In the New Cabaret Artistes, an illegal strip joint in Liverpool, a buxom stripper named Janice gyrated to the rhythms of twenty-year-old John Lennon and his even younger mates, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. In Cuba, youthful new prime minister Fidel Castro nationalized the formerly American-owned oil refineries. Meanwhile, the first ten U.S.-supported volunteers arrived at a secret Panama Canal Zone facility to begin training to retake their Cuban homeland back from Castro. The results of these and other events would be well documented in history books yet to be written. But the momentous conference under way in the mansion at 915 Franklin Avenue would, by mutual decree of the participants, never be chronicled.
It was June 1960, and in far-removed corners of the world unseen events were unfolding that would define a revolutionary era to follow. In fact, multiple revolutions - cultural, political, and sociological - were in their embryonic stages. This was the interregnum - the transition between the misnamed “happy days” of the Eisenhower years, and the terrifying brinksmanship of the Cold War sixties.
The palatial estates on Franklin, in the tony Chicago suburb of River Forest, were the setting on this otherwise unexceptional Thursday evening. Lawns were being tended by caretakers; Mercedes sedans were having their wax jobs refined. Young couples ambled off to the movies, perhaps to see Spartacus, or Psycho. The typical residents, stockbrokers, lawyers, and the like, were going about their lives.
In a much different manner, an atypical neighborhood denizen, a son of Sicilian immigrants named Antonino Leonardo Accardo, was also going about business as usual; with his lifelong friend Murray Humphreys and two other associates, he would, after a sumptuous lasagna dinner, decide who would become the next president of the United States.
For decades, these Thursday-night meetings were convened at the manse owned by “Joe” Accardo, as he was known to friends. Decisions made at these soirees ran the gamut: from who to “whack” for an indiscretion; to which national labor union to take over this week; to whether they should answer the White House‘s call to murder Castro; to the creation of a gambling paradise in the Nevada desert; or, as in this case, to go along with Joe Kennedy‘s request to guarantee his son Jack‘s “appointment” to the U.S. presidency.
The participants prided themselves on the relatively obscure manner in which they were able conduct their business. “We start appearing on the front page and it’s all over,” one was heard to say. The phrase became a mantra of sorts. Of course this enterprise wasknown, especially to law enforcement agents, but was so smoothly run that proof of the organizational links were unobtainable - at least for the first fifty years or so.
The colleagues in question were, in fact, the heirs apparent to the empire of bootlegging kingpin Scarface Al Capone. Capone’s downfall in 1931 provided an important lesson for the Accardo-Humphreys generation: exaggerated violence and a high media profile were the kiss of death and were to be avoided at all costs. Hundreds of millions were at stake, an amount not worth gambling for the luxury of being seen with movie stars. That was for amateurs.
Be assured, this was not “The Mafia” of the East Coast gangsters, laden with elaborate ritual and internecine rivalry; nor was it “La Cosa Nostra” as described by Joe Valachi when he sang to the feds. This band of brothers had shed the more objectionable traits of “Big Al’s” 1925-31 “Syndicate.” The new regime’s capos shared as much commonality with Capone as modern man does with Cro-Magnon cave dwellers. Perhaps as a nod to their enlightened, modernized dominion, a new name quickly emerged for the Chicago crime organization: The Outfit.
“What hath God wrought?” Although the query posed by Samuel Morse related to the unforeseeable consequences of his “Morse code” telegraphic breakthrough, it could just as easily have been directed at the topic of the religious pilgrimage to America. For it was a God-fearing Pilgrim sect called the Puritans who inadvertently set the wheels in motion for a vast criminal reign that would rule the New World two centuries hence.
Espousing a dogmatic, Bible-ruling theocracy, these seventeenth-century settlers to colonial America set the stage for a hedonistic backlash that reverberates to this day. Their humanity-denying canon in fact helped contribute the most unsightly fabric to the patchwork of the soon-to-be-named United States of America. The “law of unintended consequences” was never more aptly applied.
The late-nineteenth-century immigration wave deposited an assemblage of new citizens on America’s shores, many from places far less “enlightened” than the England of Oliver Cromwell. These recent emigres quickly sussed out that their forerunners were enduring a lifestyle of denial and joyless deprivation. Arriving from Ireland, Sicily, or Wales, the newcomers were more than happy to prosper by supplying a few creature comforts. From gambling to girls, they were the providers, while the corrupt authorities looked the other way.
By the early twentieth-century the shadow economy was already savoring a bull market when an ill-conceived constitutional amendment to ban beer and alcohol created a quick and easy route to extravagant wealth. This disastrous federal legislation, which had been percolating for over a century, was the last stand for the Puritan dream of a theocracy. But the insanity of a national ban on beer and alcohol had a perverse effect: instead of installing God’s will in government, it bestowed on Chicago’s gangs a foothold on America’s infrastructure. And the gangsters in Chicago who would call themselves the Outfit have cherished their gift ever since.
Prohibition: From a Bad Idea to a National Nightmare
Although Puritanical codes forbade drunkenness, they did not exclude mild drinking, especially in the form of beer. In fact, the Mayflower’s ship’s log notes that the reason for the landing at Plymouth Rock was the need to restock their dwindling beer supplies, making America’s first permanent colony nothing more than a “beer run.”
Beer was one thing, but hard liquor was something else again, for alcohol was seen to lead inevitably to rowdiness and lewd behavior. Introduced in London around 1720, cheap gin had additionally created an epidemic of addicts. In “the colonies,” temperance societies sprang up in a futile attempt to keep the plague at bay in the New World.
The rising tide of hard liquor in America was, however, inexorable. Nowhere was this plague expressed more vividly than among the tribes of the Native American “Indians,” who happily exchanged fur pelts for liquor. The effects left entire tribes decimated. By the 1820s, there were thousands of temperance societies, spearheaded from the pulpit by still more thousands of Protestant clergy. But no group raised the temperance banner higher than the nation’s distaff side. It was, after all, the women who had to deal with the effects liquor had on their saloon-frequenting husbands. Thus, in 1874, seizing the forefront of the antibooze movement, these crusading women formed the national Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
This first antibooze wave is best remembered for the fanaticism of its most fervored adherents, especially one Kansas native (and WCTU member) named Carry Nation. The rejected daughter of a woman herself committed to an insane asylum, Nation suffered two failed marriages, one to a hard drinker, before becoming a frenzied evangelist in the “Women’s War” against alcohol consumption. (She fantasized that her name was a sign from God that she had a calling to “Carry a Nation.") A large, powerfully built woman who decided that her God-given physical attributes were her best weapons in the Women’s War, Nation went from attacking the idea of saloons to literally attacking the saloons themselves. Graduating from sledgehammers to thrown billiard balls to hatchets, Nation and her tiny band of followers went on a rampage of saloon destruction throughout the Midwest. She called it hatchetizing.
Although Nation’s efforts were both public and private failures (like her mother, she died in a mental institution), she kept the prohibition idea in the public consciousness until more capable advocates seized the baton.
New World Disorder
After the American West was “tamed,” the new country was swarmed by a massive wave of European immigrants seeking a better life. Dominated in numbers by the Irish, Italians, and Germans, more than twenty-five million new Americans arrived between 1885 and 1924 alone. In a virtual eyeblink, America was awash in immigrants, and with them, potent German beers, Irish whiskeys, and Italian wines, all served in thousands of saloons owned by the Euro-Americans.
Suddenly, a culture that was founded and defined by white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) was being threatened by hedonistic hordes. It was too much for the overwhelmed WASPs, who refused to stand by and watch their theocratic paradise crumble. The booze business was the only enterprise not dominated by WASPs, and just as it had since the first prehistoric tribes appeared, xenophobia reared its head.
The battle to prohibit booze was thus transformed into a nascent form of ethnic cleansing, a WASP attempt to tighten the yoke on the newer ethnic arrivals. Adding to the mix was the anti-German hysteria in place during World War I. The paranoia manifested itself in the withdrawal of German-language courses from school curricula and the removal of German books from libraries. Whereas the religious argument made for interesting parlor chat, prejudice, jingoism, and racism provided potent fuels for the prohibitionists.
The prohibitionist movement finally coalesced in the person of Wayne Wheeler. A brilliant debater from Ohio’s Oberlin College, Wheeler was recruited as the political lobbyist for the most businesslike antibooze organization yet, the Anti-Saloon League. Wheeler set the standard for all future lobbyists. Upon relocating to the nation’s capital in 1913, Wheeler aimed his powers of propaganda and rhetoric at a bold target: the total banning of alcohol consumption in America. His tireless efforts on Capitol Hill softened up the opposition until Wheeler was able to brilliantly parlay anti-German fanaticism into legislation. The word prohibition was transmogrified into a code word for “patriotism."
Incredible as it now seems, Wheeler was able, with absolutely no evidence, to persuade legislators that German-American breweries were in league with America’s wartime enemy, the German government. He also decried the waste of raw materials used in the brewing process, materials that could be better utilized to support the war effort. This led to the wholesale ban of grain sales and the closure of hard-liquor distilleries.
For prohibition to become the law of the land, Wheeler needed to effect one of the most difficult tasks in American politics: the passage of a constitutional amendment. In the nation’s first 150 years, only seventeen amendments had been enacted. Wheeler’s strategy thus included massive support for “dry” congressional candidates. Soon, robber barons and amoral industrialists fell in line behind the prohibition movement. New converts included the Rockefellers and Du Ponts, who helped bankroll Wheeler’s crusade. Auto tycoon, and temperance fanatic, Henry Ford was persuaded that his employees’ purchase of booze effectively diverted their meager income from the purchase of his cars.
By 1917, with his strategies aligned, Wheeler made his final push towards codified alcohol prohibition. Using his Congressional clout, Wheeler rewrote a proposed constitutional amendment on prohibition that had been languishing in subcommittees since 1913. Wheeler’s Eighteenth Amendment read: “No person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized in this act.” The exemptions granted were for industrial, sacramental, and medicinal uses only. After securing a relatively swift two-thirds majority in both houses, the bill wound its way through the nation’s statehouses in quest of the needed approval by three-quarters, or thirty-six, of the states.
Finally, on January 16, 1919, after a century of proselytizing, the Eighteenth Amendment was enacted, and Americans were given until midnight, January 17, 1920, to close the saloons. When Wheeler and his “drys” concluded that more legislation would be required to enforce national prohibition, Wheeler persuaded Minnesota Republican congressman Andrew J. Volstead to introduce another bill, again ghostwritten by Wheeler. Congressman Volstead was merely the facilitator of the proposal, which placed the Internal Revenue Service in charge of investigating and charging those in violation of the new amendment. Although the Volstead Act was passed in October 1919, it was summarily vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, who saw his veto quickly overridden. In time, many would come to refer to the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act collectively as “Volstead.” Wheeler’s Herculean effort is still considered one of the greatest lobbying successes in history.
The Fly in the Ointment
The suffocating restrictions of Volstead seemed all-inclusive, but they were not. Although selling booze was by and large illegal, drinking alcohol was just fine. Added to the fact that the Eighteenth Amendment had absolutely no effect on America’s unquenchable thirst, it was only a matter of time before the largest underground economy in history was launched. It was known as bootlegging.
Since the earliest days of the New World’s western expansion, when cowboys had illegally smuggled alcohol in their knee-high boots to their Native American victims, “bootlegging” had been an integral part of the American fabric. With the advent of twentieth-century prohibition, the lure of the underground booze business became almost irresistible: astronomical profits combined with virtually no risk made a powerful fusion. It cost $5 to produce one barrel of beer that retailed for $55 minimum. The profit in hard liquor was higher still. George Remus, the powerful lawyer-turned-bootlegger from Ohio, earned $40 million in three years, a staggering amount for the time.
Increasing the temptation to bootleg was that in 1923 the federal government employed merely fifteen hundred prohibition agents nationwide. Making matters worse, the agents were grossly underpaid (earning less than garbage collectors) and were thus easily corrupted by the big-spending bootleggers. In some instances the agents moonlighted as chauffeurs for their supposed targets. On the rare occasions when a “collar” was made, the feds imposed the relatively microscopic fine of $1,000.
Underpaid prohibition agents and thirsty soldiers returning from World War I made certain that drinking would remain America’s favorite pastime. The federates had nowhere to turn for support, since corrupted officials were ensconced at every level of government, up to and including the White House. President Harding, rendered vulnerable as a result of an affair with a twenty-year-old who had given birth to his love child, was under the control of his pro-booze advisers. His attorney general, Harry Daugherty, was later found to have been on the payroll of one of the nation’s most powerful bootleggers, George Remus. Remus had been paying Daugherty the astronomical sum of $350,000 per year to allow the booze to flow.
