Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Remembering a Top Crime Reporter Who Covered Capone's Mob

Earl "Skip" Aykroid's father wasn't a gangster, but he got closer to the mob scene than many who lived to tell about it.

Aykroid's father, H. Earl Aykroid, was a reporter for the Chicago Herald and Examiner and later The Associated Press in Chicago. Skip, who lives in the northern Kane County village of Gilberts, didn't follow in his father's footsteps. "The closest I got was delivering the Sunday paper when I was a kid," Skip said.

Instead, he was in the uniform textile business for several years. But he still remembers the big stories his father covered in his heyday as a crime reporter in one of the nations most interesting crime cities.

When Skip was growing up in Park Ridge, sometimes he would overhear his father telling his mother about his days at the office -- coffee with notorious gangster Al Capone and chasing down leads from the city's top cops. "He'd bring stuff home, and we'd get to read it," Skip said. "In passing, he'd talk about certain things that happened over the years. Once I got to be old enough to understand, he'd tell (my sister and me) things."

The senior Earl got his start working for newspapers at an early age. With only an eighth-grade education, Earl started out as a copy boy for the Herald and Examiner at 18 in 1924. He got a full-time gig after scooping some of Chicago's veteran reporters by identifying a young drowning victim. Earl soon established his reputation around the city. "My dad was considered the top crime reporter of that time in Chicago in the '20s and '30s," Skip said.

Earl soon was getting phone calls from some of the criminals themselves. Skip said Capone called up the newsroom one day complaining that people weren't getting his side of the story. Earl was the one tapped to go and get it. The two soon were meeting on a regular basis for coffee or lunch and discussions about Capone's involvement in the Prohibition-era gang activity.

One of the lasting stories from Skip's father's police beat days is what occurred on Feb. 14, 1929. Most Chicago-area residents know the story: Seven people with ties to Bugs Moran's gang were shot in a north-side garage in a bloody massacre. The victims were lined up with their backs to their shooters, who they thought were police. The real police were never able to collect enough evidence to put anyone on trial for the murders. "Because of the relationship my dad had with Capone, they let him know so he could have the scoop," Skip said.

The story Skip heard was that Earl, a city editor at the time, and a photographer pulled up to the garage on Clark Street right as the shooters were pulling away. According to Skip, Earl and his staff photographer were among the first on the scene and discovered the fresh bodies lying on the garage floor. "My dad got a call in the morning that something was happening at this address," Skip said. "He was there before the police were there. They wouldn't have let them in after the fact."

The picture of the scene the reporter saw that day is now a family heirloom of sorts, passed down to Skip. Blood and brains splattered across the cement floor of the crime scene are still visible in the cracked black-and-white photo. "They were brutal in those days," Skip said.

When Skip was 12, he got a chance to ride along with his dad on a story. A helicopter had crashed off Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. According to reports, 13 people were killed when a shuttle helicopter crashed on its way to O'Hare Field (now O'Hare International Airport) from Midway Airport on Chicago's south side.

"I begged him to let me go," Skip said. Skip was told to wait in the car while Earl checked out the scene. "When he got back, I asked him what happened. He said, 'You're not going out there. There are body parts everywhere,'" Skip said.

Even though Earl was covering some pretty dangerous stories, Skip said he was never worried about getting hurt. "There were two things you didn't mess with back then: reporters and cops," Skip said.

Some families pass down quilts or jewelry from generation to generation. Skip has a more nontraditional legacy from his father: a couple of albums full of press clippings and gory crime scene photos that were passed down from his father. "He never made a lot of money," Skip said of his father, who died in 1988. "But he lived an interesting life."

Thanks to Cigi Ross

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