March 25, 2019

Genesis of Organized Crime in Chicago

By Robert Lombardo

Preface: This article was written by Robert Lombardo, of the Cook County Sheriff's Department, no relation to Joey "The Clown" Lombardo or his son, Joseph Lombardo, Jr who was installed as secretary-treasurer of the Chicago district Council in 1987 when James Corporeale had to go to prison, having exhausted his appeals on his conviction for robbing Laborers' health benefit funds. That was  the same" Racketeering" case for which Arthur Coia got off on a legal technicality. The legal technicality was the statue of limitations having expired. Luskin was special counsel to OCRS on the Accardo, Coia indictments.

Defense counsel raised the defense of the statue of limitations at the start of the trial, DOJ appealed the judge's ruling, and the appellate court told the judge not to dismiss the case on that basis. After the presentation of evidence, Hauser's testimony, the defense raised the defense a second time. Under the rules, the prosecution could not appeal the judge's decision to dismiss this second motion. The judge granted the motion. Was the judge bribed? What do you think? .The "Outfit" ala "Pat Marcie" was very good at bribing judges? "Hitman" Aleman got off the first time for murder, not the second time. See Cooley testimony Chicago District Council Trusteeship.

What is interesting about Lombardo's scholarly article is the revelation that the first president of LIUNA from Chicago (Moreschi)was the bastard child of "Big Jim" Colosimo and the Madame of the whore house, Victoria Moresco.The Laborers Union has never been the same, one "bastard" "mob puppet" General President after another, one fiasco after another "Fosco",. There are (Moresco-Moresci) descendants still on the Laborers payroll despite the fact that they got their job because of the influence of organized crime, a violation of LIUNA's Ethics and Disciplinary Procedure"..

Although more than fifty years have passed since the rattle of machine guns has died on the streets of Chicago, the city’s image as the personification of organized crime lives on in the minds of many people around the world. I remember honeymooning in Greece when my wife and I shared a restaurant table with an English family. When we told them where we lived, the young son held his fingers in the shape of a gun and sai: "Rat-a-tat-tat, Al Capone." Although Al Capone was born in New York, and only lived in Chicago for twelve years, he has probably become the City’s most famous citizen.

The enduring popularity of Al Capone and the "roaring `20s." has led to the recent opening of "Capone’s Chicago," a museum dedicated to the Prohibition era. Though popular with the tourist trade, this museum has met some resistance from Chicago citizens and in particular the Italian community. Mary Laney, President of the Chicago Tourism Council told the Chicago Sun Times (Rotenberk, 1991:30) that she was baffled "why anyone would open a museum that includes Chicago’s past criminal activity!" But the story of Al Capone and the Prohibition era is not only one of crime, it is also the story of a valiant struggle, led by the people of Chicago, against a powerful criminal underworld, an underworld that was not the result of an alien conspiracy in the form of a transplanted Sicilian Mafia as is popularly believed, but as this study will show, was the result of the history of Chicago itself.

The Gem of the Prairie
In 1670, French trader Pierre Moreau built a cabin on the site where the Chicago River empties into Lake Michigan (Schroeder, 1992:37). The area was called "Chickagou," (bad smell) by the Potawatomi Indians because of the skunk cabbage that choked the bogs draining into the river. It wasn’t until one hundred years later that Chicago’s first permanent settler arrived. In 1779, Jean Baptist Point du Sable established residency at the intersection of the north and south branches of the Chicago River. The area, however, continued to be controlled by local Indians until 1794 when General "Mad Anthony" Wayne won a six square mile tract of land in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. In 1803, Fort Dearborn was established on the site, and a settlement grew up around the fort.

By 1837, the Fort Dearborn settlement had grown to 4,000 people. It was incorporated as the City of Chicago on March 4th of that year. Chicago’s real growth as a city began in 1848 with the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This canal, connecting the Illinois River and the south branch of the Chicago River, provided Midwest farmers with access to Great Lakes shipping and Eastern markets. The Illinois River also provided a direct route to the Mississippi River and the cities of St. Louis and New Orleans. Chicago’s first railroad, the Galena and Chicago Union, also began operating in 1848. Within ten years, Chicago was the rail crossroads of the nation. Its population had grown to 109,000, people making it the largest city in Illinois.

