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Savannah, Missouri, 1948


James H[erbert]. WILKERSON, 79 year-old former senior judge of the United States district court in Chicago, a graduate of Savannah [MO] high school at the age of 14, died September 30 in Glencoe, Ill. His father John W. WILKERSON, was superintendent of schools at Savannah for a number of years. Judge WILKERSON's most famous case was when he sentenced Al CAPONE, Chicago underworld leader, to federal prision for 11 years and fined him $5,000 for income tax evasion.


James Herbert WILKERSON, whose name was associated with the prosecution of some of the most important trust cases that have claimed not only the attention of the bar but also of the general public throughout the entire country, was born in Savannah, Missouri, December 11, 1869, his parents being John W. and Lydia (AUSTIN) WILKERSON. He was graduated B.A. from De Pauw University, at Greencastle, Indiana, in 1889, and successfully represented the state in the interstate oratorical contest of that year. His entire attention has been given to the learned professions and after successful experience as a teacher he took up the study of law, having in the meantime been principal of the high school at Hastings, Nebraska, in 1890-1, and instructor in the De Pauw University from 1891 until 1893. He was married at South Bend, Indiana, August 21, 1891 to Miss Mary E. ROTH. Mr. WILKERSON's residence is at No. 6448 Minerva avenue, while his office is at 826 Federal building [Chicago].

Meanwhile his thorough course of law reading prepared him for the bar, to which he was admitted in Chicago in 1893, when he began practice with Myron H. BEACH. The following year he became connected with the law firm of TENNEY, McCONNEL & COFFEEN, while in 1900 he was made a partner in the firm, which was later changed to TENNEY, COFFEEN, HARDING & WILKERSON At the present writing [1912] he is a member of the law firm of BRUNDAGE, WILKERSON & CASSELLS (sic). In addition to important interests of a large private practice which have come under his direction, he has done equally important work in the prosecution of various cases.

Mr. WILKERSON is prominent in republican circles, serving in 1902 as a member of the Illinois legislature from the thirteenth district, during which period he conducted the fight for a state civil service law and introduced and secured the passage of the constitutional amendment for a new charter for Chicago. In 1903 he was appointed county attorney for Cook county and conducted important litigation involving questions of taxation and particularly prosecutions against the Standard Oil Company. In 1906 he was appointed special assistant United States. - 1912 Biography


Hon. James Herbert WILKERSON, member of the firm of TENNEY, COFFEEN, HARDING and WILKERSON, is not only a leading lawyer of Chicago, but among the most prominent Republicans of this section. He is a native of Savannah, Missouri, born on the 11th of December, 1869, being a son of John W. and Lydia (AUSTIN) WILKERSON. He is a graduate of DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, in which he made a brilliant record and in 1889 obtained the degree of A.B. It was during the senior year that he so successfully represented Indiana in the interstate oratorical contest. After leaving college he was appointed principal of the high school at Hastings, Nebraska, serving in that capacity for about a year, and in 1891 becoming an instructor at DePauw University.

In 1893, after Mr. WILKERSON had been identified with the faculty of his alma mater for some two years, he came to Chicago to continue the study of the law and enter into its practice. In the year named he was admitted to practice at the bar of Illinois, first associating himself with Myron H. BEACH. In 1894 he became connected with TENNEY, McCONNEL and COFFEEN, and in 1900 was received into partnership by the members then composing the firm, thereby making the style TENNEY, COFFEEN, HARDING and WILKERSON.

Mr. WILKERSON has been earnestly concerned in Republican politics and the public affairs of the state for many years, and in 1902 was elected to the Illinois legislature for the thirteenth district. He conducted the fight for a state civil service law, and introduced and secured the passage of the constitutional amendment for a new Chicago charter. In 1903 he was appointed county attorney for Cook county, and in that capacity conducted much important litigation, especially that which involved the taxation of the capital stock of corporations. At the conclusion of his term he entered private practice, and since assuming his duties under United States District Attorney SIMS has conducted a number of cases in behalf of the government. In the world-famous ROCKERFELLER cases upon which the United States department of justice concentrated its best available talent in this district, Mr. WILKERSON abundantly proved his stability and resourcefulness as a lawyer.

