The Biography of Chicago’s Marina City

“A police officer has been shot”
June 6, 1981

James J. Riordan “Even in a nation increasingly numbed by violence, there is something particularly chilling about the specter of widespread assault on the men in blue. People believe that an attack on policemen is really an attack on society. It’s the symbol of authority that’s being attacked.”

– James Riordan, quoted in Time magazine on September 14, 1970.

Wearing Badge Number 103, James J. Riordan had been with the Chicago Police Department for 33 years. The 57-year-old First Deputy Superintendent, who reported only to the Superintendent of Police, had survived clashes with anti-war protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. A protester had struck him with a large sign, sending him to the hospital. The following year, he testified at the conspiracy and rioting trial of the “Chicago Seven.”

On June 6, 1981, at Marina City, Riordan became the highest-ranking Chicago police officer killed in action.

FCB It was a Saturday night. Riordan had been working seven days a week on traffic management plans. On his way home to his wife and seven children on the north side of Chicago, he met 45-year-old Doris Radcliffe, a divorced woman who lived at Marina City, whom he had been seeing – socially – for about nine months. It was 8:45 p.m.

Radcliffe (1935-2011) was Vice President of Administration at Canteen Corporation. She was later Vice President of Benefit Administration for FCB Chicago, now Draftfcb. She retired in 2009. She had two daughters, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. After a brief illness, she died on August 23, 2011 at the age of 76.

Leon Washington had been at the Captain’s Table restaurant and piano bar on the lower level of Marina City since 7 p.m., and was wearing out his welcome. The 35-year-old had been an undercover police officer in Davenport, Iowa, and was currently the owner of a management recruiting firm in the Loop. Six-feet-two-inches tall, weighing 240 pounds, he wore cowboy boots, blue jeans, windbreaker, and a straw cowboy hat – a common look in the early 1980s, influenced by the film Urban Cowboy.

“What’s the name of this fucking bar,” he shouted at the bartender, Psyche Williams, “and how do I get a drink?”

From across the bar, Martin O’Brien shouted back, “shut up!” He and his wife, Alice O’Brien, also lived at Marina City. They were waiting for Riordan and Radcliffe. When the O’Briens got there at about 8 p.m., they had to squeeze past Washington and a baby stroller that were blocking the south entrance.

The stroller belonged to a friend of Washington’s. On his way to his office, he had met up with James Jeske, his wife and their baby, and Catherine Doyle. Many beers and hard liquor had been consumed at another bar, and when that one closed around 6:30 p.m., they moved on to Marina City.

Washington had been seen holding the baby. When he first got to Captain’s Table, he was singing and dancing with his friends. After two rounds of drinks, the friends left at about 8 p.m., about the time the O’Briens arrived. Washington was more than annoying, going up to people at the bar and asking them to buy him a drink. When he asked Williams to buy him a drink, she told him he was cut off, he was bothering other customers, and he had to leave.

His response: “Do you know what I could do to you?”

Chicago Tribune Washington had a hunter’s knife strapped to his belt and in a canvas shoulder bag he had a seven-round Walther PPK .380 semiautomatic pistol, for “protection” he would later testify. Easy to conceal, the Walther was issued to German military police during World War II. Adolph Hitler had one. So did fictional secret agent James Bond.

Born on December 7, 1945, Leon Washington (left) was inmate number N20091 at Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois.

Drunken argument escalates

Sometime around 9 p.m., James Riordan and Doris Radcliffe arrived at the Captain’s Table and sat with Martin and Alice O’Brien at a bar lined with fishnets. They ordered a round of drinks.

Leon Washington, who had been drinking for two hours and was armed with a gun and knife, both concealed, came up to Martin and said, “If you buy me a drink, I’ll leave you people alone.”

Alice told her husband not to do it and told Washington to just leave them alone.

Washington responded, “I don’t know why she doesn’t like me,” then stepped between the O’Briens, took out the gun and pointed it at Alice’s head. She heard the trigger click – with the safety on and no ammunition in the chamber – and then she heard it click two more times.

Both Martin and Riordan grabbed the man’s arm and pointed the gun up in the air. They struggled with Washington and moved him away from the bar, toward the south entrance. Alice got up and hit Washington with her purse. Riordan told the O’Briens to return to their seats, that he would handle it.

Chicago Tribune Williams, the bartender, dialed 911 but the phone rang unanswered for the next crucial minute.

Riordan did not take the gun from Washington. No one knew why. No one knew if Riordan identified himself as a police officer, an important point because doing so would have qualified the case for the death penalty. He let him go. Washington went into a coat checkroom, loaded the gun, manually advanced a live round into the chamber, and emerged a minute or two later.