Chicago’s central location made it an important transportation and shipping center in the country’s westward expansion. During the 1860s more than thirteen thousand ships a year docked at the Chicago harbor (Dedmond, 1953:32). In addition, more than two million bushels of grain passed through Chicago annually. Packet boats traveling the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes unloaded settlers at the Chicago port (McPhaul, 1970:57). For $1.25 an acre, pioneers could buy land in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, and the Dakotas. Not all those who came to Chicago left. Industrialization, the grain trade, and the growth of the Union Stock Yards created jobs. Soon European immigrants began to arrive to fill the demand for labor. By 1870, almost 300,000 people lived in the city of Chicago.


Chicago’s ecological position as the gateway to the unsettled lands of the West is also said to have contributed to its involvement in crime (McPhaul, 1970:56-57). Many young bachelors spent their last nights in Chicago before heading out to make their fortunes in the vast western wilderness. Chicago was often their final chance for obtaining foodstuffs and other needed items. Saloons, gambling parlors, and brothels quickly sprang up around the city to make the pioneers’ last night in "civilization" memorable. Commenting on the times, Dwight Moody, founder of Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, once remarked that, "If the Angel Gabriel came to Chicago, he would surely lose his character within a week" (McPhaul, 1970:64).

Recounting its early history of vice and crime, Asbury (1986) referred to Chicago as the "Gem of the Prairie." One of the facets of this precious stone was an area known as the "Sands." Located just north of the Chicago River and extending to Lake Michigan, the Sands was filled with gambling dens, brothels, and rooming houses (Peterson, 1952:23). On April 20, 1857 newly elected Chicago Mayor "Long John" Wentworth led a column of police and firefighters in a raid on the Sands. (Mayor Wentworth was referred to as "Long John" because of his six foot, six inch height.) This early crackdown on crime resulted in the eviction of numerous gamblers and prostitutes and the demolition and burning of fifteen buildings.

Another of Chicago’s early vice districts was named the "Willows." It was the headquarters of one of Chicago’s first crime czars, Roger Plant (Nash, 1981:57-59). Plant ran a saloon at Monroe and Wells known as the Barracks. The Barracks was an around-the-clock gambling den and bordello. The Barracks, like most of downtown Chicago, was built upon the wetlands that surrounded the Chicago River’s entrance into Lake Michigan. As a result, the streets surrounding the Barracks, and much of the rest of Chicago, were notorious for their muddy conditions. In an effort to eliminate this quagmire, the City decided to raise the level of many Chicago streets making it necessary to raise the foundations of the buildings along the newly upgraded roadways. In some cases, whole blocks were raised as much as ten feet. The end result was the creation of underground passages, streets, and earthen rooms. This subterranean area was controlled by Plant and became home to the many thieves, pickpockets, and muggers who frequented his saloon. Some say that the many underground rooms that existed beneath the Barracks gave rise to the term "underworld" as a description for that segment of society that engaged in organized criminal activity.


In spite of its underworld, Chicago was still a greenhorn town when compared to places like New York and New Orleans. It took the Civil War to bring the professional gambler to Chicago. Because of the outbreak of the War, the economy of the South could no longer support the gentleman gambler (Dedmond, 1953:74). As a result, the smart gambler moved north to Chicago where fortunes were being made during the war years. As the supply center for the Union Army of the West, men and money had poured into Chicago to furnish the needs of the armed forces (Peterson, 1952:35).

These professional gamblers, or so-called "southern gentlemen," could be seen strolling on Randolph Street and were the object of much esteem. So extensive was gambling in Chicago’s center that the two block stretch on Randolph between Clark and State Streets was known as "Hair Trigger Block," named so because of the large number of shootings that occurred there stemming from disagreements in the gambling houses (Lyle, 1960: 25). The area of Clark Street from Randolph to Monroe was dubbed "Gamblers Row."

By the 1870s, there were so many vice districts in Chicago that a directory was published to enable visitors to find their way to such places as Little Cheyenne, Satan’s Mile, Whiskey Row, and the Levee. One of the more notable saloon proprietors of the day was Mickey Finn (Dedmond, 1953:137). Finn operated two saloons, the Lone Star and the Palm Garden, at the southern end of Whiskey Row. Finn was famous for one of the drinks that he offered in his saloon, the "Mickey Finn Special." This drink was allegedly made from a secret powder that Finn had obtained from a "voodo witch doctor." A Mickey Finn Special would render the drinker unconscious thus giving Finn the opportunity to rifle the unsuspecting patron’s pockets. As a result of his activities, Mickey Finn’s name can today be found in most dictionaries denoting "any of several powerful drugs, especially chloral hydrate, that are secretly put into alcoholic drinks to produce unconsciousness" (New Scholastic Dictionary, 1981:492).

