This article was last modified on June 22, 2015.

George Harrison Sprague, Milwaukee’s Controversial Cop

Due to circumstantial connections later in his career, Milwaukee officer George Sprague was thought to be corrupted by Frank Balistrieri and the Mafia. Whether or not this was true can not be determined, but let’s look at Sprague’s life, which was interesting and controversial in other ways.

born September 11, 1915 in Duluth, Minnesota to Oscar Lyman Sprague and the former Josephine Thompson. He was of Irish, English, Scotch and Norwegian heritage. Oscar Sprague had been a Jackson County, Wisconsin native and was a lifelong railroad employee, primarily working as a switchman.

As a child, George moved between St. Paul, Minnesota and Fort Wayne, Gary and Hammond, Indiana. The Sprague family settled in Milwaukee in 1924. Once in Milwaukee, George attended Longfellow School until 1930, transferring to South Division High School. He graduated from there in 1934, with a focus on history. While in high school, he was arrested once in October 1933 but had the charge dismissed by Judge Braun. (What exactly it was is not known.)

George briefly worked for the Meredith Constuction Company from June 1, 1934 through June 30. The next day, he began working for the Luick Ice Cream Company (505 East Capitol Drive) and stayed there until September 1. Apparently unemployed for a few months, he took up work with the Gugler Lithographic Company (2410 West National) from March 16, 1935 through January 15, 1936.

married Dorothy Frank, the daughter of Herman Lawrence Frank (a railroad conductor) and Alvina M. Frank.

lived at 1041 South 94th Street in 1940. Living at 1041A was German-born butcher Paul Udhardt.

From 1936 through 1942, Sprague was a machinist at Allis-Chalmers earning $2600 per year. In 1942, he joined the Milwaukee Police Department as a patrolman earning $3000 per year. This was briefly broken up by a military enlistment on April 19, 1945. In 1945, he studied criminal investigation at the US Army Criminal Investigators School at Camp Bullis, Texas (near San Antonio). With the war over, he was discharged on September 23, 1946 from Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Despite his short time in the military, he served seven months and ten days in the Pacific Theater and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Theater Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and Army of Occupation Medal. In 1949, he was promoted to sergeant and his pay was increased to $4860 per year.

Milwaukee Police Chief John Polcyn said on November 18, 1949 that John “Blackie” Sullivan had pointed to a photo of his assailant in a rogues gallery album, and Polcyn asked District Attorney McCauley for a warrant against a Chicago tavern keeper. The next day, Sullivan denied that he ever named or pointed to anybody. Sullivan told the press, “I’ve never met Polcyn and I haven’t seen (Detective Captain Adolph) Kraemer since a year ago. Polcyn sent a guy named (George) Sprague to see me but I gave him a lot of air.”

lived at 324 North Pinecrest Street from 1952-1967

Sprague was nominated to attend the FBI’s National Academy by Chief Polcyn on April 24, 1952. After an examination by the Milwaukee FBI Field Office, they recommended Sprague to Director Hoover on May 6. The investigation was expedited because two National Academy graduates, Joseph Poshepny and Frank Doyle, had retired and this left Milwaukee with zero. He started on August 25 and graduated from there in November 1952 with an overall rating of 97%. He excelled at Hip Shooting (90%), Fingerprint Identification (99%), Shotgun (90%), Machine Gun (100%) and Pistol (90%). He lagged slightly with the Model 81 Rifle (84%). On November 10, 1952, Special Agent E. Fleming Mason sent a memo to Assistant Director Hugh “Troutmouth” Clegg describing Sprague:

He dresses in very good taste, and is very good looking. He is aggressive and well informed. He seems to resent discipline, but was entirely co-operative throughout the course… He has a slight tendency to be aloof… He indicated that he had great ability to intelligently absorb law enforcement training and made class speech of a very realistic nature wherein he suggested to his classmates that they eliminate from their profession any thieves, drunkards or otherwise misfits in hoping for a professional status in law enforcement. This man possesses above average intelligence, is highly trained, well rounded and informed in police fields… While using firearms he demonstrated a cool, well poised demeanor.

Following his FBI training, Sprague was visited by Milwaukee Special Agent Joseph W. Kriofske on November 25 and then treated to lunch by Special Agent in Charge R. L. Murphy on December 2.

