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In 1932, Joseph Majczek had the worst day of his life. He and his friend (Ted Marcinkiewicz) were wrongfully convicted of killing policeman William Lundy, and Majczek was sentenced to 99 years in prison. His story and the search for the truth is what inspired Call Northside 777.
After her son was sent to prison, Tillie Majczek (renamed "Tillie Wiecek" in the film) never gave up on him. Rather, she worked as a scrubwoman to earn enough money so that she could offer a reward to anyone who could help catch the real criminals. Her classified ad on October 10, 1944 read:
“$5,000 Reward for killers of Officer Lundy on December 9, 1932. Call GRO-1758, 12-7 p.m.”
That ad was brought to the attention of Chicago Times reporter James McGuire (played by James Stewart).
As depicted in Call Northside 777, Majczek’s conviction hinged on the supposed eye-witness testimony of Vera Walush, the owner of the delicatessen where the officer was killed.
“Those two guys . . . they were right in my face,” she said under oath, as she identified Majczek as one of the killers.
While the jury relied on her statements in reaching their verdict, they weren't privy to other details which would have immediately called into question Walush’s account. For instance, she first told the authorities that she couldn’t identify the killers. Then later, she failed to identify Majczek two times when he appeared in police lineups. It wasn’t until she was threatened by the police for running a speakeasy in her delicatessen that she finally fingered Majczek.
Later, when the presiding judge was informed by a detective that Majczek had been set up, the Honorable Charles P. Molthrop advocated for a new trial and accused Walush of perjury. However, when a prosecutor threatened the judge's career, he stopped pushing the envelope.
Thanks to the work of reporter James McGuire and copyrighter Jack McPhaul, Majczek got another chance. They presented the additional evidence to the Illinois Department of Corrections, and on August 14, 1945, Majczek was once again a free man. For serving eleven years, he was given $24 thousand and a new suit.
Ted Marcinkiewicz, who was also wrongfully convicted, was freed five years later.