Tag Archives: crime

Ravenswood Hospital

Photo (source): Ravenswood Hospital as it appeared in 1945.

The American healthcare system is for profit. American citizens’ health, safety, and well-being are managed by large companies looking to stay in the black. The other democracies and various forms of government in industrialized nations have recognized the danger that this poses to general public. While private medical care still thrives in these countries, there is at least a public healthcare plan to insure that all citizens have a safety net. The United States is the only country where citizens decide between health and crushing debt, even if they have insurance. These medical bills often go unpaid as patients hover around bankruptcy or simply do not have the means to pay them. Despite the inability of patients to pay, healthcare providers are required by federal law to treat patients. To stay financially competitive healthcare providers seek to mitigate their risk and cut costs wherever possible.

For one Chicago youth those risk-averse penny-pinching measures hastened his untimely death.


Photo: The Adler Pavilion portion of Ravenswood Hospital.

While playing basketball on North Wolcott Avenue, Christopher Sercye, age 15, was shot twice in the abdomen by gang members on Saturday May 16, 1998 around 6pm. His panic-stricken friends dragged Christopher about 100 yards to the ramp outside the emergency room of the nearby privately-owned Ravenswood Hospital before collapsing. Some reports say the injured teen was within 30 feet of the door, while others say he was 50 feet. In any case the teen was well within view of hospital staff. The first of five separate phone calls to emergency services came in at 6:15pm.

One friend ran inside the hospital and got two police officers to rush to Christopher’s aid. The officers and witnesses begged hospital staff to assist, but they demurred citing hospital policy that forbid them to exit the building. The officers on scene were also bound by protocol to not move injured people and wait for paramedics. At 6:23pm  a request for an ambulance went out over police radio. Ignoring protocol one of the officers finally commandeered a wheelchair and rushed Christopher into the emergency room with a barely detectable pulse.


Photo: EKG readings from a patient file left in the hospital.

An ambulance finally arrived on scene at 6:29pm, but left after seeing Christopher being wheeled into the hospital. Emergency Room staff began administering treatment immediately. Two minutes later Christopher suffered cardiac arrest. Doctors discovered that the bullets punctured Christopher’s aorta, mesenteric vein, and colon. Christopher was pronounced dead at 7:33pm.

Prime suspect Aureliano Fajardo was arrested the next day. Two other accomplices, Salvador Aguilar and Lionel Duran, were also arrested in connection with the murder. Fajardo and Aguilar were kept on $1 million bond, while Duran was kept on $500,000 while charged with first-degree murder.

Two days after the shooting Ravenswood president and CEO John E. Blair rescinded the policy preventing hospital staff from exiting the building. In response to Christopher’s death Blair stated, “Above all, I want to make sure that if a tragedy like this ever occurs again, we have a different result. Media reports of the tragedy of Christopher’s death garnered national outrage. President Clinton threatened to revoke the $59 million annual Medicare funding for the hospital, but was later overruled by the Health Care Financing Administration.

Those who remember 8th grader Christopher Sercye described him as a leader with sense of humor. His family filed a lawsuit against Ravenswood Hospital later that year. In 2003 the courts ruled in favor of the family and awarded them $12.5 million for the wrongful death. That same year the “250 Yard Rule” was amended to the EMTALA law. The rule states that healthcare providers are required to respond to any “presentation” warranting medical assistance within 250 yards of the main hospital campus building.

Go to the Light

Photo: A hospital bed takes up a majority of floorspace in this cramped patient room.

Ravenswood Hospital had long been a pillar of the north side Chicago community before being embroiled in controversy. The original hospital was built in 1907, but by the 1990s had expanded to meet community demands. The hospital had just under one thousand beds at its apex. It also included ambulatory care, a psychiatric unit, rehabilitation, oncology, coronary care, trauma ward, nursing school and student residence on site the 7.5 acre site.