On October 8, 1871, a small fire broke out in the barn of Patrick O’Leary at 137 DeKoven Street. Because of an unseasonably dry summer and the wooden construction of most Chicago buildings, the fire soon spread throughout the City. It was twenty-five hours before the "Great Chicago Fire" was extinguished. The fire killed over 300 people, destroyed 17,450 homes and left 90,000 people homeless (Dedmond 1953:107). The destruction was comparable only to the great fires of London and Moscow. Less than a month after the disaster, Chicago elected Joseph Medill as mayor. Medill was elected on the "Union Fire-Proof" ticket, promising to prevent the misappropriation of fire relief funds (Dedmond 1953:137).


Chicago was so demoralized after the great fire that public drunkenness became a major social problem (Peterson, 1952:40). Conditions were so bad that a group of leading citizens and clergymen formed the Committee of Seventy to battle crime and the liquor industry. Another group, the Committee of Twenty-five, was formed to improve the moral fabric of the City.

Their efforts were entirely supported by reform Mayor Joseph Medill who welcomed Sunday tavern closing laws and worked to close the gambling houses. It was this effort at reform that set the stage for the eventual development of organized crime in Chicago.

Organized crime in Chicago had its beginning in the 1870s with the activities of Michael Cassius McDonald (Nelli, 1970:148). McDonald owned a tavern at Clark and Monroe known as the Store which reportedly was the largest liquor and gambling house in downtown Chicago. It is said that it was McDonald (not P.T. Barnum) who coined the phrase, "There is a sucker born every minute" (Smith, 1954:28). McDonald reportedly made this statement when one of his employees expressed his fear that the Store was too big and that there would not be enough customers to make it profitable. McDonald was also interested in boxing. It was McDonald who gave John L. Sullivan the backing that enabled him to make his bid for the world’s heavyweight boxing championship in 1892.

McDonald was also active in politics. In an effort to overcome the reform activities of Mayor Medill, McDonald organized Chicago’s saloon and gambling interests. "Mike McDonald’s Democrats," as they were called, elected their own candidate, Harvey Colvin, as Mayor of Chicago in 1873. With Colvin in office, McDonald organized the first criminal syndicate in Chicago composed of both gamblers and compliant politicians. After suffering a temporary setback at the polls in 1876, when Chicago elected reform Mayor Monroe Heath, Mike McDonald’s Democrats elected Carter Harrison as Mayor in 1879. The alliance between the gambling interests and politicians in Chicago proved to be very powerful. Harrison served four consecutive terms as Mayor from 1879 to 1887.


McDonald remained in politics until his death in 1907. After McDonald’s death, control of gambling in Chicago passed on to a number of different people, the most prominent of whom were Big Jim O’Leary, Mont Tennes, and First Ward Aldermen Michael Kenna and John Coughlin (each Chicago Ward had two Aldermen at that time). Both Coughlin and Kenna were part of McDonald’s organization. Coughlin was reportedly recruited by gambler "Prince" Hal Varnell, a confidant of Mike McDonald, and in turn recruited Kenna to fill the second aldermanic seat (Smith, 1954:30). Coughlin and Kenna retained control of gambling in downtown Chicago, while the gambling activity that existed on the Southwest Side, around the Union Stockyards, was picked up by Big Jim O’Leary, son of Mrs. O’Leary whose cow had reportedly started the great Chicago fire.

Mont Tennes inherited McDonald’s activities on the North Side of Chicago (Smith, 1954:31). Tennes was one of the first persons to recognize the important changes that were taking place in the gambling area. The traditional games of the riverboat gambler - poker, faro, and craps - had been replaced in popularity by horse racing. The astonishing popularity of horse racing, at the turn of century, was due to two important factors (Lindberg, 1991:99). Betting at the horse tracks was legal, and race handicapping offered a better chance of winning. In addition, new advances in communications, such as the telegraph, allowed bettors to place bets from local bars and pool rooms.

It was around 1907 that John Payne of Cincinnati established a telegraph service that provided results from race tracks around the country (Lindberg, 1953:100). Payne granted Tennes the exclusive right to this service in the Chicagoland area. The Tennes syndicate then sold race results to Chicago gamblers for 50% of their daily take, for which they were also provided protection from the police. Tennes’ monopoly over the wire service gave him absolute control over all Chicago bookmakers and handbooks (traveling bookmakers). Tennes’ wire service, the General News Bureau, soon began expanding into areas outside of Chicago which resulted in a legal, as well as shooting, war with the Payne News Agency. Tennes eventually drove the Payne Agency out of business, which made him the undisputed boss of race track gambling in the United States.


