Thursday, January 31, 2013

Inglorious Power of the Illinois Governor's Office

The Notoriety of the Illinois Governor’s Office

Sigh. Corruption in Illinois politics never seems to leave the newspaper headlines. Former Governor George Ryan was just released yesterday from his stint in a federal prison. Another former governor, Rod Blagojevich is currently doing federal time for trying to sell the Senate seat of recently elected President Barack Obama (among other things). And it seems like someone may be sizing current Governor Pat Quinn for his own orange jumpsuit. He just got caught for filling the position of a high-ranking prison administrator job with a guy whose prior work experience was teaching theater, working as an assistant manager at a video store and managing an office for “his father’s campaign.” Yikes! Some might remember that suspicious hiring practices were what first got the attention of the Feds when Blagojevich was in office.

But, unfortunately, corruption in the Illinois governor’s office is nothing new. It’s been going on for years, dating back all of the way to the days of Al Capone and John Torrio, who had their own many in the governor’s mansion.

There have been six Illinois governors who have been charged with crimes during or after the time they were in office. Four were convicted, one got away with it and another… well, let’s just say that he had some help in convincing the jurors that he was not guilty.

Prior to George Ryan, the most recent governor to serve time was Dan Walker, the governor from 1973 to 1977. He was later involved in the Savings and loan scandals and convicted of federal crimes related to fraudulent loans to himself from his own First American Savings & Loan Association of Oak Brook. He was sentenced to seven years in prison with five years of probation following his release.

In 1965, Governor William Stratton, who served from 1953 to 1961 was acquitted of tax evasion. His successor, though, was not so lucky. Otto Jerner, Jr. was governor from 1961 to 1968 and he was later a judge on the United States States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In 1973, he was convicted of 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury, and income-tax charges from his time as governor. He received 3 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Ironically, he was prosecuted by future Illinois governor Jim Thompson – a friend of and attorney for later convicted Governor George Ryan.  

Even though he was never convicted, perhaps the most notoriously corrupt governor was Len Small, who served from 1921 to 1929. He was indicted in office for corruption and while he was acquitted, eight of the jurors in the trail later received state jobs. Among his defense lawyers was former governor Joseph W. Fifer, who asserted, in pre-trial hearings, that the Illinois governorship had the divine right of kings!

Famously a friend of Chicago mayor “Big Bill” Thompson (Al Capone’s favorite mayor), Small was born in Kankakee County, Illinois, and was educated in the public schools. He attended Northern Indiana Normal School, taught school and invested in real estate, eventually owning a farm, a bank, and Kankakee's daily newspaper. In 1883, Small married Ida Moore, and they had three children together.

Small began his political career in 1901 when he became a member of the Illinois Senate. He served in the Senate for the next four years and then became Illinois State Treasurer for 1905 to 1907, and again from 1917 to 1919. In between, he served as the assistant U.S. Treasurer in charge of the sub treasury at Chicago between 1908 and 1912.

Former Governor Len Small
In 1920, Small won the election for Governor of Illinois and was re-elected in 1925. As governor, Small pardoned 20 members of the Communist Labor Party convicted under the Illinois Sedition Act. He also pardoned or paroled over 1,000 convicted felons, including Edward “Spike” O’Donnell of the South Side O’Donnell Gang.

Another important pardon – repaying a favor to the Torrio Outfit – was the pardon of Harry Guzik (brother of Torrio / Capone money man Jake Guzik), who had been convicted of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into prostitution with a white slavery ring.

This was a favor repaid after Small was indicted while in office for embezzling $600,000 and running a money-laundering scheme when he was state treasurer. The Outfit would get him out of trouble – but they would need a favor in return.

In 1921, Torrio was moving in Chicago Heights, where he opened the Moonlight Café two thriving roadhouses in Burnham, the Coney Island Café and the Barn. In Posen, he established the Roamer Inn, under the management of Harry Guzik, one of three brothers who had been long entrenched in the rackets, and his wife, Alma.

John Torrio

The Roamer Inn became a strong test of Torrio’s political connections. The Guziks placed an advertisement for a housemaid and when a pretty, young farm girl applied, they stripped her naked, made her a prisoner and had her broken in as a prostitute. After five months in captivity, she managed to get word to her family. By the time that her brothers rescued her, she was a mental and physical wreck. In court, her father told how the Guziks had tried to bribe him not to testify. They were convicted and sentenced to hard time. While free on bail, pending an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, they came to Torrio for help. Torrio, in turn, approached Walter Stevens, one of the most respected gunmen in Chicago.

Stevens had been a lieutenant for Maurice “Mossy” Enright for many years and was considered a pioneer in labor union racketeering, slugging, bombing and killing during the industrial strife problems of the early 1900s. He was the last survivor of the Enright gang after Mossy himself was killed as a favor to rival labor racketeer Big Tim Murphy in 1920.

When Mossy Enright was killed in 1930, Stevens joined up with the Torrio-Capone gang. He had many contacts but perhaps his greatest was Illinois Len Small.  When Small was indicted, Stevens went to work. Working behind the scenes for the defense were Stevens, “Jew Ben” Newmark, a former investigator for the state’s attorney as well as a thief and extortionist, and Michael “Umbrella Mike” Boyle, a business agent for Electrical Workers’ Union No. 134. Boyle’s nickname came from his practice of standing at a bar on certain days of the month with his umbrella partially open so that contractors who wanted to avoid union problems could drop off cash.

As the governor’s trial progressed, the three men kept busy bribing and intimidating jurors. Small was acquitted and he did not forget anyone who helped him. Eight of the men on his jury later received state jobs and Stevens and his cronies ran into other trouble. When they later went to jail – Newmark and Boyle for jury tampering and Stevens for an old murder – Small pardoned them. Stevens now drew Small’s attention to the Guziks’ unfortunate situation and before the Supreme Court could hand down its decision in their case, the governor pardoned them. Within three months, the Guziks were running a new brothel, the Marshfield Inn, just outside the Chicago’s southern limits.

Sadly, this sort of set the stage for how politics would always run in Illinois. There’s a reason why a long-time joke in Chicago has been “vote early, and vote often.” Corruption runs rampant in politics and based on the recent events that we’ve seen in the state’s highest office, it’s unlikely that things will change anytime soon. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Assassination that Almost Was...

