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This is the fifth of a series on the gangsters of boozedom and what they did to Chicago. In previous installments Mr. Bennett has told the stories of Dean O’Banion, Johnny Torrio, and other notorious hoodlums.
Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1929
BY JAMES O’DONNELL BENNETT
MORNING of June 13, 1925 in Chicago.
A day of shifting showers and sunshine.
Pavement out Western avenue way—in the 5900 block—wet and slippery, which is a factor in the morning’s doings because it brings death to two innocent men and to one of the wickedest and most dangerous men that ever bogus prohibition developed.
A blood-red day, therefore, for leading gangsters of boozedom.
It has passed into crime annals as “The Day of Sixty Shots.”
As a matter of fact, more than sixty shots were fired, but sixty bullet holes were found in the car of the innocent men. So “sixty” served.
Amid the sunshine and rain of “The Day of the Sixty Shots” Police Detectives Michael J. Conway, William Sweeney, Charles B. Walsh, and Harold F. Olson are touring their district in a detective bureau car. Within a week three policemen have been shot to death by gangsters of boozedom. It Is a time for keeping sharp lookout. Conway, Sweeney, Walsh, and Olson are good men and true, no suspicion that they are in cahoots with gangsters and racketeers. They have been assigned by the central detective bureau to Chicago Lawn station. Just now they are cruising north on Western avenue. Near 47th street an automobile containing four men passes them on its way south. One of the policemen, with a sixth sense for instant identification, mutters:
“There goes a bunch of hoodlums”—hoodlums being the general term for the gangsters and racketeers of boozedom.
Death Stalks the Gennas.
Conway, who is in command. looks up alertly and sees in the approaching car Mike Genna, one of the six Genna brothers from Marsala in Sicily, of whom one or another has been a pest to the police and of use to evil politicians for at least half a decade. Only 19 days before this cloudy June day of 1925 Brother Angelo had been killed in one of the battles of boozedom; Brother Mike’s turn is to come today; Brother Tony is to die twenty-six days from now, the whisper, “Get the Cavallero” on his lips. The lads from ancient Marsala, which has been making wine from .the days of antiquity, have made big money in “alky cooking” in Chicago, but it will be seen that their occupation is not without its disconcertments.
No wonder Conway is interested when he spies Brother Mike in the approaching automobile.
“We’ll follow ’em and see what they’re up to,” said Conway.
The Fatal Swerve.
Officer Olson is at the wheel of the bureau car. Swiftly he turns and heads southward. Pursuit for twelve blocks at seventy-three miles an hour begins. Gong ringing, horn roaring, the bureau car creeps up on the suspect car, which is desperately increasingits speed. Both cars are large and they swerve dangerously on the wet pavement. At 59th street the inevitable happens. A truck swerves into the path of the pursued car. Amid screaming of brakes pursued and pursuers come to a halt, the hoodlums’ car first jumping the right hand curb and slamming against a lamp post; the bureau car swings and slithers to within a few feet of It. Both cars belch armed and angry men.
“What’s the big idea?” the policemen clamor. “Why all the speed when we were giving you the gong to stop?”
A roar of flame and slugs is the the whole of his reply. Officer Olson falls dead, almost the whole of his jaw torn away by the slugs. Poor chap, he has been only two years on the force and he leaves an aged mother, who is a deaf mute, and four young brothers.
Then another blast of fire and slugs. Officer Walsh falls dead, his breast riddled with bullets and the left side of his face torn away by the home made, soft lead slugs used by the gangsters. He leaves a widow and three small children.
Now a third blast and Officer Conway falls—not killed, but terribly wounded. Blood is gushing from his right breast.
Diagram charts course of gunmen and police pursuers. The oblong at the bottom gives the detail wherein the policemen and Genna were killed.
And Sweeney Plunges On.
Officer Sweeney is firing rapidly throughout this terrific fusillade, he remains unwounded and unafraid. He drives the gangsters out of their car and from behind their car. He pursues them across a vacant lot next to the Tourist garage at 5940 Western avenue, out of which rush dumfounded employes to stare at the running fight. Sweeney is gaining on Mike Genna, who is the last of the fleeing men. He. turns and points his shotgun full at Sweeney. He pulls the trigger. There is no report. Brave Sweeney is saved. He plunges on, still firing. One of his bullets hits Genna in the leg. He stumbles, recovers himself, lurches on, spies a basement window in the house at 5941 Artesian avenue, dashes his shotgun through the glass and plunges after the gun, Sweeney’s bullets still spattering after him.
Now unexpected help drops off a passing street car and, also pops out of a house.