The Levee
"Hinky Dink" Kenna and "Bathhouse" John Coughlin, as they were called, controlled politics and vice in Chicago’s downtown area and Near South Side, which was commonly referred to as the Levee. Kenna was reportedly nicknamed after the waterhole he swam in as a youngster. He began his working career as a newsboy and eventually became a successful saloon keeper and politician. Kenna’s saloon at 120 East Van Buren was called the "Workingman’s Exchange" (Lindberg, 1985:122). Its second floor was home to unemployed vagrants, panhandlers, tramps, card-sharps, and down-on-their-luck gamblers who formed a well disciplined army of voters on election day. Kenna reportedly spent campaign money feeding his hungry army and satisfying their thirst. When asked why by a French writer, Hinky Dink replied that politics is business and that is how he made votes.

Bathhouse John Coughlin began his adult life as a rubber in the Palmer House Baths and eventually opened his own bathhouse, which is how he received his nickname. Kenna and Couglin formed an organization in 1893 selling protection to gambling house and brothel operators working in the First Ward and, in particular, the Levee district (Peterson, 1963:60). A defense fund was established, and two lawyers were placed on retainer to immediately appear in court anytime one of their clients were arrested.

Prior to 1890, the Levee occupied the blocks between Harrison and Polk, from Dearborn to Clark (Stead, 1894:i). This area was also referred to as the "Customs House Levee." The name Levee resulted from the influx of Southern gamblers to the area (Dedmond, 1953:251). The name Levee reportedly designated the raunchiest part of most southern river towns (Schoenberg, 1992:42). The growth of the Levee, and in particular its "red light district" prostitution trade, can be attributed to the fact that four of Chicago’s six railroad depots were centered in the area (Pacyga, 1986:214). The area was called a "red light" district because of the characteristic red lantern that was customarily hung in front of each bordello.

After 1890, because of the growth of Chicago’s downtown business district and pressure from Mayor Carter Harrison, the Levee was eventually relocated to the area between 19th and 22nd Streets, from State to Clark (Kelly, 1926:7). The fashionable Prairie Avenue district bound by 16th Street, Calumet, Indiana, and Michigan Avenues, immediately adjacent to the Levee, was permanently disrupted by the coming of the vice district (Lindberg, 1985:125). After years of resistance, most Prairie Avenue residents eventually abandoned their community for the more tranquil north side Streeterville area and suburban settings.

The Levee was now in the Second Ward. This troubled Hinky Dink and Bath House John. In order to regain control of the Levee, Kenna and Coughlin and their supporters proposed a redistricting ordinance that would return the Levee to the First Ward (Wendt and Kogan, 1953:43). The ordinance was passed, ironically, with the support of Second Ward Alderman William Hale Thompson. What was troubling about Thompson’s support of the ordinance was that the area ceded to the First Ward also contained the Second Ward’s most important business district. The return of the Levee to the First Ward was the beginning of a long association between Kenna, Coughlin, and Thompson that eventually culminated in Thompson’s election as Mayor of Chicago. The "New Levee," as it was called, became home to many of Chicago’s taverns and gambling houses. Within its borders were located more than two hundred houses of prostitution. The House of All Nations, The Little Green House, Bed Bug Row, the Bucket of Blood, Ed Weiss’ Capitol, Freidberg’s Dance Hall, and the Everleigh Club were among its principal attractions (Lindberg, 1985:134). The social center of the New Levee was Frieberg’s Dance Hall. Located on Twenty-Second Street between State and Wabash, Frieberg’s provided dancing and a number of backrooms for other activities with the "ladies" who were employed there. Frieberg’s was also the command post of the Levee. Aldermen Bathhouse John Couglin and Hinky Dink Kenna made their headquarters at Frieberg’s while conducting important Levee business.