The First Time Someone Tried to Kill the President

In American history, there have been four assassinations of our president – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. There have also been a number of attempts to kill the president with assassination tries most famously aimed at Theodore Roosevelt, Gerald Ford by remnants of the Manson family and Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley. But on this date, January 30, 1835, the first attempt was made to kill an American president when a man named Richard Lawrence attempted to kill Andrew Jackson.

To anyone familiar with history, this was certainly not the first time that someone had tried to kill Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. He had a long and storied career as a military officer, fighting Indians and the British at New Orleans, and he also fought several duels both before and after his political career.

Andrew Jackson
When he was only a teenager, Jackson was captured by the British during the American Revolution. Ordered by a British officer to clean his boots, Jackson refused and earned a scar on his head from the officer’s saber. Even as a young man, he refused to back down when he knew something was wrong. His confrontational nature would serve him well as both a duelist – and as President.

The first duel that Jackson fought started in a courtroom, which was not an uncommon occurrence at the time. Many legal and political differences were solved on the dueling fields as matters of honor. In this case, Jackson was serving as the prosecutor for the North Carolina Territorial (later Tennessee) Court in 1788. During a civil suit, Jackson went up against Waightsill Avery, a noted Revolutionary veteran and one of the most respected lawyers in North Carolina. In fact, Jackson was turned down by Avery previously for a law internship.

Jackson, then just 21 years old, was overmatched by Avery in the suit. Avery ridiculed Jackson's legal position with sarcasm. In a letter, Jackson challenged Avery, "My character you have injured, and further you have insulted me in the presence of a court and a large audience." By the time of the duel, Jackson's temper cooled. Their seconds (assistants) agreed that honor had been achieved. Both deliberately missed with their shots and shook hands.

Fifteen years later, Jackson again tangled with a distinguished veteran. Tennessee governor John Sevier was a self-assured man who blocked Jackson's coveted election as major general of the Tennessee militia. By 1802, Jackson won the major generalship narrowly over then ex-governor Sevier. Then Jackson publicly introduced evidence he discovered of Sevier dealing in forged land warrants. Sevier later burst into Judge Jackson's Knoxville court with a cutlass and demanded a fight. Jackson replied with a challenge of his own. A duel in Virginia was arranged by their seconds, but the two met prematurely by chance in the West Tennessee Indian country. Jackson dismounted and approached Sevier brandishing a pistol. After some cursing, each holstered their weapons. But Jackson refused to let it go. He taunted the former governor and Sevier drew his sword. Jackson went for his pistol and Sevier hid behind a tree. Sevier's son, James, took aim on Jackson and Dr. Thomas Vandyke, Jackson's companion, took aim on James. After more parley, the men withdrew and the scheduled duel never happened.

With Jackson's next duel, the tables were turned--- two young lawyers challenged Jackson. Stemming from a horse racing wager, Thomas Swann told Charles Dickinson that Jackson accused him of double-dealing. Swann demanded satisfaction, but Jackson suspected Dickinson was behind the challenge, "the base, poltroon and cowardly tale-bearer will always act in the background." Swann confronted Jackson in a Nashville tavern and Jackson beat him with a cane. This insult resulted in a challenge.

As arranged, Dickinson, who was 15 years younger than his opponent, met Jackson at Harrison's Mill, Kentucky for the duel. Dickinson was a fine marksman and Jackson only adequate. Only 24 feet separated them when the command "fire" was announced. Dickinson fired first and to his amazement, Jackson hardly flinched. Then Jackson fired calmly. The bullet struck Dickinson in the stomach and he collapsed. As he rode away, Jackson was in pain. Dickinson's bullet had hit near his heart but not fatally. Dickinson died at dusk.

The duel with John Dickinson left one man dead and a bullet in Jackson’s body for the rest of his life. 
Jackson would carry Dickinson's bullet for the rest of his life, as well as his violent reputation. His political opponents used his dueling past against him, declaring him unfit for the presidency. The American people didn’t care and they continued to elect him. Jackson became a polarizing figure who dominated the Second Party System in the 1820s and 1830s, as president he dismantled the Second Bank of the United States and initiated forced relocation and resettlement of Native American tribes from the Southeast to west of the Mississippi River. His enthusiastic followers created the modern Democratic Party. The 1830–1850 period later became known as the era of Jacksonian democracy.

He also holds the rather dubious honor of being the first president to survive both an attack and an assassination attempt while in office.

The first presidential attack came when Jackson ordered the dismissal of Robert B. Randolph from the Navy for embezzlement. On May 6, 1833, Jackson sailed on USS Cygnet to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he was to lay the cornerstone on a monument near the grave of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington's mother. During a stopover near Alexandria, Randolph appeared and struck the President. He fled the scene chased by several members of Jackson's party, including the well-known writer Washington Irving. Jackson decided not to press charges.

On January 30, 1835, the first attempt to kill a sitting President of the United States occurred just outside the United States Capitol. When Jackson was leaving through the East Portico after the funeral of South Carolina Representative Warren R. Davis, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed housepainter from England, aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired.

Historians believe the humid weather contributed to the double misfiring. Lawrence was restrained, and legend says that Jackson attacked Lawrence with his cane. Others present, including David Crockett, the famous Tennessee frontiersman, restrained and disarmed Lawrence.

The first attempt on the life of an American president, Andrew Jackson, occurred on January 30, 1835.  
Lawrence told doctors later his reasons for the shooting. He blamed Jackson for the loss of his job. He claimed that with the President dead, "money would be more plenty" (a reference to Jackson's struggle with the Bank of the United States) and that he "could not rise until the President fell". Finally, he told his interrogators that he was a deposed English King—specifically, Richard III, dead since 1485—and that Jackson was his clerk.

Lawrence had worked as a painter and there is speculation that exposure to the chemicals in his paints may have contributed to his derangement. After losing his job in the early 1830s, his personality saw a dramatic change. He was previously conservatively dressed, but now he dressed flamboyantly, and grew a mustache. He gave up looking for work, saying that he had no need to work as the American government owed him a large sum of money but that President Andrew Jackson was keeping him from receiving it. Lawrence also blamed Jackson for killing his father.

Lawrence was brought to trial on April 11, 1835 at the District of Columbia City Hall. The prosecuting attorney was Francis Scott Key. After only five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Lawrence not guilty by reason of insanity. In the years following his conviction, Lawrence was held by several institutions and hospitals. In 1855, he was committed to the newly-opened Government Hospital for the Insane (later renamed St. Elizabeths Hospital) in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death in 1861.