An Old Fire Horse Starts. Officer Albert Rickert, just happening to be passing 60th street on a Western avenue car, jumps from the car, jumps to his duty and joins Sweeney In pursuit ot Mike Genna.
“George!” calls Mrs. George Oakey, at almost the same instant. “George! Look! There’s a shooting!” She has been drawn to a window of her home at 2434 West 60th street by the noise of the shots, and it is to her husband, 60 year old George Oakey, who is night officer on duty at the state’s attorney’s office, to whom she is calling.
She does not have to call twice. Before Ellen Oakey can stop her white haired George he is clattering down the stairs. He gallops after Genna like an old fire horse when the alarm sounds. He and Rickert and Sweeney reach the basement at 5941 Artesian avenue into which Genna has hurled himself. They burst open the cloor and find the gangster lying on the fioor, a blue steel Spanish revolver in his hand. He is dying, bleeding to death from one of Sweeney’s bullets which has severed an artery in the leg.
He fires one last shot at his captors but hits none of them; then falls back, almost lifeless. He is carried out. An ambulance comes. As one of the attendants is doing his best to ease him on to the stretcher, Mike Genna snarls, “Take that, you——,” lifts his good leg, and kicks the attendant in the face.
A few minutes later he is dead and the ambulance changes its destination from the Bridewell hospital to Donovan’s morgue.
Sweeney and wounded Conway, and Oakey have won their sergeantcies.
Hatless and in Flight.
Meanwhile Genna’s three companions are in flight. Two of them—John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi—are overhauled as they are boarding a Western avenue car at 59th street by a hurry up detail from West Englewood station. Hatless and panting, they had rushed into Edward Issigson’s dry goods store at 59th and Rockwell streets. They wanted to buy caps, but Issigson turned them away. The third man was never captured.
Death and the devil having taken charge of Mike Genna, it remained for the law to deal with Anselmi and Scalisi, and the law took not so much its own way about that as bowed to the ways of the gangsters and their highly paid lawyers. There were trials and retrials to the number of three and in two years and ten days after Officers Harold Olson and Charles Walsh were killed Albert Anselmi and John Scalisi were free to resume their activities in boozedom. That they did.
See How the Feuds Interlock.
The police believe that Mike Genna, Anselmi, and Scalisi were on murder bent hours before they were signalled to halt in Western avenue by the gong of the bureau car in which Officers Conway, Sweeney, Olson, and Walsh were cruising their district. In November, 1924, Dean O’Banion, leader of the north side gangsters of Chicago boozedom, had been killed as a result of quarrels and double crossings between his gang and the south side gang of John Torrio and the west side gang of the Genna brothers. In January, 1925, an automobile which north side gangsters supposed Al Capone, chief co-criminal of Torrio, to be riding in—but he was not—was riddled with shotgun slugs and Capone’s chauffeur was wounded in the back Capone promptly bought a new car and had It completely equipped with bUllet proof glass. A few days later John Torrio was shot down by north side gangsters, as related in Chapter
And so it went from month to month, year in and year out—reprisals and counter reprisals, killings and attempted killings, crossings and double crossings, dishonored checks, unpaid bills for booze, hijacking of one gang’s loads of illicit liquor by gangsters supposed to be allied with the hijacked gang, but turning traitor to it. Invasion, too, of one another’s territory—the practice known “muscling in”—and hatreds bubbling and boiling over between affillated gangs who could not remain true to one another for the simple reason that there is no more arrant bosh than the old saying about “honor among thieves.”
Thus 1925 wore along into May, and on May 26 came the killing of Angelo Genna, described by Mrs. Genevieve Forbes Herrick as “youngest and toughest ot the Genna boys.” It was the familiar story o “a big touring car with four passengers, a chase, the running down of the victim, the firing of a dozen slugs into his body “—and another gang “mystery” made the front page.
What with the attempts by gangsters in five months of 1925 to kill such conspicuous gangsters as Capone and Torrio, and what with the actual killing of so active and pitIless a villain as Angelo Genna, the reprisal score was running heavily against the Torrlo-Capone-Genna gangs.
The gangsters’ car is shown wrecked against a lamp post and headed north after skidding completely around. The police car is in the foreground. Following the crash, gunmen and police engaged in a bloody and deadly gun battle. Then the gangsters fled through the vacant lot near 59th street and Western avenue.
Were They Trailing Moran?
One police theory is that early on the morning of June 13, 1926—”The Day ot the Sixty Shots”—Genna, Anselmi, and Scalisi had been out scouting for George “Bugs” Moran, O’Banion’s successor in the leadership of north side boozedom, but, though shooting Moran’s car full of holes, had mJased their man. This theory was given worth by the finding, a few days later, of a slug riddled automobile, the ownership ot whIch the police traced to Moran.
