The looming federal courthouse in Chicago’s Loop is considered a “fortress of safety.”
But 25 years ago, a violent and despondent bank robber managed to gun down two officers there in a futile attempt to flee the building, only to die near a Jackson Boulevard sidewalk at the height of the evening rush.
On Thursday, the son of one of the slain officers stood in the courthouse lobby near a plaque bearing his father’s name. And there, he asked the judges, U.S. marshals and others working at the courthouse today to “remember this, so it never happens again.”
“My father, Harry, was a true hero, not only for what he did 25 years ago today, but for what he did every day,” Michael Belluomini said.
Harry Belluomini, a court security officer and retired Chicago police officer, and Roy Frakes, a deputy U.S. marshal, died July 20, 1992, while trying to stop bank robber Jeffrey Erickson from escaping the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Members of Belluomini’s family, including his children and widow, Milly, attended a crowded memorial service at the building Thursday to mark the solemn anniversary. Milly Belluomini now lives in northern Wisconsin, where she said she had been planning to move with her husband the year he was killed.
Erickson, known as the “Bearded Bandit,” had been known to brag while locked up at the Metropolitan Correctional Center that he could have overpowered the agents who brought him there. And when he saw a bulletproof vest save someone’s life on TV, he would tell fellow inmates the vest wouldn’t have protected that person from a headshot.
However, Erickson was also despondent over the death of his wife, Jill, who had been killed in a shootout with the FBI.
On the day he tried to escape, Erickson used a key he had smuggled into the building to unlock his handcuffs, overpower a U.S. marshal and steal her gun while being transported back to the MCC.
Erickson shot Frakes and then exchanged gunfire with Belluomini, who seriously wounded the bank robber. While fleeing up a ramp from the garage, Erickson could be heard saying “I’m going to jail, I’m going to jail, I’m going to die anyway . . . I’m going to take everybody with me,” an eyewitness told the Sun-Times at the time.
Then he turned the gun on himself. His body remained on the ramp into the early evening, according to press accounts.
Eleven years later, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer would sentence Robert Burke to 20 years in prison for lying to a grand jury about his role in the escape attempt. Burke had been an inmate with Erickson and sold him the handcuff key.
Pallmeyer attended Thursday’s memorial and told the crowd gathered that, “to me, this building is a fortress of safety.” She said she is able to do her work in the courtroom without fear because of the diligence of the officers who protect it.
“We do not thank any of you often enough,” Pallmeyer said.