The hospital fell on hard times during the 1990’s as HMOs, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid began cutting costs wherever they could. Advocate Health Care purchased the flailing hospital in 1998 much to the chagrin of community members and hospital staff. Blair, the hospital president and CEO who had weathered the Christopher Sercye debacle, said “In the weeks to come we hope everyone will agree that this move has great potential for employees and will enhance our ability to serve the community.” Almost immediately Advocate began consolidating medical services with other are hospitals it owned. Despite the drastic cuts the hospital managed to operate at a $35 million loss in 2001 alone. Ravenswood’s closing could not have come at a worse time as a number of historic Chicago area hospitals, such as Edgewater, were closing their doors. When Advocate finally sold the hospital they salted the earth by including a non-compete clause forbidding new owners to operate a medical facilty.


Photo: An X-Ray machine on the top floor scorched by fire.

A majority of the hospital was closed off while other parts were rented to various tenants. Ravenswood may limp along until its ultimate demise, but its death makes way for new life. Private school Lycée Français de Chicago  plans on demolishing the entire complex in 2013 to make way for a new building. If the school is able to raise the necessary funds they will occupy their new home by 2015.

There are currently 50 million Americans who do not have health insurance coverage. Even those who are insured risk being dropped by insurance companies should they incur medical bills. As Americans we pay not only a financial cost, but also a social cost (PDF) when profit is placed over health and well-being.


Ain’t No Way To Go – Article on Christopher Sercye’s tragic death.

Answers – Discusses the hospital closure in 2002.

Center Square Journal – Lycee Francais de Chicago will demolish the site in 2013.

Chicago Reader – Controversy over the Ravenswood Hospital closing.

Chicago Reader – Controversy over Advocate Health Care’s takeover of the hospital

Chicago Talks – Financial stress ultimately leads to the hospital closing.

Chicago Tribune – 1998 article on Medicare funding for the hospital.

Chicago Tribune – 1998 report of the crime and subsequent arrests.

Chicago Tribune – 1998 article mentions Christopher Sercye’s funeral.

Chicago Tribune – 2001 article about Fajardo committing murder behind bars.

Curbed Chicago – Architect mockup of what the Lycee Francais de Chicago building would look like.

emtala.org – Explains the EMTALA 250 Yard Rule.

Flickr – Nitram242’s Chicago Hospital Closure set.

Google Books – Jet article states that Christopher Sercye was shot in the heart.

Hospital Data – Statistics for the facility.

New York Times – Mentions Christopher Sercye being dragged “within 30 feet” of the hospital.

Power Rogers & Smith – Lists the 2003 $12.5 million settlement for Christopher Sercye’s wrongful death.

Scribd – Lycee Francais site survey from 2007.

Slate – Opinion piece about the policies that led to Christopher Sercye’s death.

Sun-Sentinel – 1998 article on Christopher Sercye’s death.

USA Today – Settlement announcement for Christopher Sercye’s death.

Wikipedia – Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act

YouTube – Video shot in the hallways.

YouTube – Hospital closing reaction video.


American Urbex Podcast E.09 – Edgewater Medical Center

This week the American Urbex Podcast delves into one of the biggest cases of Medicare fraud in US history.

Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes.

Edgewater Medical Center article on American Urbex

Edgewater Medical Center on Flickr

American Urbex Group on Flickr

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American Urbex on Twitter

Mike Tyson Mansion

Team Tyson

Photo: The Tyson emblem on the basketball court on the property.

Southington, Ohio is one of those places where everything a small American community needs is on one corner. The US Post Office, fire department, county clerk, church and convenience store are all within plain view of each other. When I pulled into Southington with an out of state license plate, one of the locals came by to greet me. Doug and I struck up a conversation and he told me all about Southington’s history as I ate lunch. In the 1970’s he and others from the area tried to set a Guinness World Record by playing basketball for 60 hours continuously. Graduates from the high school each receive $5 from a trust fund set up in the early 1900’s. Mike Tyson once owned a mansion not far up the road, too. I only pretended to be surprised about that last bit of information that Doug shared with me. In reality, the mansion is what I set out to see in the first place. After a solid 20 minutes of small talk I told him I was going to hike around Southington and snap some pictures.


Photo: Staircase by the main entrance.

About a mile just north of the main intersection of the rural community is a large estate surrounded by overgrowth. An iron gate over the driveway bears the name of one of the most famous pugilists in history. Mike Tyson was a world champion boxer that electrified the sport. Within just three years of his professional debut at the age of 18 in 1985, Tyson’s career trajectory rocketed him to the top of the boxing world by 1988.