Even though this was the first attempt to assassinate an American president, there was – as there would be with all later assassinations – speculation that Lawrence was part of a conspiracy. While nobody denied Lawrence's involvement, many people, including Jackson, believed that he may have been supported or put up to carrying out the assassination attempt by the President's political enemies. Senator John C. Calhoun made a statement on the U.S. Senate floor that he was not connected to the attack. Jackson believed Calhoun, an old enemy of his, was at the bottom of the attempt. Jackson also suspected a former friend and supporter, Senator George Poindexter of Mississippi, who had used Lawrence to do some house painting a few months earlier. Poindexter was unable to convince his supporters in Mississippi that he was not involved in a plot against the President, and was defeated for reelection. All subsequent evidence indicates that Lawrence was a deranged man acting alone most likely due to paranoid schizophrenic delusions.

Strangely, though, due to public curiosity concerning the double misfires, the pistols that Lawrence used were tested and retested. Each time they performed perfectly. This gave rise to the legend that Jackson was being protected by the same mystical powers that were protecting the young nation. The national pride that surrounded this belief shaped the country, fueling the American expansion in the late 1830s and beyond. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nevermore: "The Raven" Appears in Print


The Story of “The Raven” -- Poe’s Most Famous Work

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
Only this and nothing more."

In this date, January 29, 1845, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” appeared for the first time in print in the New York Evening Mirror. For many people, this is the most recognizable of Poe’s works and for others (like myself) it’s the only poem that they know very well. The publication of “The Raven” made Poe widely popular during his lifetime, although it never brought him the financial success that he wanted and needed. Soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated, critical opinion is divided as to the poem's status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written – largely due to the fact that Poe died mysteriously and tragically just a few years later.

Like far too many other literary lights in American history, Poe realized his greatest fame only after his death.

 Edgar Allan Poe – perhaps America’s Most Haunted Writer
“The Raven” lyrically tells a simple tale. It follows an unnamed narrator on a night in December who sits reading "forgotten lore" as a way to forget the loss of his love, Lenore. (One of the names of lost women that Poe wrote about, echoing his own tragic loss of love during his life) A "rapping at [his] chamber door" reveals nothing, but excites his soul to "burning".  A similar rapping, slightly louder, is heard at his window. When he goes to investigate, a raven steps into his chamber. Paying no attention to the man, the raven perches on a bust of Pallas above the door.

Amused by the raven's comically serious disposition, the man asks that the bird tell him its name. The raven's only answer is "Nevermore". The narrator is surprised that the raven can talk, though at this point it has said nothing further. The narrator remarks to himself that his "friend" the raven will soon fly out of his life, just as "other friends have flown before" along with his previous hopes. As if answering, the raven responds again with "Nevermore". The narrator reasons that the bird learned the word "Nevermore" from some "unhappy master" and that it is the only word it knows.

Even so, the narrator pulls his chair directly in front of the raven, determined to learn more about it. He thinks for a moment in silence, and his mind wanders back to his lost Lenore. He thinks the air grows denser and feels the presence of angels, and wonders if God is sending him a sign that he is to forget Lenore. The bird again replies in the negative, suggesting that he can never be free of his memories. The narrator becomes angry, calling the raven a "thing of evil.” Finally, he asks the raven whether he will be reunited with Lenore in Heaven. When the raven responds with its typical "Nevermore", he is enraged, and, calling it a liar, commands the bird to return to the "Plutonian shore", - but it does not move. Presumably at the time of the poem's recitation by the narrator, the raven "still is sitting" on the bust of Pallas. The narrator's final admission is that his soul is trapped beneath the raven's shadow and shall be lifted "Nevermore".

An illustration of “The Raven” by Gustave Dore, perhaps one of the greatest literary illustrators of the nineteenth century. 
The poem did not have an auspicious start. Poe first brought it to his friend and employer George Rex Graham of Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia. Graham declined the poem, which may not have been in its final version, though he gave Poe $15 as charity.  Poe then sold the poem to The American Review, which paid him $9 for it, and printed "The Raven" in its February 1845 issue under the pseudonym "Quarles", a reference to the English poet Francis Quarles. The poem's first publication with Poe's name was in the Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845, as an "advance copy".  Nathaniel Parker Willis, editor of the Mirror, introduced it as a poem that will “…stick to the memory of everybody who reads it." Following this publication the poem appeared in periodicals across the United States, including the New York Tribune, Broadway Journal, Southern Literary Messenger, Literary Emporium, Saturday Courier and the Richmond Examiner. The immediate success of "The Raven" prompted Wiley and Putnam to publish a collection of Poe's prose called Tales in June 1845; it was his first book in five years. They also published a collection of his poetry called The Raven and Other Poems. The small volume, his first book of poetry in 14 years, was 100 pages and sold for 31 cents. In addition to the title poem, it included some of his now famous works like "The City in the Sea", "The Conqueror Worm", "The Haunted Palace" and eleven others. In the preface, Poe referred to them as "trifles" which had been altered without his permission as they made "the rounds of the press". Even when his work was drawing notice, Poe couldn’t help but sabotage his possible success. As it turned out, though, he needn’t have bothered. Despite the word of mouth that surrounded “The Raven,” Poe was still broke.

Thanks to its wide release, “The Raven” made Poe a household name. Readers began to identify poem with poet, earning Poe the nickname "The Raven".  The poem was soon widely reprinted, imitated, and parodied – all for free. Poe made almost no money from its success. As he later complained, “I have made no money. I am as poor now as ever I was in my life – except in hope, which is by no means bankable".

For the most part, “The Raven” was widely praised. The Pennsylvania Inquirer reprinted it with the heading "A Beautiful Poem".  Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Poe, "Your 'Raven' has produced a sensation, a fit o' horror, here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by 'Nevermore'."

Poe's popularity resulted in invitations to recite "The Raven" and to lecture – in public and at private social gatherings. At one literary salon, a guest noted, "to hear [Poe] repeat the Raven ... is an event in one's life." It was recalled by someone who experienced it, "He would turn down the lamps till the room was almost dark, then standing in the center of the apartment he would recite ... in the most melodious of voices ... So marvelous was his power as a reader that the auditors would be afraid to draw breath lest the enchanted spell be broken."