The pride of the Levee was the famous Everleigh Club, at 2131 S. Dearborn which was reportedly frequented by Chicago’s elite. The club was operated by two young women, Ada and Minna Everleigh who had earlier run a bordello in Omaha, Nebraska. Patrons of the Everleigh Club were entertained genteelly in one of a number of elegantly decorated parlors. The sisters became so famous that in 1902, while touring the U.S., Prince Henry of Prussia asked to visit the Everleigh Club (Nash, 1981:72). Legend has it that Prince Henry drank champagne from the shoe of one of the girls who had lost it while dancing on his table, thus creating a new tradition. While attending a St. Louis Convention, Mayor Carter Harrison II was handed a brochure, prepared by the Everleigh sisters, describing the pleasures to be found at their club. The pamphlet caused such an outcry from Chicago’s growing reform element that the Everleigh Club was closed for good by the police on October 24, 1911 (Lindberg, 1985:146).


It was the year 1893 that actually marked the beginning of the end for the Levee and the prostitution trade in Chicago. The World’s Columbian Exposition had brought William T. Stead, noted English reformer and editor of the Review of Reviews magazine, to the City (Dedmond, 1953:256). Stead was appalled by conditions in the Levee and the politics of Chicago. One year after his arrival, Stead (1894) published a startling expose’ of vice conditions entitled If Christ Came to Chicago. Stead concluded that the religion of the church in Chicago had been replaced by that of the Democratic Party. The furor created by the publication of Stead’s book was nationwide, and his revelations lead to the formation of the Civic Federation, Chicago’s first important reform movement (Wendt and Kogan, 1974:94).

Another English reformer, Rodney "Gypsy" Smith arrived in Chicago in October of 1909 (Lindberg, 1985:143). Backed by sixty Chicago churches, Gypsy Smith planned to march on the Leee on the night of October eighteenth. Leading a crowd of nearly 15,000 people, Smith marched through the streets of the Levee, preaching the gospel and singing religious songs. Though Gypsy Smith did not remain in Chicago long, the conscience of the City had been aroused. On January 31, 1910, the Church Federation of Chicago, composed of more than 600 religious congregations, passed a resolution urging the Mayor of Chicago to appoint a commission to investigate vice conditions in the City (Reckless, 1933:3).

Dean Sumner, chairman of the newly crated Vice Commission, ultimately reported that there were 1,020 vice resorts in Chicago employing at least 4,000 prostitutes (Wendt and Kogan, 1973:294). Most of these women worked in the segregated vice district located in the First Ward. The Commission’s report went on to state that the segregated vice system annually destroyed the souls of 5,000 young women and, as a result, called for an end to vice in the First Ward and the extermination of the Levee. Many police and politicians, however, including Mayor Carter Harrison II, were in favor of maintaining the Levee as a segregated vice district (Reckless, 1969:5). Gambling and prostitution were thought to be good for the tourist trade in Chicago. More importantly, the political strength of the First Ward depended on the revenue that it obtained from the red light district and from gambling. These revenues allowed Aldermen Coughlin and Kenna to buy flophouse votes in large quantities and help ensure the election of office seekers endorsed by the First Ward organization.


The rising sentiment against the Levee was further fueled by tales of white slavery. Thousands of young girls came to Chicago and other big cities at the turn of the century looking for work. Some, not being able to find employment, turned to prostitution. Others were actually kidnapped, drugged, and forced into the trade. The federal government’s White Slave Traffic Committee reported in 1907 that 278 girls, under the age of 15, had been rescued from Levee dens during a two month period (Lindberg, 1985:133). Though most women who entered prostitution in Chicago probably did so voluntarily, even the hint of white slavery so appalled Chicago’s religious community that direct pressure was placed upon the federal government to act. As a result, Chicago Congressman James Mann sponsored new legislation making the interstate transportation of women for the purpose of prostitution a violation of federal law. With the passage of the Mann Act, the era of the segregated vice district was coming to a close, not only in Chicago but also in other big cities across America. By 1914 the last bordello shuttered its doors and the Levee was officially closed.

The election of William Hale Thompson to the Mayor’s office in 1915 brought new hope to Levee regulars. "Big Bill," as he was fondly referred to, was an advocate of the wide-open town policy and quickly moved to curtail the power of the Morals Squad that had been created within the police department to enforce vice and gambling laws (Wendt and Kogan, 1974:328). In spite of the Mayor’s personal position on vice, however, the reform movement had gained enough momentum to prevent the reopening of the Levee, as it had been known. The Committee of Fifteen, created by Mayor Bussee to combat the problem of the Levee, and other citizens groups were ever watchful. There would be vice in Chicago under Thompson, but it would be less flashy, and under the control of the Mayor not the First Ward. For example, many Levee brothels did in fact reopen, camouflaged as hotels, saloons, and cabarets (Kobler, 1971:56).

