Guest Post Written by Ian Granstra
During the 1970s and early 1980s, the blue-collar community of East Chicago, Indiana, was run by the local political machine. Political machines run on money, and one of the Windy City’s most powerful rainmakers was Jay Given. The 51-year-old was an adept fundraiser and behind-the-scenes operator who forged alliances by trading favors. The former city attorney was a shrewd manipulator who had mastered the art of quid pro quo.
The evening of May 15, 1981, was business as usual for Jay Given. The business, of course, was politics, as Given was attending a fundraiser at East Chicago’s Elks Club.
Ensconced in the politics of perhaps America’s most corrupt city, it was “given” that the politico pro would have his share of enemies. One of them, apparently, wanted him silenced, turning the Elks Club from a political venue into a crime scene.
Some consider the murder of Jay Given a quintessential “Whodunit.” Others contend the culprit is obvious and question why he was not charged.
In 1970, East Chicago city attorney Jay Given had helped elect Bob Pastrick as mayor. In big-city politics, however, friends are rarely eternal. Given and Pastrick soon had a falling out over a number of political issues and by the decade’s end, Given was bent on unseating the man he helped install in the mayor’s chair.
On the evening of May 15, 1981, a fundraiser was held at the Elks Club for Atterson Spahn, East Chicago’s most prominent black politician who was considering running against Pastrick. Organizers hoped to solidify East Chicago’s white and black voters against the growing political strength of Hispanic-Americans who supported Pastrick’s re-election bid.
The evening was going well for Given as he worked the room for a couple of hours and won $300 gambling. At approximately 11:00 p.m., he was seen walking from the lobby, heading outside with cigarettes in hand. Within seconds puffs of smoke were in the air, but they were of gunpowder. Before Given could make it through the vestibule, a single gunshot to the back of his head killed him.
Many of the nearly 400 people attending the fundraiser heard the gunshot, but not one of them claimed to have seen Given being shot or who had shot him. In their panic, many of the political patrons fled the Elks Club, trampling over Given’s lifeless body in the process.
Police found the shell casing of the bullet in the entryway of the club and a spent .45-caliber bullet in the street. Instead of following the standard procedure of placing the items in the evidence vault, an Inspector marked the bullet and locked it in his desk drawer. His stated reason for the unusual action: He was amazed at the condition of the bullet and wanted other officers to observe it.
When the Inspector retrieved the bullet four days later, he found it had been altered. A hole had been made in the primer of the shell casing and cut marks were on the lands and grooves on the projectile. Someone was going to great lengths to alter the gun’s features. The only people with access to the evidence drawer worked in the police department.
Despite the damage, FBI analysts were able to identify the weapon the shell had come from as a Detonics 1911-style Combat Master, a rare handgun. The shell casing was eventually linked to one of only 58 Detonics with a specially modified ejecting mechanism.
One of the guns was owned by East Chicago Police Department Deputy Chief John Cardona, an active member of a Spanish-speaking political club allied with Pastrick and against Given. Given had made it clear that if his man were elected mayor, Cardona would be given his walking papers.
Cardona attended the Elks Club event that evening and several people reported he was shadowing Given the whole time. Although no one saw Cardona as Given headed toward the exit, one person said that shortly before the shooting, he saw Given in the Elks Club lobby arguing with a man who resembled Cardona. Shortly afterward, the witness went to the restroom and did not see Cardona as Given headed toward the exit.
Cardona said he was at the Elks Club bar when Given was shot. However, several witnesses who knew him were seated at the bar at the time of the shooting and did not recall seeing him there.
In addition, Cardona had access to the evidence drawer housing the tampered bullet. He also owned a similar Detonics handgun but claimed it had been stolen six months earlier. Everyone in the East Chicago Police Department was asked to take a polygraph test. Everyone passed with one exception– Cardona. After refusing to take a second test focusing on his Dectonics gun, Cardona was dismissed from the East Chicago Police Department.
John Cardona was and still is, the only suspect in Jay Given’s murder. Many investigators believed the evidence against him was strong enough to arrest him, and many lawyers believed the evidence was sufficient to charge him with Given’s murder. Lake County prosecutor Jack Crawford, however, disagreed, as he declined calls to file charges against the deputy police chief. Many contend that charges were not brought against Cardona in the murder of Jay Given for, in a macabre irony, political reasons.
Police believe the case is solvable. Shortly before the shooting, several witnesses reported seeing five people coming down the stairway of the Elks Club. Three of them, all black men, were near the foot of the steps when Given was shot. These men have never been identified. Police believe at least one of them may have seen the killer of Jay Given and hope, even after all these years, someone will come forward.
Chicago is notorious for instances of “dead men voting” and a running joke is that Jay Given is happier dead than he was alive because, in death, he has more ballots to cast.
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More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:
Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news. When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)
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