Of course, then as now, anything popular was sure to draw imitators and parodies. Some of the joke versions of the poem included "The Craven" by "Poh!", "The Gazelle", "The Whippoorwill", and "The Turkey". One parody, "The Pole-Cat", caught the attention of Andrew Johnston, a lawyer who sent it on to Abraham Lincoln. Though Lincoln admitted he had "several hearty laughs", he had not, at that point read "The Raven". However, Lincoln eventually read and memorized the poem. It should also be noted that no matter how popular the jokes were, those parody versions have faded into obscurity.

“The Raven” was praised by fellow writers William Gilmore Simms and Margaret Fuller, though it was denounced by William Butler Yeats, who called it "insincere and vulgar ... its execution a rhythmical trick". Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I see nothing in it." A critic for the Southern Quarterly Review wrote in July 1848 that the poem was ruined by "a wild and unbridled extravagance" and that minor things like a rapping at the door and a fluttering curtain would only affect "a child who had been frightened to the verge of idiocy by terrible ghost stories.”

Poe’s notoriety – and yet lack of financial success – haunted him for the remainder of his life – a life that ended in mystery. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious, "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance", according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker.  He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. To this day, the actual cause of his death remains unknown.  

Today, 168 years after the publication of the poem, “The Raven” remains a touchstone of American literature and a work that even those without interest in poetry can recite – at least a portion of it anyway. There is no question that it has endured over the years and if asked if the poem will be forgotten…? The raven would undoubtedly reply, “Nevermore.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

The "Tommy Gun" Comes to Chicago

The Rise & Fall of Frank McErlane

On this date, January 28, 1930, Chicago mobster Frank McErlane was shot in an assassination attempt by either the Capone gang – or by men sent by his former partner, Joe Saltis. McErlane had a lot of enemies in the Chicago gangs by 1930. He had earned the wrath of Al Capone by switching loyalties to another gang and angered his long-time partner, Saltis, by arguing over shares and then going to work for the South Side O’Donnell gang, which was a losing proposition all around.

These days, Frank McErlane is a barely remembered part of Chicago’s Roaring 20s history, but in truth, he played a very important role – he was the man that introduced the Thompson machine-gun to Chicago’s gangland wars. The “Tommy Gun” – a.k.a. the “Chicago Typewriter” – is the gun that “made Chicago roar” in the 1920s!

South Side Gangster and Killer, Frank McErlane
Born in Chicago in 1894, Frank McErlane was first arrested in 1911 and sent to Pontiac Prison in June 1913 for involvement in a car theft ring. Released on parole in March 1916, he was arrested eight months later as an accessory in the murder of Oak Park police officer Herman J. Malow, Jr. He was sent back to prison, this time to Joliet, for one year. He attempted to escape but was caught and spent another two years in prison.

Shortly after the start of Prohibition, McErlane began running a gang with partner Joseph "Polack Joe" Saltis, operating in the "Back of the Yards" section of the South Side. The “Back of the Yards” was a grim landscape of slaughterhouses, factories and train tracks in those days and a depressing wasteland of rundown homes and buildings that would forever be connected to the nearby stockyards. This bleak area was the domain of the Saltis-McErlane gang.

“Polack Joe” Saltis, a hulking dim-witted coward who only managed to rise to a power position in the mob because of his partners, savvy “Dingbat” O’Berta and killer Frank McErlane
Saltis, a slow-witted, hulking Hungarian was a saloonkeeper before Prohibition and while he presented an imposing figure, his cowardice had long been known to his underworld colleagues. His ferocity only emerged when he was dealing with someone smaller and weaker than he was. On one occasion, he beat an elderly woman to death after she refused to let him turn her ice cream parlor into a speakeasy. Only his political connections and gangster pals like Frank McErlane kept his business from being taken over by stronger rivals.
Another principal associate was John “Dingbat” O’Berta, a labor racketeer and politician from the Thirteenth Ward. O’Berta was actually of Slavic descent but had fudged his real name of “Oberta” to appeal to the Irish voters of the district. Childhood friends had nicknamed him “Dingbat” after a popular comic strip character of the day but the ruthless mobster was anything but comical. His ambitions ran unchecked. After rivals gunned down labor racketeer “Big Tim” Murphy, O’Berta gained underworld prominence by marrying Murphy’s widow, Florence.

“Dingbat” O’Berta with his bride, the former Florence Murphy – who saw two of her husbands die by violent means
Saltis began bringing in beer from Wisconsin at the start of Prohibition and he made enough money to buy one brewery and invest in three others. He also used a percentage of his brewery money to buy a summer home in Wisconsin’s Eagle River resort area, a favorite retreat for millionaires in the northern part of the state.

In 1922, McErlane and Saltis allied with the John Torrio – Al Capone operation against the South Side O’Donnell Brothers. McErlane, a stocky, hard-muscled man, was soon known as an especially ferocious assassin. McErlane carried a rosary in his pockets along with a pistol. Unfortunately, he had a taste for alcohol. When he drank, he got crazy, as many unlucky people found out. One night while drinking in Crown Point, Indiana, an equally drunken companion challenged him to show off his skill with a revolver. McErlane picked a stranger at random, an attorney named Thad Fancher, and shot him in the head. He fled the state just one step ahead of the Indiana State Police and fought extradition for a year. When he was finally brought to trail, the state was unable to call its one key witness because his head had been split with an ax. McErlane was acquitted.

McErlane gave Saltis’ operation the deadly element that it had been missing and it didn’t take long for word to spread that crossing Saltis would incur the wrath of the brutal killer.