In 1980 Trumbull county commissioner Ted Vannelli helped himself to county funds to develop his home on an 50+ acre parcel of land in Southington. Authorities eventually caught wind of Vannelli’s impropriety and foreclosed on the mansion. Although the young boxer was flush with cash Tyson was able to purchase the Southington mansion for the rather thrifty sum of $300,000 at a sheriff auction. At the height of his boxing career, Tyson occupied the spacious home when training for fights at Don King’s facility in nearby Orwell.


Photo (source): The main living room of the gaudy mansion.

The luxurious mansion features five bedrooms, several spacious living quarters, seven and a half bathrooms, a full kitchen, a mini-kitchen/washroom, two attached garages, one external garage, full size pool and jacuzzi, tiger cages and basketball court. Tyson’s design choices included gold trim, zebra print carpet, and everything else you could imagine that was tacky for interior designs in 1989. Tyson would not enjoy his dwelling for too long before running afoul of the law.

Large sums of money, raw physical power, and a cast of shady characters surrounding the boxer may have been a corrupting influence. Tyson was taken into custody in 1991 on allegations of raping Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room. In 1992 a jury deliberated for ten hours before finding him guilty. The ruling committed Tyson to a six year prison sentence with four years of parole. In 1995 Tyson was granted parole and released from prison.

Tyson returned to the tranquil rural Southington community to find respite, but the media fanfare followed him. With his future boxing career in question and financial situation in dire straits Tyson puts the mansion on the real estate market. Four years later in 1999 a marketer named Paul Monea purchases the property for the sum of $1.3 million.

Mike Tyson Mansion

Photo: Living area next to the front door.

Monea isn’t a household name, but those who remember the Tae Bo fitness craze are familiar with his product. Undercover FBI agents set their sights on Monea when he tried sell the mansion along with the rare 43-carat yellow “Golden Eye” diamond in 2006. How Monea came into possession of the exquisitely rare diamond is not quite certain. What is certain, according to a Justice Department grand jury indictment filing, is that Monea and an accomplice conspired to conduct the transaction with drug dealers. Those drug dealers were in fact part of a cover story the FBI carefully crafted. For his crimes Monea was ordered to surrender the diamond, the mansion and $100,000. The Monea Family Trust tried to recover the diamond through legal means, but were subsequently denied in 2010. With all the other spurious ownership claims settled the government will auction off the exquisite Golden Eye diamond in September 2011.

Businessman Ron Hemelgarn placed the only bid when the mansion went up again in a sheriff auction on October 22, 2010. For $600,000 and $360,604.66 in back taxes Hemelgarn is now the legitimate owner of the former Tyson mansion. Because Hemelgarn originally held a $600,000 lien against the property at the time of sale, the money from the purchase price returns to him. The final figure means that Hemelgarn spent not much more than what Tyson did for the same property two decades earlier.

Have a Seat

Photo: One of the few remaining furniture pieces. This one is quite elegant.

Not long after Hemelgarn took ownership he hired someone to do work on the property. Local authorities used to being summoned to the location for reports of trespassing must have been surprised to discover someone there legally. Within that timeframe Hemelgarn had much of the ugly furniture, horrendous carpet, and other home fixtures removed. Exposed carpet nails, a few ancient appliances, and heavier objects are all that remain behind. The bathrooms reek of foulness trapped by the lack of running water. A few miscreant explorers have found it necessary to mark their presence with spray paint. A throng of algae thrives at the lowest point of the mostly empty pool.

News of the nary occupied mansion first broke on the internet a few years ago after Monea was captured by the feds. Information from the site Illicit Ohio and photos Mike Adam’s Flickr set spread rapidly through internet content sources. Comparing my photos to that of explorers past, it is clear Hemelgarn is intent on doing something positive with the property. He may have a difficult time, however, breaking the stigma attached to the history of the property. Just like the Willis Tower in Chicago will always be the Sears Tower in the minds of a certain segment of the population, so too will this mansion be indelibly marked as the Tyson mansion despite whoever owns it.


Photo: Diving board next to the massive indoor pool. Notice the green water.

There are few urbex locations that I visit that are actually rehabilitated after an extended dormant period. It is sad to see the Tyson mansion fall off the list of possible shooting locations for urban explorers. It is important though, that we appreciate a location for what it is in the time and space that it does exist.