Around November 1953, Sprague was promoted to Lieutenant. He was assigned to the Milwaukee Police Training School under the supervision of Deputy Inspector Raymond A. Dahl and Captain George Fuhr, both of whom were FBI National Academy graduates.

On January 6, 1956, Sprague was promoted to captain. He was the assistant director of the Training and Special Service Division of the police department, under Deputy Inspector Raymond A. Dahl. At this time, Sprague was to take over for Dahl, who would move to Civil Defense and Disaster Control in a full-time capacity.

On February 17, 1956, Sprague asked the FBI if they knew where to get “overlays”, a sort of plastic mask that would distort a person’s identity. He felt these overlays would be useful for training in regards to identification of suspects. The Bureau said it did not know anything about such things.

On March 4, 1959 he endured whiplash as his car was rear-ended at 6th and Wells. The disability was not granted until June 20, 1967 — when Sprague was serving as the pension board’s president.

On September 8, 1966, the Police and Fire Commission ordered the police to stop indiscriminately taking photos of Vietnam War protesters. Rev. Ensworth Reisner and labor leader Jacob F. Friedrick had complained, with Friedrick saying he might be standing next to a Communist in a photo and not know it, but still be considered suspicious because of this falsely assumed connection. Reisner spoke out against Captain Sprague for his treatment of protestors, including two students arrested on Memorial Day for distributing anti-war literature. Chief Breier told the Commission that Reisner was “harassing” the police, but the Commission apparently did not see it that way.

Early May 1967, Sprague was appointed the chairman of Committee on Police Support (COPS), a John Birch Society front group.

On May 22, it became public that Sprague had written letters to area clergymen asking them not to attend court hearings for Father James Groppi and Rev. Lucius Walker, who were on trial for disorderly conduct. The letters were sent as the chairman of COPS.

Chief Breier relieved Sprague of his duties as the 5th District commander on May 24, 1967, citing his troubles with civil rights leaders. Further, Sprague had only worked one day since April 13, using up his sick leave. Sprague was replaced by Captain Arnold Kramer and was put into an administrative position.

On Monday, May 29, 1967, Sprague was expected to talk to 8th grade students at Shorewood High School. Instead, in his place, Assemblyman George H. Klicka and failed Republican candidate Robert Taylor showed up and screened a film strip called “Civil Rights USA”. The film told the students such things as “police brutality was a Communist cliche” and that the Watts riot in Los Angeles was caused by “Communist agitators, dupes and fellow travelers”. The “Mexicans, Jews and Chinese” were living happily. Taylor told the children, “Wherever you have civil rights, you have a Communist trying to get in. These civil rights groups are nothing but hate groups. A child at the Freedom House of Father Groppi picks up more in two months than can be corrected in the home in six months.” John H. Zweck told the media he was not aware there would be a change of speaker and he said he felt used.

Retired June 1967. Sprague said he retired because he was “sick and tired of the harassment by Father Groppi and the rest of his clan.” Sprague said he was “completely opposed to marches” because the protesters were “wearing out” the police and “glorifying” the priest.

On July 14, Sprague wrote to the FBI to inform them of his retirement. He explained his successes with the Professional Policeman’s Protective Association, in particular a state law giving officers the right to negotiate wages and hours with the municipal employer. Sprague said that through “this legislation wein Milwaukee were able to bargain with the City and obtain substantial wage increases and to set up a city financed educational program at the college level.” Annual salaries for patrolmen went from $8700 to $9200. Sprague noted, “I thought you might be interested in a story on this for your monthly publication.”

Captain Sprague was named the police chief in Chicago Heights, Illinois around December 11, 1967 with his new position to start on the first of the year. He was chosen for the $15,000 post by the Chicago Heights City Council. Sprague had been on a disability pension from Milwaukee because of a back injury, receiving 55% of his former pay, plus $40 per month for his 11-year old daughter Joan. “I don’t know how he can take a full time police job and receive a duty disability pension from Milwaukee,” said Milton McGuire of the policemen’s annuity and benefit fund. John Dolan of the pension board chimed in, “As far as the board is concerned, as far as the records show and as far as the doctors say, he’s disabled. I don’t know what we can do as of now.” Sprague had also come under fire from the black community for racial insensitivity and had been singled out by black ministers.

