Bernard ‘Bernie’ Carey, former Cook County state’s attorney, has died at 83
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Bernard Carey, who was propelled into the Cook County state’s attorney’s office because of African-American outrage over the killings of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in a police raid, died Friday at his retirement home in Naples, Florida, at 83, according to his wife.
He’d been diagnosed last November with stomach cancer, Mary Rita Carey said Monday.
His election was attributed to disgust at the raid in 1969, when African-American activists and reformers, preaching empowerment and an end to brutality, were at odds with law-and-order proponents who viewed them as radicals and militants. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called the armed Black Panther Revolutionary Party “the most dangerous and violence-prone of all extremist groups.”
At 4:40 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1969, Chicago police officers detailed to then-State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan raided an apartment at 2337 W. Monroe, killing Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and Clark, a Peoria party leader. Hanrahan later said a gun battle erupted.
The police fired an estimated 98 shots. Just one shot came from inside the apartment.
Hanrahan’s office showed photos that were said to prove the Panthers fired first. A Sun-Times investigation showed the “bullet holes” were actually nailheads.
“I’d been to lots of crime scenes before,” former Sun-Times reporter Brian Boyer said in an interview on the 25th anniversary of the raid. “What was amazing about this was the incredible number of bullets going into the place.”
In 1972, Mr. Carey — a Republican and a former FBI agent — trounced Hanrahan, who’d snared the Democratic nomination, despite Mayor Richard J. Daley backing another pol for the job.
Mr. Carey served two terms as top prosecutor until Richard M. Daley beat him in a narrow win.
“The black vote is really what put him over,” Don Rose, who ran Mr. Carey’s campaign, said Monday. “The black community had not voted Republican since, I think, the early 1930s in Cook County.
“He carried all but two black wards,” Rose said. “It was a virtual revolution in the black community that really was responsible for breaking the shackles of the machine.”
Rose said the insurrection likely contributed to the election of the city’s first and only woman mayor, Jane Byrne, and the city’s first black mayor, Harold Washington.
“He ran and won against Ed Hanrahan following quite a crisis in law enforcement,” said Barry Gross, his former first assistant. “Bernie was always [about] ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ ”
“He really reformed the state’s attorney’s office, which was filled with patronage hacks,” Rose said. “When he finally lost to Daley, Daley inherited an office that had already been reformed.”
“Bernie was a good guy,” said Richard Devine, another former Cook County state’s attorney. “He worked hard to do a good job. He recruited professional prosecutors.”
Quite a few office holdovers wound up being exemplary employees, according to Gross, who said Mr. Carey “was well served by many committed, dedicated people from the Hanrahan administration who felt comfortable with him.”
While in office, Mr. Carey investigated a police spying scandal, when the so-called Red Squad infiltrated public interest organizations, said Rob Warden, a former reporter who investigated the case for the Chicago Daily News.
And, thanks to his complaints to the U.S. Attorney’s office about judicial corruption, “He’s the one that’s really responsible for Operation Greylord,” said former county prosecutor William J. Kunkle. The wide-ranging federal investigation of court misconduct brought down 15 judges and dozens of lawyers.
Under Mr. Carey, Kunkle prosecuted serial killer John Wayne Gacy, convicted of killing 33 boys and young men.
After being state’s attorney, Mr. Carey served on the Cook County Board and was appointed a circuit court judge.
He also made unsuccessful bids for Illinois attorney general, for county sheriff and for the presidency of the Cook County Board.
He graduated from De La Salle Institute in 1952. He went to St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and was a 1958 graduate of DePaul University law school.
Mr. Carey met his future wife at a church social at St. John Fisher on the South Side. They would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary next week.
A longtime resident of South Holland, Mr. Carey retired at 59, and the couple moved to Florida in 1995. He enjoyed warm winters and being near the ocean, his wife said. And, “He saw his retired judge friends who came down on vacation.”
Mary Rita Carey said her husband had a stamp collection “going back to his college days” with dozens of books featuring stamps from all over the world.
He also collected “diecast toy cars” that he added to whenever he was travelling. “When he died, he had over 3,000 little cars all on shelves in his den. Oh, he just loved to spend time in there,” his wife said.
The Careys had five children, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A memorial is being planned at 10 a.m. June 15 at First Baptist Church, 3000 Orange Blossom Dr., Naples. “It’s a celebration–no somber clothes,” his wife said.
Of all the jobs that Mr. Carey held in government, he loved the prosecutor’s job most.
Said his wife: “What could be more challenging than the constant change of crime and corruption in Chicago and Cook County?”
Bernard Carey (right) uses a radio debate to renew his accusations of “bungling” on the part of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan (left) in the Black Panther case. | Sun-Times files