In the 1920s, the front page of the Chicago Daily News wouldn’t be complete without a crime story — some tragic, some wild and some, like this one, kind of hilarious.
On Jan. 13, 1927, noted crime reporter Robert J. Casey caught up with Chicagoan Kitchener Hill, who had a crime story for him. Hill, a man who “did a good deed daily because that was his urge” and never left home without his derby hat, recalled walking home the previous night on Clark Street near Division when he passed a young woman standing outside a movie theater.
“Her manner invited his intervention — the more so because she threw herself about his neck as if she had been introduced to him,” Casey reported.
The woman blushed, thanked the man for supporting her and told him she’d sprained her ankle after slipping on a banana peel in the theater, Hill told Casey. She introduced herself as Helen Pappas and begged Hill to help her home to her Uncle Pappas, on Division.
“I have two habits that direct me every day of my life,” Hill told her. “One of them is to do a kind deed when and if possible. I shall take you home.”
Hill linked arms with Pappas and set off around the corner, Casey wrote. “I am always so afraid to come down this street alone,” she said to Hill. “So many things can happen to a young girl. But it is different with you — you are so big and strong. I don’t suppose anything ever happens to you.”
Just as Hill replied, “Never,” Uncle Pappas clubbed him over the head with a hammer.
“He’s out,” Uncle Pappas told his niece. “There won’t be a yipe out of this bird until morning — if ever.”
As the uncle leaned over to grab Hill’s watch, Hill sat up, grabbed the man’s hand and yelled for a police officer. The two co-conspirators were arrested and taken with Hill to the Chicago Avenue police station.
“I forgot to tell you,” Hill said to Helen Pappas on the way. “One of my habits is to do a daily kind deed. The other is to wear an iron kelly — and it is hard to say which is the great joy to me.”
Beneath his derby hat, Hill told Casey he was wearing the iron kelly — a tin hat or helmet — that took the blunt hit from the hammer.
The moral of the story? “If you have a soft heart, tote a tin hat.”