When I set out to fundraise for this trip I set the Tyson mansion as a general goal in my head. I’m glad to report that the gamble to drive to a remote location with a minimal amount of location information was a success. Thanks again to all of you who made this possible. Thanks also, to the brave explorers in whose footsteps I travel.


CantonRep – Article about the Golden Eye diamond.

Cleveland.com – The Golden Eye diamond will go up for auction in September.

Clevescene – Article about Monea’s shady business dealings.

Danny Wills – Gallery #1 and #2 of the decor within the mansion in August 2008.

FindLaw – US v. Monea Family Trust ruling in the 6th Circuit Court.

Flickr – Mike Adams excellent set of the mansion.

Flickr – My Mike Tyson Mansion set of photos.

Galivantin’ in Ohio – Timeline of the mansion history.

Illicit Ohio – Details of one urbex photographer’s journey and research on the mansion.

People Magazine – 1995 article mentions the Southington mansion.

Property Pursuit – Lists the real estate details for potential buyers.

Time – 1999 article that mentions Paul Monea in unflattering terms.

Trib Today – Police catch three trespassers on the property.

Trib Today – Ownership transferred to Ron Hamelgarn in 2010.

US District Court (PDF) – Indictment of Paul Monea that mentions the manson.

Wikipedia – Entry for boxer Mike Tyson.

WKBN – Police respond to reports of trespassing.

The Purple Hotel

Purple Hotel

Photo: You can’t miss the regal facade of this building driving on Touhy Avenue.

According to one Chicago area native, the construction crew of the 293 room Lincolnwood Hyatt House were supposed to receive a shipment of blue bricks for the building facade. It isn’t clear if  a communication or manufacturing error is to blame for the royal purple hue of the bricks, but Hyatt continued construction in spite of the error. Thus, an eccentric Chicago north-side suburb hotspot was born. Although the lodging operated under the Hyatt, Ramada, and Regency banners throughout the years locals colloquially dubbed it “The Purple Hotel.”

Take a Seat

Photo:  Law books adorn the shelves of TJ’s restaurant connected to the hotel.

In the early the early years the hotel enjoyed a certain level of grandeur. In the 1960’s and 70’s the hotel was a swinging Chicago hotspot. Famous musicians such as Barry Manilow, Roberta Flack, and Perry Como stayed in the hotel when in the Chicago area. The high times came to a screeching halt in 1983 when Teamster Allen Dorfman was murdered in the parking lot. Dorfman had been convicted of conspiring to bribe a US senator and faced up to 55 years in prison. When walking through the parking lot Dorfman was shot eight times with a .22 calibre pistol. FBI wiretaps revealed that the Chicago Mafia may have been connected to the execution style murder. Officials speculate that Dorfman was killed out of fear that he would divulge information from his 30 years of ties with organized crime figures. To date the case is still unsolved and whomever is responsible is still on the loose. The same year the head of Gerber Plumbing, Oscar Gerber, was also murdered at the hotel. A disturbed employee believed he was going to be fired and took Oscar’s life into his own hands.

In 1984 limousine driver George Koehler was standing at O’Hare airport waiting for his fare. After most of the passengers from the flight filed out of the airport Koehler asked the pilots if anyone remained on the plane. The pilots informed Koehler that one more person remained and would be coming shortly. Once the passenger arrived, Koehler ferried the young basketball player who had never been to Chicago before to the purple Lincolnwood Hyatt House. According to ESPN, Koehler and Michael Jordan remain friends to this day.

Growth Potential

Photo: Swim at your own risk.

After more than 40 years in operation the hotel was taken over in late 2004 by Village Resorts, Inc.,  which officially christened the building with its affectionate “The Purple Hotel” moniker. Under new management the hotel boasted of its modernity.

We feature fully renovated and tastefully furnished guest rooms. To ensure that you are completely comfortable, each guest room is spacious and provides a number of amenities to meet the needs of today’s traveler. All rooms have an oversized work desk, two dual-line telephones with data port and voicemail,and state-of-the-art electronic key security system.