No locale was better positioned to take advantage of bootlegging’s riches than the city on Lake Michigan’s west bank. And nowhere was this obvious rags-to-riches path more adroitly perceived than in America’s “second city.” Named for the Ojibwa Indian word for the foul-smelling, river-clogging “wild onion” (checagou), it had already elevated political corruption to an art form. Chicago, the future home of The Outfit, embraced prohibition with open arms.
“That Toddlin’ Town"
Geography and geology play pivotal roles in the character of any city. Chicago’s placement on the map dictated that eastern urbanity come face-to- face with the take-the-law-into-your-own-hands mentality of the recently opened Wild West. After its incorporation in 1837, Chicago became the gateway to this new frontier and as such was guaranteed a steady stream of tourist business. Literally hundreds of wagons, overflowing with anxious homesteaders, transited Chicago every day.1
Chicago soon amassed a glut of discretionary money, its coffers bulging with profits from manufacturing, commodities auctions, and huge stockyards that “rendered” seventeen million head of Western cattle a year. The party was on, and with the swiftness of a barroom pickpocket, Chicago became transformed into “That Toddlin’ Town.” Hotels and saloons were jammed with a mostly male clientele who had set out from the East in advance of the womenfolk. And these adventurers saw Chicago as their last chance for a little TLC before their trek into the harsh Western frontier. What transpired next was inevitable: Where there are unsupervised males there are saloons; where there are saloons, there are gambling and girls. The gamblers’ haunts acquired their own colorful nicknames, such as Hair-Trigger Block, Thieves Corner, and Gambler’s Row.
Not far behind the saloon owners came the con men and swindlers. On some occasions, the con men were the saloon owners. One such character was Mickey Finn, who operated two establishments on Whiskey Row. Finn’s now infamous concoction, The Mickey Finn Special, was a drink tainted with a secret powder that rendered the drinker unconscious. While touring the twilight zone, the unfortunate reveler had his pockets emptied by the unscrupulous Finn. As they had throughout time, the criminal element found refuge in a district that seemed to be earmarked just for them. And it was one of the most bizarre vice districts imaginable.
If the good citizens of Chicago desired a law-abiding community in which to plant roots, geology conspired with geography to stack the cards in defiant opposition. For although Chicago seemed to be the right place to erect a city, nature had other ideas. The city, it turned out, was built on a smelly swamp/marsh, which was a sort of primordial soup for the gangster empires of the future. By the late 1850s, torrents of mud threatened to engulf the town, which had no paved streets. Cracks in the wooden slabs that functioned as thoroughfares oozed the muck around the wheels of carriages and the shins of well-dressed ladies. Mud Town and Slab Town were added to the list of unflattering nicknames for Chicago.
The city fathers concocted an ingenious, if optimistic, solution to the muddy onslaught: jack up the entire city ten feet while fortifying the surface with stone. Given that the buildings themselves were constructed from relatively light wood, the idea was deemed feasible. Thus, for ten years Chicago existed on stilts, creating a cavernous “underworld,” as it came to be known. Soon, the underworld gave shelter to a repellent assemblage of humanity loosely commanded by Chicago’s first criminal-empire czar, Roger Plant.
An immigrant boxer from England, Plant built a two-story paean to perversity called Under the Willows. The first floor consisted of round-the- clock boozing and gambling; the second tier was the domain of more than two hundred prostitutes, whose window shades were lettered on the outside with the slogan Why Not?
As unsavory as the Willows was, it paled in comparison to the nether region for which it served as a main point of entry. For just below Plant’s “Barracks” was a labyrinthine maze of tunnels, rooms, and underground streets that drew, according to Jay Robert Nash, “hundreds of pickpockets, jackrollers, highwaymen, and killers for hire, the most fearsome collection of hoodlums anywhere in the U.S. at the time."
But by far the most loathsome aspects of the underworld were its crimes against women. In this dungeonlike world, young girls were often forced into “the life,” otherwise known as prostitution. In standard operating procedure, “ropers” scoured the country for fourteen- and fifteen-year-old girls who could be lured to Chicago with promises of a big payday. Upon arrival, these girls were raped and otherwise terrorized into submission, kept pliant with opium, and assigned to whichever whorehouse bought them (for a couple hundred bucks plus a percentage of their earnings). For the next few years, while their youthfulness was still in demand, the girls paid their “owner” 60 to 90 percent of their ten-dollar trick fee. When their skin became ravaged by disease, they were tossed out on the streets only to succumb to drug overdoses. It was called white slavery, and it could be argued that it was every bit as brutal as the black variety.2
The wanton criminality flourished in large part because Chicago maintained a police department in name only. In 1850, with an exploding population of eighty thousand, there existed only nine “city watch marshals” - as no police department had yet been established. Five years later - and too little too late - a minimalist Chicago Police Department was organized. In five more years, Chicago mayor Long John Wentworth actually decreased the force to a mere sixty cops.
Word traveled fast throughout the nation’s criminal network. Soon Chicago sustained an influx of criminals from New Orleans, Mississippi, New York, and virtually every burg with a train depot or a healthy horse. At this turbulent juncture, the first true crime lord, Michael Cassius McDonald, appeared. A resident of “Hair-Trigger Block,” McDonald was a noted gambler, and among underworld successes the first to appreciate the importance of the political fix. After coalescing the city’s riffraff into “McDonald’s Democrats,” he engineered the election of Mayor Carter Harrison in 1879. As his reward, McDonald gained the exclusive bookmaking franchise for all Chicago and Indiana. His gambling parlor, The Store, was known as the unofficial City Hall. McDonald, who was known to hate policemen, was once approached by two cops for a two-dollar donation. “We’re burying a policeman,” one of them said, to which Mike responded, “Here’s ten dollars. Bury five of them."
McDonald’s organization coined the term syndicate to denote his crime consortium. The moniker would be appropriated much more infamously by a Chicago gang of the twentieth-century.
In 1871 denizens of the underworld acquired still another source of revenue: looting. On the night of October 8, after a severe, record-shattering drought during which a scant one inch of rain fell in four months, a cow in the barn on Mrs. Catherine O’Leary’s Southwest Side farm knocked over a lantern. Fueled by ferocious gusts that have earned the city still another moniker, The Windy City, the barn fire escalated into the Great Chicago Fire. When it finally ended thirty-six brutal hours later, eighteen thousand mostly wooden buildings that had once concealed the underworld were incinerated. The city sustained more than five hundred deaths and was saddled with more than ninety-eight thousand newly homeless citizens. Fully half the city was consumed. Eyewitnesses described the horrific aftermath: like a pack of rats emerging from the underworld, the con men, scalawags, hoodlums, and whores descended on the ruins, looting anything that had not turned to cinders. Local clergy intoned that God’s wrath, not nature’s, was punishing this wicked metropolis. The Sodom and Gomorrah analogy was heard more than once in sanctimonious sermons. In time the local assessment became a national one.
On the positive side, the fire afforded Chicago a unique opportunity to rebuild the entire city utilizing the most recent strides in engineering and design architecture. In a mere three years the city was transformed into a distinctly modern city and one of the most potent engines for commerce in the world. Soon many of the world’s first skyscrapers dominated the Windy City skyline.
Again, word got out just how appealing the Second City had become. With immigration unchecked and unregulated, the population swelled to over two million by 1900. One half million Poles arrived along with more than one hundred thousand Italians, and still more Germans, Swedes, Jews, etc., all gravitating to their ethnic enclaves.
Although the Chicago of the Gay Nineties achieved many noteworthy civic successes (especially its financial institutions, universities, and museums), it was also a nutrient-rich petri dish for the diseases of crime and corruption. The anemic police department numbered only eleven hundred (vs. a 2.1 million population). More than a dozen vice districts sprang up, with appropriate names such as The Black Hole, Bad Lands, Satan’s Mile, Dead Man’s Alley, and Hell’s Half Acre. Crime gangs flourished throughout the city. A 1927 study counted 1,313 gangs, which boasted over twenty-five thousand members.
At the lowest street level, crime was often inseparable from the gambling element. Unlike other cities, Chicago was content to allow its illegal policy (numbers) rackets to be controlled by the blacks of the South Side. More than five hundred “policy stations,” run almost exclusively by brothers Edward and George Jones, thrived on the South Side alone.
In the Italian enclaves, criminals embraced a different means to riches: gang terrorism. Given Italy’s turbulent history, it is small wonder many of its citizens distrust authority and seek riches and security in fiercely antiestablishment gangs. For much of the millennium Italy was overrun with foreign occupation. The list of oppressive foreign rulers is daunting: Spanish Bourbons, Greeks, Carthaginians, Arabs, Normans, and French, to name a few. When the invaders were finally cast out in the nineteenth century, the southern regions of Italy did not escape oppression - this time from the northern Romans and Neapolitans. This is to say nothing of Sicilians, who were held in disdain by all Italians and thus trusted no one. In sum, a certain type of crime - the sort that flouts authority - was widely considered an honorable way to get ahead.
The Italian Immigrant Experience
Upon arrival, the Italian-Sicilian masses were met with intolerable prejudice and discrimination, which only served to enforce their fears. Considered “less than white” by fairer-skinned northern Europeans, the Italian experience most closely resembled the racism experienced by African-Americans. The respected Washington Post newspaper was among those justifying the prejudice: “The Germans, the Irish, and others . . . migrate to this country, adopt its customs, acquire its language, master its institutions, and identify themselves with its destiny. The Italians never. They remain isolated from the rest of any community in which they happen to dwell. They seldom learn to speak our tongue, they have no respect for our laws or our form of government, they are always foreigners."
From their arrival in the 1890s through at least 1915, Italians were regularly lynched in states from Florida to Colorado. Indeed, the worst mass lynching in U.S. history involved the brutal murders of eleven innocent Italian men in New Orleans on March 14,1891. In the hysteria that followed, one of the victims’ young sons was taken to safety by a Cajun woman, who fled with the boy up the river to Chicago. That boy, Joseph Bulger (Imburgio), went on to graduate law school at age twenty, then became one of the most influential behind-the-scenes legal advisers, or consigliere, for Chicago’s coming empire of crime.
Persecution was the ugliest obstacle confronting the Italian immigrants, but not the only one. With an illiteracy rate (57.3 percent) that was nearly triple that of other new arrivals, Italian-Sicilian immigrants were forced to accept jobs no other immigrants wanted: ragpicker, chimney sweep, garbage salvager, ditchdigger - anything to get started. In the South, where recently freed slaves were less than enthusiastic about their tasks, Italians were thrilled to find any work. Richard Gambino wrote: “Italian labor seemed like a God-sent solution to replace both nigger and mule. The Sicilians worked for low wages and, in contrast to the blacks’ resentment, seemed overjoyed to be able to make the little money paid them.’
Against the odds, the Italian immigrants succeeded in gaining a foothold in the New World. And despite the perception of a crime-prone Italian subculture, the facts reveal just the opposite. Consider the issue of prostitution. Whereas poor girls from most every race and nationality were represented in the nation’s bordellos, Italian girls were curiously immune to the temptation - their strong family ties made such a choice unthinkable. After the New Orleans lynchings, a follow-up investigation by the Wickersham Commission discovered that “Italians were charged with only four of the 543 homicides committed in New Orleans from 1925 to 1929.” The perception of “lawless” Italians, the study concluded, “seems hardly justifiable."
There were, of course, Italian gangs - just as there were gangs of every ethnicity - and the Italian gangs arguably worked harder than their immigrant counterparts. Although they technically lived in America, the Italian gangs existed in a country of their own imaginations, filled with apprehension, fierce independence, and old-world mystique. Young Italian gang leaders were known to stare into mirrors in efforts to perfect “the look,” the menacing, unblinking stare that sent shivers through its unlucky recipient. In Chicago, in their Near West Side haunt called The Patch, Italian gangs utilized a terror method that had flourished for centuries in the Old Country. La Mano Nera, or The Black Hand, was undoubtedly the quickest, most direct method for a tough punk to make a buck. Although commonly believed to be a crime society, the Black Hand was actually just a method of criminality. It involved nothing more sophisticated than the delivery of a death threat, or Black Hand note, to a prospering Italian immigrant. The note was often inscribed on paper that also bore the imprint of a hand in black ink. The threat would be rescinded in exchange for a payoff. Simple extortion.
The Black Handers made their real mark on history by introducing the bomb as a terrorist weapon. More than three hundred Black Hand bombings and four hundred Black Hand murders went down between 1890 and 1920. When prohibition was enacted, the Black Handers, who by now numbered more than sixty gangs and even more individuals, were given a much more acceptable path out of their barrios and eventually into the lives of all American citizens - whether they knew it or not.
Predictably, the denizens of this shadow economy required shielding from officials charged with enforcing the criminal code. For widescale criminal endeavors to succeed, the tacit approval of City Hall is a prerequisite. And Chicago’s unique charter made it the ideal arena in which lawbreakers could flourish.
