Clifford G. Roe, Active Public Prosecutor, Pushes Fight on the White Slave Traffic.
The white slave traffic, in one form or another, is older than Babylon, but it has remained for the present age to see any real effort made to combat it. Clifford G. Row, Chicago’s youngest assistant state’s attorney, is one of the latest champions to enter the field, and already he has accomplished much in the way of organizing the forces of society against the evil.
The day of Mr. Roe’s birth he made a speech on the wrongs of infants, and he has continued talking on the rights or wrongs of some one or other ever since. He has ideas of his own, and he has made up his mind that he is going to let the world know about them. So far the world has shown itself fairly willing to listen to him, and has even done him the honor to discuss some of his ideas in a sleepy way, just a little bothered that any one should stir it up so vigorously.
Mr. Roe is 33 years old, and looks five years younger. He is energetic, earnest and has all the enthusiasm of the young man to whom life is bristling with opportunities. In figure he is short and slight, and walks with peculiar springiness, which is in itself typical of the innate energy of the man. His face is mobile and expressive of a quick intelligence, while he is the possessor of an engaging smile which breaks out at unexpected moments.
Character Indicated by Jaw
The most salient feature of the young lawyer’s countenance is his prominent underjaw, which betrays the chief strength and weakness of his character — obstinacy. He has decidedly definite views of right and wrong and clings to his opinions with a tenacity which proves at times somewhat irritating to those who venture to engage him in argument. When he is fighting a losing case in court the jaw becomes particularly prominent and he sticks to his position long after most prosecutors would have felt fully justified in sitting down with a sigh of resignation.
Mr. Roe was born on an Indiana farm, but his parents brought him to Chicago when he was 3 years old and he was educated in the public schools of this city and afterwards took two degrees at the University of Michigan. Always he was the orator of his class and he sedulously cultivated his gift for fluency, perhaps sometimes at the expenses of his classmates. However he made up his mind early that he was going to be either a clergyman or a lawyer, and he went on talking until he had talked down all his opponents and was the champion debater of his school and college.
When the budding lawyer came to Chicago he had neither friends nor money, so he decided to try the west. A few months traveling on the Pacific coast convinced him that opportunity was playing favorites out where the sun sets, and that his home town was good enough for him. So he returned and entered the office of Schuyler F. Lynn, whose partner he became a few months later.
Court Work Given to Him
Fortune was with him, for Mr. Lynn was desirous of relinquishing the arduous court work, and he handed it over to his young partner, giving him an opportunity such as few inexperienced lawyer ever obtain.
Mr. Roe found himself in a rather trying position for so young and inexperienced a man. He was called upon to defend important cases against such well known prosecutors as Judge Olson, then assistant state’s attorney, and Assistant State’s Attorney James Barbour, and he had the signal triumph of winning verdicts in some of his biggest cases. He had one great ally — he was always sure of himself. His early training in the school and college debating societies stood him in good stead and he was marked as a young fellow who was bound to rise. Both Judge Olson and Mr. Healy were attracted to him and in December 1906, he entered the state’s attorney’s office and was assigned to Harrison street.
A young man, not yet hardened to the terrible conditions caused by the vices of a great city, Mr. Roe rose in revolt at the awful picture of Chicago’s underworld which was laid bare to him in the dreary courtroom at Harrison street. He was brought to a vivid realization of what the white slave traffic meant, and when he saw the dismal procession of ruined girls who passed before him daily he determined to do whatever lay in his power to strike a blow at the evil which was responsible for these shattered lives.
Enters on His Crusade
He invaded churches, public halls, and all places where men and women meet together and he called upon his fellows to unite and rise against the monsters who were luring women to destruction for gold. He was talking about something that he was well acquainted with and he managed to convey to his hearers something of the awful scenes of which he was every day a part. The newspapers came to his aid and public opinion was aroused to such a extent that the clubs and various public bodies joined together to form a common committee which should consider what steps could be taken to suppress the nefarious traffic. It was fitting that Mr. Roe should be named as chairman of this committee, which had been called into existence mainly through his efforts.
In the meantime he waged unceasing war on the panderers in his capacity as state prosecutor. He brought 150 cases to trial and in every instance procured a conviction. It was also largely due to his arraignment of conditions that the pandering law was passed by the legislature last May. This law provides severe penalties for those who make a living out of a woman’s degradation, and much good is expected to come from it.
Tempers Justice with Mercy.
As in most other things, Mr. Roe has his own ideas of his duties as assistant state’s attorney.
"Some prosecutors seem to think," he says, "that it is their duty to procure a conviction in every case that they conduct, no matter what the merits. I believe that in many cases there is really no necessity to invoke the law, and when I find a case of this kind I generally try to get the contestants to come together and see if they cannot find a more amicable way out of their troubles than sending somebody to prison."
Mr. Roe takes life far too seriously to be a shirker, and as a matter of fact he is an indefatigable worker.
"When I entered the state’s attorney’s office," he says, "Judge Olson warned me that I would have to work hard and advised me not to accept the post unless I was willing to devote all my time to my duties. I find his advice was sound, but although I have to work far harder than I would have had to if I had remained in private practice, I find the work so interesting that I do not mind it absorbing most of my time."
However, as is natural is a man of Mr. Roe’s age, he find many interests outside his official duties. He is a member of the City club and takes an active part in the various reforms and agitations which are being constantly put on foot by the aggressive factor in the municipal life. He also finds time occasionally to attend a baseball match, for he is an enthusiastic "fan" and likes to get to the ball park as often as his duties will permit it, which is not often.
Fond of Writing Stories
Apart from these interests, Mr. Roe is a dabbler in literature and finds considerable amusement in writing stories purely for his own edification and without any thought of confiding them to the public. He has, however, contributed articles on legal and municipal matters to the magazines and newspapers.
Harrison street police court presents unrivaled opportunities to the student of sociology and criminology, and both of these studies attract the assistant state’s attorney. His study of criminals has induced him to formulate a curious theory in regard to the question of criminal types.
"I do not believe that there is a distinctive type which you could point out and say ‘There is a criminal.’ I have seen men and women of all varieties who were hardened offenders, but there is one peculiarity which I have noticed as common in a great majority of cases. The nose of the criminal is long, reaching down over the mouth. I do not know what significance would be attached to this by a physiognomist, but it is something which has really been forced on my attention. Of course I am referring only to those individuals who appear to have a natural bent towards crime and are apparently hopeless criminals."
Mr. Roe lives with his mother and is unmarried. He protests that he is not a marrying man, but his friends refuse to believe that he takes life so seriously as all that.