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This is the sixth1 article 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 10, 1929
BY JAMES O’DONNELL BENNETT
NOT in Defoe’s “Colonel Jacque,” not in Fielding’s “Jonathan Wild,” not in Thackeray’s “Catherine,” not in Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” do I find scoundrels at once so fantastic and so murderous as “the big shots” and the killers of Chicago boozedom.
Perhaps Thénardier in “Les Miserables” is the nearest approach to them for comprehensive villainy.
Consider in this chapter the ways of the new type and decide for yourself whether its crimes have not gone beyond anything in the classic literature of scoundrelism.
A killer for gangdom must be able to eat a big steak. in composure after “a job.” If be shows signs of nervousness , his masters say to him, “We got to do another job,” put him in a car—and he does not return. The body, covered with lime, may one day be found in an abandoned quarry by frightened boys. or on a lonely stretch of prairie.
Thus all the crimes of boozedom are not reprisals among rivals but are disciplinary—to keep up the morale, as it were. A nervous killer is a possible squawker, and a possible squawker is a peril to the whole gang.
Such a Pleasant World!
Vincenzo Cosmano, when he was in his prime, was an ideal death dealer for Chicago gangdom because he was so pleasant about it. Over the social glass Vincenzo—also known as “Little Jimmy”—was charming. He avoided that bane of sociability, shop talk. “O!” he would say, with an appealing glance of his big, brown eyes. “I not want to talk about fighting all the time. Now I am pleasant people—and there are in the world so many pleasant things to talk about!”
But when business was to be transacted Cosmano was extraordinarily to the point. Once he demanded 5,000 of “Big Jim” Colosimo. The killers in Jim’s service took that case of blackmail in hand. A troop of Sicilians armed with shotguns blew by and let Cosmano have everything, but did not kill him. He went to the hospital where a guard of two policemen was placed over him so that the law could hold him on a charge of blackmailing.
Other Sicilians who were friendly to Cosmano took counsel of .”Big Tim” Murphy, racketeer and labor slugger, who was machine gunned to death in his dooryard in June, 1928 .
“How shall we get Little Jimmy out of that hospital?” the Sicilians asked Murphy.
“Go and take him out,” said Murphy. who was an abrupt man.
As easily dene as said in Chicago.
Under pretext of a visit of sympathy the rescuers came to the bedside of their compatriot, poked the watching policemen In the ribs with revolvers. lifted Cosmano out of his bed, tied the two policmen in it, and bore away the convalescent.
Cosmano recovered and became the unmasking slave of Murphy, who used to call him “the 21-jewel Wop.”
Tim Murphy’s home at 2525 Morse avenue, where he was slain by a burst of fire from a machine gun. He had answered a call at the door and was standing on the lawn when a rain of bullets came from a passing auto. He fell about where the officers are standing. His murder, it is believed, was due to his efforts to “muscle in” on rivals’ racketeering profits.
“A Day Will Come.”
Restored to health and activity, Cosmano called Colosimo on the telephone, saying cordially:
‘Allo! Who you tink is speak? Little Jim! Yes, little Jimmy! You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to kill you some day. I doan’ know the day, but it will come. Goo’-bye!
Colosimo was scared into sickness. Later he died a gangdom death-shot down in his dive at Wabash avenue and 22d street, where pseudo society people used to go to ogle the girls and tipple. Murphy died a gangdom death—shot down in his dooryard. Cosmano, after a term in Leavenworth for taking part in Murphy’s $380,000 robbery of the United States mails at Dearborn street station in 1921, was deported by the federal government, which had to go as high as the United States Court of Appeals before it could win.
O, it’s the life!
Cosmano could sleep before or after “a job.” He killed “Moss” Enright, labor thug, at Murphy’s orders and fell asleep while waiting for his victim.
Duffy Promises His Worst.
