A High-Profile Murder in 1963 Still Haunts Chicago

A rising Black politician named Ben Lewis was shot to death in his office
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2021 4:47 PM CST
Who Killed Ben Lewis in 1963? Question Still Haunts Chicago
Ben Lewis was handcuffed during his murder.   (Getty/Rawf8)

It is, declares the headline of a lengthy story at ProPublica, "the murder Chicago didn't want to solve." And as Mick Dumke writes, the killing of Black politician Ben Lewis in 1963 does indeed remain unsolved after nearly six decades. The slaying was national news at the time: The 53-year-old Lewis, who'd just won reelection to the City Council and was expected to run for Congress in the near future, was found shot to death in his ward office. He was facedown on his desk, a bloody couch cushion covering his head, and he was handcuffed. Lewis wasn't just killed, he was assassinated. But why? That's still an open question, and Dumke runs the murder through the context of the times. Police spread stories to newspapers that Lewis was a womanizer (raising the prospect of a jealous husband) with links to the city's criminal syndicate. But an FBI agent concluded that such stories were being made up to "dirty him up."

"His death was strictly a political murder" because he wouldn't follow orders, the agent wrote. A year after the murder, a different FBI report said an informant pinned the blame on two underworld figures. "Source heard that Alderman Lewis, before his assassination, was not cooperating with the criminal element in Chicago," an agent noted in that report. Dumke's piece focuses in particular on one of those underworld figures, Lenny Patrick. It also takes note of a cryptic phone call Lewis received from a police sergeant just before his death. The sergeant was questioned but never arrested. Another officer, long retired, tells Dumke he knows why Lewis was murdered and who ordered the killing. "I happened to be present and knowledgeable of certain circumstances where I know what transpired," he says. But he adds that what he knows won't be divulged until after his death. (Read the full story.)

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