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July 27th, a footnote


Spinning around the TV dial one night several years ago, the phrase “…Willow Springs, Illinois…” caught my ear. Willow Springs is near my childhood home in Beford Park, the only home I had known until leaving for college in 1963, so I paused to learn more.

The program happened to be “FBI Files,” a thirty-minute dramatization of its cases. This story touched me, so many years and miles away.

Willow Springs, rest stop on the Road to Perdition

The mayor of Willow Springs operated a private club with gambling and prostitution on its menu of activities, those illegalities made easier with the cooperation of village chief of police Michael Corbitt. Because credit card charges at the club appeared on monthly statements as “charitable contributions,” the FBI had become interested.

Not incidentally, the mayor’s wife was also romantically involved with a faculty member at the local community college. But, using the credit card scam as leverage to obtain a divorce, Mrs Mayor had seriously miscalculated her husband’s loyalties. I watched the recreated scene of her demise:

Two cars drive to the bank of the Sanitary & Ship Canal that defines the western edge of Willow Springs; one of them is a police cruiser. The other driver pops the trunk of a late model sedan and the police officer then pumps several bullets into the bound body within. They push the sedan into the canal and drive away in the cruiser. Fade to black.

The police officer was Mike Corbitt; his co-conspirator, the mayor. The sedan trunk held the mayor’s wife, now redundantly drugged, shot and drowned. All of which would have been only mildly interesting if I hadn’t known Mike Corbitt.

Michael Jerome Corbitt [1944-2004] was born on St. Patrick’s Day into a Chicago Irish-Catholic family. Read his brief Wikipedia entry for more information than I had known about him. What the Wiki page, the “FBI Files” episode, and “Deadly Matrimony,” a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, won’t reveal is that Mike beat the shit out of me during recess in the sixth grade. Two weeks of pounding someone who refused to fight back must have bored him, though, for Mike soon found others more deserving and responsive to such attentions. Shall I count this my brush with greatness?

Tried, convicted, imprisoned, released, removed to Florida*, Mike died on July 27th, in 2004. He left a large and loving family. Searching for a picture of him to include here, I learned the funeral had been conducted by the same mortician that buried my grandmother and father. A requiem Mass was followed by interment at the Catholic cemetery in, of all places, Justice, Illinois. For those of you who may have been in doubt, yes, there is Justice–it’s about twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago.

At the end of such a full and extraordinary life, I doubt that Mike would have remembered me. Today, I remember him and wonder what might have avoided such a tragedy.

*Florida is, in my estimation, like being tried, convicted and imprisoned all over again, but that’s a value judgment.


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