Death and Horses

Silas Jayne

Death followed Chicago horseman Silas Jayne like a faithful puppy.
 
The oldest child in a family that traces its legacy back to colonial America, Silas Jayne died peacefully in bed in 1987 at the age of 80. Few whose paths had crossed Jayne’s would ever have predicted that the cruel and vengeful stable owner would leave this world in such a benign fashion. Most figured he would meet his demise behind bars, or more likely, on the wrong end of a gun.
 
The list of murders and crimes associated with Jayne reads like a bad novel, except for the fact that it’s true.
 
The son of a truck driver with ties to Prohibition-era bootleggers, the first evidence that Si was a psychopath occurred, according to family legend, when he was but 8 years old. Bitten by a goose on the family farm, the boy exacted revenge by killing the entire flock.
 
At 17, his crimes turned more serious. He was convicted in 1924 of rape and served a year in a reformatory.
 
It’s hard to believe that even in the 1930s, suburban Chicago was home to ranches and sprawling farms, but that was the case. The Jaynes owned a horse farm in Pontiac, Ill. The three brothers — DeForest, Frank and Silas — would ship trainloads of wild mustangs from out west to the train depot in Woodstock and from there drive the horses through the middle of town as if in a Wild West cattle drive to their farm. The best horses were broken and used in their riding stable, but most ended up as dog food.
 
Over the years, Si gained a reputation as a hard-bargaining, ruthless horse trader who typically took advantage of the rich Chicago parents whose daughters wanted to learn to ride.
 
DeForest Jayne killed himself in 1938, despondent over his fiancee’s apparent suicide (she ingested a fatal dose of arsenic, which in small doses can be a stimulant).
 
Another brother, George, born 20 years after Si, by this time had opened his own riding stable and was cutting into Si’s action. In 1952, while he and his family vacationed in Florida, a devastating fire swept through George’s home in Morton Grove. Although the cause was never determined and no one was ever charged in connection with the blaze, George suspected his older brother of starting the fire. After all, Si had learned a few years earlier that fires tend to solve messy problems. In 1940, a fire of unknown origin killed ten of his horses and destroyed his stable.
 
Silas’s name came up in connection with the disappearance of three boys who disappeared in 1955 near one of riding stables. In 1999, Kenneth Hansen was convicted of killing those children. One witness in his trial said Hansen told him Jayne helped load the boys’ bodies into a car trunk after he killed them in Jayne’s tack room.
 
In 1961, Si Jayne told police that three well-known Chicago thugs had broken into a home on his farm and threatened the wife of one of his stable hands. Jayne said he had scared the men off by firing at them with a .38 revolver. During the ensuing manhunt, a Wisconsin police officer was killed in a shootout with the men.
 
While being questioned after their arrest, the men denied ever being at Jayne’s ranch. When police checked out their alibi, it turned out they were telling the truth.
 
“Silas knew and didn’t like those guys,” retired sheriff’s detective Jerry Harmon told the Chicago Tribune years later. “He came up with their names, saying they had harassed him. I think he may have tried frame them.”
 
The three men were convicted of murdering the cop and sentenced to prison terms. One escaped and vanished. The other two were later paroled.
 
The feud between Silas and George deepened in the the ensuing years when riders connected to George’s barn bested Silas in several of the area’s top horse shows. After the tony Lake Forest Horse Show, Silas was heard threatening to kill George.
 
In this regard, Si was apparently a man of his word. A few months after the show, George’s sixth sense tipped him that something was amiss and he left his stable office in a borrowed car. Shortly after, someone — no one was ever fingered for the crime — fired nearly 30 rounds into the office.
 
Over the next few months cars tried to run him off the road and once someone left a few sticks of dynamite outside his back door.
 
Schottzie, a $25,000 mare that was the marquee horse in George’s Tri-Color Riding Stable, was injected with turpentine and died while at a horse show in 1964.
 
The next two-legged innocent victim of Silas Jayne’s rage was claimed a year later when Cherie Rude, a 22-year-old champion rider was killed by bomb apparently meant for George. Cherie had just stopped by the barn and as a favor, agreed to move George’s car. The moment she turned the key, the vehicle exploded.
 
While following leads in the bombing, a cop posing as a hitman arranged a meeting with Silas and received a $1,000 downpayment to kill George. An indictment for conspiracy soon followed.
 
The State’s case collapsed when its star witness — who was present when the cop received the payment — recanted his allegations that he had been paid $15,000 to plant the three sticks of dynamite meant for George that killed Cherie.
 
Suffering from a convenient case of amnesia, the witness said he knew nothing about any $15,000 payment. “I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning,” he said. The $1,000 was “for a horse,” he said.
 
It would take more than 30 years to finally bring Cherie Rude’s killer to justice (more on that story later).
 
Later in 1966, three women who some authorities witnessed the planting of the dynamite disappeared after getting into a blue-and-white motorboat similar to one owned by one of Silas’s ranch hands. Later, Silas reportedly bragged to a Nevada sheriff that three bodies were buried beneath his house.
 
George was apparently not completely innocent in the feud with his brother. He had previously told authorities that he feared for his life as long as Silas was loose, and he subsequently hired private investigators to tail his older brother. In 1969, one of those investigators, attempting to determine why a bug placed on Silas’s Cadillac had stopped working, was killed in a shootout with Silas. According to Silas, he heard someone on his property and when he called out, was shot at. Returning fire, he managed to wing the private eye and then proceeded to empty eight shots from an M-1 rifle into the wounded man.
 
With no other witnesses, police had to accept Jayne’s story and the death was ruled justifiable.
 
One year later, after celebrating his son’s 16th birthday, George was shot to death in the den of his home.
 
Authorities managed to find a witness who saw a partial plate. Silas, the obvious prime suspect, refused to take a lie detector test, and claimed he and George had made up years before. Still, he didn’t attend his brother’s funeral, blaming that on the fact that he wasn’t mentioned in the obit.
 
The partial plate led police to a 37-year-old dishwasher who was arrested while carrying $10,000 in cash. On 17 of the bills, investigators found Silas Jayne’s fingerprints. The dishwasher later told police who fired the shots. Those two men cooperated with police in return for immunity and pointed fingers at Silas Jayne.
 
Jayne hired F. Lee Bailey to defend him against the murder charges. After a high-profile trial, Jayne was convicted of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to 6 to 20 years in prison. While Bailey hailed the fact that Jayne beat the murder rap, one juror told the press that Jayne’s cold eyes had intimidated some of the jurors and prevented them from agreeing to the first-degree murder charge the others wanted.
 
He was paroled in 1979 after serving seven years.
 
During the time Silas was jailed, Helen Brach, heiress to the Brach candy fortune, vanished after leaving the Mayo Clinic. Her disappearance is linked to a massive horsey-set fraud ring and Richard Bailey, an acquaintance of Silas, is serving a life sentence in connection to that case. Even though Silas was in prison when she disappeared, he was still intimately connected to the horse-trading business in Chicago.
 
Silas Jayne died of leukemia in 1987.