On December 16, during the lunch hour, Captain Sprague met with Frank Balistrieri and Augie Collura at the Golden Ox Restaurant in Milwaukee. An FBI agent watched them from 12:20pm until 1:10pm, and saw them drinking, talking and ordering lunch. The conversation was hard to hear, other than Sprague talking about a recent game between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams. An informant believed that Collura was going to move to Chicago Heights and be the go-between for Sprague and the Outfit. (Sprague would step down a year later and be replaced by Henry Pilotto, brother of Chicago Heights LCN member — and future boss — Al Pilotto. Sprague’s tenure was seen by some informants as allowing the Outfit to conduct their business, particularly gambling. Other informants believed he was trying to reduce Outfit control over his officers. There seems to be no clear evidence either way.)

On January 2, 1968, Chief Sprague called the Chicago FBI office to inform them he had assumed command in Chicago Heights and had been a National Academy graduate. Sprague said one of his “first orders of business” was to meet Special Agent in Charge Marlin Johnson, and he was told that could be arranged.

Milwaukee’s FBI Field Office sent an update on Sprague to Headquarters on January 5. He had sudden;y become of interest due to allegations he had hoodlum connections and also for his involvement with the John Birch Society. Said the memo, “He is not well regarded by National Academy personnel generally and is likewise not held in high esteem by the majority of the law enforcement element in the Milwaukee area… Sprague has also been quoted in the local press as stating he did not think any young man should consider law enforcement as a desirable career… it is recommended Chicago (FBI) deal circumspectly with Sprague.”

The February 1968 issue of American Opinion, a John Birch Society publication, had author Gary Allen quoting Sprague on Father James Groppi. “Father Groppi is a fraud,” Sprague said. “He claims tremendous local support, but most of it is paid for by the federal government through the YOB (youth opportunity board)… Father Groppi kept predicting a riot and in order to make his predictions come true, he had to promote a riot… Groppi and his commandos created the emotional and psychological atmosphere that led to the riot.” These words were reprinted in a pamphlet by the Committee On Police Support (COPS) and mailed to Milwaukee police officers by COPS co-chairman Mrs. William Kerner.

Around May 1, 1968 (exact date unknown), WMVS-TV aired an educational program on the “inner city” and did a segment on police and community relations. This sparked a letter from Mr. William Kerner, co-chair of COPS, saying the presentation was one-sided and that members of her organization should be allowed to present their views. She suggested Chief Sprague as a guest, as well as Assemblymen George H. Klicka and Kenneth J. Merkel, both known Birch Society members. Otto Schlaak, station manager, said he would “give their request every consideration.”

On October 24, 1968, the Professional Policeman’s Protective Association voted 5-3 to hire Sprague as the association’s first full-time executive secretary at a salary of $11,000 per year. The decision had to be approved by a simple majority of the association’s 1800 members. Those applying for the job other than Sprague included attorney Gerald P. Boyle (a former deputy district attorney) and former patrolman Thaddeus J. Makowski, who was on disability. When the vote came down, Sprague was rejected 661-585.

On January 8, 1969, Sprague submitted a letter to Chicago Heights Police Commissioner William Schramm saying he would retire in the next month. He noted that in spite of recruitment efforts and new police procedures he implemented, “I have been called a Prussian general, a high priced chief of police, uncooperative with political ideas.” He was accused of misusing city vehicles and “a number of other personal attacks by city leaders.”

Sprague submitted his resignation as chief of police for Chicago Heights, effective February 27, 1969.

By 1979, Sprague had moved to Humbird, Wisconsin, a very small community in the west central part of the state. Humbird has a population of under 300 residents and is only about one square mile in size. On November 15, Sprague wrote the FBI, letting them know that the post office had not forwarded any of his mail from the Bureau to his new address. He was hoping they could help. There is nothing in his file to indicate if they responded or in any way helped him get his mail.

Sprague passed away December 15, 2003 at age 88 in the suburb of Oak Creek. He was buried in Arlington Park Cemetery, Greenfield. Two daughters survived him, and his wife Dorothy passed on the following year.

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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