As if more fuel were needed to inflame Chicago’s lawless character, its peculiar system of government known as the ward system played a major role in making it a fertile crescent for corruption. Chicago is divided into fifty wards and three thousand voting precincts, the most coveted being the rich downtown First Ward. The essential features of the ward are the posts of elected alderman and appointed committeeman. The alderman serves the traditional role of legislator, voting on ordinances, budgets, etc. The position of committeeman, however, presents a powerfully seductive invitation to corruption.
In the ward, the real power rested with the committeeman. “The reason was patronage,” wrote David Fremon. It was an elegantly simple design: the committeemen were granted by law the power to dispense jobs in return for political support. Most important, these appointments included judges and sheriffs. Kickbacks and favors lavished on the committeemen made the nonsalaried position a plum post for unethical pols. Once elected, the momentum of the incumbent, to say nothing of the gangsters’, increased exponentially. Subsequent reelections were pro forma in this perpetual-motion corruption machine. Fremon pointed out that the parties relied on “an army of precinct workers whose civil service - exempt jobs depended on how well they performed on election day.” Michael Killian described how the Democratic machine, installed after World War II, operated: “[The Democrats] put together a perpetual motion machine in Chicago that dispensed favors in return for votes, and so long as the voters knew where the favors were coming from, nothing changed . . . The Democratic Party in Chicago is simply a means for earning a living."
For the gangsters, this translated as “we’ll get you elected, and we don’t even want jobs. Just look the other way when we do our thing.” And that’s just what the pols did. The hoods used muscle and money to turn out the votes for their handpicked candidates, many of whom operated gang-controlled saloons. Chicago would become infamous for “vote slugging” and “graveyard votes.” It was the Windy City that coined the expression “Vote early and vote often.” The city was essentially for ransom.
Among the earliest architects of political corruption in the Second City was First Ward committeeman Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna, also known as “The Little Fellow.” Working in partnership with alderman John “Bathhouse” Coughlin, Kenna set the standard and constructed the template for all the official chicanery that would follow.
The sons of Irish immigrants, Kenna and Coughlin rose to power as the twentieth-century dawned, writh Chicago’s population now swelling to more than two million. Their partnership was fixed when Kenna, the owner of the city’s most popular saloon and an influential Democrat, pulled out all the stops in fixing the vote in favor of Coughlin’s election. In a short time, with both pols in office, the duo devised a foolproof, if inelegant, scheme that would guarantee them great wealth.
Through black committeemen such as William Dawson, protection payoffs for the “policy” game were made directly to City Hall. However, Kenna-Coughlin predictably took aim at the city’s Levee district for their main financial fix.
Like Baltimore’s “Block” or New York’s “Eighth Avenue,” the Levee district of Chicago’s First Ward was the epicenter of vice and vulgarity but on a gargantuan scale. By the 1920s, there were more than one hundred bookie and gambling joints in the Levee area alone, with eight hundred more scattered throughout the city. Houses of prostitution spread like wildfire. These brothels took on monikers rich in connotation: The House of AH Nations, The Bucket of Blood, and the low-end Bed Bug Row, where action was available for a mere two dollars.
Since Kenna-Coughlin’s control of the First Ward (and its jobs) was total, no one - not cops or inspectors - would make a move that went counter to Kenna-Coughlin, who were now bringing in sixty thousand dollars a year each above their annual official salaries. However, it was the dynamic duo’s chosen “collectors” who would go on to become the patron saints of the Outfit, the men who would extend organized crime’s tentacles beyond anything as parochial as the vision of Bathhouse and the Little Fellow. They were known in the Italian ghetto as Big Jim and The Fox.
The Outfit’s Forefathers
Giacomo Colosimo was born in Calabria, Italy, around 1880. Some seventeen years later he and his parents emigrated, eventually arriving in Chicago. Americanizing his name to Jim, the youngster followed the lead of the countless Italians who had arrived before him and started at the bottom - literally. Jim Colosimo first earned money in America as a ditchdigger. But this type of servitude did not suit Jim, who soon discovered that easy money came to a young man with his peculiar talent for pickpocketing. From there the now muscular “Big Jim” graduated to Black Handing, moving quickly up the crime evolutionary ladder to the far more lucrative position of ruffiano: a pimp.
Initially, Jim’s new vocation flopped. After a confrontation with Chicago’s finest, Colosimo laid low, returning - albeit briefly - to a life of honest work. Working for two dollars per day as a “white wing” (the shoveler who followed horse-drawn wagons) would seem to offer upward mobility to only the most enterprising laborer. Such was Big Jim. He quickly rose through the ranks to foreman and went on to organize his own social club. Soon he was elected to the leadership of the Street Laborers Union and the City Streets Repairers Union. Kenna-Coughlin were not unaware of Colosimo as a rising star.
Kenna-Coughlin, constantly on the lookout for votes outside the Irish strongholds, saw Colosimo as their ticket to support in the burgeoning Italian ghettos. In short time, Kenna-Coughlin made the momentous decision to adopt the first Italian-American into corruption, City-Hall style. It was a critical juncture in the history of the Outfit, assuming mythic status in future underworld folklore.
Big Jim’s success in delivering the vote prompted Kenna-Coughlin to place him in the “protected” post of Democratic precinct captain. In effect, this made Big Jim immune to police harassment. More important, he was reacquainted with the world of the lupanare, or whorehouses, from where he collected Kenna-Coughlin’s payoffs. The Kenna-Cough lin-Colosimo enterprise became referred to as The Trust, and for a time it hummed along effortlessly. For Big Jim, the role of graft collector for Kenna-Coughlin was indeed life-defining, since in that capacity he made the acquaintance of the Levee’s premier madam, Victoria Moresco.
After a whirlwind two-week courtship, Big Jim and Victoria, who was twice his age, made it legal. Soon, another dimension was added to their marital relationship: a business partnership. By 1912, they owned more than two hundred brothels. This translated to $600,000 per year in “under the table” income for the Colosimos. When the First Ward was redistricted in a show crackdown in preparation for Chicago’s first World’s Fair, Kenna-Coughlin lost their power base and soon drifted off the scene. Not so Colosimo. The Trust was now so powerful, it no longer needed to court the corrupt pols; the pols had to court them.
As his empire expanded, Big Jim pioneered a style that went on to become de rigueur for the stereotypical twentieth-century pimp, sporting diamond rings on each finger, diamond cuff links, diamond studs, diamond-encrusted belt and suspenders, a diamond horseshoe brooch, all accenting a garish snow-white linen suit checked with (what else?) diamonds.
Colosimo’s ostentatious style made him an obvious candidate for Black Hand extortion - the same thuggery he had himself once espoused. Although Big Jim had personally murdered three Black Handers who had previously threatened him, one particular threat seemed beyond his capacity to ameliorate. On this occasion, he was being extorted for the unthinkable sum of $50,000. When Colosimo decided he needed outside help to cope with the situation, his wife, Victoria, suggested her cousin from New York. In placing the call, Big Jim would paradoxically save his life in the short term and guarantee his own extermination eleven years later. More important for history, the man Colosimo brought in for damage control placed Chicago gangsterism one giant step closer to the creation of the Outfit.
In Brooklyn, New York, Johnny “the Fox” Torrio answered the call of his cousin Victoria’s husband, Big Jim Colosimo. Born in Italy in 1882, Torrio was the leader of the Lower East Side’s notorious James Street Gang. By the age of twenty-two, he owned a pool hall, a saloon, and a brothel, in addition to his gang of burglars, hijackers, and extortionists.
One of Torrio’s most important traits was his willingness to forge alliances with rivals. In New York, Torrio brokered an important coalition between his James Street Gang and the powerful Five Points Gang, strong-armed by a professional killer and Black Hander named Frankie Yale (Uale). Like Torrio, Yale would also play a pivotal role in the twists and turns of the Chicago crime world.
Torrio possessed still another skill that would prove indispensable in his future Windy City home: an appreciation of the importance of controlling the political system. While still in his early twenties, Torrio led his gang in a total war on the electoral process. In 1905, with Torrio’s help, the Five Points Gang ensured the election of their mayoral candidate by systematically stealing ballot boxes and mugging (or “slugging” as it was known in Chicago) their opponent’s supporters.
Although Torrio was the undisputed brains of the gang, he never personally dirtied his hands in the commission of a crime. As the brilliant capo, he was too important to be placed in jeopardy. Years later, near the end of his life, he bragged - probably honestly - that he had never fired a gun in his life.
This would not be the first time that Torrio had traveled to Chicago to extricate Colosimo from the clutches of the Black Handers, but this time his ticket to the Second City would be one-way. On this occasion, Torrio, as per his style, attempted to negotiate with the Black Handers who now threatened Big Jim. Failing in this, Torrio agreed to meet the extortionists and deliver the money. On meeting the trio of Black Handers, Torrio brought guns instead of gold. Two of his gunmen emptied their clips into the extortionists, and Johnny instantly ascended to the role of Big Jim’s right-hand man.
In short time, Torrio found himself running Colosimo’s empire. But Torrio clearly viewed his stewardship of Colosimo’s businesses as merely a stepping-stone. He had big dreams that orbited around the central concept of a limitless crime empire. Colosimo gave Torrio the go-ahead to build his own organization, and the new crime baron set up headquarters in the Four Deuces, a four-story office building named for its address, 2222 South Wabash. Above the first-floor saloon, Torrio installed gambling dens and, on the top floor, a brothel. Chicago historian Herbert Asbury described Torrio’s typical day at the office in his keystone book, Gem of the Prairie: “There he bought and sold women, conferred with the managers of his brothels and gambling dens . . . arranged for the corruption of police and city officials and sent his gun squads out to slaughter rival gangsters who might be interfering with his schemes."
Flush with success, Torrio rapidly expanded his vice trade into the compliant Chicago suburbs. His personal empire now numbered over a thousand gambling joints, brothels, and saloons. One suburban club, the Arrowhead, employed two hundred girls and netted $9,000 per month. Torrio was grossing over $4 million per year. And prohibition’s windfall had yet to arrive.
During the graft-ridden mayoral term of William “Big Bill” Thompson, Kenna-Coughlin-Colosimo-Torrio were given free reign to plunder the city.3 In Chicago, the term underworld was now but a humorous oxymoron, since there was no longer a need, or attempt, to conceal the wanton criminality.
The Second City Meets the Eighteenth Amendment
When Volstead passed, Chicagoans reacted swiftly: On December 30, two weeks before prohibition became law, infamous Second City gangster Dion O’Banion single-handedly hijacked a truckload of whiskey in anticipation of the exorbitant prices it would fetch on the last “wet” New Year’s Eve. “In twenty minutes we had buyers for the whole load,” Dion later boasted. “We sold the truck separately to a brewery in Peoria.” On January 16, 1920, six hours before the bill took effect, a West Side gangster crated off $100,000 worth of medicinal liquor from freight cars parked in the Chicago railyards. On the other side of town a liquor warehouse was looted. Still others utilized printing presses and forged phony withdrawal slips for presentation at government-bonded warehouses.
In short time, some fifteen thousand doctors and fifty-seven thousand druggists applied for “medicinal” liquor licenses. In prohibition’s first year, sacramental wine sales increased by eight hundred thousand gallons. This in addition to the illegal trade, which eclipsed the officially sanctioned variety. Windy City “speakeasies” popped up on every corner. Breweries operated in plain sight, with at least twenty-nine in Chicago alone. Countless more were established in suburbs such as Joliet, Cicero, Waukegan, and Niles. As Dion O’Banion said at the time, “There’s thirty million dollars” worth of beer sold in Chicago every month and a million dollars a month is spread among police, politicians, and federal agents to keep it flowing. Nobody in his right mind will turn his back on a share of a million dollars a month.’ Roger Touhy, a former car dealer who seized bootlegging’s brass ring, wrote, “There wasn’t any stigma to selling beer. It was a great public service.” Touhy continued, “Clergymen, bankers, mayors, U.S. senators, newspaper publishers, blue-nose reformers, and the guy on the street all drank our beer.”
Meanwhile, Colosimo was falling in love with a lissome young woman named Dale Winter. From the first moment Big Jim eyed her singing in his bistro, Colosimo’s Cafe, located at 2126 South Wabash, he was smitten with the girl less than half his age. Colosimo’s primary objective now was, to the astonishment of his friends, quiet domestic bliss.
Johnny Torrio, by contrast, had visions of the streets of Chicago paved with gold. He, like Touhy and most other businessmen, grasped the obvious. At last there was a clear road map to riches for the immigrant entrepreneur. When Torrio approached Big Jim with his master plan, Torrio must have been stunned by the response: a vehement no.
