was not accepted three bombs would go off, at least one at a theater, and many people would be killed.
It ended, somewhat ironically and prophetically:
i no afrad to di so i no kar i e x con [I'm not afraid to die, so I don't care. I'm
an vet i handle dy. over there an ex-con
and vet. I handled dynamite over there.
i expert boms kin be timed elek caps i I'm an expert. Bombs can be timed
with electric caps. I
mean not d e fuzes they b in to fast mean, not the fuses. They burn
The last reference about using electric caps and not fuses was probably a response to an article that had appeared in the newspapers. All the bombs that had gone off so far had been set with simple burning fuses. This, the article had explained, indicated that the bombings were the work of an amateur. Professionals did not use simple fuses because they were too risky. Real professionals used electric detonators. Being called an amateur must have rankled Idzi. He decided he would show them. His next bomb would use a timed electric detonator, and it would be a super bomb. The previous explosions had been caused by about five sticks of dynamite each. His next bomb would use 35.
Again the city waited anxiously. Friday and Saturday passed with no explosions, but several false alarms. Sunday, November 3, started the same, but at 2:40 p.m. the tension in the atmosphere was released with a terrific explosion that was heard up to eight miles away. The source was a sheet metal garage in the rear of 2121 W. Mitchell Street where Idzi and Paul had been trying to set an elector detonator to their super bomb. Whether the early detonation was caused by an electrical short in the wiring, a slip of the hand or some other error, we'll never know.
|(Published in Milwaukee Sentinel)|
Lydia Tarnowski, 29, 1727 S. 21st Street
Albert Raddatz, 57, 2127 W. Mitchell Street, his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Edna Grebe, 34, 2618 W. Lincoln Ave.
Joseph Kowalski, 36, 1803 S. 39th Street
Gladys Pietrzak, 18, 2143 W. Maple Street
Lucille Gustafson, 34, 1721 S. 21st Street
Hilda Budnik, 37, 2121 W. Mitchell Street
Rose (Antoniak) Kleczka, 49, 2117 W. Mitchell Street
(Rose Kleczka was the wife of Ed Klezka, the owner of the house in which Patricia Mylnarek was killed. Ed Kleczka was the brother of John C. Kleczka, see Featured Profile #8.)
Others escaped with their lives only through pure chance. Joseph Doligalski, uncle of Idzi, had taken his car out of another section of the garage where the bomb exploded just before. Earl Tarnowski, son of the injured Lydia, was in the basement of their house on an errand. The explosion blew two basement doors off their hinges. Earl just missed being seriously injured when one of the doors flew by, just grazing his head.
|(As published in the Milwaukee Sentinel)|
The reign of terror by Milwaukee's Mad Bomber had ended.
Sources: (references to page numbers in newspapers are to the page on Google News)
Balousek, Marv and J. Allen Kirsch, 50 Wisconsin Crimes of the Century, "Idzi's Reign of Terror", beginning p. 136.
"Bomber Blows Self to Bits, Child Killed," Milwaukee Sentinel, November 4, 1935, p. 1
"Hope May Be in Vain, But Parents of Rutkowski's Pal Await His Return," Milwaukee Sentinel, November 4, 1935, p. 1
"Police Find Four Deadly Missiles Hidden in Garage," Milwaukee Sentinel, December 6, 1935, p. 1
"Shorewood Blast Began Bombings," Milwaukee Sentinel, November 4, 1935, p.2.
"Two Killed in New Blast, Believe Bomber a Victim," Milwaukee Journal, November 4, 1935, p. 1