Another theory is that the killers were seeking Tony Kissane, who Was wrestling with the Gennas for the control of west side boozedom, and who had been heard to threaten that he would “clean out the whole Genna tribe.” The awed whisper among the neutrals dwelling in the Genna stronghold around Taylor and Halsted streets was that a good start toward fulfillment of the threat had been made when Angelo, “youngest and toughest of the Genna boys,” was shot down.
Why the Gong Was Important.
The significant point in the mention of that early morning s couting is that part of the defense of Anselmi and Scalisi was that they thought they were being pursued in Western avenue not by police but by rivai gangsters. That is why the detail as to whether the pursuing police were or were not pounding the gong of the bureau car became important. As is usual in trials of gangsters there was some contradictory evidence as well as a suspicious changing of testimony by witnesses who had become frightened. In fact, before the end of the three trIals of Anselmi and Scalisi for the murder of Olson and Walsh the fact that when Olson fell dead he fell before a blast from a repeating shotgun in the hands of Scalisi seemed to become Quite an inconsequential detail. Also lost in the shuffle of legalistic chicanery and bluff which disgraced all three trials was this bit of color which I extract from contemporary accounts:
There was another blast from the muzzle waving back and forth in front of Scalisi. Patrolman Walsh clutched his breast . It was riddled with bullets.
LEFT: Wounded in the leg by a shot fired by Policeman Sweeney, Mike Genna hurled himself through this basement window.
RIGHT: When he sprang through the windows he landed in this basement at 5941 Artesian avenue. Three policemen followed and captured him
Italy Wanted Anselmi.
Anselmi was as desperate a character as Scalisi, and was known to the Italian police as such. On Sept. 11, 1923, an Italian court issued a warrant against him for attempted murder, and on Nov. 27 of the same year a warrant for operating with a band of outlaws. In September, 1924, he fled from Sicily and entered the United States illegally. Coming to Chicago, he joined his compatriots, the Gennas, who, like him, were born in old Marsala.
The usual hullabaloo of insensate talk by officialdom followed the slaying of Olson and Walsh. Chief of Detectives William Schoemaker utterly lost his head and emitted this:
We have reached a time when a policeman had better throw a couple of bullets into a man first and ask questions afterwards. It’s war. And in wartime you shoot first and talk second.
The effect of such wild utterances was—as the three trials of Anselmi and Scalisi proved—to put thousands of citizens—thousands of possible veniremen—in an “Iz zat so?” frame\ of mind, which worked terribly against the orderly and effective administration of justice.
State’s Attorney Crowe also scurried to the main deck with language. He promised the reporters that the prisoners would” have as swift a trip to the gallows platform as the law will permit.” He called for “forty judges to sit in criminal cases for the next few months.” He demanded that they give up their summer vacations, “as I am going to do, in the interest of public duty in the face of a crisis.”
As for Anselmi and Scalisi, they yawned with boredom when questioned through an interpreter, shook their heads, and said nothing save that they never had seen each other before and had been “out looking for work” and “looking for a boarding place.”
The trials of Anselmi and Scalisi were fraught with scandal. Before the first trial began gangdom threatened prospective witnesses for the state by telephone and in anonymous letters. On June 15, two days after the killing, Officer Sweeney was threatened by telephone. On Oct. 12, fifteen days before the actual taking of testimony in the first trial began, Sweeney’s home was bombed. The loss to his father, who owned the house, is $7,500.
On June 16 an unknown gunman fired two shots into State’s Attorney Crowe’s outer office from a doorway and escaped.
Policeman Albm Rickert, who helped trap Mike Genna, examining repeating and sawed off shotguns found in a vacant lot near the place where the gangsters’ car cramed prior to the slaughter.
Thousands for Defense.
By June 19, $50,000 of a defense fund of $100,000 had been raised by allied gangs working under Capone and the four surviving Gennas, the Cicero gamblers contributing heavily. Some honest but ignorant Sicilians were cajoled, or bludgeoned, or blackmailed into contributing to this fund on the plea that the good name of the Sicilian colony of Chicago was at stake. The real reason for gangdom’s solicitude for the accused gunmen was apprehension that its power would go to pieces unless its killers were protected. They were protected all right.
From the forcing of contributions came a long train of dreadful events which are here epitomized.
Sammy “Samoots” Amatuna, underworld leader, was killed because he refused to make a second contribution. So was Henry Spingola, whose sister, Lucllle, Angelo Genna had wedded in the presence of 3,000 guests who partook of a wedding cake that was 12 feet high and weighed 2,000 pounds. Spingola had contributed $10,000 to the defense fund for the first trial but when asked for the same amount for the second had tried to compromise on $2,000.