On the 21st of August, 1891, Mr. WILKERSON was united in marriage with Miss Mary ROTH, and they reside at No. 6648 Minerva avenue. [4 sons] As to club circles he is identified with the Law, Hamilton and Woodlawn Park organizations. - 1908 Biography


James Herbert WILKERSON, was born in Savannah, Missouri on December 11, 1869, and was graduated at De Paw University in 1889. He gave early promise as an orator, winning in the interstate Oratorical Contest of his senior year. He taught school or a number of years and was admitted to the bar in Chicago in 1893. Mr. WILKERSON was a senior member of the law firm of WILKERSON, CASSELS, POTTER and GILBERT, with offices in the Rookery Building. He was appointed [July 18, 1922] to United States District Judge for the northern district of Illinois to succeed Kenesaw Mountain LANDIS, who resigned from the bench to become Commissioner of Baseball. The name of Mr. WILKERSON was sent to the Senate by President HARDING and speedy confirmation was predicted [he was confirmed on July 18, 1822 and received his commission on the same day]. He helped crush the most notorious gang in the United States and was cited for his reward.

President HOOVER announced his advancement to the Circuit Court of Appeals, seventh district, saying it was part of the recognition for breaking up the activities of the powerful CAPONE Gang, "Scarface Al" CAPONE. Judge WILKERSON sentenced him to eleven years, fined him $50,000, and refused to grant bail."

Judge WILKERSON was a federal judge in the Northern District of Illinois 1911 to 1914. He sentenced Al CAPONE, and earlier in his career as U.S. District Attorney he secured the famous $29,240,000 fine assessed on the Standard Oil Company by the then Federal Judge Kenesau M. LANDIS.

"On April 23, 1930, the Chicago Crime Commission issued its first Public Enemies List; there were 28 names on it, and Al CAPONE's was the first. Capone headed an enormous crime organization that netted huge profits from the illegal liquor trade and he became a legendary symbol of the violent gangsterism of the Prohibition era.

For years CAPONE remained immune to prosecution for his criminal activities. In June 1930, after an exhaustive investigation by the federal government, CAPONE was indicted for income tax evasion. One of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century - the man held most responsible for the bloody lawlessness of Prohibition-era Chicago - was imprisoned for tax evasion.

The trial was highly publicized. Hollywood celebrity Edward G. ROBINSON, who had portrayed a CAPONE-like character in the movie "Little Caesar," attended 1 day to observe the gangster role model, CAPONE. The names, addresses, and occupations of the 12 jurors who decided the case and signed this verdict were printed in Chicago newspapers. To reduce the chances of jury tampering, Judge WILKERSON tried to keep the trial as short as possible and confined the jury at night. He also changed juries at the last minute when the trial began, an attempt to assure that the sitting jury had not been tampered with by CAPONE's henchmen.

During the trial, the prosecution documented CAPONE's lavish spending, evidence of a colossal income. The government also submitted proof that CAPONE was aware of his obligation to pay federal income tax but failed to do so. After nearly 9 hours of deliberation, the jurors found CAPONE guilty of three felonies and two misdemeanors, relating to his failure to pay and/or file his income taxes between 1925 and 1929. Judge WILKERSON sentenced Al CAPONE to serve 11 years in prison and to pay $80,000 in fines and court costs.

Judge WILKERSON's public service included member Illinois House of Representatives, 1902; Cook County [Illinois] attorney, 1903 - 1904; special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States, 1906 - 1911; U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illiois, 1911 - 1914; and, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of State of Illinois, 1919 - 1921. Judge WILKERSON achieved senior status on December 31, 1940. Due to his death, his service was terminated on September 30, 1948.

NOTE: The Judge's mother Lydia M. (AUSTIN) WILKERSON was interred at the Savannah Cemetery, Savannah, Andrew County, Missouri. His father, John W. WILKERSON was born in either Warren or Clinton County, Ohio, on July 19, 1843. He was a soldier in the Civil War, serving as a Private with Company G of the 79th Ohio Infantry (1862-1865) and was the principal of Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa schools, along with being a Protestant minister in the Mount Ayr community. He died in Mount Ayr on January 14, 1932, with interment at Rose Hill Cemetery, Mount Ayr, Iowa. The WILKERSON family materials may be found on Ringgold County's Family Pages.

SMITH, Olen. One Hundred Years of Helena All Because of a Railroad: 1878-1978 "John WILKERSON Family"
WATERMAN, Arba Nelson. Historical Review of Chicago and Cook County Vol. II. Pp. 723-24. Lewis Publ. Co. Chicago. 1908.
CURRY, Josiah Seymour. Chicago; Its History and Its Builders, A Century of Marvelous Growth Vol. V. Pp. 381-82. S. J. Clarke Publ. Co. Chicago. 1912.
National Archives, Library of Congress

Transcriptions and note by Sharon R. Becker, July of 2009

To submit your Ringgold County obituaries, contact Sharon R. Becker at
Please include the word "Ringgold" in the subject line. Thank you.

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