Mostly forgotten today, Theodore "Handsome Jack" Klutas was notorious in the early 1930s, at least, in the Chicago area, as the leader of a gang known as "The College Kidnappers." They abducted gangsters, operating on the theory the victims' friends and families would not contact police. And for a few years, Klutas reportedly hauled in a lot of money.

The gang's nickname stemmed from Klutas, who had attended the University of Illinois, perhaps for only a year. But he received a degree from journalists who usually referred to him as a college graduate. It was easier that way, and it made for better reading.

Other gang members were not former college students, but often men who had worked for other Illinois mobsters. You wonder how Klutas could have gotten away with his crimes in a territory ruled by Al Capone, but Capone's downfall began in 1929 with the first in a series of arrests that eventually would land him in a federal penitentiary.

Also, not every gangster in Illinois reported to Capone, who actually may have gotten an occasional laugh out of what Klutas was doing. Police weren't laughing, however, especially those who reported to J. Edgar Hoover, whose operatives were about to be known as G-men, and whose organization would soon be called the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Klutas gang began to fall apart in 1933, and its leader survived only one month into 1934.


Syracuse Journal, November 9, 1933
CHICAGO (INS) — With 12 or more members already under arrest, federal and state authorities today were rounding up the last remnants of a kidnapping gang said to have taken more than $500,000 in tribute from gamblers and bootleggers here in the last three years.

Seizure of the kidnappers, federal authorities announced, has solved at least nine abduction cases in which the victims paid from $10,000 to $150,000 for their release.

Police and federal detectives moved secretly to round up the remaining members of the gang at large, but several arrests were expected shortly in raids at Aurora and southern Illinois.

Raids conducted here resulted in the roundup of 12 suspects. Names of only three suspects were revealed — Frank Souder, Benton, Illinois; Julian "Babe" Jones of St. Charles, Illinois, and Gale Swolley of Peoria.

The gang, said to have been recruited from the Shelton brothers mob of southern Illinois and Egan’s Rats of St. Louis preyed mainly on prosperous liquor and gambling leaders here.

Detectives learned the gang had once plotted to kidnap Edward J. Kelly, before he succeeded the late Anton Cermak as mayor of Chicago.

Heading the list of alleged victims of the kidnappers was James Hackett, wealthy Blue Island gambler, who was kidnapped not once, but twice, and forced to pay a total of $150,000 for his release.

Other abductions listed by authorities as solved:

√ John J. Lynch, head of a racing news bureau for bookmakers. Lynch was tortured and paid $50,000 to his captors.

√ William Urban, wealthy Peoria gambler, whose ransom payment reportedly was $100,000.

√ Three Aurora gamblers released on payment of $10,000 each.

√ James Ward, Chicago Heights bootlegger, who paid $45,000.

√ Two Iowa gamblers, released after they had paid $16,000 between them.

√ Albert Blair, known as “The Alabama Kid,” who was kidnapped near Atlanta, Georgia.

Some of the kidnappers have been held here for more than a week, authorities disclosed. The filing of a writ of habeas corpus for the release of Souder brought the roundup to light.


There's something about gangsters and barber shops. You'd think that even in 1933 a man wanted by police would know enough to get his haircuts somewhere else ... and to grow a real mustache instead of wearing a phony.


New York Sun, November 13, 1933
PEORIA, Illinois (AP) — Russell Hughes, 35, was shot and killed in a barber shop today by policemen seeking to question him about the operations of "Handsome Jack" Klutas’s half-million dollar kidnapping gang.

Police said Hughes was an intimate friend of Klutas and other members of a syndicate charged with kidnapping a dozen wealthy gamblers of Chicago and other Illinois cities. They indicated Hughes might have been a member of the gang.

Two police detectives were wounded in the fight.

Detective Fred Montgomery recognized Hughes in a doorway, despite a false mustache, as the police cruised by the shop. Hughes retreated to a barber’s chair.

As the detectives entered the shop, Hughes began blazing away with two pistols. Montgomery was wounded in the right side and Detective Robert Moran in the shoulder.

Despite his wound, Montgomery continued firing until Hughes fell dead. Physicians said Montgomery’s wound was serious, but that Moran’s was not. Detective Jay Dusenberry was not wounded.


Klutas's reputation was such that he was suspected of planning what would become one of the year's most infamous crimes, the kidnapping of Brooke Hart. The news broke the same day as the above story:


New York Sun, November 13, 1933
SAN JOSE, California (AP) — Relatives disclosed today they had received a telegram from Sacramento suggesting the payment of $20,000 as a compromise ransom for the return of Brooke Hart, 22-year-old son of a wealthy San Jose merchant. Young Hart disappeared last Thursday and apparently was kidnapped.

It was said the new ransom demand was received last night. No comment was forthcoming as to how the missing youth’s father, Alexander J. Hart, would deal with it, the only previous word from him being he would pay “any reasonable demand.”

A few hours after young Hart disappeared last Thursday, his family here received a telephone call from San Francisco in which $40,000 was asked.

The new demand preceded by several hours the arrest in Oakland of Burr W. Poole, a printer suspected of having some connection with a gang which police officers said might have been responsible for young Hart’s disappearance.

On Poole’s person was found a note saying, “contact Hart’s mother. PH Jack Klutas. Do not destroy.”

Previously police had been tipped from Chicago that a gang headed by “Handsome Jack” Klutas might have had a hand in Hart’s disappearance. Two telephone tips which put police on Poole’s trail were traced to the printing establishment where Poole is employed.


The Brooke Hart case soon became a tragedy that obviously did not involve anyone but the two men who were arrested for the crime, the California lynch mob that dispensed vigilante justice, and the governor who shocked the nation by expressing his approval. Besides, the story of "Handsome Jack" Klutas was about to end, and, finally, a reporter would acknowledge the criminal actually did not finish college.


Buffalo Courier-Express, January 8, 1934
CHICAGO, January 7 (AP) — “Handsome Jack” Klutas was at the last “showup” today.

Heavily guarded, their identities kept secret, victims of a dozen kidnappings and extortion plots passed by the body of the slain gang leader in efforts to identify him at the county morgue.

Klutas caught in a net of state’s attorney’s police in suburban Bellwood was dropped in his tracks by machine gun fire yesterday as he reached for a weapon.

The one-time University of Illinois student who left the campus to head a gang of extortionists who preyed on gamblers and others more or less outside the law, had been the object of a search by the government for seven years.

Trapped with Klutas was Walter Detrick, escaped convict from Indiana and a member of the notorious John Dillinger gang. He was arrested at the suburban bungalow where Klutas had stayed. Indiana police arrived today to return him to the cell from which he escaped with nine others at Michigan City prison several months ago. Chicago police, however, said they wished Detrick to be viewed by crime victims here before returning.

Klutas met death two days before Gale Swolley and Frank Souder, alleged members of his mob, were to go on trial for the kidnapping of James Hackett, Blue Island gambler. Klutas also was indicated in the case. The prosecution has announced it will demand the death penalty.


Police may have located Klutas thanks to information provided by "Babe" Jones, who was arrested with two members of the Klutas gang and was assumed to also have been one of "The College Kidnappers."

Jones and Klutas had a history, with Jones claiming that he had once been abducted by Klutas and forced to pay $2,000 for his freedom. That was bad enough, but Jones said what really irked him was that Klutas slapped him in the face. He vowed some day he'd get even.

Interest in Klutas today involves his attempt to alter his fingerprints by filing down the ridges of his finger tips. If he wanted to avoid the police, he shouldn't have slapped "Babe" Jones. Better yet, he should have finished college and found a real job.