So were Augustino and Antonio Morici, Sicilian grocers, who sold sugar and yeast to the Genna gangs of alcohol makers.
Tito Schipa Weeps.
So was Vito Bacone, fish dealer, wine merchant and opera fan, over whose death Tito Schipa, tenor of the Chicago Civic Opera company, wept, saying, “We were close friends. This is sad news.”
So was Joe Calabriese, one of a large family with a long, black record.
So was Edward Bardello, known as “the Eagle.”
And so, by one of the dainty ironies of life and death, was Orrazio Tropea, who was known as “the Scourge” and who was one of the principal collectors of the defense fund.
One of Crowe’s sunkist prophecies the day after the killing was that the accused would be tried in thirty days.
But on June 2, fifteen days after the killing, the defense obtained a postponement to Aug. 17, which invalidated Crowe’s prophecy by more than a month.
Worse, far worse, was to come.
What came affects you personally as a reputable citizen brought up on the tradition that trial by jury is a main bulwark of the general social order.
If you are a banker and do not like to see your guards shot down, if you are a storekeeper and do not like to see your clerks shot down, if you are a law abiding citizen and do not like to see policemen shot down when they are trailing notoriously lawless men, or if you are a householder and fear to remove the chain when you open your front door after nightfall, then a brief high spotting of the scandals of these three trials ought to interest you, for it will show you how the chicanery of lawyers, the sluggishness of judges, and the weakness of jurors have reduced that traditional bulwark to an extremely frail and undependable prop.
LEFT: Scalisi and Anselmi, Genna gangsters, trying to dodge the cameras as they were brought back from the penitentiary to face a new trial. They were convicted of killing Olson, but acquitted on the charges of killing Walsh.
RIGHT: John Salisis (left) and Albert Anselmi as they appeared in court for the third trial growing out of the killing of the two detectives. In this trial the jury acquitted the gunmen on the grounds that they only defended themselves against unwarranted police aggression.
Remember, Now—This Is 1925.
Here, then, are the high spots:
The first trial opens Oct. 5, 1925, with the effort to get a jury by Oct. 15, 235 veniremen Have been questioned and four have been accepted as jurors. On that date Assistant State’s Attorney Gorman says, “It is surprising how many high class men who come into the jury box talk themselves out again.”
On Oct. 16 Venireman Enos Tope, 446 North Lawler avenue, Chicago, is refused as juror because he has contributed to law enforcing organizations. For forty-five minutes by Judge Brothers’ clock the lawyers for the gangsters try to have Mr. Tope dismissed for cause, but to no avail. Finally they have to use a peremptory challenge.
By Oct. 20, three weeks have been consumed in the etrort to complete the jury.
On the same day Attorney O’Donnell of the defense is accused of giving whisky to attachés of the court. The clerk of the court and three custodians of the jury are discharged after confessing. O’Donnell laughs it off.
Not until Oct. 26 is the jury completed.
On Oct. 27 the actual tryIng of the case begins.
On Oct. 28 Anselmi and Scallsi are identified over and over again an
under oath as the killers.
On Oct. 31 State’s Attorney Crowe says publicly, “I am convinced that Anselmi and Scallsi are also the O’Banion killers. ” Nothing came of that declaration.
By Nov. 1 the homes of two jurors are under police guard owing to the receipt by their relatives of letters threatening the jurors’ lives.
On Nov. 2 Attorney Patrick H. O’Donnell of the defense, a white haired bravo of the bar, shouts in court. “The witness”— he means Francis Zolfano, the Genna brothers’ bookkeeper and cashier in their alky cooking and bootlegging trade—”will prove indisputably that Mike Genna paid $8,000 monthly to the police for protection. I offer to prove that for six months he met 300 policemen per month and had cordial and direct business relations with them, and that there were 200 of the policemen from the Maxwell street station, two squads from the central detail and one squad from the state’s attorney’s office.” Crowe shouts back that O’Donnell’s charge is “a vicious effort to scandalize the police department.” Asked what he will do if Mayor Dever and Chief of Police Collins make a formal demand on him for the evidence of his charges, O’Donnell roars, “They can both go to hell!”
On Nov. 6 O’Donnell’s charges are sustained, for Chief Collins says, “I am convinced that there were grafting policemen on the Gennas’ pay roll. There are some 185 policemen attached to Maxwell street station and at least 170 are to be given new berths.” They were.
“Killing Policeman No Crime.”
