Sunday, June 19, 2005

Chicago Arson Arrest Shocks Fans of 'Angels' Co-Author

The first Web message said, "I feel betrayed."

The second blared, "SICK!!!"

The third asked, "Is this really for real?"

The many who still remember the ghastly 1958 fire at Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago scarcely believed the news last week that the author of a respected book on the blaze had just been arrested -- for arson. Police said David Cowan, 41, co-author of "To Sleep With the Angels: The Story of a Fire," was spotted running away from a fire in a storage shed at St. Benedict's Church.

Unlike the 1958 inferno that killed 92 children and three nuns, no one was hurt in the St. Benedict's fire. Cowan's wife, Ursula Bielski, called it a cry for help and asked for "at least pity" from regulars on the Internet message board established for the Our Lady of the Angels blaze.

Bielski wrote that her husband's actions were the work of a decent but "deeply troubled, isolated soul." She said perhaps Web site visitors who had been helped by Cowan's moving and revealing book would "understand best of all that tragedy is often baffling and bitter, but most of all, as in my husband's case, utterly heartbreaking."

Several contributors said, however, that they felt baffled and undone by Cowan, who also wrote "Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes That Shaped A City." A contributor writing under the pen name Traumadiva2002 wrote, "The man needs help. But, I have lost all respect for him."

-- Peter Slevin

Gambling Probe Nets Mob's Aged 'Mr. Fish' and Mature Associates

The Oldfellas apparently had a few moves left.

White-haired and round as a barrel, Anthony Rabito, 71, and nine of his fellow Mafia pensioners were hauled off by the police to an arraignment last week, charged with operating a $10 million illegal sport gambling ring. The Queens, N.Y., district attorney noted that Rabito's ring charged customers well-above-market interest rates of 156 percent and often threatened them with physical mayhem if payments were late.

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