John Duffy, alias Dougherty, a bootlegger, robber, white slaver and murderer imported from Philadelphia for Chicago gangdom’s work, was not a pleasant, composed killer like Cosmano. He coarsened his style by his gabbiness. Once when he and Orlando Horton had fallen out over bootlegging profits and women, Duffy said to Jeanne Maison: “I’ll do worse than kill Horton. I’ll do worse than that. I’ll kill his mother, so he’ll have to come to the funeral, and then I’ll kill him.” But somebody beat Duffy to it and one bleak night in February, 1924, his bullet punctured body was left on the prairie. Duffy had been, among other affiliations, an O’Banion gangster, but he was not considered trustworthy by any gang.
Torture Is employed by gangsters when they think it will enable them to obtain Information about those whom they suspect ot treachery or when they wish doubly to terrify rials. The methods are the methods of savages—burning the soles of the feet, cutting off fingers or toes, dragging a victim by a rope tied to the end of a truck, or sticking hot irons into him.
On the night of Jan. 23, 1929, gangsters kidnaped Nunzio Porromenta from a shack at 1628 Centennial place, Chicago, where he was tending an alcohol still When they got him into their car they made him take off his clothes and put on garments that had been soaked in alcohol. “Get ready to burn alive,” they told him, but he raised such an unearthly row that the alarmed interest of passersby was aroused. The frightened gangsters silenced him with two bullets fired into his abdomen and then threw him out of their car at Halsted street and Grand avenue. The garments removed from him at the county hospital were found to be saturated with alcohol.
Mutilation of a victim’s features in order to prevent identification is among the savageries of gangdom.
Sometimes a gangster’s ferocity seems to have no purpose. It is either sheer deviltry or it must have something sadistic in it.
When Samoots Amatuna, who fell in one of the Genna feuds, “got up in the bucks “—gangdom’s phrase for getting rich—his luxury was silk shlrtsa and many of them. Once a batch which he had sent to the laundry was returned damaged. Amatuna, frothing with rags, tore down the stairs to the street and put a bullet through the head of the laundryman’s horse.
The End of “Nails” Morton.
When Gangster “Nails” Morton got up in the bucks one of his elegancies was a morning canter in Lincoln park. On a Sunday morning in May, 1923, accompanied by Dean O’Banion, he started for his ride, lost control of his horse, and was kicked to death—ignominious end for a bootlegger who had been tried for the murder of two policemen, and been acquitted, and who counted dozens of politicians among his friends.
Louis Alterie, one of the O’Banion. Morton crew, keenly felt the ignominy and took measures. He assembled some of his pals, rented the homicidal horse, and headed the firing squad of morons that took the animal out on the prairie and solemnly “bumped it off” in accordance with gangdom’s code of reprisal against humans. Alterie’s message to the livery stable owner was considered so exquisite a jape that it was given space in the newspapers.
Exit the Play Actor.
“We taught that — — horse of yours a lesson,” he telephoned. “If you want the saddle go and get it.”
But Alterie, who is a showy, excitable man of French and Irish parentage, made himself impossible to gangdom. Gangsters like to talk-to certain people. But Alterie’s talk and playacting was so promiscuous as to be a peril to gangdom. On a night in January, 1925, he did fancy gun flourishing in the notorious Friars inn Chicago, with the result that two gangs had to speak seriously to him. “Nothing hard about you,” said their spokesman. “You talk too much. You’ll get us all into trouble. Get out before you’re dragged out.”
Alterie withdrew to his ranch in Colorado. He occasionally returns to Chicago to look after business of a local or the fiat janltors’ union of which he is an official. When he comes into Denver from his ranch he is an object of interest and awe to the hotel lobbies. He likes that.
Fopperies of Gangdom.
Combined with the ferocity of the gangsters of boozeom is a juvenile strain of foppery.
“Doctor,” said a nurse in Mercy Hospital the day Tony Genna, third of the Genna brothers to be killed in boozedom’s feuds, was brought in for a peace time operation. “I have heard of men getting dolled up before an operation, but this is the first time I have seen a man with his toenails manicured tor the occasion.”
Above all, gangsters—that is, the “big shots” among them—love to be stylish, love to perform and preen in the manner they imagine the magnates of big business perform. When the takings of gangdom are notably large, and the police are notably laggard, and the corrupt type of politician notably friendly, then the big shots work themselves into a top lofty state of mind relative to their activities. When trouble overtakes them, as it invariably does, they try to sustain the lordly pose. When Al Capone, alias Al Brown, alias Scarface Al, was pointedly questioned in connection with the murder of John Duffy in 1924, he said, “I’m a respectable business man but for no real reason at all somebody is always trying to drag me into something.”