On Nov. 6 the defense sets up its
case, which Lawyer Michael Ahern
“If a police offlcer detains you, even for a moment, against your will, and you kill him, you are not guilty of murder, but only of manslaughter. If the police offlcer uses force of arms, you may kill him in self-defense and emerge from the law unscathed.”
That presentation of the law gives rise to the phrase, “Killing a policeman is no crime.”
On Nov. 11 the jury finds Anselmi and Scalisi guilty of manslaughter and fixes their punishment at 14 years in prison. As the verdict is read both prisoners smile. Crowe blows up and In demanding prompt trial of Anselmi and Scalisi for the murder of Policeman Walsh—his first trial has been for the murder of Policeman Olson, you must remember—says:
“I hope to God that then we have a jury of decent, God-fearing men and that they will do their duty and hang these killers.”
“What do you know of decent people?” shouts Attorney Nash of the
“I associate with them,” Crowe replies, “and not with gangland, as you do.”
Then somethIng weird happens. Out of complete silence come silent words. Mrs. Myrtle Olson, aged, deaf mute mother of the slain policeman, is asked her opinion of the verdict .
“The verdict,” her moving fingers say, “is a blow to justice.”
While Nash and Crowe are squabbling, Judge Brothers breaks in with, :I’ll set the case charging the murder of Walsh for next Monday.”
That means Nov. 15, 1925, for “next Monday” is only four days distant.
Now You Are In 1926.
As a matter of fact this second trial does not begin until Feb. 7, 1926.
On Feb. 10 Venireman Orval W. Payne, 502 7th avenue, Maywood, explaining why he is unwilling to serve as juror, says yo Judge Brothers, “I would have to carry a gun the rest of my life if I serve and found the two guilty. It isn’t always healthy to bring in a verdict of guilty. Pressure is brought to bear on families.” Furor in the courtroom; judge shocked; Payne dismissed.
By Feb. 21, 246 veniremen have been refused as jurors and only four accepted.
On March 2, William A. Lockwood, credit manager of Darling & Co., 4201 South Ashland avenue, Chicago, is reprimanded by the court for trying to keep Charles E. McKibben, one of his employes, out of jury service.
On March 3 the jury is completed.
On March 4 the actual trying of the case begins.
On March 10 two witnesses swear that Mike Genna fired on Olson and Walsh before they fired on him.
On March 18 Anselmi and Scalisi are acquitted of the murder of Walsh. Taken back to jail—for they still were being held on the 14 year sentence for the killing of Olson—they, in the words of an onlooker, “leaped for joy. They shouted. They danced about each other. And they embraced many times.” “The verdict,” said Chief Collins, “is a disgrace to Chicago.”
On May 3 the men are taken to Joliet to serve the 14 year sentence for killing Olson.
On Dec. 23 the Illinois Supreme court grants a new trial on the grounds that if the men are guilty of murder the fourteen year sentence is “but a mockery of justice,” and if they are guilty of manslaughter only, then it is “an injustice.”
By Jan. 25, 1927, Anselmi is out on bail in the sum of $25,000. So is Scalisi by Jan. 27.
And Now 1927.
On June 9 the third trial begins. This date is two years—less four days—after the killing of Olson and Walsh.
On June 14 and 15 more than one hundred veniremen pass through the jury box, not one qualifying as juror.
On June 22 Scalisi takes the witness stand and acknowledges that he fired on Olson and Walsh—once.
One June 23 the jury finds Anselmi and Scalisi not guilty on the ground that they had only defended themselves against unwarranted police aggression.-
Let the Widow Walsh sum up for a gang ridden community. “There’s nothing more to be done,” she said.
“My husband, and his friend were killed by these men who now have a crowd waiting to shake their hands. I give up.”
Have you caught from these five chapters the fact that during the red years of boozedom the only power that successfully fought gangster” was not the law but other gangsters? So it was on the north, south, and west sides of Chicago and in the county villages. It was so when the O’Banion gangs fell out with the Genna gangs and the Torrio gang!! fell out with the O’Donnell gangs. The only punishment gangdom really feared were the ferocious punishments inflicted by gangdom. What those punishments were and how the men who meted them out were incredible combinations of ferocity, foppishness, and childishness will be related in the next chapter.
*As a significant footnote to this chapter, it is well to record the fact that, at the moment of writing—April 18, 1929—Scalisi is again awaiting trial for murder. This time it is for alleged participation in the horrible massacre of St. Valentine’s day, in which seven of “Bugs” Moran’s gangsters were machine-gunned to death.
CHICAGO GANGLAND BY JAMES O’DONNELL BENNETT