In a sad irony, it was now Torrio’s sponsor (and relative) who stood in his way. The Fox made what must have been an agonizing decision: his “uncle” had to be eliminated.
On May 11, 1920, three weeks after marrying Dale, and a scant four months after Volstead became law, Big Jim Colosimo was murdered in the lobby of his own restaurant. Official sources let it be known that their prime suspect was Torrio’s New York associate Frankie Yale. Although police questioned thirty suspects, including Torrio, no one was ever charged in the crime. One witness, a porter, who had initially described an assailant who fit Yale’s profile, refused to ID him in a lineup. Although never charged, Torrio was widely believed by police to have paid Yale, or someone, $10,000 for the rubout of Big Jim.4
As Big Jim’s second-in-command, Torrio took charge of the Colosimo empire at a time when the Chicago crime world was in chaos. Rough-and-tumble gang warfare was out of control, with opposing sides clearly divided along racial and ethnic lines: Irish vs. Italians, Greeks vs. Poles, Jews vs. gentiles, and blacks vs. whites. In a frantic effort to establish turf in the newborn high-stakes business of bootlegging, countless gangs flexed their collective muscle. The period was characterized by continual intergang terrorism featuring bombings, truck hijackings, and kidnappings. In a sixteen-month period, 157 Chicago businesses were bombed. Taking their cue from the Black Handers, the bootleggers, led by bomb masters such as Jim Sweeney and Joe Sangerman and their experts, Soup Bartlett and George Sangerman, detonated more than eight hundred bombs between 1900 and 1930, dynamite and black-powder bombs being the weapons of choice. (Before the prohibition wars, the explosives were used in labor union struggles.)
Immediately upon assuming leadership, Torrio, as he had in New York, brokered a gangland agreement that resulted in a mutually beneficial crime consortium: essentially, a truce. Convening the leaders of all the Chicago crime fiefdoms, Torrio built his case on irrefutable logic: thanks to Volstead, there was no longer a need to fight over the now massive treasure or to dabble in petty crime. There was enough money to go around. At Torrio’s suggestion, the gangs carved up the city into discrete and sovereign territories.
The essentials of the arrangement held that the Torrio “Syndicate,” as it was now called, took the downtown Loop and part of the West Side; the South went to Danny Stanton’s gang; the Northwest to William “Klondike” O’Donnell’s contingent; smaller districts to the Frankie Lake-Terry Druggan gang and others. Only the South Side O’Donnells, Spike and Walter (no relation to the Northwest O’Donnells) refused to participate, a big mistake since all five brothers were quickly executed by Torrio’s gunmen. A U.S. district attorney now referred to Torrio as unsurpassed in the annals of American crime; he is probably the nearest thing to a real mastermind that this country has yet produced.
Torrio soon branched out into the suburbs. Within weeks of Big Jim’s murder, Torrio’s army of whores and roulette-wheel spinners were overrunning dozens of surrounding communities. And of course the booze flowed freely as Johnny’s bootlegging dreams became reality. Torrio’s source of strength, his ability to broker cartels and alliances, was in fact the reason his own bootlegging empire would become so formidable. Displaying brilliant foresight, Torrio had engineered a longstanding alliance with two key Chicago powerhouses: the Genna family and the Unione Siciliana.
The Genna family, who had arrived in Chicago’s Little Italy from big Italy in 1910, virtually owned the enclave. Known as wild men, and Black Handers, the boys established themselves as a collective to be reckoned with. After Volstead they immediately applied for one of the few exempted licenses for the production of industrial alcohol. “The Terrible Gennas” - brothers Angelo, Pete, Sam, Mike, Tony, and Jim - siphoned off most of their licensed industrial alcohol, colored it with various toxins known to cause psychosis, and called it bourbon, Scotch, rye . . . whatever. Glycerin was added to make the concoction smooth enough to be swallowed.5
The brazen and volatile Gennas paid more than four hundred police to escort their booze-carrying truck convoys. Their distilleries operated within blocks of police stations, with workers on twenty-four-hour shifts. In fact, so many men in blue made appearances at their warehouse, locals jokingly nicknamed it The Police Station. In no time at all, the Gennas were grossing $300,000 a month, only 5 percent of which went to overhead, that is, official graft.
The Gennas paid Sicilian families $15 per day (ten times what they would have earned at hard labor) to distill fifty gallons of corn-sugar booze. The arrangement, and the compliance of the largely illiterate Sicilian families, was made possible because the Gennas, old-world, blood-oath Sicilians, had the support of “The Unione.”
The Unione Siciliana di Mutuo Soccorso negli Stati Uniti was founded in New York in the 1880s and eventually incorporated thirty-two branches across the country. As a fraternal organization, the Unione played a vital role in the lives of the new arrivals, providing jobs, housing, low-cost insurance, and burial benefits. Sicilian families paid weekly dues that quickly established a huge treasury fund, perhaps the largest of any such union. The Unione also taught English and generally helped immigrants adjust to the American way of life. When there were legal problems, the Unione functioned as a mediator between Sicilian immigrants and American authorities. The Unione had its own influential national publication with a large circulation. It settled disputes, some of which involved Black Hand extortion, between members who distrusted the American system (police were usually answered with a broken-English “Me don’t know” when asking an Italian to testify). The Chicago branch, chartered in 1895, counted twenty-five thousand Sicilian members (vs. five hundred thousand Italians in Cook County), and it wielded great power in the community.
Inevitably, all elements of Sicilian society were represented in the Unione. Perhaps because it was savvy to the ways of the New World, the gangster component, like the Gennas, often muscled its way into leadership positions in the Unione, but this in no wray reflected the wishes of the illiterate, gullible rank-and-file members. This faction was also the custodian of the darker old-world customs, “blood brotherhood” traditions, and the law of omerta, or silence.
Johnny Torrio, although not Sicilian, numbered among his good friends one Mike Merlo, the Unione president. Merlo gave the Torrio Syndicate his blessing, and by inference its partnership with the Gennas. With his huge gambling and vice empire, Torrio could purchase all the hooch the Gennas and their cottage industry could produce - and then some. A key part of the arrangement held that Torrio would purchase the raw “cooking” materials, with the Gennas supplying the the labor force.
The Torrio-Genna-Unione triumvirate now possessed unmatched power. Throughout the years, the Syndicate would stop at nothing to maintain its control over the Unione leadership. The Torrio-Genna compact was seemingly all-powerful.
In addition to distilleries and breweries in Chicago, Canada supplied prime brands that were smuggled across Lake Michigan. Still more flowed northward from the Caribbean. From his headquarters in the Four Deuces, Torrio oversaw an enterprise that was, thanks to Volstead, now pulling down over $10 million a year from combined booze and vice in greater Cook County.
With thousands of speakeasies, gambling joints, and brothels, Torrio needed to beef up his security operation, especially since countless independent operators had not endorsed the peace pact. Just as Colosimo had reached out to New York years before, Torrio brought his cousin, a bouncer in a Brooklyn brothel, to his aid. Torrio would eventually teach his charge the power of the payoff. “Bribe everyone” was Torrio’s mantra.
The boy from Brooklyn, who had years before worked in Torrio’s gang, was a powerful and fiercely loyal muscleman for his cousin. Soon after his arrival in the Second City, he would be implicated in the decade’s most infamous murder. A witness to Jim Colosimo’s demise, his secretary Frank Camilla, described the fleeing assailant as a heavyset man with scars on the left side of his face, a portrayal that effectively narrowed the field to one: Torrio’s newest imported muscleman. After his own notorious reign in Chicago, this enforcer’s coterie, the Outfit, would achieve a level of success that had eluded even him, Alphonse Capone.
The Capone Years and the Chicago Beer Wars
You get more with a smile and a gun than you get with just a smile.
He was, like Johnny Torrio, a product of the New York to Chicago, First City to Second City, gangster pipeline. Born in 1899, Alphonse Capone was the last link in the criminal evolutionary chain that gave rise to the Outfit.
As a teenager in New York, Al joined Johnny Torrio’s James Street Gang and tended bar for Torrio criminal associate Frankie Yale at the Harvard Inn. Al Capone was big and driven, but with an uncontrollable temper that got him expelled from the sixth grade for punching a teacher. He also possessed the Look, taking it to the level of an art form. While he was still in his teens, a barroom brawl with another tough guy named Frank Galluccio left him with three deep knife scars on the lower left side of his face and a new nickname, Scarface.
By inducting Capone into his Five Points Gang, Yale turned Capone from just another thug into a full-fledged gangster. As such, Al graduated to the big leagues, where a player had to be able to perform the ultimate sanction without hesitation. At about the same time he committed his first murder for Yale in 1918, a nineteen-year-old Capone lost his heart to Mae Coughlin, an Irish lass two years his senior. Nine months hence, and as yet unmarried, Mae gave birth to Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone on December 4,1918. On December 30, Al married Mae. By this time Al and Johnny Torrio had grown so close that Torrio was named Sonny’s godfather.
After a brief stint in Baltimore, where he made a momentary attempt at the straight life, Capone returned to New York in 1920 to attend his father’s funeral. The homecoming was momentous, since Al fell back in with Johnny Torrio. Capone never returned to Baltimore, or the straight life. In short time, he beat an Italian-hating Irishman named Arthur Finnegan to death. Finnegan’s boss, the terrifyingly dangerous William Lovett, then made it known that Al was a dead man.
For Capone, the call from Johnny Torrio couldn’t have been more timely. Now, just as Colosimo needed Torrio, so too Torrio needed Capone, and Capone had to go on the lam to avoid being eviscerated by Lovett. In Torrio’s Chicago, Capone would go from a $15-a-week mop boy (and occasional whore-beater), to one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the world in a mere six years.
Upon arrival, Capone was given the job of “capper” at Torrio’s Four Deuces. In that capacity, Al, who now used the surname Brown, had the lowly task of standing out in the frigid Chicago night coaxing prospective clients inside. “Got some nice-looking girls inside,” the scar-faced barker would entice. Capone would flash a sense of humor when he handed out his newly struck business card, which read:
Second Hand Furniture Dealer
2222 South Wabash Avenue
When asked to elaborate as to what sort of furniture he sold, Capone would quip, “Any old thing a man might want to lay on.” After Torrio waxed enthusiastically about their potential empire of booze, Al had his brothers Ralph and Frank join him from Brooklyn. His first cousins, brothers Charlie and Rocco Fischetti, also boarded the New York to Chicago underworld railroad. For a brief time, the quartet lived in the same apartment building on South Wabash Avenue.
In 1923, the newly elected mayor, William Dever, made a serious attempt at clearing the bootleggers out of downtown Chicago. When Dever’s police chief proved immune to bribery, Torrio and Capone were forced to abandon the Four Deuces and find a more hospitable locale. They chose the near west suburb of Cicero, a bleak, depressing town of fifty thousand submissive Bohemians, most of whom found work at the huge Western Electric factory. For Torrio-Capone, the choice was a stroke of genius. The Czech-born, beer-drinking Ciceronians resented prohibition almost as much as they resented people of color. Gangsters arriving was one thing, but God forbid a clean-living “Negro” family wanted in.
Setting up their headquarters at the Hawthorne Inn, the boys systematically took over a town that never stood a chance. The local Republican contingent knew a gift horse when they saw one and quickly struck a deal with their new neighbors.
The Syndicate’s challenge was to guarantee the reelection of Cicero mayor Joseph Klenha. At the time, the local Democrats were making noise about deposing Klenha as a requisite to - if one could believe it - a reform movement. Since a growing number of Cicero’s citizens appeared anxious about the recent gangster immigration, action was needed before reform caught on. Thus on election night more than one dozen touring cars, crammed with Capone’s thugs, hit the streets, ensuring that the vote went the right way. There was nothing subtle about their electioneering technique: voters had gun barrels pointed at them while instructed to pull the Democratic lever; still others were shot, knifed, mugged, and slugged into submission. One of Cicero’s finest, Officer Anton Bican, attempted to intervene and woke up in a hospital. Local officials, knowing they were outmanned and outgunned, sent out an SOS. Some seventy police were dispatched from Chicago, but while they engaged the Syndicate in street battles, the “democratic process” ran its course. During one of the police skirmishes, Al’s brother Frank was killed. It was a tough price for Capone to pay, but Klenha and the Syndicate prevailed.
Before the city had a chance to mop up the bloodstains, one hundred saloons and one hundred and fifty casinos had sprung up in Capone’s Cicero. By the next spring, however, the honorable Mr. Klenha gave an interview to a local paper in which he warned that the boat was about to be rocked. He soon regretted the interview. Klenha stated that while he was appreciative of the Syndicate’s “support” in his election, he intended to run his office independently of the gangster element.