Working in the First Ward during this time was James Colosimo. Colosimo had earned a position as a precinct captain by organizing fellow street sweepers into a voting block (Pasley, 1930:11). He also controlled the vote in the Italian settlement centered around Polk and Clark Streets within the First Ward. "Big Jim," as he was referred to, was also involved in prostitution. Colosimo had married Victoria Moresco, the operator of a Levee bagnio. Soon he himself was operating three Levee houses of prostitution. Big Jim also served as the Levee bagman carrying kick-backs from red light district madams to Aldermen Coughlin and Kenna which gave Colosimo considerable control over prostitution and other vice activity in the Levee district (Asbury, 1942:314).


The change in the political/vice set-up in the First Ward enabled Colosimo to grow in stature. He no longer needed Aldermen Coughlin and Kenna to run political interference for his vice activities. He could deal with Thompson’s people himself. Colosimo prospered. He wore so many diamonds that he was sometimes referred to as "Diamond Jim." He also opened a restaurant at 2126 South Wabash called Colosimo’s Cafe. His restaurant became the center of social life in Chicago (Lindberg, 1981:77). Enrico Caruso, the famous opera star, was known to frequent Colosimo’s whenever he visited Chicago. Sophie Tucker reportedly was arrested there for performing the "Angle Worm Wiggle" (Longstreet, 1973:472). Like many other successful Italians of the time, Colosimo became the target of Black Hand extortion.

The Black Hand (La Mano Nera) was not an organization, but a practice by which businessmen and other wealthy Italians were extorted for money. Intended victims were simply sent a letter stating that they would come to violence if they did not pay a particular sum. The term Black Hand came into use because these extortion letters usually contained a drawing of a black hand and other evil symbols such as the dagger and skull and crossbones. The Black Hand was not a secret society but there was a number of Black Hand gangs. The Black Hand was simply a crude method of extortion with a long tradition in Sicily and Southern Italy. There were twenty-five unsolved Black Hand killings in Chicago during 1910; thirty-three in 1912; and forty-two in 1914 (Longstreet, 1973:393). In addition, fifty-five bombs were set off in Chicago during the first three months of 1915 to reinforce Black Hand demands.

In order to deal with the Black Hand threat, Colosimo sent for New York relative, Johnny Torrio. Torrio had been a member of New York’s Five Points Gang and had dabbled in Black Hand extortion himself (McPhaul, 1970:51). Torrio’s usefulness soon extended beyond protecting Colosimo from extortion to overseeing his bordellos. The enterprising young Torrio realized that the glory days of the Levee had come to an end. As a result, he reached an agreement with the Mayor of Burnham, Illinois to move many of Colosimo’s illicit enterprises to that suburban town (Schoenberg, 1992:51). It was the age of the automobile. Burnham was only fifteen miles directly south of the Levee, a short distance by car. Torrio also set up shop in a number of other south suburban areas. The widespread use of the automobile had ushered in the era of the "roadhouse." Located in the nearby towns of Chicago Heights, Calumet City, South Chicago, Burnham, and others, these "roadhouses" provided all the comforts of the Levee - prostitution, gambling, and liquor.


Colosimo and his associates had built the first truly Italian crime syndicate in Chicago. Big Jim, however, lost interest. He began spending less and less time attending to business after he married a young singer, Dale Winter. In fact, Colosimo had resisted Torrio’s efforts at building a liquor syndicate after the onset of Prohibition. While sections of the City were already being divided up by other gangs into liquor distribution territories, Colosimo was content to remain with what he had (Lindberg, 1953:158). He not only controlled vice in the Levee district and Burnham, Illinois, but he also ruled Chicago’s Street Laborer’s Union and the City Street Repairs Union which were under the supervision of his protege "Dago" Mike Carrozzo (Murray, 1975:76). This was not acceptable to Torrio who recognized the potential of bootlegging. On May 11, 1920, while waiting for two truckloads of liquor from James O’Leary at Colosimo’s Cafe, Big Jim was murdered. He was found shot in the head. The suspects in the killing were Al Capone, the recently arrived Brooklyn assistant of Johnny Torrio, and Frankie Yale of New York’s Five Points Gang. At thirty-nine years of age, Johnny Torrio was now the new lord of the Levee.