Talking in “Grands.”
Dean O’Banion was fluent with the same bluff. “Why,” he exclaimed when questioned on the same occasion, “I’m a florist. If I ever was in the booze racket, I’m not now.” He was not so far out that boozedom did not think it worth while to kill him eIght months later.
Gangsters love to be stuffed and plastered with money and to talk in big sums. When Little Hymie Weiss was machine gunned to death in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Name the police found $5,300 In his pockets. When Angelo Genna fell, $30.000 was found on him.
A “grand”—meaning $1,000—is about the unit of a successful gangster’s currency—in conversation. Two bits, which in the boyhood ot men now growing old meant 25 cents, is gang slang tor $25.
“Whad you pay for the coat? says one gangster to another.
“O, a cheap coat—six bits.”
Hundred dollar bills are “leaves.”
When a gangster says he had to let a police captain have three leaves. that means that he bought protection for $300.
“It’s Velvet,” Said Haffa.
When gangsters are flush they will spend $5,000 for an evening’s entertainment. Other things In proportion—$10 to a bellboy for bringing a shoe horn, fifty cents or a dollar to “Old Chink” on the corner for a newspaper; a “leaf” to a waiter for an evening’s service.
Gangsters spend lavishly but never justly. They will scatter money in tips and bribes but, as was brought out in the trial of Ald. Titus Raffa of the Forty-third ward and his co-criminals, they will bilk a metal worker out of half his bill for building them a still that is to produce them 33 gallons hourly of alcohol which they can sell for from $4 to $9 a gallon.
“You can buy,” said the alderman—so Federal Agent John Conwell testified—” uncooked moonshine and re-distill it. It cost us a dollar or little more per gallon to manufacture our alcohol and we sell it for from $4 to $9 per gallon. It’s velvet.”
It was indeed.
For, scaling down Haffa’s figures and allowing that a still such as he described would, when running ten hours a day, produce thirty gallons of alcohol an hour to be sold at $5 a gallon. he stood to make $1,500 daily or more than half a million a year from that one still.
Unfortunately for Haffa’s operations, Capt. Thomas Condon of Hudson avenue police station was not friendly to them. But Raffa had a way out of that, and Conwell swore that Raffa said to him of Capt. Condon:
I’m going to have him removed as soon as State’s Attorney Bob Crowe gets well.
Federal Agent James F. Donahue testified thus, apropos of the plot to have Condon removed:
He (Haffa) told me that as soon as he had swung this we—my partner, John Conwell, and I—could go around to the saloonkeepers with a police sergeant and tell them that they’d be knocked off if they didn’t buy alcohol from Haffa.
The Haffa case has a special interest as showing how boozedom rests upon vile politics and how politics is shot through and through with booze.
Bootlegging and beer running became so well organized and so lucrative in Chicago that base politicians began to look to bootleggers and beer runners for campaign funds and for votes. The big shots of boozedom provided the money and their gangs were voters who, when strategically placed, could swing an election. In return the politicians provided protection. Every branch ot the public service—federal, state and municipal—was debauched. Judges and senators were not ashamed to be photographed at the banquets and christenings of boozedom.
Why Chicago Is Booze Capital.
The crimes of booz dom became more flagrant in Chicago than in any other American city for this reason alone: the relation between boozedom and politics was closer and sweeter than it was in any other American city.
The late Patrick H. O’Donnell, favorite lawyer of boozedom, summed it
all up when in an argument to a jury he con5ioned the crimes of his clients on the plea that those crimes were possible because officialdom made them possible. His utterances were marked by amazing effrontery, but solid truth was in them.
“For six years,” he said, “the Genna brothers maintained a barter house for moonshine alcohol; maintained it openly and notoriously, as public the greatest department store on State streat.
“And not a wheel could have turned, not a drop been sold, unless it as done on the open permission of the law enforcing agencies ot Chicago. The Gennas became mighty men and influential. Three hundred policemen crossed the threshold of their Taylor street shop every month .