Upon reading the report, Capone jumped into his touring car and made a beeline to the mayor’s office. This time Capone personally meted out the punishment, beating Klenha unconscious on City Hall steps while nearby cops wisely looked the other way. On another occasion, Capone sent his enforcers directly into a town council meeting, where they proceeded to drag out a councilman who had the temerity to propose legislation inimical to the Syndicate’s interests. Capone later explained that since he had bought Cicero (and Klenha) lock, stock, and barrel, disobedience could not be tolerated. Capone’s forces even dominated the Cicero police station. Tribune journalist Walter Trohan realized this when, arriving at the police station for a scheduled meeting with Capone, Trohan was frisked by Capone’s boys.
Capone was now Cicero’s de facto mayor, and he flaunted his power for all it was worth. When his former employer from Baltimore came through Cicero, Capone decreed that there would be a parade in his honor. Of course no one in Cicero had ever heard of Baltimore’s Peter Aiello, but Capone wanted a crowd, and he got one. Literally thousands lined the streets to cheer the bewildered stranger.
The Syndicate was now grossing $105 million a year, including the combined income from booze, gambling, vice, and to a diminishing degree (about $10 million) from extortion. Capone began dressing in grand style, typified by brightly colored $5,000 suits and custom-made fedoras. His pals nicknamed him Snorky, slang for “elegant.”
Snorky Capone also indulged his passion for music, and in doing so he unwittingly became a major architect of the American musical landscape. Al had always insisted that his speakeasies employ live musicians. In his own home he maintained an expensive grand piano. Now, flush with discretionary cash, the gangster without a racist bone in his body made a momentous decision: he would bring to Chicago the best jazz musicians in the country. The overwhelming majority of these were of African descent and were playing for spare change in the dives of New Orleans, forbidden from playing in the white clubs.
Whereas New Orleans invented jazz, Chicago legitimized it by introducing many soon-to-be-legendary black musicians into the white-attended clubs - and this seminal occurrence was largely due to the efforts of Al Capone.6
But the good times were not to last, for the Syndicate’s weakest link, the North Side Irish gang, was under the leadership of a madman who decided to confront the Italians. Mayor Dever’s crackdown, which resulted in the confiscation of many alcohol stockpiles, had emboldened many gangs; some, like the North Siders, returned to the old days of stealing from one another. Poachings and hijackings began to escalate. But only one gang leader had the temerity to steal from Capone. His cretinous decision set off a chain of events that ruined everything for everybody; it would also precipitate the collapse of Capone’s reign.
Deanie - the Instigator
The disintegration of Torrio’s truce with the North Siders came as no real surprise, given the ethnic rancor that was always just beneath the surface. Even so, the admittedly fragile agreement might have lasted until the Eighteenth Amendment’s repeal a decade later if not for the ambitions of the Italian-loathing North Side baron, Dion “Deanie” O’Banion. Possessed of a venomous tongue, the reflexively hateful Irishman referred to Italians as “greaseballs” and “spic pimps.”
A living contradiction, Deanie O’Banion was a childhood choirboy at Holy Name Cathedral by day, a gang terrorist by night; he was a vicious racist murderer who was always home by five, where he stayed with his loving wife, Viola, for the rest of the evening. A gifted floral arranger, he owned a flower shop; as “the mob’s florist,” Deanie might spend his lunch break blowing a competitor’s brains out. A casual killer, O’Banion was said to have killed more than sixty people. When he branched out still further into bootlegging, he often made his beer deliveries in his florist truck.
Just as Cicero had its Capone, North Side politicians cowered at O’Banion’s terror tactics. While Torrio-Capone dictated Cicero’s election results, O’Banion matched them bullet for bullet in his district’s Forty-second Ward. The irascible Irishman was witnessed “electioneering” with his thugs at polling places, in direct view of election judges and clerks. “I’m interested in seeing that the Republicans get a fair shake this time,” Deanie wailed. He then made a show of checking that his revolver was loaded. Democrats were physically stopped from voting. In one election, his Republicans squeezed by with a scant 98 percent of the vote.
But O’Banion differed from Capone and Torrio in that he was most assuredly certifiably crazy. After his partner, Sam “Nails” Morton died in a horse-riding accident on May 13, 1923, O’Banion’s only moderating influence was gone. O’Banion began to make highly questionable decisions. Even to other gangsters, O’Banion’s behavior became frightening, since it often made no logical sense. First, O’Banion had his enforcer, Louis “Three-Gun Louis” Alterie execute the poor horse that had thrown Morton. On one occasion, O’Banion was nabbed for a safecracking because, after the hit, he and his escaping crew could not resist the temptation to ascend a stagelike Dumpster and belt out a popular song of the day. In his most infamous booze heist, the Sibley Warehouse robbery, he bought the pilfered hooch from the burglars with a fake certified bank check, marked with bank seals. What made the purchase so bizarre was that O’Banion had hired the same forger that the burglars had hired to make the warehouse withdrawal slips they had utilized to acquire the load.7
As his behavior deteriorated, it became apparent that Deanie was the victim of some then unknown mental disorder, a condition that now steeled him to confront the Syndicate powerhouse. During prohibition, O’Banion of course maintained his own breweries, but he decided it was easier to hijack Torrio-Genna shipments. “Let Torrio make the stuff and I’ll steal what I want of it” was O’Banion’s famous battle cry. In addition to stealing the Gennas’ inferior hooch, he thought nothing of pilfering thousands of gallons of Capone’s best alcohol. In one heist he felt compelled to leave a humorous calling card, replacing Capone’s booze with water. Incredibly, the Capone organization often turned the other cheek. They could afford to. But the Genna brothers had never looked the other way in their lives. They spoiled for a fight.
Deanie’s hatred for the Sicilian Gennas was legendary. His innate abhorrence of Sicilians in general was further inflamed by the knowledge that the Gennas, with their rotgut booze, were able to drastically undercut O’Banion’s going price for hooch. Torrio, as per his style, attempted to mediate the rivalry, but O’Banion refused to cut a deal. Despite his own predilection for patronizing whorehouses, O’Banion was said to abhor Torrio’s vice trade, and the murdering florist drew the line at dealing with an immoral whoremaster. Torrio finally washed his hands of the entire affair, knowing full well that the volatile Gennas would whack O’Banion at their first opportunity. But that could only happen if Torrio and the all-powerful Unione leadership sanctioned such a move. It would be O’Banion himself who would guarantee such a consensus.
After numerous skirmishes with the Gennas, O’Banion was poised to create his gangster masterpiece: an imaginative double cross of Torrio himself. In the spring of 1924, Deanie informed Torrio that he was getting out of the booze business. He then offered to sell Torrio his interest in the Seiben Brewery, which was coowned by him and Torrio, for $500,000. Torrio jumped at the offer, further agreeing to attend O’Banion’s final beer loadout on May 19.
One has to wonder about Torrio’s mental state, accepting such an obvious Trojan horse from a man with O’Banion’s reputation. Nonetheless, in the early-morning hours on the appointed date, with their paid-off cops standing guard, Torrio and O’Banion observed the beer trucks filling their tanks at the Seiben warehouse. The operation was suddenly halted when squads of Chicago police converged on the scene, arresting everyone in sight. As they were taken to federal prohibition authorities to be charged with Volstead violations, O’Banion was seen whistling, singing, and generally looking like the cat that had eaten the canary.
When Torrio was booked, he gave his favorite alias, Frank Langley, to the police, knowing that if they discovered his true identity, there was no way to avoid doing hard time. The cheery O’Banion, on the other hand, knew that since this was his first prohibition arrest, he would only receive a puny fine. Laughing uncontrollably, O’Banion sent out for breakfast for all thirty-one detainees.
In fact, the crazy Irishman had been tipped off about the imminent raid and thereby set about planning his crowning masterpiece and ultimate practical joke. While Torrio’s lawyers set about stalling his trial for six months, Torrio and Capone now joined the Gennas in demanding O’Banion’s head. But Mike Merlo, the prestigious president of the Unione, wanted peace. When he died from cancer on November 8, the Syndicate wasted no time, quickly maneuvering Angelo Genna into the Unione presidency. They also set about writing the final scene in the life of the Irish pest.
Torrio customarily sent to New York for Frankie Yale. On November 10, 1924, fresh from muscling the Democrats in a North Side election, O’Banion was working overtime filling floral orders for the huge Merlo funeral. At eleven-thirty in the morning, two of Torrio’s most ruthless hitmen, Albert Anselmi and John Scalise, accompanied Yale into O’Banion’s Flower Shop. Believing the strangers were there to purchase flowers for Merlo, O’Banion extended his hand, effectively preventing him from grabbing his pistol when they shot him six times, point-blank. Typically, there were no arrests, but soon after O’Banion was hit, Scalise and Anselmi were seen sporting $3,000 rings. Like a Second City leitmotiv witnesses refused to come forward. (”Me? I didn’t see anything.”) Another recurring theme was the indifference of the police, who were happy to let the gangsters kill off each other. Chief of Police Morgan Collins said of O’Banion’s demise, “Chicago’s archcriminal is dead. I don’t doubt that O’Banion was responsible for at least twenty-five murders in this city.”
Deanie’s corpse was placed in a $7,500 bronze coffin, the best made, appointed with solid silver posts and encased in a solid copper box. Like Colosimo and Merlo, the Irish gangster was afforded a huge funeral; some ten thousand marchers followed the hearse to Mt. Carmel Cemetery. More than two dozen cars were enlisted to haul the flowers alone, including a tribute from Torrio and one in roses “From Al,” both of which were summarily placed in the trash heap outside. At the tense wake, which both Capone and Torrio attended, mourners checked their guns at the door. Torrio was given the silent treatment by O’Banion’s crew. Perhaps out of respect for O’Banion’s family, his crew refrained from icing Capone and Torrio on the spot, but the battle was now joined.
The Chicago Beer Wars
If you smell gunpowder, you re in Cicero.
Torrio and Capone braced their troops, numbering some eight hundred gunmen, for the inevitable bloodletting that was to come. With their leader dead, the North Siders were now led by second-in-command George “Bugs” Moran, who stepped up their attacks on the Torrio-Capone gang. The Beer Wars had evolved into an ethnic war, chiefly the Irish versus the Sicilians. The Irish were emboldened in their anti-Syndicate efforts by their acquisition of some newly invented Thompson submachine guns, or tommy guns, which unleashed a barrage of eight hundred rounds per minute. Not surprisingly, the gangsters had machine guns before the cops, who found them too expensive and inaccurate. Although the weapons retailed for $175, the cash-rich gangsters were happy to buy them for $2,000 on the black market, where they quickly earned an appropriate moniker: the Chicago typewriter.
There were now four or more gang-related murders per month in the Chicago area. One journalist noted, “Two thirds of the deaths in Chicago are due to the beer-running trade.” On January 24, 1925, Johnny Torrio himself was seriously wounded by North Side chieftain Hymie Weiss. Torrio was hit multiple times, with gunshots to the chest, stomach, and arm. It appeared that the attackers were trying to emulate O’Banion’s wounds, including the coup de grace to the head, which Yale had administered to Deanie. But the shooter ran out of bullets, then had to flee as witnesses approached. Still, Torrio suffered so many hits that the attackers must have believed they had accomplished their mission.
When he heard of the attack, Al Capone raced to the hospital, anxiously asking, “Did they get Johnny?” Capone moved into the facility, occupying the adjacent room and ordering thirty bodyguards to stand watch. “While I’m there, nobody will bother him,” Capone sobbed. Near death for two weeks, Torrio rallied to a remarkable recovery; however, after his convalescence, he still had to serve time for the Seiben Brewery raid. Torrio first attempted a futile, $50,000 bribe to the DA, but was sentenced to nine months in the Lake County Jail. While “away at college,” Torrio’s forced reflection time chastened the weary boss, who had once dreamed of a vast crime cartel. From his confinement, Torrio summoned Capone and, upon his arrival, told him, “Al, it’s all yours.” And so, at forty-four years of age, Johnny “the Fox” Torrio took his $30 million and headed back east to Brooklyn.
If Capone believed that Johnny actually intended to retire, then he was just another of the wily Fox’s victims. Torrio guessed that Capone was a train wreck just waiting to happen and decided to bail out and hitch his wagon to an idea that dwarfed even the Torrio-Capone Syndicate: an affiliation with New York gangsters Meyer Lansky, Ben Siegel, and Lucky Luciano. Torrio was the first to realize that the entire substructure of the country was up for grabs, and if a national syndicate could be formed, all concerned would grow rich beyond their dreams while they ruled from the shadows. Soon after arriving in New York, the revered Torrio called a summit and presented his vision of “open cities” in which the combined forces of New York and Capone’s heirs in Chicago could flourish. In doing so, Torrio prophetically outlined the rest of America’s twentieth century.