The Torrio/Capone Syndicate
Torrio ran his criminal organization from the Four Deuces Cafe at 2222 South Wabash. Torrio is widely believed to have been a no nonsense businessman who truly "organized" crime. Torrio excelled as a master strategist and organizer, and quickly built an empire that far exceeded Colosimo’s (Nelli, 1970:148). When the National Prohibition Enforcement Act ended the sale of alcoholic beverages in 1920, a strong demand for illegal goods and services was created, which the Torrio vice syndicate and other similar groups from around the City of Chicago were in a position to supply. They were well organized and had the political connections to prevent interference from the police. All the concealed agreements made with local politicians over the years, as well as the experience gained by years of struggle against reform elements, were brought into service in organizing the production and distribution of beer and whiskey.

Torrio is said to have approached the leaders of Chicago’s top criminal gangs and suggested that they give up burglary, robbery, and crimes of violence in favor of bootlegging (Kobler, 1971:104). The return from these traditional practices, he contended, did not justify the risks taken when compared to the profits to be made from smuggling alcohol. As he saw it, Torrio believed that the key to success during Prohibition was territorial sovereignty. There was enough money to be made for all. Each gang would control liquor distribution in their own areas and not encroach upon the territory of others. Many gang leaders agreed to Torrio’s plan, and things functioned well - for a while.

In 1923, Chicago elected reform mayor William Dever. Dever was a firm believer in the rule of law and quickly ordered the police department to enforce Prohibition. Within weeks of taking office, Dever’s police shut down 7,000 soft-drink parlors and restaurants operating as speakeasies (Wendt and Kogan, 1953:239). Dever’s reforms caused Torrio to move his headquarters to nearby Cicero, Illinois. While Torrio was vacationing in Italy, Capone chose the Hawthorne Inn at 4823 W. Twenty-Second Street as their Cicero headquarters (Schoenberg, 1992:96). Fearing the spread of the reform wave that had taken control of Chicago, Cicero’s local Republican leaders asked Capone to assist them in the 1924 election. In return for helping the Republicans maintain control of Cicero, Torrio and Capone would be given a free hand to sell liquor in that town though they would not be allowed to open any bordellos (Kobler, 1971:114). On election day, two hundred Capone gunmen descended on Cicero to ensure that people voted in the right way. Conditions were so bad that Cook County Judge Edmund Jarecki deputized seventy Chicago police officers to go into Cicero and engage the Capone gang. Frank Capone, the brother of Al, was killed in a gun battle with police at a polling station at the intersection of Twenty-Second and Cicero. After winning the election, Cicero Republicans kept their side of the bargain. It is estimated that the number of liquor and gambling establishments in Cicero, controlled by the Torrio Syndicate, grew to 161 (Pasley, 1930:40).

Outside of Cicero and the area of the Torrio organization, a number of other gangs were also working in collusion with local politicians and police to support vice activities and violate prohibition laws. Dion O’Banion and his followers controlled Chicago’s near north side (Lyle, 1960:171). Klondike O’Donnell and his brothers controlled the near north-west side. Roger Toughy, who claimed only to be a bootlegger and not involved in vice, controlled the Far Northwest Side. The "Terrible" Genna brothers controlled the Near West Side Taylor Street area. The Far West Side was controlled by Terry Druggan and Frankie Lake and their Valley Gang. On the Southwest Side both the Irish O’Donnell brothers and the Saltis-McErland Gang were active in bootlegging.

These gangs were usually centered in immigrant areas where the gangster served as the right arm of the corrupt politician at election time. In exchange for delivering the vote, gang members were allowed to continue their criminal activities, the proceeds of which often went to support local political organizations.

Chief among the Capone organization’s rivals were Dion O’Banion and the six Genna brothers. Dion O’Banion was raised in the Irish shantytown of Kilgubbin on Chicago’s Near North Side (Kobler, 1971:84-86). O’Banion and his followers: George "Bugs" Moran, Earl "Hymie" Weiss, and Vincent "Schemer" Drucci were also known to the police as accomplished highjackers, burglars, and safecrackers. Weiss reportedly invented one of gangland’s favorite murder methods coining the phrase "taking him for a ride" - a one way ride. With the advent of Prohibition, O’Banion and his gang quickly moved to control most illegal liquor distribution on the Near North Side except in the Little Sicily area which remained outside of their control.