During the 1923 "Beer Wars", McErlane would be credited with killing three O'Donnell gangsters in September of that year; Jerry O'Conner, George Bucher, and George Meegan. On December 1, 1923, two O'Donnell beer trucks were stopped on the road between Chicago and Joliet. The occupants of one, William "Shorty" Egan and Thomas "Morrie" Keane, were shoved into a car with Frank McErlane and Willie Channell, who drove. Egan miraculously survived what happened next and gave this chilling account:

"Pretty soon the driver asks the guy with the shotgun, 'Where you gonna get rid of these guys?' The fat fellow laughs and says, 'I'll take care of that in a minute.' He was monkeying with his shotgun all the time. Pretty soon he turns around and points the gun at Keane. He didn't say a word but just let go straight at him. Keane got it square on the left side. It kind of turned him over and the fat guy give him the second barrel in the other side. The guy loads up his gun and gives it to Keane again. Then he turns to me and says, 'I guess you might as well get yours too.' With that he shoots me in the side. It hurt like hell so when I seen him loading up again, I twist around so it won't hurt me in the same place. This time he got me in the leg. Then he gimme the other barrel right on the puss. I slide off the seat. But I guess the fat guy wasn't sure we was through. He let Morrie have it twice more and then let me have it again in the other side. The fat guy scrambled into the rear seat and grabbed Keane. He opens the door and kicks Morrie out onto the road. We was doing 50 from the sound. I figure I'm next so when he drags me over to the door I set myself to jump. He shoves and I light in the ditch by the road. I hit the ground on my shoulders and I thought I would never stop rolling. I lost consciousness. When my senses came back, I was lying in a pool of water and ice had formed around me. The sky was red and it was breaking day. I staggered along the road until I saw a light in a farmhouse…"

Despite having nearly half his face blown off, Egan had amazingly lived to tell about his "one-way ride" and fingered Willie Channell as one of his attackers. McErlane was eventually arrested but he beat both this case and charges in the double homicide of George Bucher and George Meegan, who were riddled with bullets while driving home on September 17, 1923.

McErlane’s greatest claim to fame was introducing what would be the Chicago underworld’s weapon of choice – the Thompson sub-machine gun. Known as the “Tommy gun,” “the chopper” and the “Chicago Typewriter,” the weapon had been named for its co-inventor, Brigadier General John T. Thompson, the director of arsenals during World War I. Developed in 1920, it came too late for the war and it was placed on the open market by the New York company, Auto Ordnance. It met with little success with military customers (the Army didn’t want to invest in it until World War II) and most law enforcement agencies rejected it as a hazard to innocent bystanders. To General Thompson’s dismay, it became very popular with gangsters.

At just over eight pounds, the gun was light enough to be handled by a small boy and it could fire up to 1,000 .45 caliber cartridges per minute. It could penetrate a pine board at 500 feet and in no time could reduce a heavy automobile to junk. While most cities and states had enacted legislation similar to New York’s 1911 Sullivan Law, which made it illegal to carry small, easily concealed firearms, they placed no restrictions on Tommy guns. Anyone could buy as many as he liked by mail order or from sporting goods stores. The seller was only required to register the purchaser’s name and address. And if you couldn’t buy one, you could steal one from one of the few police or military arsenals that stocked them.

The Tommy gun soon became an indispensable accessory for every self-respecting gangster. The clattering of the machine gun soon became an all-too-familiar background accompaniment to mayhem on the streets of Chicago.

The gun was first used by Frank McErlane in an attempt on the life of Spike O’Donnell in September 1925. Frank McErlane acquired his "Tommy Gun" from North Side gang leader Dean O'Banion, who had purchased a shipment of submachine guns in Denver, Colorado shortly before his November 1924 murder. At any rate, McErlane was to use one in his next attempt to kill Spike O'Donnell (one of 10 recorded attacks on O'Donnell's life!). On September 25, O'Donnell was talking to a beat cop in front of a drugstore at Sixty-Third and Western streets. A car pulled up and someone yelled, "Hello, Spike!" The gang boss saw what was coming and hit the deck; a submachine gun began drumming from the car, stitching neat lines of bullet holes on the storefront before the would-be killers sped away. Police were so unfamiliar with the Thompson, they thought that either shotguns or a "machine rifle of some kind" had done the damage. It was the first recorded use of a submachine gun in Chicago (or any other major American city, for that matter.)

Spike O’Donnell’s bullet-riddled car after 10 different attempts on his life. He miraculously survived and eventually left Chicago. 
Al Capone, intrigued by the method, co-opted the technique with often bloody results. He had followed McErlane’s exploits with the Tommy gun with much interest. After his failure to take out Spike O’Donnell, McErlane had used the gun on other enemies with better results. Firing the weapon from a speeding car that was going past the Ragen Athletic Club, Ralph Sheldon’s hangout, he had slaughtered Charles Kelly, who happened to be standing outside and seriously injured a Sheldon gang member inside. In an attempt to kill two beer runners from a rival gang, he had used the gun to rip apart a South Side saloon. He wounded the beer runners, but failed to kill anyone inside. Amazed by McErlane’s weaponry (although probably not by his aim) Capone equipped his own arsenal with Tommy guns. Peter von Frantzius, a timid little man who owned Sports, Inc. at 608 Diversey Parkway, became Capone’s chief weapons supplier.

The introduction of the Tommy gun in Chicago turned out to be the highlight of McErlane’s gangster career. After a falling out with both Capone and his former partners, Saltis and O’Berta, he largely faded from sight.

By the late 1920s, though, Chicago was a different place. The The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which took place early in 1929, produced an eerie calm in the city. After that, the Capone organization was firmly in control and few dared to challenge him, even if he was locked up in a prison cell in Philadelphia. By the latter months of 1929, there had been only 53 gangland murders in Chicago, which, while still nothing for city leaders to brag about, were far below the numbers of the previous year. There was, during that summer, even time for relaxing and social life, allowing the gangsters to come out of hiding and mix with their friends and families.

Only a couple of bloody incidents marred the early months of 1930 – and all involved Frank McErlane. McErlane had been recently restless. He had fought over shares with his partner Joe Saltis and had transferred his allegiance to the South Side O’Donnells, which may – or may not have – led to him being shot on January 28.

That evening, McErlane pretty was rushed to the hospital after being shot in the left leg; the bullet had struck above the knee and fractured the leg. Frank claimed that he had accidentally shot himself while cleaning a revolver, but police suspected that his common-law wife Elfrieda Rigus (a.k.a. Marion Miller) may have shot him. They had quite a stormy relationship and often had high-decibel, alcohol-fueled fights.

Another possible suspect was "Dingbat" O'Berta, with whom McErlane had been feuding. On the night of February 24, McErlane was propped up his hospital bed with his healing leg still in traction when two or three gunmen barged in and opened fire. Frank yanked an automatic from under his pillow and returned their fire. While his shots missed, they scared his assailants off; one of them dropped a .45 automatic in his flight. McErlane had been winged three times in the melee, but none of the shots were fatal.

