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Chicago's Gangster Past, Minus the Romance

A collection of photographs from the Chicago Tribune archives rejects spectacle in favor of brutal, messy truth.
William Heirens, also known as "The Lipstick Killer," is escorted to a detective bureau line-up in July, 1946. His nickname stemmed from the note he scrawled in lipstick on the wall of one of his victims: "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself."
William Heirens, also known as "The Lipstick Killer," is escorted to a detective bureau line-up in July, 1946. His nickname stemmed from the note he scrawled in lipstick on the wall of one of his victims: "For heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself."Photos © Chicago Tribune

Even a casual observer of American history will no doubt recognize several of the names in Gangsters and Grifters, a new book of early 20th century crime photographs from the Chicago Tribune archives. John Dillinger (and his corpse) monopolizes a handful of pages. A smirking Al Capone makes a few courtroom appearances. But this isn't another text seeking to glorify the Second City's criminal past.

Photo editors Erin Mystkowski, Marianne Mather, and Robin Daughtridge, who refer to themselves as "The Dames of the Chicago Tribune Photo Department," made a conscious effort to offer a more holistic representation of the annals of Chicago's notorious history. Through 125 thoughtfully curated photographs, juxtaposed next to the corresponding Tribune headlines, the somber realities of Chicago's historical criminal activity become apparent.