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The People v. Hansen





WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. LESLIE E. SALTER, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE DAILY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied September 26, 1963.

A multiple-count indictment returned to the criminal court of Cook County charged Ronald Hansen, Victor Spilotro and Langdon Gates with crimes of receiving stolen property and conspiracy to receive stolen property. After a joint bench trial, a jury having been waived, each man was found guilty under a count which charged that they had received ten stolen hair dryers, valued at $8.95 apiece, and on three separate counts of conspiracy. For each of the charges under which they were found guilty, each accused was sentenced to the penitentiary for identical terms of one to five years, all sentences to run concurrently. Hansen and Spilotro have prosecuted separate writs of error to review the judgments convicting them, and we have consolidated the cases for purpose of opinion.

Ronald Hansen was a Chicago police officer of five years standing, and during the months of July and August, 1961, was assigned as a detective to Area 5 of the burglary division, the headquarters of which was in a detective bureau located at California and Shakespeare avenues. His immediate superior was Sergeant Frank Koutnik. Victor Spilotro, who admitted to a casual acquaintance with Hansen dating back to school days, was the owner of a restaurant, while Langdon Gates operated an antique shop from his home. The charges against them resulted from disclosures made to authorities by Ronald Narbut, a professional burglar, after Narbut and Louis Ettelt had been arrested on September 12, 1961, while committing a burglary which has no bearing on this proceeding. At the trial Narbut was the principal witness against the defendants and, generally speaking, if he is to be believed, Hansen and Spilotro had several dealings with him and knowingly received, and conspired to receive, property that was stolen. If Hansen is to be believed, Narbut was acting as an informer for him and all of their transactions had reference to that relationship and were for legitimate police purposes. Spilotro, on the other hand, denied that he had ever seen or spoken to Narbut in his life prior to a court appearance emanating from Narbut's accusations.

The accounts of Hansen and Narbut as to the scope and nature of their relationship are in sharp conflict and, due to the nature of the principal contention made here, a rather extensive and comprehensive statement of the evidence is necessary.

According to Narbut, he first met Hansen and Spilotro on August 2, 1961, and in relating the background for that meeting stated that he and Ettelt had burglarized a store on July 29, 1961, and had stolen seven accordions. After first attempting to sell the merchandise to Gates, Narbut contacted a police sergeant whom he thought was named Fredericks and was allegedly taken by the latter to Area 5. After some conversation there, Narbut said he was given a note by Sergeant Koutnik, as the result of which he drove his car to a Cities Service gasoline station on Grand Avenue near Austin at 7:00 o'clock that evening. We digress to say that no person named Fredericks testified at the trial, but Koutnik appeared as a witness for the defense, at which time he denied giving Narbut a note, or that he had even met or heard of Narbut on August 2. The owner of the accordion shop appeared as a prosecution witness and testified that his store had been burglarized on the night of June 29, 1961, at which time seven accordions with a value of $6000 were taken.

Returning to Narbut, he said that after he had waited in the vicinity of the gas station for a time, Hansen and Spilotro arrived in a car, and that it was the first time he had seen either man. He testified that he showed the note to Hansen, who read it and then advised the witness he "was at the right place." Following this, Spilotro purportedly opened the service door of the station and told Narbut to pull his car inside. After some dickering, Spilotro purchased the accordions for $500 and Hansen assisted in transferring the merchandise from Narbut's car to another car. Both Hansen and Spilotro unequivocally denied that such a meeting and transaction had ever taken place, while the owner of the gas station, Frank Miavo, testified that the station was closed at the time testified to by Narbut; that Spilotro was not connected with the station and had no key; and that it would have been impossible for Narbut to have driven his car into the station because of two trucks that were stored there every night. Hansen, like Koutnik, said he hadn't even met or heard of Narbut on August 2, 1961.

The next event of consequence occurred on August 17, 1961, when Narbut and Ettelt were arrested on suspicion of burglary and held in custody at Area 5. What then transpired between Hansen and Narbut is in some conflict. Hansen's version was that he first saw Narbut in a showup of prisoners held on that day, and that after first ascertaining there was no conclusive evidence against Narbut, he took the latter aside, explained that his arrest had been only a general pickup, promised to help him, and enlisted his services as an informer. He said that Narbut agreed. The latter, however, denied that he was placed in a showup, but related that Hansen had come to his cell, remarking that he had come to get Narbut and Ettelt out as soon as he had seen their names on the arrest report. Narbut did agree, however, that he conversed with Hansen for about ten minutes before leaving the station, at which time Hansen represented that "the Captain was on his back," and that he "needed a pinch," whereupon Narbut said he would see if he "could get him something." In this regard, the proof shows that Narbut did in fact make a report of an impending safe robbery to Hansen, and that Hansen, Koutnik and other officers acted upon such information by keeping the site under surveillance all night, but that the crime was never committed. At the trial, Narbut admitted he had fabricated the whole story.

