I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Si Jayne ran numerous rackets in the rarefied and moneyed world of show horses. People who defied him often didn't have a long life expectancy.
The son of a farmer, young Silas started his life of criminality early with a rape conviction at the age of 17 in 1924.
In a city with a long history of harbouring violent hoodlums, Silas Jayne could be counted among those with a vicious temperament.
An early sign of Silas's cruel side showed up when he was just a lad on his father's farm. The story is that he was bitten by a goose and responded by killing the entire flock.
His sister-in-law, Marion Jayne, told The Chicago Tribune that “You have to understand that Si was a very unbalanced man from day one.” Elsewhere, he has been described as a “narcissistic sociopath;” and, like many with that mental condition, he was a skilled manipulator of people. He was also bad tempered and bullying when intimidation was needed rather smooth-talking charm.
Along with his brothers, Si Jayne, got into the horse-trading business. They would ship in wild horses from the West and saddle break them. The ones that showed promise, they would sell at a profit, the rest went to the pet food factories.
There's no doubt that Si Jayne was very skilled in handling horses and trading them. Before long, the Jayne brothers bought a ranch near Woodstock, Illinois, about 40 miles north of Chicago. Soon, other stables came into their hands and Si Jayne cultivated rich people from Chicago with an interest in show jumping.
One of his scams was to prey on parents with daughters who had dreams of being equestrians. After a few sessions of training, Jayne would tell the parents their daughter had a natural talent but needed better equipment and a better horse, and it just so happened that he had such an animal for sale.
When the parents realized they had been sold a broken down old nag, Jayne would take them aside and give them a talk along the lines of, “I'm really, really sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter has developed a reputation among the lads here for being promiscuous. And, wouldn't it be a shame if such talk escaped the confines of the stables?” This little chat usually forestalled any legal action against Jayne.
The Horse Insurance Swindle
Si Jayne was a central figure in an insurance scam in the 1970s and '80s. Horses of dubious quality would be bought for a low price. Jayne would talk up the ability of the magnificent steed to would-be investors who would buy shares in the animals.
Having sold shares worth, say, $50,000, the con man would insure the practically useless animal for far move than its value. Then, in dark of night, along came the horse killer who would electrocute the animal in such a way that it looked like it had died of colic, and it would be very difficult for a veterinarian to determine the true cause of death.
A very wealthy Chicago heiress named Helen Brach fell for the scheme, but then disappeared in 1977. She was declared dead in 1984 although her body was never found. A man named Richard Bailey, an associate of Silas Jayne, was eventually convicted of swindling Ms. Brach and was suspected of killing her. Police theorize that she had figured out the scam and was about to reveal it so she was silenced.
The Silas—George Feud
In 1923, George Jayne was born, he was a half brother to Silas—same mother, different father. As he grew up, George entered the horseflesh business alongside Silas. But, the partnership turned nasty.
Here's John Stravinsky, in The Village Voice: “Erstwhile partners, the millionaire brothers had a falling out in the early ’60s over deals gone sour, insurance scams, horse doping, and George’s refusal to go along with the firebombing of competitors’ barns (though both once beat a rival jumper senseless).”
Silas was angered when George set up his own stabling and training facilities, accusing him of poaching customers. George's horses and riders were also doing well in show jumping events and that fuelled Silas's wrath.
There were violent incidents as reported by Robert H. Boyle in Sports Illustrated: “George's empty stable office was riddled by 28 bullets. Snipers shot at him and at his stable hands. Sugar was poured in his gas tank. His tires were slashed. Two of his horses were poisoned.”
Cheryl Rude, who formerly had ridden for Silas, won a prestigious event in 1961 on one of George's mounts. Silas exploded with “I'll kill you, you son of a bitch.” It took a while, but Silas eventually made good on his threat, but before that Ms. Rude paid a heavy price.
In June 1965, George gave Cheryl the keys to his Cadillac and asked her to run an errand. As Ms. Rude started the car, three sticks of dynamite wired to the ignition exploded under the hood and she and the car ended up as fragments. The bomb was clearly meant to take out George.
Investigators found a crook named Stephen Grod with inside knowledge of the plot, who fingered Silas for setting it up. But, on the witness stand, Grod suffered an acute attack of amnesia and the case against Silas Jayne fell apart. The murder of Cheryl Rude remains unsolved.
After several bouts of tit-for-tat vengeance, the end came on October 28, 1970. George and some of his family were in their basement rec room when a bullet from a .30-calibre hunting rifle crashed through a window and hit him in the chest. He died almost immediately.
This time, investigators were able to pin the crime on Silas; he wasn't the trigger man but he was the organizer of the murder. He served seven years in prison, and died in 1987 at the age of 80.
- In October 1955, three Chicago area boys went missing; they were John Schuessler, 13, his 11-year-old brother Anton Jr., and their friend Robert Peterson, 14. They were found naked and dead in a ditch. The murders were eventually tied to Kenneth Hansen, a longtime employee of Silas Jayne, and had been sexually abused and killed on one of Jayne's barns. Jayne found out about Hansen's crime and realized that the investigation might shine a light on some of the horse trader's business. So he helped cover up the murders and the barn in which they took place was burned down.
- In April 1987, Cook County detective Robert Probst was shot and killed through the kitchen window of his home near Chicago. Probst was investigating horse insurance fraud and had told colleagues he was on the trail of “something big.” The murder remains unsolved.
- You can read more about the horse insurance swindle here.
- “Silas Jayne.” John Stravinsky, The Village Voice, June 22, 1999
- “Silas Jayne.” findagrave.com, January 12, 2012.
- “Vengeance & Violence.” Edward Baumann and John O'Brien, Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1988.
- “End of a Bloody Bad Show.” Robert H. Boyle, Sports Illustrated, June 4, 1973.
- “Great Nephew of Notorious Horseman Steers Toward Prestige.” Kate Thayer, The Courier-News, July 27, 2012.
- “Candy Heiress’s Murder Probe Exposes Brutality in Horse World.” Sharon Cohen, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1994.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 06, 2021:
Very interesting read. Thanks.