Joseph Gruner, 82, died yesterday in County hospital of injuries suffered June 26 in the restaurant at the front of his home at 941 Chicago av. Police listed his injuries as suffered in a fall, but his daughter said she believes he was beaten in a robbery.
— Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1954
Katherine Whitney discovered her father, Joseph Gruner, lying unconscious on the floor of her restaurant. Joseph, who served as the restaurant’s night watchman, had a fractured skull and there were signs of a break-in at the restaurant. A large hole had been cut in the screen door and cigarette butts and matches littered the doorway. The thieves had stolen cigarettes, soft drinks and some money was missing from the cash register.
Joseph was rushed to the hospital but he never regained consciousness. He died six days later. The police chalked his death up to a fall and filed the case under “accidental death.” Katherine protested, saying that she thought her father had been killed by the thieves who’d broken in. But with little evidence and plenty of without-a-doubt homicides to investigate, the Chicago cops moved on.
Two months later Emily Shouse and Ruth Tobel arrived at the Chicago apartment Ruth shared with her mother and stepfather. The girls were exhausted and hoped to get a little shut-eye after a busy night of burglarizing homes. They weren’t hungry because they’d consumed an entire cherry pie at the last house they’d broken into that evening. Unfortunately Ruth’s stepfather, Harvey, woke up and wasn’t pleased to discover the stolen property that his 14-year-old stepdaughter and her pal had deposited in the apartment. Without discussion, Harvey said, “Come on. I’m going to turn you both over to the police.” Then he loaded the two young girls into his vehicle.
As the car approached the station, Ruth tried to jump out but Harvey was able to grab her and keep her in the vehicle. In an apparent effort not to commit parricide, she threw a revolver to Emily and shouted, “Let him have it!” The gun hit the floor and broke open, releasing a cartridge. Emily picked it up and, leaving the loose cartridge where it had fallen, she snapped the gun shut, took aim and fired at Harvey. Fortunately the gun clicked on the empty chamber. Ruth got out of the car and ran off while Harvey wrestled the gun away from Emily. Passersby saw the commotion and called the police, who took Emily into custody. Ruth was soon located and arrested.
Emily, who had runaway from home, had $500 of stolen cash stuffed into her bra. Ruth was carrying $100 and wearing $2000 worth of stolen jewelry. In addition to pulling 40 to 50 burglaries during the month of August, Emily also admitted to knocking down an old man and taking $10 from him in a strong-arm robbery.
A witness came forward and identified Emily as the woman from whom she’d recently purchased household items at cut rate prices. It turned out that Emily had broken into a home while the homeowner was at work, stolen $800 worth of property and then pretended to be the homeowner; selling off the items she’d stolen for bargain basement prices. Even veteran Chicago cops were shocked at the brazen nature of Emily’s crime.
But there was more to come. Emily admitted that she, along with two male partners, had been involved in a nighttime burglary of a restaurant on the near north side of Chicago in late June 1954. The trio was interrupted when the night watchman awoke and confronted them during the burglary. One of the men, 20-year-old Pablo Delgado, hit the man over the head with a wrench, knocking him out. The trio escaped out of the back of the restaurant.
The night watchman was Joseph Gruner. The burglars likely didn’t realize that Joseph had later died of his injuries.
Emily’s confession forced the police to reopen the Gruner case. They located her partners and she and the two men were charged with murder. They all confessed, and then recanted their confessions. On the eve of their trial the prosecutor decided to seek the death penalty. Rather than face the possibility of a death sentence, Emily and the men pleaded guilty to murder. On December 1, 1954, Pablo was sentenced to 199 years in prison. The second man, 18-year-old Victor Camacho, got a sentence of 100 years.
The prosecutor declared that, despite her pretty “baby-face,” Emily was a menace to society who deserved to be either in prison or an insane asylum. Emily, aged only 15, was sentenced to 18 years in the State Reformatory for Women in Dwight, Illinois.
Emily got a raw deal and she knew it. She appealed for a new trial, stating that public defender had forced her to take a plea, but in 1956 her appeal was denied.
At the reformatory Emily was housed in a cottage (one of eight) with 27 other prisoners that was supervised by a single matron. Her roommate was a 22-year-old St. Louis woman named Shirley Gray. Shirley was doing two to five years for a gas station hold up she’d pulled with her husband.
On the night of November 22, 1958, Emily and Shirley, clad in pink overalls and navy pea coats, sneaked to the basement of their prison cottage. The pair then crawled through a ventilation pipe that led to the prison grounds. They threw their heavy coats over the barbed wire fence surrounding the prison and were able to scale the fence and get over the barbed wire without injury. They burglarized a nearby farmhouse, stealing clothing and food.
The two women then began grueling a 75-mile trek through a snowstorm to Chicago. After they arrived in the city they parted company. Shirley stole a car and headed to Joliet. She was caught on Christmas Eve during a routine traffic stop in which she subsequently attempted to drive the car off the road and into a house in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Emily dyed her red hair black in an effort at disguise, but she too was caught a few days later at one of “her old haunts” — a tavern on North Clark street. “Take a good look at me because I’ve already started to plan my next escape,” she told police after she was captured. Both women were returned to the prison in Dwight and Emily got a few years added to her sentence. Despite her threats, she didn’t try another escape.
The prosecutor apparently had it in for Emily because in February 1959, shortly after she’d been returned to prison, he put her on trial for the robbery of $80 from a Chicago cleaning lady. The theft had occurred in early December while she was still on the loose. The victim identified Emily as the robber but due to a disparity in height (Emily was taller than the height the victim estimated her robber to have been) she was acquitted.
Fast-forward 17 years. Emily was married and working as a realtor when four benches — property of the local realtor’s association — vanished from the streets of Belvidere, Illinois. An investigation was launched and the benches were eventually located at Emily’s home. Everyone had forgotten that Emily and her husband had offered to repaint the benches during a town meeting six months earlier. Emily was cleared of “theft” charges and the benches, with their fresh red, white and blue paint were reinstalled. Emily (who was known by a different name) posed proudly with the refurbished benches in April 1976.
She died at the age of 39 in January, 1978.
Featured photo: Emily Shouse’s mugshot from her 1955 prison card, collection of the author.