Despite efforts to cater to to a certain business clientele, the hotel was synonymous with sleaze. Police were frequently summoned to the hotel for drug and prostitution related offenses. In the May 7, 2008 edition of the Sun-Times the paper notes that the hotel relied on conventions such as the Midwest Fetish Fair & Marketplace for business. The hotel is split into three separate towers and management knowingly tried to segregate known sex parties from the rest of the hotel guests. One news clipping from as far back as 1989 mentions Opposite Sex, Inc. giving several “Meet, Match, Mate” seminars at the hotel.

Village Resorts President Donald Bae positioned Stefanie Bae as hotel manager. In 2005 Stefanie wrote a ringer review for the hotel on the Yahoo! Travel page.

The Purple Hotel had the most friendliest and helpful staff. The food was amazing….and They have a Sunday Brunch that is to DIE for. The rooms were very clean and cozy, excellent value for your money. It is close to everything and they have a sandvolleyball court!!! They have the best steaks in the world!

Grammar and punctuation errors aside, Stefanie may have had a prophetic moment when using the past tense in claiming the “Purple Hotel had the most friendliest and helpful staff.” Acting on complaints by guests, health officials descended upon the hotel in 2006. The inspection led to the discovery of over thirty violations that included a leaking roof, garbage disposal issues, and a failure to exterminate insects and rodents. Of the 293 total guest rooms at the hotel, inspectors sampled 225 for mold. The results did not bode well for Donald Bae as mold was discovered in 208 of these rooms (92.4% of the sample). In September the same year the village of Lincolnwood sued hotel management for failing to fix the myriad of citations. The judge agreed with the village of Lincolnwood and ordered Bae to fix the problems by December. Unable to cover the cost of renovation Bae opted not to fix the issues and in January 2007 a judge ordered the hotel to close. The “most friendliest and helpful staff” suddenly found themselves unemployed.


Photo: The indoor pool is now filled with furniture, glass shards, and dead plants.

Bae attempted to sell the 8.5 acre property in 2008 for the sum of $27 million, but the deal fell through as the real estate market tanked with the economy. In November, 2009 Bae tapped ForeFront Properties LLC to move the site along with two shuttered adjacent commercial properties for $25.8 million. As the property spent months on the real estate market it deteriorated even further. Rather than wait around for Bae on the busy corner of Touhy and North Lincoln Avenue , village officials again took to the courts. If the building is not brought up to code by August 1, 2011 the village has won the right to demolish the purple blemish on their map. The court ruling in Lincolnwood’s favor sticks Bae with the bill for demolition costs. To make matters worse Midwest Bank filed for foreclosure on the property as a $4.2 million loan taken out by Bae has fallen into default. In any case, it looks as though the days for The Purple Hotel are finally numbered.

Home Away From Home

Photo: One of the hotel rooms with mold growing behind the wallpaper.

The Purple Hotel

Photo: Welcome letter from hotel manager Stefanie Bae.

The Purple Hotel

Photo: Main and lower level maps.


ABC – 2007 article that mentions the murder of Oscar Gerber at the hotel.

Chicago Real Estate Daily – 2010 article on Lincolnwood filing a lawsuit agains the Purple Hotel owner.

Chicago Real Estate Daily – 2011 article on the $4.2 million lawsuit filed against the Purple Hotel owner.

Chicago Tribune – 1989 “Meet, Match, Mate” seminars at the hotel.

Chicago Tribune – 2007 article on the closing of the Purple Hotel.

CityNoise – A walk around photo gallery of the abandoned hotel.

Global Traveler Blog – Claims the purple bricks were a mistake.

Google News – 1983 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the Dorfman killing.

Google News – 1983 Pittsburgh Press article on mob ties to Dorfman killing.

Hotel Planner – Has description of hotel services.

Flickr – Martin Gonzalez’ impressive Purple Hotel set.

Flickr – My photo set of The Purple Hotel.

Skokie Patch – Summarizes history of the hotel and redevelopment efforts.

Sun Times – 2011 article that puts an August 1 demolition date on the hotel unless health code violations are fixed.

Yahoo! Travel – Reviews by guests of the Purple Hotel.

Wikipedia – Lincolnwood entry has a bit of Purple Hotel history.

Wikipedia – Allen Dorfman was killed in the parking lot. The crime remains unsolved.