Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cleveland's Killer Celebrities, Part 1

Sonny Changes His Story

Two years later, somebody took a shot at Birns as he arrived home.

He missed. Birns cruised the neighborhood looking for him, but he got away.

Police picked up a small-time hood named Clarence "Sonny" Coleman, who owed money to Birns. He was released after questioning.

A short time afterward, Coleman was shot on a neighborhood street shortly after midnight. Three bullets hit him, but he managed to run up to the front porch of a house yelling, "Let me in, baby, let me in!"

In the hospital, he told police the shooter was a man in the back seat of a car driven by Shondor Birns. 

Police went to Birns' home. He answered the door in his pajamas and said he had been asleep. However, the hood of his car was still warm.

Still wearing obviously expensive pajamas, robe and slippers, Birns was brought to the booking window at Central Station. As he walked in, he glanced up and saw reporters waiting alongside the window.

A big smile lighted up his face.

"Hi, boys," he called out.

A month later, Coleman told police he had changed his mind. He had only thought it was Birns in the car.

Police arrested Coleman as a material witness. He changed his mind again and reluctantly agreed to testify.

At the trial, a neighbor backed Birns' alibi. He said he saw Birns arrive home at 12:07 a.m., about the time of the shooting several miles away.

It took the jurors four hours to reach a verdict: Not guilty. They said they didn't believe the changing testimony of a man who had been a dope peddler and police informant, meaning Coleman.

Police predicted what the Press called "a fresh outbreak of shootings and violence in Cleveland's multi-million-dollar numbers racket."

Next: Bonds and Bullets


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