The Chicago Syndicate: Everybody Pays
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Everybody Pays

Friends of ours: Harry Aleman

Bob Lowe's father told him not to get involved. Just keep his mouth shut and forget everything he saw. But to the 25-year-old blue collar mechanic, husband, and father, that was entirely out of the question. How could he? While walking his dog he saw his acquaintance, Billy Logan, murdered on the street right in front of him. And more importantly, he held the triggerman's gaze for four frightening seconds, enough to easily identify him in a mug shot book, lineup, or court chambers. In Lowe's mind, it was his simple duty as a citizen to I.D. the guy and put a killer behind bars.

But Bob Lowe's seemingly straightforward decision to do that duty in 1972 provided the catalyst for a 25-year hellish personal odyssey, all while being constantly on the move and looking over his shoulder for the bullet with his name on it. That's because the face that Lowe saw didn't belong to any garden variety street thug, but that of Harry Aleman, the feared, proficient and very busy hit man for the Chicago mob. And Harry had a lot of powerful friends.

EVERYBODY PAYS is not the story of Logan or even Aleman, but of how Lowe's life began to spiral out of control after his agreeing to testify. Little did he know that larger forces were literally conspiring against him. Although he positively identified Aleman immediately following the shooting, the corrupt investigating cops buried the information for four years. At the eventual trial, the presiding judge had been bribed, deeming Lowe "a liar" in open court. Left dangling when Aleman was acquitted --- and in real fear for their lives --- the Lowes entered the Witness Protection Program, beginning a harrowing litany of changes in their residence, job, lifestyles, and even identities.

The constant pressure drove Lowe to extended flirtations with booze, cocaine, petty crime, and estrangement from his family. After years of bitter thoughts and second-guessing of his actions, Lowe eventually does crawl back. The book closes with Aleman's 1997 retrial --- a historic overturning of the Constitutional "double jeopardy" clause --- and ultimate vindication for Lowe, who as an older, grayer man found himself giving the same testimony that he had 20 years earlier.

Possley and Kogan --- both experienced journalists for the Chicago Tribune --- keep the narrative fast-paced, to the point and interesting. They also know their turf well, particularly in their discussion of the hierarchy of the Chicago Mafia and how it differs from its flashier, more storied New York counterpart. Drawing on historical material as well as fresh interviews from most of the participants (save the incarcerated Aleman, who refused to talk with them), the pair paint a sympathetic but even-keeled portrait of Lowe, who was not entirely blameless for his subsequent misfortunes.

Ultimately, the large and looming question that hangs throughout the book is this: Was it all worth it? Was it worth it for Lowe to go through his own seven circles of hell for doing what he initially felt would be a simple and just action, or should he have heeded his father's advice to go deaf, dumb, and blind? The reader is left to ponder that for themselves --- as well as think about what they'd do in a similar situation. In either case, the book's title stands as both a warning and a thesis: in crime, everyone does pay --- and not just the guilty.

Thanks to Bob Ruggiero

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