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In 1932, Joseph Majczek had the worst day of his life. He was wrongfully convicted of killing policeman William Lundy, despite his unwavering stance that he was innocent, and 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 and saved enough money for a reward for catching the true culprits. 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.”
The ad came to the attention of Chicago Time reporter James McGuire (whom James Stewart would portray, though he was renamed P.J. McNeal).
As depicted in Call Northside 777, Majczek’s conviction was based on the testimony of Vera Walush, owner of the delicatessen where the officer was killed.
“Those two guys . . . they were right in my face,” she said under oath.
But the jury wasn’t privy to other details which would have immediately called into question Walush’s account. For one, she first told the authorities that she couldn’t identify the killers. Secondly, she twice passed over Majczek’s when he was placed in a line-up (a result of him being on probation for stealing $2 in a neighborhood robbery). Finally, it wasn’t until she was threatened by the police for being charged of running a speakeasy out of her delicatessen that she 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 his career, the judge stopped pushing the envelope.
However, 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 finally a free man. For serving eleven years, he was given $24 thousand and a new suit.
Ted Marcinkiewicz, who was also innocent yet convicted of the crime, was freed five years later.