. . . They were not afraId of policemen. Why should they be?
Astounding Bribes Offered.
Honest officials ere dumbfounded at the bribes offered them. E. C. Yellowly, federal prohibition administrator for Illinois, Indiana, and eastern Wisconsin, an official who is said to be able to look a prohibition agent in the eye and tell whether he will accept a bribe or not, put the damper on the Cragin Products company, Chicago, largest alcohol plant in the west, in the face of an offer, so I am told by insiders, of $250,000 to let it run.
And former Chief of Police Morgan Collins of Chicago, a sober speaking man, said to my friend Arthur Crawford when they were in Los Angeles in 1928:
Arthur, when I was a police captain I was offered a bribe—’commission’
they called it—of $5 a barrel on 200 barrels of beer a day, just to let
the stuff be moved.
Then pointing to the skyscraper which Will Hays, the movie mentor, occupies, the veteran added, “And when I was chief of police I could have filled that building with money.”
“Get Out,” Said William Waugh .
After John Torrio, Dean O’Banion and half a dozen other leading gangsters had been arrested on May 19, 1924, for trying to run 13 truckloads of beer from the Siebcm brewery. Assistant United States District Attorney William F. Waugh was offered $50.000 to prevent trial of the culprits. “I told them,” said Waugh, “‘you’re talking to the wrong man. Get out!”
That was the raid which was personally directed by Chief Collins, who pointedly avoided surrendering his prisoners to State’s Attorney Crowe. Asked why he surrendered them to the federal authorities, he said:
District Attorney Olson has promised us prompt cooperation. That is why the case was turned over to him for prosecution. It was a Chicago police raid pure and simple, but the prosecution will be handled by the federal government.
When the gangsters, who had come to the brewery in their touring cars to convoy the truckloads of beer through the streets, were arrested, Collins found that two or his policemen, supposed to be guarding the brewery against beer runners, were conveniently absent. He later tore the stars from their coats with his own hands.
Balked By the Tipoff.
And so it goes.
Higher officials who are decent are often balked and betrayed by corrupted underlings who tip off raids.
The federal government repeatedly raided the speakeasies in Cicero, the big Illinois vlllage which Torrio and Capone had debauched, but the raid’s seldom meant anything. A loquacious saloonkeeper gave the explanation.
“When the cops and the federal agents,” said he, “come out here after hours all the time to get drunk, of course they tip the raids off to us.”
Jurors who wish to retllrn honest verdicts are equally balked by a juror or two who have been reached.
Upon return of a flagrant verdict in a hijacking case involving “Dapper Dan” McCarthy and Dean O’Banion, the United States district attorney’s office was told that representatives of the defendants had promised two jurors $$0,000. Assistant District Attorney Edwin L. Weisl, who had
prosecuted the case, was inclined to believe the report. A juror said to him:
At midnight, when the jury had been out more than eight hours, I knelt on the floor of the jury room and prayed to God that those two jurors would listen to reason.
In a manner of speaking, they probably had probably had “listened to reason.”
“Taking Ice Cream Cones Next.”
Some corrupt prohibition agents descend to the pettiest kind of graftIng on druggists at whose violations they wink. Mecting one of them one day when he had an armful of bundles, a man thoroughly wise to the situation said, “the ‘take’ must have been pretty good today.”
“Bah,” said the agent—”toilet sets! None of these druggists have any money. I suppose next year I’ll be taking ice cream cones.”
When the federal courts send bootleggers, beer runners, and speakeasy proprietors to county jails for violations of the prohibition laws they are obliged to watch the sheriffs sharply lest the sentences shall be turned into a playtime tor the prisoners, so responsive are certain sheriffs to a hint from pollticJans who are in cahoots with boozedom.
“Treat this guy right, he’s a good fellow,” said Deputy United States
Marshal Thomas Smith when he delivered Barney Kessel, Chicago speakeasy proprietor, to Sheriff Sam Good of Ogle county, Illinois, after Federal Judge Wham had sentenced Kessel to serve sixty days in the Ogle county jail.