He was interviewed by the police, but of course, did not name his attackers. He shrugged off their questions and said cryptically, "I'll take care of it." Just after McErlane was released from the hospital, on March 5, Dingbat O'Berta was found shot to death in his car on the outskirts of Chicago. The body of O’Berta’s driver, Sam Malaga, was found near the car, face down in an icy puddle of water. The .45 left in McErlane's had hospital room had been traced to Malaga. Frank had, indeed, "taken care of it".

“Dingbat” O’Berta – shot to death in his car. Frank McErlane had “taken care of it” after the attempt on his life in the hospital. 
O’Berta’s funeral was a two-day affair, attended by 15,000 admirers from the Back-of-the-Yards district, where O’Berta had earned a name for himself as an influential young politician. Dingbat’s widow had previously been the wife of Big Tim Murphy, the racketeer controller of the Street Sweepers’ Union. Big Tim had been machine-gunned in front of his Rogers Park home in June 1928. She and O’Berta had met at Murphy’s funeral. She had her second husband buried next to her first in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, each with a rosary in his gun hand. She told reporters, “They were both good men.”

McErlane spiraled into obscurity after that. Years of excessive consumption of Prohibition-era booze had taken its toll on Frank's mental state. On June 8, 1931, an intoxicated McErlane swept a South Shore Drive block with shotgun blasts, shooting at imaginary foes. Police ultimately filed five simultaneous charges against him -- drunk and disorderly, carrying a concealed weapon, firing a shotgun indiscriminately around his neighborhood, driving with forged license plates, and biting his sister on the cheek.

On October 8, 1931, McErlane was driving his car with common-law wife Elfrieda Rigus and her two German Shepherds in the back seat. Police later determined that both were extremely drunk and arguing with each other. At one point, Frank finally snapped. After pulling over in front of 8129 Phillips Avenue, McErlane whirled around and fired four fatal bullets into Elfrieda. Tired of the yapping dogs, Frank shot and killed them as well.

After this episode, McErlane's remaining underworld associates raised a "retirement fund" of several hundred dollars in order to get rid of the dangerously unstable gunman. Frank thus retired to a lavishly furnished houseboat located on the Illinois River in Beardstown, Illinois. In the fall of 1932, Frank fell ill with pneumonia. In his delirium, he was convinced that rival gangsters were coming to his hospital room to kill him; it took four attendants to hold him down in his rage. Frank McErlane died at the age of 38 on October 8, 1932, a year to the day after he killed Elfrieda Rigus.

When a reporter interviewed one of Frank's former associates after his death, he had this to say about McErlane, "I don't remember that he ever did anything good in his life. I don't believe he had a friend left."

Friday, January 25, 2013

O'Banion's Right Hand

Earl “Hymie” Weiss

This post is sort of a follow-up to yesterday’s post about the attempted assassination of John Torrio by elements of the Dean O’Banion mob during Chicago’s bloodiest years. This date, January, 25, 1898, was the birthday of O’Banion’s closest friend and most bloodthirsty avenger, Earl “Hymie” Weiss.

Earl “Hymie” Weiss
During his brief period of power on Chicago’s North Side, Dean O’Banion gained a reputation as a reckless, dangerous and eccentric gangster – and a man not to cross. But O’Banion surrounded himself with men who were just as eccentric as he was. Perhaps one of the most colorful was Earl Wojciechowski, the son of a Polish immigrant who was better known as Earl “Hymie” Weiss. Hymie coined a term that would become one of gangland Chicago’s best-known traditions when he murdered a fellow gangster named Stephen Wisniewski in 1921 – the “one-way ride.” After Wisniewski hijacked some of O’Banion booze, Weiss was tasked with teaching him a lesson. He took the gangster for a ride along Lake Michigan and somewhere along the way, Wisniewski was murdered and his body dumped on the roadside. Afterwards, Weiss was said to have bragged, “We took Stevie for a ride, a one-way ride!”

Weiss was born on January 25, 1898, the son of Walenty and Mary Wojciechowski, who Americanized their names to William and Mary Weiss. He had two brothers, Bruno and Frederick and a sister named Violet. Two other siblings died as children and Weiss’ parents separated while he was still young. Weiss began his criminal career as an “auto pirate,” stealing cars and cutting them up for their parts. In May 1919, after two stolen cars were found at 128 North Cicero, police captured Weiss, along with James Fleming and Alfred Marlowe, as they drove up in a third stolen car. They had been chopping up the cars at 317 North Avers, where they kept tools to dismantle car chassis, strip them for parts and then sell the stolen license plates. Weiss later became friends with O’Banion and the two of them went into the burglary and safecracking business.

Like O’Banion, Weiss attended Holy Name Cathedral and always wore a crucifix around his neck and kept a rosary in his pocket. Thin and wiry with coarse, dark hair, hot black eyes and a notoriously short temper, he was easily the smartest member of the gang and the most arrogant. Many people told stories of his kindness but those who disliked him shuddered in fear at his very presence (Rumor had it that he was one of the only men whom Al Capone feared). Weiss’ frequent mood swings may have been caused by the fact that he suffered from severe migraines. A sofa was installed for him in an upstairs office at Schofield’s flower shop (the North Side gang’s headquarters) and he would sometimes lay there for hours, wracked with pain and completely immobilized in the darkness.

When feeling well, Weiss was described as “generous to a fault.” Like O’Banion, he often helped out poor people in the neighborhood, contributing food and money to those who fell short on their grocery bills. He not only paid all of his parents’ food bills and expenses, but he took care of their friends and neighbors, as well. Once while staying overnight with the family of a fellow gangster, he heard a noise in the kitchen and went in to find his friend’s son trying to get into a cookie jar on the kitchen counter. Weiss laughed and lifted the boy up so that he could snag a snack, a welcome favor that the child would remember many years later as an adult. Weiss made many friends growing up and a number of his classmates from St. Malachy’s School, which he attended as a child, were honorary pallbearers at his funeral. He shared an apartment with a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl named Josephine Libby, who called him “one of the finest men in the world.”

But Weiss, like so many other gangsters of his era, had a dark side. On election days, he worked hard for whatever political party he had been hired to support, clubbing his way from polling place to polling place with a revolver. He seemed to relish beating up election officials while his thugs stole the ballot boxes. One example of his fiery temper occurred in June 1921 when he shot his brother. Fred had just returned from France after completing his military service and made an unwise comment to his brother about the fact that he had failed to serve his country. Earl whipped out a gun and shot him. The Weiss family tried to cover up the incident and Fred pleaded with his doctor at Washington Boulevard Hospital not to tell the police. Everyone claimed it was an accident. The truth of what really happened did not come out until after Earl’s death, when Fred finally admitted that his brother shot him.