“He’s still here,” Alice told Riordan. “He’s got a gun in his hand.”

Riordan, who was five-feet-eleven-inches tall, weighed 170 pounds and was unarmed, put his hand on Washington’s left shoulder, escorted him north out of the bar and down a hallway that separated the bar from the coffee shop. After a few steps, Washington, still armed, turned around. Riordan demanded Washington’s gun and tried to grab it. Washington pushed Riordan back and pulled the trigger.

(Left) This Chicago Tribune graphic shows the scene of the 1981 shooting at Marina City. Riordan and his group were sitting above and to the right of the oval bar on the left side of the illustration. He escorted Washington to the hallway in the lower left corner, was shot by Washington, and fell, partly landing in the shallow pool.

Firing four times, Washington hit Riordan at close range three times – twice in the chest and once in the neck. Riordan fell backwards across a shallow decorative fountain in the hallway. He lay conscious on the red and white tiled floor, but bleeding heavily.

Doris, who was about six feet behind him, saw the flash of the gun and saw Riordan fall. She ran screaming into the bar, then went back to Riordan and held his head out of the water.

By this time, a 911 operator had finally answered. Williams, who had ducked behind the bar when she heard the gunshots, told the operator, “A police officer has been shot – it’s Riordan.”

Washington walked away from the horrific scene he had created and turned right.

He does not immediately leave Marina City

31-year-old Michael Schramm, a real estate investment analyst who had been a military police officer in the Army, was at Marina City because he was worried about a friend who had recently moved there. Believing she was in danger and unable to reach her, he called 911 from a pay phone a short walk away from the Captain’s Table. The 911 operator told him to find a security officer and bring him to the phone. He laid the phone down and ran toward the east tower lobby.

“But just as I entered the east tower entrance lobby, the gunshots rang out,” said Schramm, recalling the events 30 years later. “Perhaps from my military time in southeast Asia, and reinforced by people screaming, I surmised that something dire likely had happened. I told the security guard, ‘those were gunshots, call the cops,’ and he phoned someone and relayed [that] shots had been fired.”

The guard, who worked for Andy Frain Services, did not call the police. He called his supervisor.

Schramm then needed the guard to help with the original, unrelated emergency. He told him to come with him to the pay phone where a 911 operator was waiting.

“That, of course, involved going toward where the shots had been fired. The security guard said nothing and somewhat froze. My back was to the corridor and as the guard looked past me down the corridor, he turned ashen. I turned around and saw Leon Washington – with his Walther .380 in his right hand, pointed in our direction – walking briskly toward us.”

Washington was headed toward an exit on the other side of the lobby that led to State Street.

The next thing he knew, Schramm was alone with Washington, as the guard had run away, slammed shut a wrought iron gate that led to the elevator lobby, and locked himself inside.

Trying to remain calm, Schramm moved from the small lobby of the east tower into the larger corridor where he would have more room. He got about 15 feet from Washington and told him to drop the gun, which was pointed directly at him. Washington replied, “Don’t worry, man. I’m cool.”

Schramm told him again to drop the gun, which he did, and stand against a wall. Schramm tried to kick the gun away but watched as it just spun in a circle.

“I used to be a cop,” said Washington, then, “I’m sorry” and, about Riordan, “he was just there.”

While they waited for one or two agonizing minutes, just the two of them in the corridor, Schramm says Washington “made a variety of nonsensical utterances including a plea for me to call some woman.”

At 9:30 p.m., two police detectives, Donald Barnes and Lamont Boston, came down the escalator near the pay phones, guns drawn and yelling, “police!” With eyes on Washington, they moved pillar to pillar. As they passed the hallway to the south where Riordan lay dying, someone yelled, “Officers, he’s got a gun.”

1964 map of Marina City Schramm quickly told the detectives that the gun was on the floor and Washington was against a wall. “Don’t shoot,” he implored, “everything is fine.”

(Left) Approximately how this area was arranged in 1981. When Schramm encounters Washington, he has just left a pay phone near the blue dot labeled 23 and is walking toward the east tower lobby. Washington is coming around the corner from the bar labeled 26. Where the two hallways intersect is about where the two confronted.

End of Watch

As Washington was handcuffed, one of the detectives let out a sigh of relief. Seeing the killer in custody, some of the crowd that had surrounded Riordan ventured further into the corridor. Alice O’Brien came up to Schramm and told him, “Do you know that he put his gun to my head and pulled the trigger?”

