My new book is entitled “Silas Jayne: Chicago’s Suburban Gangster.” I have had a lot of people ask me how the hell I found out who Silas Jayne was and why I would write a book about him. That’s because a lot of people don’t know who he is. He was one of the most evil and villainous people that the Chicago area ever produced and yet most people have never heard of him. I had never heard of him until I started to write this book “Chicago Crime Stories: Rich Gone Wrong” for Schiffer Publishing.
They wanted a true crime compilation that would focus on crimes against the rich. That prompted me to research the disappearance and likely murder of candy heiress Helen Brach. As I read I came across the name Silas Jayne. The name intrigued me. I then started looking for other notorious crimes and came across the murder of three young boys in the 60s known as the Schuessler-Peterson murders. The name Silas Jayne cropped up again. At that point, I decided to research this name.
I found a man who had been involved with a number of notorious crimes in the Chicago area. He was wealthy, having made a fortune as a horse breeder. I read about how he arranged to have his own brother (technically half-brother) killed. It was that crime that put him in prison for a time. I read about how he used to swindle people by getting them to buy horses that were nearly worthless. He was like something out of fiction.
The idea of the wealthy man that is also a villain has been a convention of fiction for a long time. Scrooge would have to fit that mold. J.R. Ewing from “Dallas” also would fit that nicely. Even The Simpsons has a vicious and vastly wealthy industrialist. Silas Jayne, however, was the real thing and he was badder than all of those people put together.
I was fascinated and when I started writing for History Press, I pitched a second book after Forgotten Tales of Illinois and decided that a book about Silas Jayne was in order. I felt that he should be as well known as some of the most notorious villains of Chicago’s history. He should be ranked right up there with Al Capone and other notorious criminals.
So, I hope I have managed to tell a definitive story about this guy. I had a lot of help and I acknowledge those people in the front of the book. I hope Silas gets his proper place in Chicago’s notorious and villainous history.