And here's our final installment on the saga of Uncle Leo (I'm sure, based on all the comments - not -that you've been waiting with "bated" breath... but here it is anyway)
As Leo created a new life in rural Nova Scotia, detectives from Chicago were trying to find him. One of the most important clues they had was that Leo was a diabetic, Insulin was a relatively new medication, and Leo needed it to survive. Since insulin was only a couple of years old, it was still rare & expensive, so the detectives began calling hospitals and doctors trying to trace an insulin user matching Koretz' description. They did find a trail leading to Montreal, and from there to Nova Scotia, but the trail went cold there.
Out of the blue, a telegram arrived in Chicago from Flemming, the Halifax banker (see Part I), seeking more information on the man named Leo Koretz. Within a few days, the detectives arrived in Halifax. Setting up a sting, coordinated with the local authorities a trap was set for Nov. 23rd at the Halifax Hotel. When arrested, Leo said "All right... you'll have no trouble from me", and went along willingly, but dejected and defeated.
Koretz was extradited to Chicago for trial. Halifax was not eager to lose their now infamous citizen. Koretz had been free with his money in the area, paying his way (in cash) all the while. Local Realtors, car dealers, antique dealers and contractors had profited handsomely from Uncle Leo's presence. Flemming and the banker split the $10,000 reward, and in January 1925, when the contents of Pinehurst were put up for auction, the locals lined up to get furniture, artwork, linens, sporting goods, etc... at bargain prices.
According to the Encyclopedia of American Crime (where I learned much of this information) the exact amount of Leo's fraud will likely never be known, since many of those swindled were unwilling to divulge that they'd been taken advantage of so easily, and suffered their losses in silence in order to protect their images as astute businessmen.
On December 3rd, 1924, one year after fleeing Chicago, Koretz pleaded guilty to four counts of theft, embezzlement and confidence. He appeared "tired and defeated, and yet was still flawlessly dressed" in a green suit and grey cloth-topped shoes, according to one reporter.
There was no doubt that Koretz would serve time, but how much time? He pleaded guilty to charges that each carried 10 years, a maximum of 40 years was possible. During the sentencing, a doctor testified that Koretz was seriously ill, with Diabetes, in an effort to gain sympathy from the court. Chief Justice Hopkins was not persuaded, and imposed the maximum sentence which carried a minimum of 6 years in prison. At his sentencing, Leo said, "I'll never serve a day in Joliet State Prison".
January 6, 1925, while in Cook County Jail, awaiting transfer downstate to Joliet prison, Leo took matters into his own hands. He convinced a girlfriend to smuggle in a five-pound box of chocolates. Koretz sat down on his prison bunk, ate the entire box of candy in one sitting, lapsed into a coma and due to his diabetes... died. The massive ingestion of sugar sent him into a diabetic shock and killed him, as he knew it would.
Leo had escaped prison (and hadn't spent a single day in Joliet, as he predicted), Leo's "Death by Chocolate" remains one of the most bizarre suicides on record.
So... that's the story of my wife's great-uncle Leo. I want to point out that he is on my wife's side of the family, not mine. (That was a low blow... sorry, honey) My wife's father, and his uncles & aunts remember the tragedy and shame that Leo's arrest, trial and subsequent death brought to the family, and were fairly unwilling to discuss many aspects of Leo's Life. They only discussed it with us, reluctantly, when quite by surprise one day, the Chicago Tribune Magazine decided to run a large article about Leo as part of a "great con-men" of Chicago story. They called a family meeting, and wanted us to hear it from them, rather than read it in the paper. Even 65 years later, they were still mortified about the shame that Leo had visited their family.
As a Realtor, when I found out about Leo, I did some research, at the Evanston Historical Society, learning that Leo's Evanston house on the lake, with the terraced gardens, was a little over a mile from my office. A little further research uncovered many of the details I've share with you, and the tax records provided who the current owners of the property were. I called my wife, Amy, at her job as a preschool teacher to tell her that I'd found out which house was Leo's and gave her the address and the current owners name. She said in surprise... but that's my student's grandmother... and she's standing right here!!
We explained the circumstances, and she told us.... "Yes, I remember the house... when we bought the property, the house was in terrible condition, and we tore it down and built our new contemporary home. The only thing we saved from the old house was the door knocker, which was incredible." So Leo's house was gone.
My in-laws have since passed on... but they would likely not have approved of me airing our 'dirty laundry' in public, so I'm not going to publish their names. But I find it a fascinating tale, too good to hide away in the annals of the family bible. We did find family letters in my father-in-law's estate after he died. The letters are between the siblings and show some true distress and shame, as well as a propensity for fine quality penmanship, that has been lost on today's generation (but that's another post) ... oddly enough my father-in-law kept those letters (in a small locked box, on a high shelf in the back of his closet), reflecting a chapter in his life that he'd have preferred to forget.
btw... credit for much of this information in Part I, Part II and Part III should be given to My in-laws, Crime Wave by Dean Jobb, the Canadian Banker's Association, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, the Evanston Historical Society and the Encyclopedia of American Crime by Carl Sifakis.