After the assassination of Dean O’Banion, Hymie Weiss became a man motivated by revenge. After O’Banion’s death, he became the head of the North Side gang that O’Banion had founded. However, Weiss seemed less interested in making money and more concerned with wrecking the operations of Capone and his allies – and wiping them out. Weiss and his men had wounded John Torrio and caused him to flee Chicago. They had attacked Capone twice, killed Angelo Genna, and wounded and murdered dozens of enemy gunmen.

But Capone retaliated next. He marked Weiss and fellow gang member Vincent Drucci for death and assigned gunman Louis Barko to carry out the murders on August 10, 1926. The event became known as the “Battle of Michigan Avenue.”

Drucci had a suite at the Congress Hotel, four blocks north of the Standard Oil Building at Ninth Street and Michigan Avenue. On the morning of August 10, following a late breakfast in Drucci’s eighth floor suite, Weiss and Drucci walked toward the Standard Oil Building, where they were supposed to meet with Morris Eller, a Sanitary District Trustee, and John Sbarbaro, owner of gangland’s favorite funeral home. Eller was the mobbed-up boss of the Twentieth Ward and a cheap racketeer who offered a presentable face as a politician. Drucci was carrying $13,500 in cash in his pockets, which was allegedly a down payment on a piece of real estate, but was more likely bribe money for the North Side gang’s Twentieth Ward sponsors.

As Drucci and Weiss were about to pass through doors of the building, Louis Barko and three other men jumped out of a car on the east side of Michigan Avenue and opened fire on them. Windows shattered and bullets chipped the stone walls as Drucci scrambled for cover behind parked cars. Weiss managed to get into the lobby of the building, shaken but unhurt.

Drucci pulled out his own gun and returned fire before jumping onto the running board of an automobile driven by C.C. Bassett, a startled motorist who had been trapped in the crossfire. Drucci’s escape was interrupted by the arrival of the police, who dragged him off the car. The attackers ran back to their car and when one of them fell behind, the others drove off without him. The affair turned out to be bloodless and it was over in less than two minutes. The police officers on the scene recognized Barko as one of Capone’s gunmen and assumed this was an attempted mob hit. However, Drucci denied it. When questioned by the police at the South Clark Street station, he claimed that he didn’t know Barko and dismissed the whole thing as an attempted robbery. “It was a stick-up, that’s all,” he told the cops. “They were after my roll.” Hymie Weiss’ mother posted the necessary bond and freed her son’s friend from behind bars.

Their luck continued five days later. On August 15, Drucci and Weiss were driving south on Michigan Avenue and as they passed the Standard Oil Building, a car that had been trailing close behind them suddenly raced ahead, swerved to the right and rammed them. The men in the other car opened fire and bullets smashed all of their windows. Drucci and Weiss ducked down and scrambled out of the passenger side of the sedan. As they ran for the shelter of the closest building, they fired back over their shoulders with their own handguns. Miraculously, once again, no innocent bystanders were killed in the attack. As bullets slammed into the attacker’s car, they roared away down Michigan Avenue.

It was incidents like this that caused Charles “Lucky” Luciano, after visiting Chicago, to remark, “It’s a real goddamn crazy place! Nobody’s safe in the streets.”

Soon after, Weiss and George Moran led a hasty assault on the Four Deuces at 2222 South Wabash. Capone somehow escaped unhurt but his driver, Tony Ross, died behind the wheel.

A week later, on September 20, 1926, Weiss pulled one of his craziest stunts yet. He sent a caravan of automobiles, each carrying a trio of machine gunners, to Capone’s Cicero headquarters, the Hawthorne Inn. Hundreds of bullets shattered the front of the hotel, but no one was killed.

On October 4, Capone made a curious move. It was one that would have pleased his old mentor John Torrio, but was uncharacteristic of the more hot-headed Capone: he proposed a peace talk. Weiss agreed to a meeting at the Morrison Hotel, but Capone himself did not attend. He sent Tony Lombardo in his place and, to placate his enemy, he authorized Lombardo to offer Weiss exclusive sales rights to all of the beer territory in Chicago north of Madison Street, an outrageously handsome concession.

But Weiss wouldn’t have it. His thirst for revenge overrode his business interests. The only price that he would accept for peace was the deaths of the men responsible for O’Banion’s murder. Lombardo telephoned Capone for instructions. When he gave Capone’s answer – “I wouldn’t do that to a yellow dog” --- Weiss stormed out of the hotel in a fury.

Capone realized that there was no negotiating with Weiss. With this realization, the man’s days were numbered. Weiss had been a thorn in his side for too long.

October 11, 1926 was a day like any other in downtown Chicago. Workday crowds and shoppers shuffled up and down the pavement and automobiles moved back and forth on the busy streets. Across State Street from Holy Name Cathedral, at 738 North State Street, was the old flower shop that had been run by Dion O’Banion, and now operated solely by John Schofield. Hymie Weiss continued to maintain an office on the second floor.

One of the buildings used by Weiss’ assassins -- the window of the apartment where the shooters waited is marked with a white “X” in the photograph.
Next door, at 740 North State Street, was a three-story rooming house that was kept by Mrs. Anna Rotariu. Early in October, a young man who called himself Oscar Lundin, or Langdon, rented rooms from Mrs. Rotariu. He wanted a room on the second floor, facing State Street, but all of the front rooms were occupied so he agreed to take one in the rear until something in front opened up, as one did on October 8. It was a small, rather dismal room furnished only with two straight-backed wooden chairs, an old oak dresser, a brass bed, a tin food locker, a gas ring and a shelf that held a few mismatched cups, cracked plates and tarnished cutlery. In spite of this, Lundin appeared to be delighted with the room.

On the same day that Lundin moved into his new quarters, a pretty blond woman, who gave her name as Mrs. Theodore Schultz of Mitchell, South Dakota, rented a front room on the third floor of an apartment building at 1 Superior Street, which ran at a right angle to State Street, south of the flower shop. Lundin’s windows offered an unobstructed view of the east side of State Street from Holy Name Cathedral to the corner, while Mrs. Schulz’s windows overlooked both the front and rear entrances of the flower shop. Anyone approaching or leaving the immediate area in any direction had to pass within range of one or the other ‘s windows.

