It was summer of 1969 and I was working tactical out of the 018th District and this was the most bizarre stakeout of my police career.
I was deep in overgrown brush. The full moon hung in the sky, seemingly skirting the occasional cloud gently floating past and I maneuvered with two goals in mind; get comfortable and keep a clear line of sight to the target in the distance. Freddie, my partner for the night, was on the far side of the target completely out of my field of vision, but hopefully with his own unfettered view. After an initial check, radio silence was invoked as had been previously agreed upon. Our hand-held car-to-car radios were equipped with an ear-bud for listening so that would not be a problem, but speaking might be heard by anyone in the vicinity. We agreed we would use the radios only if suspects appeared.
“Car-to-car” meant exactly what you might think—the devices were only capable of communicating with their counterparts. Accordingly, we had a backup unit equipped with a car-to-car radio along with a standard radio, firmly affixed to the dashboard that could be used to call for assistance if necessary. Hopefully they were nearby in a well concealed position; out of sight but capable of a rapid response if we needed assistance.
Stakeouts are among the least glamorous of police assignments, mostly boring and non-productive. Still, this one was a bit out of the ordinary for certain. I slowly pushed myself further into the bush, maintaining the required line of sight while at the same time seeking some sort of comfort. Occasional animal sounds punctuated the night, most of them unidentifiable to this city-boy. Some of them could be cause for concern…large animals, making large sounds along with random thumps in the darkness. Still, as I pushed back as far as I could, my back came into contact with a wrought iron fence and I took comfort in the fact that the other side of the fence bore a large brass plaque proclaiming: “Lincoln Park Zoo.” It would be a long night.
Our target was the concession stand about fifty yards to the south of my position; it had been burglarized, several times, during the late evening hours. The burglaries always occurred mid-week with Wednesdays seeming to be preferred. Wednesday was to be our night on stakeout. Our tactical team, as a group, candidly discussed any personal phobias that might play into the assignment; bugs, especially spiders, snakes (garter variety), being alone in the dark, in the bushes for an extended time, and anything else that might negate an individual from be assigned to the posts inside the park. Now of course, not one of us freely admitted to any of these factors impacting our ability to carry out the mission, but after laying it all out on the table, Freddie and I freely volunteered to be in the bushes inside the park. I thought I detected a sigh of relief from more than one of our other team members.
Zoo authorities provided us with keys to an obscure service entry gate. The day before, Freddie and I checked the keys, walked the paths and selected the general positions we would take up for the stakeout. The following night, the weather was near perfect, mild, breezy, mostly clear skies and a full moon.
After dark, we admitted ourselves to the park and paused at the concession stand to make sure it hadn’t already been burglarized. We did a radio check with our backup unit—this would be our last radio traffic for the evening, unless we made an arrest or reached our limit of boredom, then we went our separate ways to take up our positions and settle in for the night.
Now a zoo at night, in almost complete darkness, can be an interesting place from the standpoint of the various sounds that a big city dweller would never expect. Several outdoor enclosures house the larger animals and the unidentifiable noises floating through the darkness can be disconcerting, especially when you’re hidden in the bushes by yourself. It would have been easier if Freddie and I could have talked on the radio a bit, but radio silence was absolutely necessary. After a few hours, I would readily admit that I was a bit spooked. Moonlight was the only illumination.
About three hours into the stakeout, an unknown emergency vehicle making its way down Lake Shore Drive radiated its plaintive wail, first from a distance, and then gradually closer and closer. The nearby wolves picked up on the sound. First a single wolf answered the siren with a mournful howl, but was soon joined by the rest of the pack. It became a chorus of howling that at times would come to a complete stop for a moment, only to resume at full volume.
Suddenly something came crashing through the bushes in my direction. I would have sworn that the wolf enclosure was to my back, but this came straight toward me from the front. Startled is too mild a word to describe my reaction as Freddie came half tumbling into me.
“Wolves!” he exclaimed with panic in his eyes.
“Yeah, Freddie, we’re in a zoo,” I said trying to sound calm and completely in control.
“No they’re not.”
“How do you know?” asked Freddie as he grabbed my forearm.
“Well…I don’t think they’re out.”
That didn’t help calm Freddie. We paused for a second to listen and the wolves stopped. Freddie still held my arm in a panic grip.
And then a strange thing happened. The ambient light over us suddenly dimmed. We looked up at the full moon overhead and saw a stray cloud had drifted across its face nearly obscuring its light. At the same time, the wolves resumed howling.
“I’m outta here,” said Freddie as he released my arm and headed for the path.
I followed close behind and keyed the mike on the car-to-car radio.
“Eighteen-sixty-one-B to eighteen-sixty-one-A.”
“Yeah, meet us at the back gate—we’re calling it a night.”
We arrived at the service gate about the same time as the unmarked squad.
“What’s up?” they asked us.
“We forgot to take one phobia into account,” I said.
“Werewolves.” I replied without further comment.
There was a moment of silence and when neither Freddie nor I explained the remark, the driver of our backup squad looked at his watch.
“Well, let’s get over to Milano’s and see if we can grab a pizza before they close the kitchen.”