What happened at the gangster conclave would have gone unreported were it not for a highly placed snitch who later reported what he had seen to the Brooklyn district attorney in a deal to beat a murder rap. Abe “Kid Twist” Reles was the top gunner in Lepke Buchalter’s Murder, Incorporated. During his career, Kid Twist was arrested forty-one times, but he was always able to dodge a murder conviction. From Twist, and a number of other sources, it has been learned that the meeting took place in a four-star Park Avenue hotel. Those in attendance with the then twenty-eight-year-old enforcer included Lucky Luciano, Lepke Buchalter, Longy Zwillman, Joey Adonis, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky.
“Why don’t you guys work up one big outfit?” Torrio asked the New York contingent. He was initially met with skepticism, especially over which boss would take a backseat in such an operation. However, the Fox had all the answers: “Each guy keeps what he’s got now. We work as equal partners, but we make one big combination . . . It’s my feeling that a mixture of the legitimate and the other stuff is our strongest card.” The hoods finally grasped the concept and signed on to the plan. Costello said, “I’ve always liked Chicago as a market, but of course one guy doesn’t have the organization to work all the towns. A thing like we’re talking about is exactly what we need.” Joey Adonis agreed, adding, “It’ll cut a hell of a lot of fat from the bundle, and when the pols see they’re up against a united front, they’ll settle for what they can get.”
The New York Times was leaked the story by sources in “official circles.” It ran a front-page investigative piece on October 26, 1935, in which it named the participants in the momentous powwow. The article concluded: “Torrio is the power behind the scenes. The gang under his tutelage has seized control of the rackets.” When Reles/Twist gave details of the meeting to authorities in 1941, he broke a gang rule so sacred that his very existence was put in jeopardy. Thus on November 12, 1941, his body was found after having fallen (or been pushed) from his sixth-floor room in New York’s Half Moon Hotel.
The national Commission, as it was often called, would meet from time to time over the coming decades and facilitate the takeover of Hollywood, the founding of Las Vegas, and a national network of bookmaking and other sundry chicanery. Although both the New York and Chicago gangs would profit from the new cartel, the bosses from the Windy City would enjoy a far longer reign, while the New Yorkers routinely decimated their own ranks with internecine infighting, instigated in part by their adherance to old-world “Mafia” rules and rivalries. Chicago’s bold decision to abandon ancient ceremony allowed its bosses to outlive and outsucceed their Eastern counterparts. As for Johnny Torrio, he would eventually retire to Brooklyn, where he died on April 1957 at seventy-five, extreme old age for a gangster.8
Al Capone was now a twenty-six-year-old tycoon, albeit one embroiled in a nasty gang war. His operation devoured $300,000 a week in overhead, which consisted largely of meeting the thousand-man payroll and official graft disbursements. The Capone Syndicate set up new headquarters in Chicago’s Metropole Hotel, where it appropriated between fifty and sixty rooms on two floors. The gang had its own private elevator, service bar, and wine vault, bringing its total hotel tab to $1,500 per day.
The Unione Siciliana Wars
Both warring gangs knew that victory was assured to the faction that held sway over the Unione, which in turn lorded over the massive Sicilian home distillery network. Not surprisingly, the fight for control over the Unione involved gallons of spilt blood. On May 26, 1925, Unione president Angelo Genna and his brother Mike were killed. Some believe Capone himself was behind the Genna hits, as he may have heard they were about to make a power play against him. Soon Tony Genna was killed by Joseph “the Cavalier” Nerone, who had links to Capone, and who was himself soon whacked by a Capone enemy. In the rabid feeding frenzy, Sam and Pete Genna fled to Italy, which proved wise, since within weeks, Angelo’s successor, twenty-six-year-old Sam “Samoots” Amatuna met the business end of an assassin’s rifle.
Chicago was now the capital of unsolved murders. Murder counts routinely topped those in New York, a city with twice the population. In a five-year period, there were 136 gang killings, with only one conviction. It remains an amazing fact that - federal prohibition laws excluded - no top member of Capone’s Syndicate was ever convicted of any local crime in Chicago.
With the Gennas gone, filling the Unione power vacuum became everyone’s obsession. Joey Aiello, a prosperous Italian bakery owner who coveted the top Unione post, formed an alliance with the North Siders in a plan to kill Capone and take over the Syndicate. Aiello extended a blanket offer to the nations’ gangsters: any man who killed Capone could collect a $50,000 bounty. Aiello once offered a cook $35,000 to poison Al, but the frightened would-be assassin confessed to Capone, who then had his men riddle Aiello’s bakery with two hundred machine-gun rounds. In short time, there were more than a dozen attempts on Capone. On one occasion, Aiello brought in two out-of-town murderers, who promptly made their return trip in body bags. On September 20, 1926, North Siders Bugs Moran, Hymie Weiss, and Vincent Drucci fired more than a thousand rounds into the Hawthorne Inn restaurant where their prey was eating. But no matter what they tried, the North Siders could not hit their mark. Capone retaliated by having his boys kill as many North Side triggermen as they could hunt down.
The war of attrition with the North Siders was only one facet of Capone’s world in 1926. Capone faced additional vicissitudes to the south, where the O’Donnell gang had begun encroaching on Capone’s territory, undercutting the Syndicate’s booze prices and stealing its customers. When the O’Donnells began moving in on Cicero, they pushed the wrong button. On the night of April 27, after Capone was tipped off that the South Siders were heading to a bar in Cicero, he dispatched a thirty-man, five-car motorcade that included Capone himself. Capone obviously venerated Machiavelli’s theory of massive retaliation.
When the stalkers located the O’Donnell car parking curbside by the Pony Inn, onlookers were once again treated to the recurring spectacle of a drive-by drama. As a bonus, they witnessed a rarity: Capone himself was one of the gunmen. In what would prove to be one of the Syndicate’s biggest miscalculations, to say nothing of its worst display of marksmanship, they murdered the wrong guy. The unfortunate soul was a twenty-five-year-old assistant state’s attorney named Bill McSwiggin, who, for reasons never determined, was out drinking with the O’Donnells. Some have opined that McSwiggin’s link to the O’Donnells represented a kind of Irish solidarity; others claimed that McSwiggin was on the take, for although he had a tough reputation, with seven death penalties obtained in eight months, he had never sought capital punishment for a gangster.
Despite six grand juries impaneled to study the McSwiggin killing (at a cost of $200,000), no indictments were obtained. But the death of the young prosecutor both inflamed and united Chicago’s citizenry. With Capone hiding in Michigan for the next four months, police sought reprisal, ransacking Capone’s speakeasies, gambling joints, and whorehouses, some beyond repair. His most lucrative suburban brothel was burned to the ground.
When Capone returned in July, he reported to the police, who had sought him for questioning. As to the charge that he had killed McSwiggin, Al said, “Of course I didn’t kill him. Why should I? I liked the kid. Only the day before he was up at my place, and when he went home, I gave him a bottle of Scotch for his old man.” Fully aware that the rising antigang sentiment would not be mollified so easily, Capone embarked on an ambitious public relations campaign aimed at convincing the public that he was a victim of circumstances. As a prelude to the kinder, gentler next phase of his regime, Capone decided to broker an intergang peace conference.
On October 4, 1926, Capone sent out invitations to all the gangs announcing another Torrio-style peace summit. His invitation to Judge John H. Lyle to act as arbiter was met with indignant refusal, while North Sider Hymie Weiss RSVP’d that if he attended, it would be with grenades exploding and shotguns blasting. Weiss was obsessed with avenging Deanie. “I want the heads of [O’Banion’s killers] Anselmi and Scalise,” Weiss demanded of Capone. Al was willing to go to great lengths to end the gang wars, but there was no way he could deliver the heads of his own Syndicate members. Capone later told a cop friend that Weiss was a madman. “When a dog’s got rabies, nobody’s safe,” Al said. “The dumb thing’s just got to be killed.” One week later, Weiss, leaving a court hearing to seat a jury for a murder indictment against him, was murdered in front of the late Deanie O’Banion’s flower shop by gunmen firing from the second story of a rooming house.
With the Weiss matter settled, the October 20 conference at the Hotel Sherman - located directly across the street from the chief of police headquarters - proceeded as scheduled. All the surviving major gang leaders showed up. One of the North Siders opened the proceedings by imploring, “Let’s give each other a break. We’re a bunch of saps, killing each other this way.” Al Capone later described his presentation: “I told them we’re making a shooting gallery out of a great business, and nobody’s profiting.” He also made reference to his newly awakened paternalism. “I wanted to stop all that because I couldn’t stand hearing my little kid ask why I didn’t stay home,” Al said. “I had been living at the Hawthorne Inn for fourteen months. He’s been sick for three years . . . and I have to take care of him and his mother. If it wasn’t for him, I’d have said, To hell with you fellows. We’ll shoot it out.’” Years later, Capone would expound on this theme to Babe Meigs, publisher of the Chicago Evening American: “I can’t tell you what it does to my twelve-year-old son when the other schoolchildren, cruel as they are, keep showing him newspaper stories that call me a killer or worse.”
The conference produced results, albeit temporary ones. Among the adopted treaty’s provisions: a “general amnesty” mandated that retributions cease; signees would solve disputes with arbitration, not gunfire; discrete territories were agreed to with no poaching of customers. The conference ended in a glow of good fellowship and a standing ovation.9
Despite Capone’s best efforts, Chicago’s era of tranquillity would be short-lived. The Hotel Sherman peace treaty held fast for only ten weeks. On January 6, 1927, the North Siders killed Capone’s buddy and the owner of the Hawthorne Inn’s restaurant, Theodore Anton. Although Capone sobbed openly for his friend, he adhered to the Hotel Sherman agreement and sought no retribution. Days later, Joe Saltis of the West Side ordered the killing of a runner for Ralph Sheldon, with whom Saltis had agreed to share the district. Capone, a friend of Sheldon’s, could restrain his primal urges no longer. He ordered the execution of two of Saltis’ hit men, and soon thereafter Saltis himself retired to Wisconsin. While Capone busied himself with gang wars and conferences, his empire continued to expand. As the millions poured in, Capone did not neglect the task of keeping the upperworld powers in check. It turned out that the conquest of Cicero was just the prelude to the main event. Now fully cognizant of the power of political liaisons, and experienced in the ways of “electing” a mayor, Capone tried his hand at the real plum: Chicago’s City Hall.
Choosing former mayor Big Bill Thompson as the recipient of his largesse, Capone put the laissez-faire pol back in office virtually single-handedly. The transplanted son of wealthy Bostonians, Thompson had been displaced in 1923 by reform candidate William Dever after many of Thompson’s appointees were convicted in a payola scheme. It was widely known that the short-on-intellect Thompson was really just a front for power-broker businessmen Fred Lundin and William Lorimer. What was most important for Capone’s interests was that Thompson, an unabashed defier of Volstead, had years before given wide berth to Johnny Torrio’s operation.
Capone spent $250,000 on Thompson’s campaign. The requisite thugs, numbering about a thousand, hit the streets to the sound of broken arms and legs of Thompson opponents. During the primary, Capone’s sluggers heaved so many grenades into polling places where his opponent was favored that the contest was nicknamed the Pineapple Primary. After his election, Mayor Bill Thompson disappeared on an extended fishing trip, while the real power, Capone and his Syndicate, set up shop in the Second City.
Now firing on all cylinders, Capone also attempted to ingratiate himself with his most avowed enemy - the newly formed Chicago Crime Commission (CCC), a private organization representing business leaders and citizens who shared the vision of a gang-free Chicago. Al brought seventy-six-year-old Frank J. Loesch, president of the CCC, to one of his headquarters, the Lexington Hotel. Seated below portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mayor William Thompson, Loesch asked Capone to keep his thugs away from polling booths in an upcoming election. “All right,” Al said. “I’ll have the cops send over the squad cars the night before the election and jug all the hoodlums and keep ’em in the cooler until the polls close.” True to his word, seventy cop cars worked all night, rounding up the hoods. “It turned out to be the squarest and most successful election in forty years,” Loesch later said.
Meanwhile, the struggle for control over the Unione Siciliana was unrelenting. The North Siders, led by Bugs Moran, wanted Unione copresident Joe Aiello to preside over the powerful organization and were seconded by New York chapter president Frankie Yale. Capone, however, installed Tony Lombardo as president of the Unione, and Yale was promptly murdered. When Capone moved to murder Aiello, his gang went to the jail where Aiello was being held (on suspicion of trying to kill Capone). In a stunning display of audacity, a train of taxis carrying Capone’s assassins showed up at the police station to hit Aiello while he was in custody. After entering Aiello’s cell, Capone’s boys decided to merely put the fear of God into Aiello and drive off. Upon his release, Aiello fled town and went into hiding for a year in New York.
