Lazarus Averbuch

The mystery of what truly transpired between Lazarus Averbuch and Chief Shippy remains unsolved.

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On Monday morning, March 2, 1908, Chicago police Chief George Shippy reported that a young man, probably of Sicilian or Armenian birth, knocked on the door of his home, asked to see Shippy and was admitted by the family maid. Perceiving what he described as hatred in his visitor’s eyes, Shippy grabbed the young man by the wrists and started to search the suspect. According to Shippy, the youth squirmed free, pulled a knife from his pocket, stabbed Shippy under the right arm and then drew a revolver and shot Shippy’s son Harry, who entered upon hearing the commotion. The suspect then shot James Foley, Shippy’s bodyguard. Seeing Harry shot, Shippy pulled his own gun and shot the intruder, as did Foley. Struck by seven bullets, the youth died on route to the hospital.

Despite his wound, a few hours later Shippy wrote a widely published account of the shooting. Shippy believed the young man was an anarchist who wanted to kill him in retaliation for Shippy’s ban on “Red” Emma Goldman, the famous Jewish anarchist, whom he would not let speak publicly in Chicago. However, the dead man was not Armenian or Sicilian, but Lazarus Averbuch, a recent Jewish immigrant from Kishineff, Bessarabia.

After cursory investigations, the Chicago police and the Cook County coroner certified that Shippy was justified in killing Averbuch. In 1886 when an anarchist bomb exploded at a rally in Haymarket Square, killing two Chicago police officers, city officials effectively banned anarchist rallies. When Emma Goldman announced a speaking tour in Chicago in March of 1908, Chicago mayor Fred Busse prohibited her from appearing. Shippy expected her anarchist supporters to retaliate. In this heated political context, few were surprised that the inquests confirmed Shippy’s invocation of self-defense.

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Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.

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