Lundin occupied his new room for only one day. After paying a week’s rent in advance, he vanished. Two men, who had visited him during his short stay, moved into the room. Mrs. Rotariu described them as an older man who wore a gray overcoat and fedora, and a younger man who wore a dark suit and light cap. Mrs. Schultz of Mitchell, South Dakota, also vanished after paying a weeks’ rent. Two men also moved into her room. The landlord later said that they looked like Italians.

In Early October, Hymie Weiss was attending the murder trial of Joe Saltis and Lefty Koncil, two former Capone allies that had defected to Weiss and the O’Banion gang.

In Early October, Hymie Weiss was attending the murder trial of Joe Saltis and Lefty Koncil, two former Capone allies that had defected to Weiss and the O’Banion gang.
During that week in early October, Hymie Weiss spent most of his time at the Criminal Courts Building, four blocks from his headquarters above the flower shop. He was watching the jury selection in the trial of Joe Saltis and Lefty Koncil for the murder of Mitters Foley. The trial held special interest for Weiss, as evidenced by the list of officials and witnesses that was later found in his office safe. These documents would give substance to the rumor that he had paid out more than $100,000 to guarantee an acquittal in the case.

When court recessed for the day on October 11, Weiss left the building with four friends – his driver Sam Peller, a bodyguard and part-time beer runner, Patrick “Paddy” Murray, a Twentieth Ward politician and private investigator named Benny Jacobs, and William O’Brien, one of Chicago’s top criminal attorneys, who was leading the Saltis-Koncil defense team.

At about 4:00 p.m., Peller parked Weiss’ Cadillac coupe in front of Holy Name Cathedral, across from the flower shop, and the five men started across State Street. The two men in Mrs. Rotariu’s rooming house had been waiting for two days with their chairs drawn up to the windows, guns in hand. Dozens of cigarette butts littered the floor. The two men in the side-street apartment had also been keeping watch since October 9, smoking and drinking wine, but now saw they were no longer needed. As they hurried out of the apartment, they left behind a shotgun and two bottles of wine.

As the five men reached the center of the street, the deafening sound of rattling Tommy guns pierced the air. Pedestrians scattered as bullets poured out of the windows of the rooming house. Weiss died instantly but Patrick Murray was hit ten times and survived long enough to be pronounced dead at Henrotin Hospital without regaining consciousness. Peller, hit fifteen times, fell dead in the street.

Patrick “Paddy” Murray in repose

Sam Peller’s Body is taken away by the police
O’Brien, with bullets in his arm, thigh and abdomen, dragged himself to the curb. The first policeman on the scene found him begging people in the growing crowd to take him to a doctor. Jacobs was hit once in the leg, and managed to drag himself to safety. The bullets that killed Hymie Weiss tore away portions of the inscription on the church's cornerstone and left bullet holes as a graphic reminder of the event. The church tried to have them removed years later but the chips and marks remain. They can still be seen on the corner of the cathedral today.

Meanwhile, the assassins fled their third-floor lair, ran down a back staircase, exited the building through a ground-floor window into an alley and disappeared into the crowd. A discarded Tommy gun was found atop a dog kennel in an alley off Dearborn Street but it couldn't be traced back to the killers. On a bed in the rented room the police found a fedora with a label a label from a store in Cicero near the Hawthorne Inn. No record of the owner was ever found.

Although one has to wonder how hard the police actually looked for it. Chief Morgan Collins issued a gruff statement: "I don't want to encourage the business, but if somebody has to be killed, it's a good thing the gangsters are murdering themselves off. It saves trouble for the police.”

A gruesome photograph of Hymie Weiss in the Morgue.

While Weiss was being prepared for burial at the Sbarbaro Funeral Home, Capone was holding a press conference at the Hawthorne Inn. “That was butchery,” he lamented over the course of several interviews as he handed out drinks and cigars to the reporters. “Hymie was a good kid. He could have got out long ago, taken his and been alive today. When we were in business together in the old days, I got to know him well and used to go often to his room for a friendly visit. Torrio and me made Weiss and O’Banion. When they broke away and went into business for themselves, that was all right with us… But then they began to get nasty. We sent ‘em word to stay in their own backyard. But they had the swelled heads and thought they were bigger than we were. Then O’Banion got killed. Right after Torrio was shot – and Torrio knew who shot him – I had a talk with Weiss. ‘What do you want to do, get yourself killed before you’re thirty?’ I said to him. ‘You better get yourself some sense while there are a few of us left alive.’ He could still have got along with me. But he wouldn’t listen to me. Forty times I tried to arrange things so we’d have peace and life would be worth living. Who wants to be tagged around night and day by guards? I don’t, for one. There was, and there is, plenty of business for us all and competition needn’t be a matter of murder, anyway. But Weiss couldn’t be told anything. I suppose you couldn’t have told him a week ago that he’d be dead today. There are some reasonable fellows in his outfit, and if they want peace I’m for it now, as I have always been.”

One of the reporters asked if Al had any idea who might have killed Hymie Weiss. He shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry Hymie was killed, but I didn’t have anything to do with it. I phoned the detective bureau that I’d come in if they wanted me, but they told me they didn’t want me. I knew I’d be blamed for it. There’s enough business for all of us without killing each other like animals in the street. I don’t want to end up in a gutter punctured by machine gun slugs, so why should I kill Weiss?”

The question brought a grunt of disgust from Chief of Detectives Shoemaker when he read the interview in the newspaper. He had his own statement for reporters, one much more succinct than Capone’s. “He knows why,” Shoemaker said, “and so does everyone else. He had them killed.”

Chief Collins agreed. When he was asked why Capone was not arrested for the crime, he replied: “It’s a waste of time to arrest him. He’s been in before on other murder charges. He always has his alibi.”

Hymie Weiss’ funeral was a sad affair, not only for his friends, but in comparison to other gangster funerals. A group of his boyhood classmates from St. Malachy’s School served as his pallbearers and with the last rites of the church denied to him, he was buried in unconsecrated ground at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, not far from the resting place of his friend, Dion O’Banion. The floral tributes fell far below the usual gangland standards and the only underworld figures in attendance were Vincent Drucci and George Moran, who now ran what would be the doomed gang together.

Want to know more about the North Side mob and the history of the Chicago’s Beer Wars? See my book BLOOD, GUNS & VALENTINES, available here in an autographed print edition or as a Kindle book from