Meanwhile, Capone’s man Tony Lombardo changed the tarnished Unione’s name to the Italo-American National Union. When Lombardo was killed on September 7, 1928, Capone had four of the Aiello brothers killed in return. One can scarcely imagine why anyone would now want the virtual death sentence that was the Unione presidency, but Capone somehow found more candidates. And so Lombardo’s successor turned out to be one Pasqualino Lolordo, who was killed on January 8, 1929. Temporarily, Aiello achieved his goal and assumed the top post.
Those silly Irish bastards. They have more guts than sense. If only we’d hooked up, I could have been president.
-Al Capone, on the St. Valentine’s Day massacre
The war for the Unione - and for that matter Chicago itself - reached its climax in the only manner that was ever really viable: a massacre. It occurred on February 14, 1929, St. Valentine’s Day. Since Bugs Moran had been stealing Capone’s booze, it was decided that he could be lured into a trap by setting up a buy of “stolen” Capone hooch. After disguising a black rental car as a police patrol wagon by mounting a fake siren on its top, four shooters dressed as cops met seven members of the North Side gang in a garage at 2122 North Clark Street at 11 A.M. to make the transfer.
In the garage, the “cops” pointed their “Chicago typewriters” at the heart of the Moran gang. Some seventy rounds were fired with machine guns, and once the victims were motionless, some of them received pointblank shotgun blasts to their faces. Each victim received dozens of wounds, methodically spread throughout each body. The carnage was so brutal that some corpses were said to have been nearly severed at the waist. When the firing ended a full minute later, a river of blood coursed across the dark, oily basement floor. Six were dead at the scene. Incredibly, the seventh, Frank Gusenberg, lingered for a couple hours, before giving investigators the gangster’s response as his last words: “Nobody shot me. I ain’t no copper.” The shooters were never identified.10Although Moran was not there, his operation was mortally wounded. Both he and Aiello went into hiding, with the departing Moran telling police, “Only the Capone gang kills like that.”
Although it was quickly learned that Capone was in Miami (meeting with the Dade County solicitor) at the time of the shootings, there was little doubt that he had ordered the slaughter of his sworn enemies. There was simply no one else so vicious and with so much to gain by hitting the North Siders. Capone, of course, proclaimed his innocence, at one point mocking Moran’s own theory when he chided, “The only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran.”
With the war essentially won, Capone named Joe Guintas to head the Unione. This appointee survived in that post the extremely long span of three months, only to be killed by Capone’s gang. It seems that two of the suspected Valentine’s Day triggermen, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, were conspiring with Guintas to take Unione back from Al. On May 7, 1929, Capone and his boys met the three conniving traitors at a prearranged dinner party at a roadhouse in Hammond, Indiana. After a nightlong repast, Capone turned on the three quislings. When their bodies were found the next morning in an abandoned car parked by an Indiana highway, they were unrecognizable, having been beaten unmercifully with baseball bats and then riddled with bullets. The coroner assigned to the case said that in his thirty years of experience, he had never seen human bodies so mutilated.
All told, adding in the preemptive strikes and various retaliations, eighteen gang leaders died in the War for the Unione. Of course, no one was ever so much as arrested. After the Indiana sanctions, Capone headed for Atlantic City to attend the first national meeting of all the major crime lords, aka the Commission.
The conference ran from May 13 to 16, 1929, and was held in Atlantic City’s Hotel President. Thirty gang leaders participated; the roll call read like a Mafia Social Register. Included among the lawless luminaries were Albert Anastasia, Dutch Schultz, Louis Lepke, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano, Longy Zwillman, Moe Dalitz, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, and Al Capone. Of particular note was the presence of the notorious Kansas City machine politician Tom Pendergast, the sponsor of Harry Truman, future president of the United States. The legendary Johnny Torrio, working behind the scenes in New York with Lansky et al., surfaced for this convocation. The racketeers were able to avoid arrest because the Atlantic City rackets boss, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, had paid off the local police. Befitting their exalted stature, the boys luxuriated at posh hotels such as the Ritz and the Breakers. The dons made themselves conspicuous, not only by their garish “mob chic” attire, which was not exactly designed for a day at the beach, but also by their choice of venue. It seems that the boys felt the traditional hotel meeting rooms to be insecure, so while they slept at the President, they adopted a bizarre MO for conducting their discussions: Conversations of great national significance were held in that boardwalk staple, the two-man pushcart. The leaders met two at a time, then changed partners: a Mafia version of musical chairs. Often, at the end of their rides, they would stroll the beach in full attire and complete their negotiations. During breaks, the mobsters ambled the world-famous boardwalk, perhaps sampling the Turkish Taffee. If they were trying to blend in, there is little doubt they failed.
In short time, it became clear that the first order of business was in fact Al Capone himself. Capone got his first inkling of this agenda when his mentor, Johnny Torrio, made a personal appeal to Capone to end the violence. Even the mobsters were cognizant that the “G” (government) would only be pushed so far before it cracked down. But there was also a thinly veiled subtext to the proceedings: the other gang lords were jealous of Capone’s prosperity. And Lucky Luciano had been at odds with Capone since their gang days in New York, when Lucky had sided with the man who had inflicted the scars on Al’s face. It was Luciano who had instructed Al not to seek revenge, lest he dig his own grave. When Capone discerned the depth of the antagonism at the conference, he lashed out, hurling obscenity-laced accusations in all directions one minute and withdrawing into silence the next. Consequently, Capone was shunned by many of his mobster competitors. It is now believed that Al’s mood swings were the result of a syphilitic condition that would not be diagnosed until years later - a disease that ultimately claimed his life.
The conventioneers were so proud of themselves that they waged a PR campaign and leaked details of the proceedings to craving journalists. In the end, a fourteen-point peace plan was adopted. In addition to swearing off violence, the plan’s key planks were aimed squarely at the Capone Syndicate, which was to be dismantled immediately, with all of his gambling joints being surrendered to the Commission, now headed by Torrio. As expected, Capone adamantly refused to be forced into this humiliation by the Atlantic City decree. Compounding Capone’s woes, Joey Aiello was named to head the Unione Siciliana (Capone would eventually have him iced on October 30, 1930).
Despite the looming difficulties, Capone, now thirty years old, was worth an estimated $40 million, with his Syndicate pulling down $6 million per week. But all the money in the world could not buy peace of mind for someone on the Commission’s hit list. Feeling the heat from all sides, Capone spent much of 1929 traveling with his bodyguard Frankie Rio. Since Capone had long desired to retire to the family life, he used the opportunity to decide on a retirement locale. After being turned back as “undesirable” by authorities in, among other places, Los Angeles and the Bahamas, he eventually bought property in Miami.
While on an extended vacation in Florida in the winter of 1928, Capone was quick to acquire well-placed friends, among them Parker Henderson, Jr., the son of the former mayor of Miami, and John Lummus, the current mayor. Henderson picked up Al’s disbursements from Chicago - some $31,000 sent to “Albert Costa,” while Lummus, also a leading Realtor, sold Capone a home on Palm Island on the Intra-coastal waterway for $40,000 ($350,000 by current standards). For political purposes, Lummus told his constituents that he was maneuvering Capone out of town. To cover their tracks, Capone and Lummus instructed Henderson to take title to the property. Capone kept a low profile when in Miami, save for his temperamental, but futile, appearances on tennis courts and golfing greens, where he was seen hurling rackets and clubs in hacker’s frustration.
But no matter where he traveled, Capone was never far from a Commission stronghold. It did not take extraordinary brainpower for Capone to realize that he could not fight all the hoods now aligned against him. To survive, he had to lie low. But even his new Florida estate could not supply the security needed to forestall the professional killers who were nipping at his heels. Johnny Torrio advised, “The safest place in the world is inside a jail. Let’s ask Boo-Boo.”
Max “Boo-Boo” Hoff was the boss of Philadelphia much as Al was in Chicago. In a prearranged “collar,” Hoff tipped two Philadelphia cops, whom Capone saw socially when they visited Florida, that Capone would be transiting their town carrying a concealed weapon. Capone further tipped them $20,000 when they arrested him. He was sentenced to a year in jail. While incarcerated he told a Philadelphia public safety director that he was tired of the gang life. “I’ve been in this racket long enough,” Capone said. He spoke of his longing for peace of mind. “Every minute I was in danger of death . . . I’m tired of the gang murders and the gang shootings . . . During the last two years I’ve been trying to get out. But once in the racket you’re always in it, it seems. The parasites trail you, begging you for favors and for money, and you can never get away from them, no matter where you go.”
Capone was placed in the Eastern Penitentiary, where he was provided for like the king that he was: a cell with thick carpets, a phone with which to make limitless long-distance phone calls at the state’s expense, a matching cabinet radio and chest of drawers. When asked by the warden if he desired that a stock ticker be installed, he responded, in typical Syndicate style, “No thanks. I never gamble.”
In March 1930, Capone decided he wanted out of lockup, and so he left. What happened next will never be completely comprehended. In 1930, Capone adopted a Christ-like persona, performing every charitable work imaginable short of raising the dead. This period crystallized the inherent contradiction of the gangster as Robin Hood. Whether it was a coldly calculated, Madison Avenue-worthy attempt to sway public opinion back in his direction after the public relations disaster of the Valentine’s Day massacre, or a genuine conviction of the heart, will never be known. Historians note that a possible incentive was an appeasement of the Unione membership, -who were disgusted with the gangster involvement in their leadership putsches. Al may also have sensed his upcoming legal denouement, and thus the need to sway the potential jury pool. In any event, the largesse dispensed by Capone in what turned out to be the waning days of his reign is nothing if not staggering, with everything from handing out money to the needy to creating soup kitchens that fed some ten thousand per day.11
The sudden display of altruism was to no avail. On the home front, as well as in Washington, serious challenges were being mounted against Capone’s dominion. The newly elected “reform” mayor, Anton Cermak, launched a war on gangsters in general, and Capone in particular. Cermak even allied with the “respectable” bootlegger Roger Touhy in an effort to isolate the Capone gang. (As will be seen, Cermak was not a reformer at all, and his alliance with Touhy stemmed from his desire to grab his own share of illicit jack.) There were numerous arrests, gun battles, and shot-up gangsters, as Capone’s end appeared imminent.
In the nation’s capital, momentum against Capone had been growing since 1926, when Vice President Charles Dawes had initiated a federal assault on the crime boss. President Calvin Coolidge’s second-in-command hailed from Illinois and, along with his brother Rufus, owned a family bank in Chicago’s Loop. In addition, Rufus was the president of the World’s Fair Corporation, which was formed to coordinate the Fair’s 1933 arrival in Chicago. Known as “A Century of Progress,” the Fair was viewed as critical to Chicago’s future growth and reputation. Over the next few years, Dawes lobbied Coolidge and his successor, Herbert Hoover, in his quest to dethrone Capone. Both presidents joined the fray by exploiting a 1927 Supreme Court ruling (U.S. v. Sullivan) - that illegal income was taxable. In March 1929, one month after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, Chicago Daily News publisher Frank Knox led a citizens’ delegation to ask new president Herbert Hoover for help. Knox, accompanied by Chicago Crime Commission director Frank Loesch, informed the president that only federal help could save their city. Like the Dawes brothers, Knox knew that bank investors were becoming leary of depositing their money in Gangland, USA. At the time, there were some sixty-three gang murders per year in Chicago.
Although Coolidge and Hoover may have been well-intentioned, the Chicagoans’ “crusade” was in large part a self-serving exercise in hypocrisy. The effort was funded in part by the Secret Six, a group of “crime-fighting” Chicago businessmen who put up hundreds of thousands of dollars (including $75,000 to IRS chief Elmer Irey). In fact, this cartel was just another xenophobic lynch mob that had no qualms about establishing its fortunes on the backs of the musclemen provided by Capone’s Syndicate. Their civic activism was a barely concealed attempt to improve their own business fortunes by getting the gangs off the streets in time for the upcoming World’s Fair. Worst of all, they backed Frank Loesch, an unabashed racist, who had earlier struck an election accommodation with Capone, and who now headed the Chicago Crime Commission (CCC).
With Loesch at its helm, the Chicago Crime Commission was in high gear. It launched a brilliant PR campaign against the gangsters when it established the Public Enemy list. Of course, Capone was the CCC’s first Public Enemy Number One. But Loesch was also battling inner demons. Addressing students at Princeton University in 1930, Loesch disclosed his true agenda when he wailed, “It’s the foreigners and the first generation of Americans who are loaded on us . . . The real Americans are not gangsters.” He went on to explain that “the Jews [are] furnishing the brains and the Italians the brawn.” Of course, Loesch failed to inform his audience that he himself was a first-generation American of German parentage. But no one debated Loesch’s motives, since the Public Enemy list had struck a chord with the American public. Meanwhile, in Washington, Hoover’s inquiry was taking off. It was the beginning of the end for Capone.
