Today’s Charming Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
He was the first Chicagoan to be murdered in an automobile. At 9:15 p.m., November 18, 1904, a mint-green Pope-Toledo touring car with a high square back turned south on Michigan Avenue from Congress Street. Wearing a chauffeur’s cap, goggles, and driving gloves, twenty-two-year-old Billy Bate chatted pleasantly with his passenger, who introduced himself as “Mr. Dove” – perhaps a symbol of eternal peace? That is the way Edwin Slavin, a telephone operator at the Auditorium Hotel, and Chicago police detectives duly recorded the name.
The following morning, a farmer named Peter Freehauf found the car parked on a deserted road near his south suburban Lemont home. Billy Bate was slumped over the steering wheel, shot twice in the back of the head with a .22-caliber pistol.
The Ill-Fated Billy Bate
Hours earlier, Mr. Dove had appeared at the registration desk of the Auditorium Hotel, asking the switchboard operator to telephone a Wabash Avenue garage for a car and driver. He said that he required a vehicle that would accommodate two passengers. After some quibbling, Dove agreed to pay the driver $5 an hour. A call was placed to Dan Canary’s garage, where Billy Bate was passing time with the other chauffeurs in a game of coin toss.
Bate, a personable youth who was the son of well-to-do Kentuckians living at 1562 Kenmore (at Buena) on the city’s North Side, asked the night manager if Dove was “all right”.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. Get your money and pick him up,” came the sharp reply from Edwin Archer, who answered the phone but couldn’t remember much more than the customer’s voice quibbling over the rate.
Eyewitnesses described Mr. Dove as a patrician-looking gent attired in evening clothes and a derby hat. A bystander claimed to have overheard angry words exchanged between Bate and Dove as the car sped away from the curb. Beyond that, not much more could be said.
Later, three miles outside the town of Lemont on Archer Avenue in the distant southwest suburbs, a farmhand on his way home after a date observed three people in Bate’s car, one of them a woman. Around midnight, Peter Freehauf heard a frightful pounding at his door, then two shots fired in rapid succession. Freehauf and his wife huddled in terror, refusing to open the door. At the crack of dawn, they ventured outside and found Bate, stiff in death’s firm grasp. The loyal chauffeur still clutched the levels of his machine. He had been shot in the back of the head on the muddy, deserted road.
Mr. Dove continued on to Joliet by train, wagon, or some other conveyance, pausing at a boarding house to purchase a bottle of benzine to clean his blood-soaked clothes. A kitchen helper described Dove as a chain-smoking nervous wreck who smelled of women’s perfume. It was noted that Dove’s teeth were small and white, and his voice “as soft as a woman.”
Recalling that Bate had a fiancée in Pittsburgh, the police were most interested in learning that Dove confessed to having a Pittsburgh girlfriend. Was the chauffeur slain by a jilted girlfriend posing as a man? The police eventually concluded that Dove was a man, albeit a very feminine-looking man.
Mr. Dove boarded a train in Joliet the following day, vanishing into the silent mists of time.
Lemont police pulled five love letters from the dead man’s vest pocket. The next morning Hearst’s gossipy Chicago American printed allegations that young Bate was keeping company with a wealthy society matron and had left a trail of broken hearts extending from New York to Chicago. One of the more poignant effusions was from a woman named “Rose,” who wrote:
I understand you have won the love of Bertha, and I presume that you have no further use for me. I hope that your future love will be successful. Of course it is pretty hard on me, but I will let the matter drop and say no more. With Love, Rose.
A posse scoured the countryside for the remains of the second presumed victim in the theory that Bate’s killer had ordered him to pick up the woman outside of Chicago. Dove, it was thought, murdered the woman, then turned the weapon on the chauffeur. Dead men, after all, tell no tales. The drainage canal and the roadside gullies were searched with no success. If there had been a woman slain in this peculiar drama, the killer had artfully concealed her remains.
The Bate murder mystery, forgotten and obscure in the annals of Chicago crime, was a subject of titillating newspaper gossip for many days and weeks to come. A female detective – a rarity in those days – was brought in to piece together the essential facts and draw a conclusion, but her theories lacked evidence and the investigation floundered. It was suggested by some that the crime was the last desperate act of a jilted lover. Others believed young Bate was part of a sinister conspiracy hatched by Dove, who betrayed his friend’s confidence in the still of a late autumn night. Or maybe Bate was just a lazy idler who fell in with a gang of crooks.
In all likelihood, Billy Bate was the innocent victim of a murder plot hatched well in advance. The handsome young charmer happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as is so often the case.
Culled from: Return to the Scene of the Crime
Morbid Mirth Du Jour!
Thanks to Leslie for the image.