When an attorney is gunned down at a political fundraiser, the evidence points to a local police officer.

Jay Given

Jay never made it out the door

CASE DETAILS

In the blue-collar community of East Chicago, Indiana, everyday life was controlled by the local political machine. One of the city’s most powerful dealmakers was an attorney named Jay Given. He was a master fund-raiser and a clever behind-the-scenes operator who traded on favors to create strong political alliances. Jeffrey Given is Jay’s son:

“My father was intimately familiar with the politicians and the people in power. He knew all the skeletons in their closest, and that makes you very powerful in a town like this.” 

Jay was attending a fundraiser

Given had served as city attorney and helped elect Bob Pastrick as mayor of East Chicago in 1970. But within two years, they had a falling out. According to Jeffrey:

“On a number of issues, my father and Mr. Pastrick split. Obviously, my father’s intentions were starting to turn towards electing somebody else other than Bob Pastrick as mayor.” 

On May 15, 1981, the Elks Club in East Chicago held a Las Vegas-themed fund-raiser for county commissioner N. Atterson Spann. The city’s best-known black politician, Spann was considering a run for mayor against Bob Pastrick. Jay Given attended the fund-raiser. It was seen by many as an attempt to solidify East Chicago’s white and black voters against the growing political strength of Hispanic-Americans, which was a group known to be supporting Bob Pastrick for re-election.

Someone tampered with evidence

Given worked the room for two hours. After saying his good-byes, he headed out of the club but never made it through the front door.  He was shot once in the back of the head at point-blank range and died in the entryway of the Elks Club. Although the murder occurred just a few yards from more than 400 people, no witnesses have ever come forward, and the police have yet to charge a suspect.

On the night of the murder, detectives found a shell casing in the entryway of the club and a spent .45-caliber bullet in the street. Former Inspector of the East Chicago Police Department, Paul DiCharia, was astonished at the remarkable condition of the evidence:

“The projectile came though the frontal part of his forehead, went through the glass doors, hit the brick building across the street, and bounced back into the street. It was in perfect condition with the exception of the nose of the projectile.” 

Inspector DiCharia marked the bullet and locked it in his desk drawer, rather than check it into the evidence vault. According to DiCharia:

“I’ve done it with other evidence. My partner has done it with other evidence.  I just wanted the other teams to look at what we had as far as evidence. I said, ‘This is unbelievable.’”

The murder weapon was a rare handgun

Four days later, the inspector was shocked to discover that the evidence had been tampered with; someone had apparently hoped to prevent investigators from matching the bullet to a gun. Inspector DiCharia said that there was a hole punched through the primer of the shell casing:

“The projectile, someone had taken a sharp instrument and tried to cut the lands and grooves where you couldn’t identify it.” 

The only people with access to the evidence drawer worked in the police department. It looked like an inside job. DiCharia sent the bullet and shell casing to the FBI for analysis.  Despite the damage, they were able to identify the murder weapon as a rare handgun called a Detonics 1911-style Combat Master. The shell casing was eventually linked to one of only 58 Detonics with a specially modified ejecting mechanism.

John Cordona failed a polygraph

One of those guns was traced back to deputy chief John Cardona of the East Chicago Police Department. Cardona had been a member of a Spanish speaking political club that was at odds with Jay Given. Several eyewitnesses placed Cardona at the Elks Club on the night of the shooting. According to Former Special Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Van Bokkelen:

“Mr. Cardona was very active in the Spanish-speaking organization. They were not welcome at this event.  He gave two or three different reasons why he was there based on different conversations. He, at some point in time, acknowledged that he was there to watch Jay Given. Given had made it clear that if his people came in power in the city, there were going to be some changes, and Cardona was one of those changes. Matter of fact, the comment that was used was if he got in, Cardona would be walking the beat.” 

No witnesses saw Cardona when Given headed towards the exit. But one person who was there says that shortly before the shooting he saw Given talking to a man in the lobby.  Investigators believe the man could have been John Cardona. Retired Chief of Police for the East Chicago Police Department, Augusto “Gus” Flores, Jr., said that the description of the man in the lobby from the witness was consistent with Cardona:

“He described the man that was talking with Mr. Given as approximately 6’1″, black, wavy hair, in a bluish gray suit. He went into the washroom. As he was in the washroom, he heard a gunshot. When he came out of the washroom, immediately he saw Mr. Given lying face down on the floor, and the other person was gone.” 

Cardona insists that he was in the Elks Club bar when Given was gunned down. But witnesses seated at the bar who knew Cardona could not place him there.

Everyone in the police department, including Cardona, was asked to take a polygraph test. Cardona failed the test. When he refused to take a second exam, he was dismissed from the police department. Cardona later moved out of state.  All the evidence seems to point to John Cardona as the killer. He fit the description of the man seen talking with Jay Given, and he owned a Detonics handgun, which he claimed had been stolen six months earlier. In addition, Cardona had access to the drawer where the evidence had been kept.

But others questioned whether a case could be made that John Cardona was the killer.  Cardona was well known and easily identified. Yet out of the hundreds of potential witnesses at the fundraising event, not a single person had come forward to testify against him.  According to Prosecutor Bokkelen, that may have been the reason prosecutors never filed charges against Cardona:

“The local prosecutor could not afford to lose this case. He wanted, basically, a tight case, and he didn’t think this case was tight enough.” 

Police believe there are witnesses who haven’t come forward that may help crack this case.  In fact, just before the shooting, five people were coming down the stairway of the Elks Club. Three of them, all men, were near the foot of the steps at the very moment Jay Given was shot. Those three men have never been identified. The police hope that one of them saw the killer and will come forward with information. And Given’s son, Jeffrey, hopes for an indictment:

“I’d like to see a trial. And if John Cardona didn’t do it, then fine. Let’s put it to a jury, and if he didn’t do it in the eyes of the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, there you have it.  Let’s go after whoever did do it.  It’s very frustrating to not have some closure on this.” 


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season six with Robert Stack and in season six with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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3 Comments

  1. Stan

    This actually answered my issue, thank you!

    Reply

  2. Natalia F. C.

    I am ashamed to say there are three unsolved murders in East Chicago. Jay Givens, Henry “Hank” Lopez, and Roseanne Stinson. All three under the mayorship of Robert Pastrick. Givens and Lopez both had a disagreement with the mayor just prior to be murdered. Roseanne, her shooter worked for the city, thus got off without serving any time. There were witnesses, but there testimonials landed on deaf ears and I know of two who have passed away. Pastrick is who you truly need to dig into. His entourage. Follow the money. If they kept his secrets, they are living very comfortably.

    Reply