Sheriff Sam took the hint and let Kessel run free twenty times in the course of his imprisonment-—once far away as Chicago. “This,” said Judge Wham, “makes imprisonment a farce,” and he socked Sam with a flne of $500, and his chief deputy with one of $200, and his daughter, Bertha, also a deputy, with one of $100.
The Ruin of Peter Hoffman.
Similar laxities in the case of Druggan and Lake, notorious Chicago gangsters and beer runners, destroyed the career of Sheriff Peter Hoffman, who in his turn was locked in a jail that was stricter than the one he kept for gangdom in Cook county.
Parties given in breweries that are running illegally are one means of establishing an entente cordiale between boozedom and the politicians and police. Among those present will be the captain of the police district in which the brewery is located, the alderman of the ward, the ward committeeman, and a judge or two who have come to guzzle and make votes. With beer, food, song, back slapping, and frequently assurance that some varlet who would shoot or bludgeon you on sight if you crossed him is “a thoroughly good fellow,” a perfect understanding is reached.
Practical Side of the Parties.
The practical sequence of these symposia ranges from menace to murder. Suppose that there are not enough saloons in the ward to take care of the supply of slops produced by the beer runners who gave the party. That can happon as a result of the “muscling in” on their territory by a rIval gang.
Now the ward committeeman does his stuff. He dritts into speakeasies, frequently aceompanied by a policeman in plain clothes. “Say,” drawls he, after cozy preliminaries, “the boys would like for you to buy your beer off Spike O’Donnell.”
“But I’m buying mine off Al Capone. He’s all right.”
“Sure be’s all right. Swell fellow! But you know—live and let live. Give Spike a look-in.”
“No, I’ll stick to Capone.”
“O, to hell with Capone—that’s the way the boys feel about it. Say Spike’s beer’s as good as Capone’s and Spike’ll let you have his for $45 a barrel. You’re paying Capone $50.”
“Yes, I’m paying Capone fifty, but . . .”
Well, there were numerous buts, among them the urgent one that Spike as, at the moment, important politically, and the more important he became the more surely would he provide relief from the oppressive power of Capone. Spike has the political knack, as is indicated by the deftness with which—when he had a municipal garbage contract—he made the garbage wagons do a double shift by
using them to run beer.
Discipline at $150 per Bomb.
If the speakeasy proprietor refuses to transfer his patronage to a gang that is trying to muscle in on new territory—bam! A bomb, which can be made and placed for $150, blows out his peace of mind and the front of his establishment. Or he is slugged.
Whatever he decides, murder is an almost sure sequence of his decisIon. If he goes over to the new gang then gunmen of the original gang take the matter in hand and confront their rivals.
“Stealing our customers, are you? “Bing! Bing!—in a fast café at night or on a street corner in broad daylight. And another gang murder makes the front page.
Or somebody is “taken for a ride,” from which he never returns.
Little Hymie Weiss invented that ominous phrase and it long will keep his memory green. His life ended abruptly in the most spectacular crime Chicago gangdom had thus far committed.
How he was extinguished and how the corner stone of a cathedral simultaneously was shattered will appear in the next chapter.
① Big Tim Murphy was shot down in front of his home in June, 1928. He had served a term in Leavenworth for the Dearborn station mail robbery, and one of his fellow prisoners, sent up for the same crime, was Peter Gusenberg, one of the seven victims of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929.
② When Tony Genna, third of the Genna brothers to be slain in a gang war, was taken to a hospital the nurse told a doctor it Was the first time she had ever seen a patient who had his toenails manicured before an operation.
③ Cosmano, once a pal of Big Tim Murphy, was the personification of charm in his conversation. But when a killing was to be done, he was extraordinarily to the point, the police =declare.
1 The original article as published in The Chicago Tribune erroneously states this is the seventh article in the series. The numbering was corrected in the next segment.
CHICAGO GANGLAND BY JAMES O’DONNELL BENNETT
Gangland 1—Charles Dean O’Banion
Gangland 2—O’Banion Funeral
Gangland 3—Rise and Fall of John Torrio
Gangland 4—The Nefarious Deeds of John Torrio
Gangland 5—Day of Sixty Shots
Gangland 6—The Ferocity of the Gangsters