The opening of Kankakee’s first Walgreen drugstore on Saturday, Dec. 22, 1934, had been a great success. Despite the deepening national economic depression, hundreds of shoppers had clogged the aisles of the store on the south side of Court Street, midway between Schuyler and Dearborn avenues, the entire day. Even as the store neared closing time at about 9:30 p.m., there were still many customers in the building.
E.W. Kruse, one of several Walgreen Co. executives aiding in the opening, was checking stock in a room at the back of the store when he found himself facing an armed robber. The bandit forced Kruse to hand over $30 in cash from his wallet, then announced that he wanted the receipts from the store’s cash register and safe.
As Kruse was explaining that the register’s contents had been emptied into the store’s safe a few minutes earlier, a second armed man entered the room. Kruse told the bandits that he could not open the safe; the person in charge of the safe was Miss Ruth Merigan, a company auditor. The second gunman left in search of Miss Merigan, while the first continued to hold Kruse at gunpoint.
After locating the auditor, the robber ordered her to open the safe, which was located near the front of the store. As she was telling him that the safe had a time lock and couldn’t be opened for 30 minutes, another Walgreen executive, Joseph Gliatta, realized that there was a robbery in progress.
“Gliatta jumped on the bandit’s back and attempted to pin his arms behind him,” reported the Kankakee Republican-News. “The men scuffled for several seconds as the bandit was trying to get his gun. He finally got the weapon out of his pocket and fired one shot, which missed Gliatta and dented the terrazzo floor. The crowd stood frozen with horror as Gliatta and the bandit continued the scuffle. The robber finally got his gun in position and wounded Gliatta.”
The sound of the first gunshot had brought the other robber from the back room.
“[He] covered the crowd with his revolver for several seconds while his companion made his escape,” the newspaper reported. That gunman then fled the store, crossing Court Street with Roy Line, an unarmed off-duty police officer, in pursuit.
“The man rounded the corner of Schuyler Avenue in front of the United Cigar Store, and then leaped into a car which was parked in front of the Flanner florist shop at 122 North Schuyler,” continued the Republican-News account. “The car, a 1929 model Chevrolet, had no license plates and sped north on Schuyler Avenue.”
Joseph Gliatta, 37, was a district supervisor for the drugstore chain. Wounded in the abdomen, he was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital, where Dr. E.O. Wilson performed emergency surgery. Gliatta died on Monday afternoon, two days after being shot. The Walgreen Co. promptly offered a $1,000 reward “For information leading to the arrest and conviction” of the holdup men who had fatally wounded their employee.
One month after the shooting, police issued a bulletin with a picture and description of an ex-convict being sought as a member of the robbery gang.
That man, Harry Roley, 31, was also being sought for a loan company holdup at Lafayette, Ind.
The Kankakee Republican-News reported that Kankakee Police Chief Patrick Duignan, “believed [Roley] to be the man who did the actual shooting in the robbery and murder in Walgreen drugstore here.”
Roley was captured Jan. 28, 1935, in a police raid on a rooming house in Bloomington, along with Eugene Malson, who was believed to have driven the gang’s getaway car in the Walgreen robbery.
When Kankakee County Sheriff John Stack questioned Roley at the Bloomington jail, he confessed to taking part in the Walgreen robbery, but denied shooting Gliatta. Roley named Jules Hopkins, of Champaign, (another ex-convict) as the shooter.
Hopkins, whom police were quoted as saying “had a bad record,” had been released on parole from Menard State Penitentiary only seven days before the Walgreen robbery and murder in Kankakee. He was captured Jan. 31 after a robbery in Cairo, Ill.
Initially, Hopkins denied being involved in the Kankakee holdup. However, several of the Walgreen Co. executives who had been in the store at the time of the robbery identified him as the man who shot Gliatta.
In a surprise move on June 7, Hopkins appeared in Kankakee before Circuit Judge Claude N. Saum and pleaded guilty to the murder charge.
Upon the recommendation of State’s Attorney V.A. Parish, the judge sentenced Hopkins to a prison term of 99 years.
Almost three weeks later, on June 26, Roley went on trial before a jury in Kankakee. The trial was over quickly.
On June 28, the Republican-News reported, “Harry Roley, 31, was given 99 years imprisonment in the verdict returned by a jury in circuit court shortly before 2 o’clock this afternoon.. He was found guilty as an accomplice in the murder of Joseph Gliatta during the holdup of the Walgreen drug store here Dec. 22.”
The third member of the robbery gang, getaway-car-driver Eugene Malson, received a much lighter sentence when he entered a guilty plea on July 3. He was sent to prison to serve one to two years.