History's mists

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The Landmark View

Over the past five weeks you may have noticed that the Landmark gave substantial real estate to a series of stories involving a long-gone Riverside savings and loan. We chronicled its rapid descent into oblivion, after decades of careful, thrifty management, by gambling the business' future on making risky loans to shady characters.

Some things never change, right?

It's interesting to note that after the two top officers of the savings and loan were convicted in federal charges of bank fraud and a judge commuted nearly all of their prison sentences because they'd politely agreed to plead no contest and avoid a lengthy trial, the astonishing slap on the wrist didn't go unnoticed.

An editorial in the Chicago Tribune titled "Justice, as imposed in two cases," compared the $2 million in misappropriated funds by the savings and loan officers with the sentence given to a man who robbed a bus driver of $13.

The robber was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison and went to jail for at least four years before he could apply for parole.

In the Marshall Savings and Loan case, the federal prosecutor urged a harsh sentence to send a message to others in the banking industry who would be "watching to see what would happen if they steal this much money."

Stealing $13 got one man years in prison. Stealing $2 million got a relative pass.

Readers were "invited to draw their own conclusions."

The prosecutor was perceptive enough to understand and likely might have predicted that decades in the future, bankers engaged in all manner of behavior that had the effect of crashing the worldwide economy and ruining people's lives would still not see the inside of a jail cell.

At any rate, thanks for indulging us for the past five week. It's a story – and if you haven't read it, you can find links to all five parts by clicking here – that first surfaced in 2011 in the form of an envelope of photos that Berwyn resident Liz Faron bought at an estate sale in Cicero.

She shared them with the Landmark, along with a photocopy of a newspaper ad from 1963 announcing Marshall Savings' "100 Million Dollar-versary." That was it. But without those photos (and then several more Faron subsequently obtained online) the story of Marshall Savings might have disappeared altogether in the mists of time.

It was such an unsavory episode that within a decade of the S&L's downfall, evidence of its existence had melted away. Principal actors moved away and the S&L itself literally was shrouded from its past in a pall of brown brick.

So, a huge thank you to Liz Faron for sharing the photos (and many other souvenirs from the S&L and the Sahara North) and to all of those – especially family members Hank Moravec III and Phil Mercurio – who responded graciously to messages from a distant reporter laden with odd and surely uncomfortable inquiries about their families.

And, of course, thanks to those who were there – the late Vic Damone and late Harry Volkman, Shecky Greene, Judy Zack and Art Bilek. We're also grateful for the dogged reporting of the Chicago Tribune's Robert Wiedrich, with whom we connected very briefly prior to his death.

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