by: Gene O’Shea
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright: 2005, ISBN: 
Cover: George Long
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes, February 22, 2006
Summary: Highly recommended book that captures the time and place of Chicago in 1955.
In UNBRIDLED RAGE, Gene O’Shea has succeeded in moving beyond a mere recital of fact and circumstance. He has recreated an atmosphere of a time and a place and a crime which lets the reader float just far enough above the confusion to appreciate the grime reality. The chronicle is so sharply focused that the events related might be used to explain why “progress” should be examined as an attitude rather than a condition.
On October 18, 1955, three boys from a working class neighborhood in Chicago, John and Anton Schuessler (brothers, ages 13 and 11), and thirteen year old Robert Peterson were found dead just off a bridle path in the Robinson Woods Forest Preserve. O’Shea characterizes the murders as a transitional event for the city of Chicago. The crime would remain “unsolved” for nearly forty years. It was, as the author points out, not for lack of effort.
The Chicago Police Department put together a task force to investigate the murders. The Chicago newspapers put reporters on the story to follow tips and leads. It was a full court press which went no where. In 1956, the bodies of the three murdered boys were exhumed. This resulted in one critical piece of evidence that would play a part in resolving the question of who killed the boys and why. Then, in 1975, an informant named “Red”, working with the FBI told them the name of the person who killed the boys. He also told them why the boys were killed. The FBI did nothing with the information because, at the time, they were working an organized crime case and “Red” was a valuable informant. During 1993 and 1994, ATF agents John Rotunno and Jim Grady, in looking over the evidence available in 1955, had reason to question why the Chicago Police Department was unable to solve the murders. O’Shea writes, “To this day it [The Chicago Police Department] has the dubious reputation of being one of the largest big city police departments in the U. S. not to have solved one traditional organized crime murder”.
Nearly thirty-nine years after the murders, in August, 1994, ATF agent John Rotunno and his supervisor, James Delorto, visited the home of Malcolm and Dorothy Peterson to tell them that the killer of their son and the Schuessler brothers had been identified and would be arrested within a week. Anton Schuessler Sr., father of the brothers, died in 1955 after being committed to a sanitarium and receiving electroshock therapy . He had been a suspect in the murder. Eleanor Schuessler, his wife, died in 1986 after remarrying and raising two stepchildren. Malcolm Peterson, upon hearing Delorto announce a resolution of the murder, is quoted by O’Shea as saying, “Why now? What’s different now than it was before? . . .I don’t understand. Why now, after all these years?” O’Shea spends the next ninety-nine percent of UNBRIDLED RAGE answering the questions.
The author comments that the murders of the Schuessler brothers and Robert Peterson had
a profound effect upon life in the City of Chicago. It had a profound effect because the city newspapers would not let the crime go away. The police department could not or would not pigeon-hole the murders into some familiar category that would exclude a random re-occurrence. At the same time, the Chicago Police Department failed to solve the crime. Starting from that fact, would it be unreasonable to ask whether the police were stymied in their investigation because organized crime was involved? The question, even in 1955, had a hollow, discordant ring. Organized crime could gain nothing from the murder of three children. The police officers working the investigation did not go beyond that assessment. In 1955, neither the police or newspapers covering the story considered the possibility that a coverup was taking place.
For the newspapers, the bottom line was making money. In recounting the part city newspapers played in keeping the story going and, to some extent, preserving a record of events going on around the crime, O’Shea does not dwell on the circulation numbers-papers sold, tick marks for the credit column. Instead, he focuses on the newspapers as the fourth estate performing their social responsibility as part of the community. In the highest standard of capitalistic tradition, the newspapers were performing a public service for which they just happened to be making money. Before “scientific” policing became the norm, newspaper reporters, directed by their charismatic Perry-White-like managing editors, pounced into criminal investigations with abandon. Police and reporters were in competition to solve crimes. It was a symbiotic relationship in which both benefitted, ultimately to the benefit of the public at large. (Another crime described in another book in which this competitive police-reporters scenario crops up is in Donald H. Wolfe’s THE BLACK DAHLIA FILES). O’Shea expertly weaves in and out of law enforcement and newspaper sources in recounting the murder investigation. One suspects that his task was eased considerably as a result of the competitive climate at the time that left a huge historical footprint.
Why was the ATF involved in an almost forty-year old murder investigation? The involvement started in 1989 when a joint ATF and FBI task force was set up to “investigate the disappearance and presumed murder of Chicago candy heiress Helen Vorhees Brach”. “Red”, the same informant who, in 1975, told the FBI about the Peterson-Schuessler murders, told James Delorto. This time, the information was acted upon.
The lessons the reader takes away from UNBRIDLED RAGE will be as varied as readers themselves. However, there are a couple of truism which are self-evident. Having a corrupt police force is worst than having no police force at all. But more germane to a picture of those who guard the barriers between law and lawlessness, the men and women who devote their lives to “serving and protecting” are, as a group, the best a community possesses, but even they can become corrupted by ego, bureaucracy or both. The majority of those men and women however remain true to their calling which is why the rest of us can rest relatively peacefully in the dark of knowledge and night. The ATF agents who eventually solved the Peterson-Schuessler murders had the help of the original investigating officers. As with most of these stories, you are impressed by their tenaciousness, their dedication to some principle of right and wrong, and by their skill-even the ones who, like the original investigators of the crime, were thwarted by people and events over which they had no control.
Progress? You are left with the impression after reading UNBRIDLED RAGE that even with our science, our attention to detail and “proper” procedure, we are still bound by concepts as simple as honor, truthfulness and dedication to function as a society. One person with a willingness to put self-interest above the interest of a greater whole can do just as much if not more harm than barbarians at the gates of Rome.
Read UNBRIDLED RAGE. You will not be disappointed