Jon Burge, The Chicago Commander Who Tortured False Confessions From Over 100 People
In 1970, 22-year-old Jon Burge joined the Chicago Police Department. He was six-foot-two and 210 pounds — a big man by any standards. He owned a boat named “Vigilante.”
He was fresh off a tour in Vietnam where, he said in interviews, he had been awarded a Bronze Star for rescuing wounded comrades under fire. He had been trained as a military police officer in interrogation.
But his early accolades would not be his legacy.
According to The New York Times, Burge became known for “aggressively interrogating suspects” early on in his career. When he became a commander, those tactics fell further into the sadistic realm.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Burge and detectives under his command extracted confessions from more than 100 people by shocking them with cattle prods, smothering them with plastic typewriter covers, and shoving guns in their mouths while pretending to play Russian roulette.
Most of the suspects they tortured were Black.
One suspect, Darrell Cannon, had been arrested by Burge’s officers in 1983. According to The Marshall Project, Cannon had for a long time been affiliated with a gang called the Blackstone Rangers. He’d been in prison once before after killing a man on orders from Blackstone leader Jeff Fort.
But one day, back in the mix after his release, he was helping another gang member clean up a crime scene. They needed to find a place to dump a body. After the deed was done, they sped away as fast as they could.
A few days later, Cannon was arrested for the murder. He told them he didn’t kill anyone, saying that he was just along for the ride.
Burge’s officers took him to a remote spot by railroad tracks, pulled out a cattle prod and a pump-action shotgun, and gave him a warning: “You’re in for a long, hard day. We have a scientific way of interrogating n*ggers.”
Burge was fired from the police force in 1993, but he was never prosecuted for torture — the statute of limitations had lapsed.
Burge had also been acquitted in a civil suit in 1989 when an inmate named Madison Hobley, who said he had been coerced into falsely confessing to the killing of his wife, infant child, and five others in an arson investigation.
In 2010, Burge was finally convicted on federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for denying that he had inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on prisoners in his custody.
In January 2011, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. He was released in October 2014 — a much shorter sentence than many of his victims received.
From the time he was fired in 1993 to his death in 2018, Burge collected a $4,000 police pension each month. Meanwhile, the city of Chicago paid a total of nearly $5.5 million to 57 of Burge’s victims in 2016.
When Burge heard about it, he said, “I find it hard to believe that the city’s political leadership could even contemplate giving ‘reparations’ to human vermin.”