Again, she let Washington have it with her purse. When Schramm tried to stop her, he became the target of her rage. She kicked and scratched him but soon calmed down, just as more police arrived, “in droves,” Schramm recalls.

Through all of this, the 911 operator was still on the line and audio of the shooting was recorded. Schramm, who heard it at Washington’s trial, says it “picked up the sounds of the gunshots, people’s screams, my calls to drop the gun, [and the] yell of ‘police’ by Barnes and Boston.”

He saw four police officers carry Riordan out by his arms and legs. Fifteen, maybe 20 officers surrounded Schramm, asking him questions. He was taken to CPD Area 3 headquarters on West Belmont Avenue, where he picked Washington out of a lineup and answered more questions “to an array of officers until the wee hours of the next morning.”

Riordan was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition. Mayor Jane Byrne and other top-ranking city officials, including Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, rushed to the hospital. Byrne whispered to Riordan before he went into surgery, saying, “I love you, Jim. Just let them help you.”

After losing 18 pints of blood and undergoing 90 minutes of surgery, Riordan was pronounced dead at around midnight. The bullets had caused irreparable damage to major arteries.

Later that night, on the marina below the area where Riordan was shot, employees of Marina City noticed bloody water leaking from the ceiling.

During court testimony, Schramm says he was focused on telling “the unembellished truth.” After the trial, the Cook County State’s Attorney thanked him for his testimony and for the fact that his story never changed. “Likewise, I ran into Washington’s counsel, who stated that Washington told him that I was the only witness who told the truth.”

There were ceremonies honoring Schramm. An appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, And then 30 years went by.

“I did nothing exceptional,” he says. In August 2011, he came back to Marina City with his two college-aged children. He tried to walk them through what had happened, but the renovations over the years, he says, made it challenging.

“I believe that I was lucky and just reacted. My response to these circumstances may have been unusual, but certainly was not brave.”

He has never been to the bar where Riordan was shot, now an area taken up mostly by mailboxes for residents of Marina City. Where the pay phones were once located, he notes that the west tower lobby is actually closer. He has no idea why he headed toward the east tower lobby. “Had I gone to retrieve the guard from the much closer west lobby entrance, I would have had no involvement.”

The original emergency that brought Schramm to Marina City? After Washington was handcuffed, police checked it out. Says Schramm, “After a few long minutes [they] determined that my emergency was unfounded and all was OK.”

Washington gets 35 years, serves 16

On the day after the shooting, June 7, 1981, Washington was charged with murder. He was indicted by a grand jury the day after that – a Monday – and held without bail.

Testifying in his defense, Washington offered a decidedly different version of events, claiming he was trying to leave the bar when Riordan ran up from behind and accosted him. “He kept pushing me,” he said. He did not know Riordan was a police officer and, having recently broken his left hand, he said he felt threatened by Riordan.

“As I was trying to walk away,” he told the jury, “someone walked up and grabbed me and started pushing me away. He grabbed me from behind the right side and by the neck.”

He denied holding a gun at Alice O’Brien’s head and said Alice had been verbally abusive to him earlier in the evening. When he shot Riordan, he says he was just trying to fire a warning shot. The three other shots, he says, were fired instinctively.

On Friday, October 30, 1981, after a four-day trial, a jury that deliberated for five hours found Leon Washington guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, five years less than the maximum.

Washington appealed the verdict and lost. He served time at Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois. In 1988, he unsuccessfully petitioned the court for release. He was paroled on April 10, 1998 and discharged from parole on October 4, 1999.

This was not the first version of the story that was told to the public, as police tried in vain to conceal the fact that the married Riordan was dating Doris Radcliffe.

Of Riordan’s seven children, five became Chicago police officers.

(Right) What the area just north of the former bar looks like today, with the escalator relocated from the other side of the concourse (visible in distance at right).

Photo by Steven Dahlman

Allen Sells, who says he was a close friend of Riordan and was due to meet him at the Captain’s Table bar that evening, believes the shooting happened earlier than 9 p.m. Delayed by a party at Sandburg Terrace, Sells says he was leaving the party when a television news bulletin announced Riordan had been shot.

“It was still light, not dusk, outside, and I am sure the time was between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m., which means that Jim would have been shot far earlier than 9:00 p.m. I would guess it to have been 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the latest.”

He was also a friend of Doris Radcliffe, meeting Riordan through her. “Jim had a great voice,” he recalled in 2013, “and we frequently went to piano bars in the days before karaoke.”

Last updated 20-Apr-15

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