A few days after August 17, Narbut purportedly had another conversation with Gates and told the latter how he had disposed of the accordions, whereupon Gates said he had some diamonds for sale and proposed that Narbut should contact Hansen to see if he was interested. Narbut said he met first with Hansen, and later with both Hansen and Spilotro, but they declined to buy the diamonds because the price was too high. The two defendants categorically denied that such an incident had ever occurred.

Still another bizarre incident told by Narbut purportedly occurred on August 23, 1961, when he met Hansen at Area 5 and told the officer he was going to rob a certain real-estate office that night. Narbut said Hansen told him to be careful, and that he had in fact committed the burglary unmolested but had obtained nothing of value. Hansen also denied this incident.

It was agreed that the two men met again on August 24, at which time Narbut asked Hansen for a loan. There is, however, conflict as to the details. According to Narbut he told Hansen he needed a loan of $300 and after some discussion, it was agreed that Hansen would obtain such a loan and that Narbut would pay him a $50 fee. Before anything further was done about the loan, Narbut and Ettelt, on August 28, broke into a store and stole three television sets. Narbut said he tried to sell all three sets, first to Gates and then to Hansen, but that neither was interested, and that Hansen finally agreed to accept one of the sets in lieu of the $50 fee he was going to be paid for the loan. Narbut and Ettelt delivered the set to Hansen's home the following day and, shortly thereafter, Narbut met Hansen in a restaurant and was given a $200 loan.

Hansen confirmed that he had made the loan and stated he had done so because he was afraid he might lose Narbut's services as an informer. However, he stated he had only accepted the television set as collateral at Narbut's insistence, and denied that he had any knowledge the set was stolen. In the latter regard, evidence for the defense established that the burglary in which the sets were taken occurred outside Area 5, while prosecution evidence brought out that Hansen had access to stolen property reports.

The most critical transaction involving the parties took place on September 8, 1961, and the days immediately following. Narbut testified that he had another conversation with Gates at which time the latter mentioned that some of his friends had hijacked a truck and had some irons and hair dryers for sale, and suggested that Narbut contact "the cop and his friend" to see if they were interested. Thereafter, Narbut said he talked with Hansen and Spilotro about the proposition and that a meeting was arranged at the gas station. Upon the occasion of the meeting Spilotro allegedly said "they had been unable to get in touch with their people," but that he and Hansen would each take five irons and five dryers. Narbut said he was then given $110 for the appliances, that he was instructed by Hansen to deliver them to Hansen's home, that he gave $90 to Gates, who informed him the irons were in storage and not immediately available, and that he got ten hair dryers from Gates which he delivered to Hansen's home. The dryers were boxed and packed in a carton upon the top of which was imprinted: "Jewel Tea Company, Jewel Park, Barrington, Illinois, on 8/23/61," and the number "11825."

Evidence adduced by the prosecution established that a truck load of hair dryers, with a bill of lading numbered 11825, had been consigned by a shipper in New Jersey to the Jewel Tea Company in Barrington, Illinois, on August 23, 1961, and that the trailer of the truck carrying the cargo had been stolen from a loading dock in Chicago where it had been parked overnight. Gates, it appears, gave a pretrial statement that he had purchased the dryers from a store, but the store owner, appearing as a witness for the People, denied such a sale. Another store owner testified to an attempt by Gates to sell him 300 irons and 300 hair dryers.

Returning to Narbut's testimony, he stated that he and Ettelt had another conversation with Hansen on September 11, 1961, concerning the purchase of additional dryers, and another meeting was arranged at a restaurant. Hansen came to the restaurant with an officer named "Jack," and told the two burglars to go to the gas station and meet Spilotro. They did so, but Spilotro did not show up and there were no further negotiations. In connection with this aspect of Narbut's testimony, officer John Doran, who appeared as a defense witness, testified that he had seen Narbut and Hansen together in the restaurant one afternoon in September, that he had not heard their conversation or asked questions about the incident, and that he assumed at the time Narbut was one of Hansen's informers. On cross-examination, Doran said that ...

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