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The Corruption Of The Youth?

Two Former ATF Agents

The year 2005; around springtime. 

Jimmy Delorto and Johnny Mazzola, retired federal ATF agents, then working as Illinois licensed private investigators, had been hired to reinvestigate the 1987 arson of a three-story apartment building that once stood at the 1100 block of E. 82nd Street on Chicago’s Southeast Side. 

The Jan. 6, 1987 fire, which broke out around 2 a.m., had been a tragedy; of that Delorto and Mazzola were only too aware. Seven individuals had perished in the flames, two of them small children. Several of the building’s thirty residents dropped their children from upper floor windows into the outstretched arms of spectators below before jumping themselves, several of the adults landing on sidewalks and parked cars, sustaining debilitating injuries.

Only hours after the 1987 arson, several factors had become clear to Chicago police assigned to investigate the fire. One of those factors: Evidence revealed that the individual responsible for the arson had drizzled a trail of gasoline up the stairs and down a hallway leading to the entranceway of a fourth-floor apartment and then set the liquid trail ablaze.

A Suspect

Madison Hobley, a delivery man for a South Side medical supply firm who lived in the apartment to which the trail of the fire had led, became a suspect almost immediately. Somehow he had survived the inferno, while his wife, Anita, 21, and their two-year-old-son, Phillip, had perished with the five others—a miraculous outcome Hobley had difficulty explaining.

A second factor that drew the detectives’ suspicions was the description of what clothes Hobley was wearing as he watched the apartment building burning. Witnesses told police the suspect was wearing clothes completely different from those clothes he offered up to officers who visited him at his mother’s nearby apartment where he had retreated during the early morning hours after the fire was struck out. 

Under questioning, the evidence mounting, Hobley eventually confessed twice to the detectives, admitting that he had set the fire because he wanted to be with another woman.

The following day, detectives obtained a warrant to search the apartment of Hobley’s mother in the hope that they would find the clothes witnesses said he was wearing after he set the fire. Police figured there was a good chance he had spilled gasoline on his clothes, as he purchased the gas and torched the building, but the police search for the clothes described by the witnesses were not to be found.

Hobley was tried, convicted of the multiple murders and sentenced to death.

The Anti-Death Penalty Effect

But the Hobley story was not over by any means, for Hobley was holding two aces which he was sure to play. And they were not inconsequential.

First and foremost:

In 1999, David Protess, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and Paul Ciolino, a private investigator who worked with Protess in 1999, won freedom for Anthony Porter, who had spent seventeen years on death row following his 1983 conviction for fatally shooting a young couple in Washington Park. For that win, Protess won acclaim from the coast-to-coast press, Porter strolled the streets a free man, and Illinois eventually did away with the death penalty.

The second factor Hobley had going for him:

He had been arrested in Area 2, the same Area where Jon Burge had worked. Burge, a former police department detective and commander of Area 2, had been accused of forcing confessions from criminal suspects, and both Hobley advocates and opponents knew that he too would join the growing chorus among convicted criminals that he had been forced by “Burge detectives” to confess to the arson in order to win freedom.  

Though these absurd arguments about being abused had never worked in court, Hobley and his advocates kept repeating them until they caught the ear of Governor George Ryan, at a time when Ryan was facing a twenty-one count indictment for a pay-to-play scam when Ryan was Secretary of the State.

In 2003, Ryan let Hobley and three other death row inmates out of prison with no new evidence of their innocence. In letting them out, Ryan cited the Porter case as the symbol of how the criminal justice system can fail.

Fast Forward to the Present Day

The claims that Porter was innocent are being attacked in a $40 million federal lawsuit brought by attorneys representing Alstory Simon, the man Protess and Ciolino got to confess to the Porter murders, a confession that led to Porter’s freedom. After a fourteen year incarceration, Simon was released in 2014  by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who assailed the methods of Protess and Ciolino in obtaining the alleged bogus confession.

A judge declared that Simon was likely innocent of the murders. Porter, who was supposed to be executed, is roaming the streets of the south side, a free man. So it may very well be that the case that initiated a flood of exonerations like that of Madison Hobley may have been a fraud all along, one of the biggest frauds ever perpetuated on the Cook County criminal justice system.

Back to Delorto and Mazzola in Spring 2004

All of this brings us back to the two private detectives visiting an apartment building on the south side in 2004. The apartment building was where Madison Hobley’s mother lived, the apartment he went to after the fire, where the detectives first met him.

The two private detectives knocked on the door. The landlady answered.

The landlady told the two private investigators that Hobley’s mother came to her door the night of the fire and handed her a bag with clothes in it. Hobley’s mother, they said, told the landlady to hide the clothes or she would be harmed. The landlady, terrified, obeyed Hobley’s mother.

But now, years later, Hobley’s mother had moved away, perhaps getting some of the seven-plus million dollars the City of Chicago awarded Hobley for his “wrongful conviction.” So the landlady felt free to tell the private investigators what really happened.

The Hobley arson and his exoneration casts a dark shadow on the Burge narrative, a sign that at least some of the exonerations in his name were false, and false on a grand scale, for this is a crime that left seven people dead, including two children, with the likely offender given $7 million dollars coughed up by taxpayers.

One can be certain that the narrative pointing to the vast holes in the legitimacy of the Hobley exoneration, like the holes in the exoneration of Anthony Porter and many other freed killers, will not find its way into the new curriculum adopted into the Chicago Public Schools. The mythology about Jon Burge and his men being racist torturers is too ingrained in the city’s orthodox history.

But the Hobley narrative begs an ominous question: Is the Burge curriculum a form of education, or a corruption of the youth?