Patrick Eugene Prendergast

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Patrick Eugene Joseph Prendergast
Patrick Prendergast.jpg
Born (1868-04-18)April 18, 1868
Died July 13, 1894(1894-07-13) (aged 26)
Chicago, Illinois
Occupation Newspaper distributor
Criminal penalty
Death by hanging
Criminal status Deceased
Conviction(s) Murder

Patrick Eugene Joseph Prendergast (April 18, 1868 – July 13, 1894) was the assassin of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr.

Early life[edit]

Prendergast was born in Ireland. His grandfather was reported to have died insane while his mother had "repeated attacks of hysterics" and his father died of consumption .[1] At the age of four, Prendergast was reported to have suffered a severe head injury from a fall, from which he was unconscious for a long period of time and suffered vomiting for four weeks after.[1] He was described as a peculiar child, solitary, irritable and excitable, with a poor memory who did poorly in school.[1] He left home at 16 because of imaginary persecution and by 18 had developed grandiose ideas of his capabilities and became a fanatic for the single-tax promoted by Henry George.[1]


Prendergast became a newspaper distributor in Chicago, where he lobbied for improvements in Chicago's railroad grade crossings, which he saw as a danger to the public. In 1893, he supported Harrison's reelection campaign under the delusion that if Harrison won the election, Prendergast would receive an appointment as Corporation Counsel.[2]


When the appointment did not come, Prendergast visited Harrison at his home on October 28, 1893, admitted by a maid who went to wake the mayor.[3] As Harrison was leaving the room where he had been sleeping, Prendergast approached and shot the mayor three times with a .38 revolver[3] and escaped, firing once at a coachman whom he encountered.[3] Harrison did not know who Prendergast was.

Prendergast surrendered at Des Plaines Street police station thirty minutes later.[3] He still had the gun in his possession.[3] When interviewed by police, he gave varying stories as to his motive, including the failed appointment and the mayor's failure to elevate train track crossings. The smell of burned powder and empty chambers reaffirmed the police department of his actions.[3]

In his first trial, Prendergast's attorney tried to have him found insane. Several doctors testified that while Prendergast was paranoid, he knew right from wrong and was capable of standing trial for the murder.[2] Clarence Darrow later won a hearing on Prendergast's sanity, but it also failed. Prendergast was hanged on July 13, 1894[2] in Chicago.[4]

Media depictions[edit]

On occasion, Prendergast has been represented in film or fiction. In the 1991 made-for-TV movie Darrow, he was portrayed by New York-born actor Paul Klementowicz. Prendergast's story is one of the sub-plots in Erik Larson's book The Devil in the White City.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Medical Society of the State of New York (1807–) (1895, Digitized Jun 21, 2007). Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of New York. Harvard University.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ a b c "1893: Mayor Carter Harrison". Homicide in Chicago 1870–1930. Northwestern University. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Assassinated; Carter H. Harrison, Mayor of Chicago, Killed. Murderer in Custody". The New York Times. October 29, 1893. 
  4. ^ Chautauqua Institution (April–September 1894). "Summary of Important News for July 1894". The Chautauquan. p. 770.