The special prosecutor sent from Washington, Dwight H. Green, received his marching orders from U.S. Attorney George Johnson: “Your job is to send the Chicago gangsters to prison. You can call on revenue agents, special agents, or agents of the Special Intelligence Division of the Treasury Department. You can have the staff you need as quickly as you can show the need for it. Go to it.” Green hired Agent Arthur Madden to direct the field operation, while Frank Wilson looked into Capone’s spending habits. The team pieced together their evidence from physical artifacts and the paper trail, not from corrupted officials. Simultaneously, IRS chief Elmer Irey focused on Capone’s 1928 purchase ($31,000 cash down) of his $40,000 Palm Island estate. Using the pseudonym Michael Lepito, one agent, Pat O’Rourke, actually infiltrated Capone’s Lexington Hotel headquarters. That led the team to Capone’s bookkeeper, eventually found hiding in Miami.
As per custom, Capone dispatched legal emissaries to the nation’s capital to put in the fix. The guardians of the public trust were more than happy to take the money, but delivered nothing in return. One of Capone’s lawyers, his tail between his legs, reported back to the boss, “I spent forty thousand dollars in just one office, spreading it around.” He told how he had placed a bundle holding $30,000 in a deserted Senate office and watched from his hiding spot as a U.S. senator made off with it. “Later I learned that we had not bought a goddamn thing,” the legal eagle lamented. Capone also went after Irey himself and must have been stunned when Irey refused the enormous bribe put forward. Irey told the Capone bagman, “So far as I am concerned, Al Capone is just a big fat man in a mustard-colored suit.” Reportedly, the bribe attempt only fueled Irey’s zeal to destroy Capone.
At least one member of the team developed a grudging respect for The Big Guy. George Johnson recognized Capone’s obvious talents and spoke of them with his son, George, Jr. “My father said many times that Al Capone could have been a brilliant businessman,” remembered the younger Johnson. “[He] meant that he had the organizational ability, cunning, intellect, and street smarts it took to succeed.”
After three years, Johnson, Irey, and Green had enough evidence. First they collared Capone’s second-in-command, Frank Nitti, who had spent at least $624,888 in three years alone. He was sentenced to eighteen months and a $10,000 fine. Al’s brother Ralph was sentenced to three years at Leavenworth and a $10,000 fine on tax evasion.
In pretrial proceedings, Capone cut a deal with Attorney Johnson that threw out the five thousand prohibition violations that would have cost Capone an astounding twenty-five thousand years to life in jail. Capone smiled throughout the pretrial proceedings, never imagining he would lose. After all, he had gotten away with murder for a dozen years. Nonetheless, Capone purchased extra insurance by bribing the entire list of prospective jurors, which his boys had characteristically acquired.
Finally, the big show, the trial of Scarface Al Capone, took place over four days in October 1931. Judge James Wilkerson, who earlier had thrown out Capone’s plea deal with Johnson, now displayed the wisdom of Solomon: He switched the jury-pool list at the last minute and secured an untainted jury. A now somber Capone watched as a parade of witnesses attested to his lavish lifestyle. Although it represented a small fraction of Capone’s total funds, the government was able to show that between 1924 and 1929 Capone had netted at least $1,038,660.84, for which he should have paid $215,080 in income tax. Capone’s high-priced legal team appeared impotent, seeming to have spent no time trying to develop an explanation for Al’s warehouse of expensive possessions. On October 17, 1931, after deliberating for eight hours, the jury returned their verdict of guilty, ending Al Capone’s six-year reign. At his sentencing a week later, Capone was sent to federal prison (Atlanta, then Alcatraz) for eleven years, in addition to a $50,000 fine and a $30,000 fee in court costs. No other tax delinquent, before or since, has received such punishment.
Practically before Capone’s handcuffs could be affixed, the word began to spread that he had been set up, as some pointed to his inept defense The bottom line held that, since Al’s removal would be better for all concerned, an unholy alliance had been formed between his criminal heirs and the taxman. Teeth were put into the rumors in 1936 when Mrs. Gus Winkler told the FBI that her husband had worked to clear Capone of the tax charges before his conviction. Gus Winkler had confidently advised Paul Ricca that Capone’s case could be fixed for a mere $100,000 back tax payment. However, before Winkler’s gambit could gain momentum, Frank Nitti and Louis Campagna showed up at the couple’s apartment. According to Winkler, the duo ordered her husband to back off. “They wanted Capone in jail,” she remembered. At the time of Al’s trial, Paul Ricca allegedly said to an associate, “Al was bad for business and it was better that he left the scene.” Insiders whispered that Capone’s own men had tipped the feds to the crucial financial records that sealed his fate. Although these theories have not been proved, they are widely accepted by many Chicagoans in a position to know.
While temporarily incarcerated at the Cook County Jail, Capone stayed true to form. His boys managed to bribe his jailers, allowing their boss a life of privilege known to few on the outside: The constant stream of guests imbibed whiskey that Capone was supplied by the gallons; his mistress paid conjugal visits, as did a pimp named Bon-Bon, who happily supplied his girls to the boss. Eventually there was a crackdown when the prison warden was caught driving Capone’s sixteen-cylinder Cadillac. After a slew of delaying - but futile - legal tactics, Capone was eventually sent away to Atlanta in May 1932. While in prison, he was diagnosed with third-stage syphilis. When his illness became severe, he was granted an early release in 1939, with the disease finally claiming him in 1947.
Immediately after Capone went away, payments commenced to Al’s wife, Mae. Gang couriers arrived at his home with moneys tithed by the gang to guarantee Mae’s and her young child Sonny’s welfare. Mrs. Capone is said to have received $25,000 per year until the day she died many years later. The “pension fund” was among many of the new traditions to be instituted by Capone’s heirs. From its inception until the gang’s downfall many years later, a monthly stipend was delivered to the families of all the gang’s leaders who were incarcerated or dead. It was one of many corporate-like regulations adopted by Capone’s heirs - the Outfit.
1. Chicago’s first boom peaked in the 1830s, with more than 150 buildings going up that summer alone. With fourteen miles of riverfront docking space, Chicago was the new nation’s largest inland port, and bullish traders were anxious to exploit nature’s gift. But a nationwide bank panic in 1837 and a subsequent depression sent the city’s newfound prosperity into a tailspin. In 1847, William Ogden came to the rescue when he built a huge factory to manufacture the revolutionary McCormick grain reaper. Coincident were the completion of the Lake Michigan-Illinois River Canal and the Chicago Union Railroad. While the canal gave the nation’s breadbasket farmers access to Eastern markets, the railroad completed the connection to the West. On the Chicago Union’s heels there followed five more rail lines laying tracks through the city. By 1855 ten more railroads completed the transition of the infant city into a commercial crossroads. The railroads combined with its natural route (the Illinois River) to the southern port of New Orleans, put the Second City in hyperdrive. As Lloyd Lewis wrote, “Chicago had become Chicago.”
2. Describing the underworld, Herbert Asbury wrote of “rooms for assignation, procuresses, dens where young girls were raped by half a dozen men and sold to the bordellos, cubicles which were rented to streetwalkers and male degenerates, and hidden rooms used as hideaways by every species of crook.”
3. When Thompson died in 1944, over $2 million in gold, cash, and stock certificates was found in his safe-deposit boxes.
4. No better symbol is needed to illustrate the collusion between City Hall and the gangsters than Big Jim’s funeral, and absolutely no effort was made to conceal it. At the lavish affair, Kenna and Coughlin knelt by the coffin. One thousand members of the First Ward Democratic Club and five thousand constituents also accompanied Big Jim to his final resting place in Oakwood Cemetery. Honorary pallbearers included an assistant state’s attorney, three judges, nine aldermen, and a state representative, all marching side by side to the cemetery with Johnny Torrio and his goon squad. Torrio, after paying all the funeral expenses, expressed grief and wept, “Big Jim and I were like brothers.” Many of his gang let their beards grow until after the funeral, as per Italian custom.
5. The “fake” hooch was in fact deadly. When Groucho Marx joked in A Night at the Opera that he went to a party that was so wild he was “blind for a week,” the remark was rooted in fact; alcohol like the Gennas’ was also known to cause blindness. Ironically, this was just the sort of brew that should have been prohibited but was in fact created by the Volstead Act.
6. After opening the Cotton Club in Cicero, Capone initiated the exodus of black musicians from the Big Easy (and elsewhere) to the Second City. Players such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Duke Ellington, Milt Hinton, Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller, and Nat King Cole were now making the kind of money they deserved. Capone developed genuine friendships with these players, treating them like family. Great jazz bassist Milt Hinton has spoken of how the Big Guy paid his hospital bill when a nearly severed finger threatened to nip his brilliant career in the bud. One night, pianist Fats Waller was “kidnapped” from the Sherman Hotel by armed gangsters, only to be delivered to Al Capone as a birthday gift. Capone treated Waller like a king, and when the three-day party finally waned, the extraordinary pianist found that Capone had lined his pockets with thousands of dollars.
7. The quixotic O’Banion once reminisced about one of his adventures, explaining how a safecracking attempt was interrupted by a policeman: “I was just about to shoot that yokel cop when I remembered that [my partner] the Ox had a pint bottle of nitroglycerin in his pocket. One shot in that room would have blown the whole south end of the Loop to Kingdom Come.” Competitors like Capone wondered who could talk sense with such a man.
8. Johnny “the Fox” Torrio suffered a fatal heart attack while in his barber’s chair in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Anna, had led such a hermetic existence for the previous two decades that only a smattering of neighbors showed up at his wake, a far cry from the mammoth send-offs given fellow Chicago kingpins Jim Colosimo and Deanie O’Banion. So inconsequential was his passing that newspapers did not learn of it for three weeks. Just five weeks earlier (February 26,1957), Torrio’s former nemesis Bugs Moran died in Leavenworth prison, where he had recently been imprisoned for bank robbery. The heist came just days after his 1956 prison release, after a ten-year stay, on a similar charge.
9. Capone’s image transformation was inspired in part by the counsel of Chicago Evening American editor Harry Read, who was happy to trade advice for inside stories from the Big Guy. Speaking to Capone on one occasion, Read advised, “Al, you’re a prominent figure now. Why act like a hoodlum? Quit hiding. Be nice to people.” (Read would eventually be fired from the American when the Tribune published a photo of him catching rays with the Big Guy at Capone’s Palm Island, Florida, estate.) Apparently, Read’s words struck a chord with Capone, who soon began venturing out in public, the most accessible gangster the world had ever seen. He began holding regular press conferences to win back the public. He even announced to a throng of disbelieving journalists for whom he had dished up a spaghetti dinner at his home, “I am out of the booze business.” Incredibly, Al Capone became the toast of Chicago - at least among the city’s downtrodden blue-collar segments. He was cheered at prizefights, racetracks, and at Cubs games with five minute standing ovations; he gave writers and perfect strangers tips on fixed fights and horse races.
10. Ten months after the massacre, evidence gathered at another murder gave a strong indication as to the identity of one of the shooters. At the time, the science of ballistics was in its infancy, but it had already been learned that gun barrels leave unique scratches, or rifling marks, on exiting bullets. Rifling marks on the bullets recovered from the scene of the December 1929 murder of a St. Joseph, Michigan, policeman matched identically the marks on bullets from not only the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, but also the assassination of Frankie Yale. More important, the bullets from the policeman’s slaying were matched to a weapon that was traced to gang hit man Fred “Killer” Burke. Burke was captured and sentenced to a life sentence in the police murder, never standing trial for the St. Valentine’s Day shooting.
11. With county clerks on his retainer, Capone was kept informed of any meaningful event that took place in the lives of Italians and Sicilians. Thus cards, gift baskets, and flowers were sent to families mourning a recent death, or celebrating a birth, marriage, or high school graduation; every hospitalized Italian or Sicilian who came to Al’s attention received a personal note attached to a floral arrangement; Capone spent Sunday mornings in the Italian districts personally handing out money to the needy. He attended christenings and wakes of perfect strangers; baskets of food were sent weekly to the infirm and the needy, and this being the Depression, the roster was bulging; Capone’s soup kitchens became the stuff of legend. After using his muscle to convince local food producers to “do your bit, or else,” he hired good cooks for his spotless facilities and fed some ten thousand per day. When winter came, the destitute were served chili, beef stew, rye bread, and coffee or hot chocolate. Lastly, Capone gave slum children Grade A milk for the first time in their lives, ordering his sluggers to force the Chicago City Council to adopt a date stamp on milk cartons. After his death, upperworld capitalists had the law repealed.