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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet man helped disband Chicago crime syndicate

Joliet attorney never forgot his roots

Lawrence Morrissey
Lawrence Morrissey

JOLIET – With pride, Chuck Morrissey of Chicago turned the scrapbook’s pages and noted his father’s many accomplishments.

Over the years, Lawrence Morrissey, former chief of the organized crime and racketeering section in the Northern District of Illinois, successfully prosecuted many well-known members of the crime syndicate.

Chuck attributes his father’s success to hard work and determination. Lawrence learned both from his mother, Margaret, after the sudden death of her husband, Charles, on Dec. 22, 1944.

Charles was only 32 years old. Lawrence was 7. His sister, Rosemary Ahmann, was 10.

“He came home from work, said he wasn’t feeling good, went into the bathroom, fell over and died,” Lawrence said in a 2006 “An Extraordinary Life” story on his mother. “My mother came running out to us in the living room. The tree was all decorated and my sister and I were sitting around talking about how we wanted to get bikes for Christmas. She told us to get some help. I remember later sitting on the couch with Father O’Keefe when they brought my father out in a black bag.”

Margaret went to work as head of procurement at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. Lawrence delivered morning newspaper routes – for the former Spectator and for The Herald-News. He mowed lawns and shoveled snow, Chuck said. Rosemary worked, too. On Friday nights, they watched movies with the prisoners at Stateville.

“He worked to help pay his tuition at St. Ray’s Catholic High and University of Illinois,” Chuck said. “And then he came back to Joliet and started working for National Stone Company and took classes at DePaul and John Marshall.”

In 1962, Margaret received a promotion, which allowed Lawrence to attend school full-time. After graduating from John Marshall Law School in 1964, the former U.S. Marine worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, where he was appointed chief of the organized crime and racketeering section in 1967.

Two years later, Lawrence helped disband the Chicago crime syndicate, for which he received a meritorious service award from former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

In 1974, Lawrence opened a private practice in Chicago while working for the Joliet law firm O’Brien, Garrison, Berard & Kusta. The clients who most concerned Lawrence weren’t wealthy business clients, but working class people – a barber with a tax problem or a struggling breadwinner facing criminal charges.

Many times, Lawrence represented these people at steep discounts or even pro bono. Chuck said his father’s concern for these clients continued even after Lawrence was receiving hospice care.

Chuck, who followed his father into law, handled some of those cases after his father’s death – on Jan. 8 at age 78 from aggressive nasopharyngeal cancer. Amazingly, Lawrence practiced law until his final month.

“After working with some of these folks and getting good results, I realized the intrinsic value in representing these folks who were very appreciative,” Chuck said in an email. “I think my father enjoyed the feeling of helping someone more than the dollars.”

After Lawrence’s death, both the Chicago City Council and Illinois Senate honored him with resolutions.

Chuck recalled the last time he met his father after work for a drink. He had asked Lawrence, “Do you want me to give the eulogy?” and he said Lawrence had answered, “No. I don’t want you crying in front of my friends.”

And then Chuck said his father added, “You have nothing to cry about. We had 47 years together. That’s 40 more than I got with my father. Think of all the things we’ve done. Think of the nights we met after work to have cocktails. I never got to do that with my dad.”

But that was typical Lawrence, Chuck said, always smiling, always looking at the positive.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com.

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