O’Banion’s borough was the 42nd and 43rd Wards. His ability to deliver the Irish vote made him an important political figure in Ward politics. When asked who would carry the 42nd and 43rd at election time, the response often heard was "O’Banion in his pistol pockets" (Pasley 1930:43). It is said that O’Banion would go into saloons on election day and shoot the door knobs off the entrances to the toilets in order to remind people to vote Republican (Mark, 1979:158). O’Banion was so important to ward politics that he once was given a testimonial dinner at the Webster Hotel attended by Albert Sprague, Chicago Commissioner of Public Works, Cook County Clerk Robert Schweitzer, and Chicago’s Chief of Detectives Michael Hughes (Murray, 1975:63). O’Banion began his political career under the patronage of ward boss James Aloysius Quinn an ally of gambling boss Mont Tennes. Quinn was better known to his constituents as "Hot Stove" Jimmy because he once tried to steal an iron stove still full of burning coals.

The "Terrible Gennas" - Angelo, Sam, Jim, Pete, Tony, and Mike - were in direct competition with O’Banion and his followers for control of bootlegging territories. The Gennas held a government license for processing industrial alcohol at their plant located at 1022 W. Taylor where they additionally produced illegal whiskey (Kobler, 1971:90). The Genna brothers also organized large numbers of Italian immigrants, from their Near West Side Taylor Street neighborhood, in the home production of alcohol. Many Italian and Sicilian immigrants traditionally made their own wine. With the advent of Prohibition, Italians continued making their wine at home. What they could do with grapes and sugar to make wine they could also do with corn and sugar to produce grain alcohol. So extensive was bootlegging on Chicago’s Near West Side that the intersection of Roosevelt and Halsted Streets eventually became known as Bootleggers’ Square (Pacyga and Skerrett, 1986:214). The Genna brothers were also active in the Unione Siciliana. In fact, Angelo Genna had succeeded to the presidency of the Unione in 1924 upon the death of its founder, Mike Merlo.

The Unione Siciliana began in 1895 as a lawful fraternal society designed to advance the interests of Sicilian immigrants. The Unione provided life insurance and was also active in Italian-American civic affairs. Plain and simple, the Unione was Italian politics. The president of the Unione controlled the Italian vote in Chicago and was, therefore, a powerful man. Though headquartered in New York City, the Unione had its largest membership in Chicago where more than 25,000 Sicilians lived (Smith, 1954:60). Most Chicago Sicilians resided in two neighborhoods, the colony centered around Sedgwick Street on the Near North Side, and in the Near West Side Taylor Street area. In addition to being a benevolent association, the Unione also acted as an intermediary in the settlement of personal feuds. These feuds often involved matters of kidnapping and extortion which Chicago Sicilians were naturally reluctant to bring to the attention of the police (Smith, 1954:60). As a result of such activities, the Unione was also a major supporter of the White Hand Society.


The White Hand was established by Italian Americans to fight Black Hand extortion in Chicago’s Italian community (Nelli, 1970:220). The White Hand society hired private investigators and attorneys to assist the police in arresting and prosecuting Black Hand criminals. Though the White Hand was responsible for ridding Chicago of ten of its most dangerous Black Hand extortionists, their success was short-lived (Kobler, 1971:56). Through intimidation and bribery, Black Hand criminals were often able to suborn witnesses and corrupt government officials. In addition, many of the extortionists that the White Hand Society had sent to prison were also valuable ward heelers who were soon paroled to deliver votes in upcoming elections (Longstreet, 1973:394). Unwilling to sacrifice large sums of money with little promise of success, the Italian business community soon dropped its financial support and the White Hand was disbanded.

Obviously it was only a matter of time before O’Banion clashed with the Genna forces. Stepped-up pressure by the Dever administration had forced liquor sales to dwindle, causing greater competition among Chicago’s bootleggers (Schmidt, 1989:132). For example, the Genna brothers had been selling liquor in O’Banion territory. There were also reports that O’Banion had been high-jacking Genna trucks (Smith, 1954:46). O’Banion is said to have made many enemies among the Italians, often calling them "greaseballs" and "spic pimps", the latter being a reference to the Torrio-Capone involvement in prostitution (Murray, 1975:65). O’Banion had also quarreled with the Gloriana Gang, as the Italian and Sicilian hoodlums in his own near north side community were called, during the 1924 elections. The Glorianas supported 42nd Ward Democratic candidates who were running against the Republicans supported by O’Banion and the Irish.

O’Banion reportedly appealed to Torrio to intercede in his quarrel with the Gennas but was not satisfied with the response. As a result, he offered to sell Torrio his share in the Sieben’s brewery located at 1464 N. Larrabee which he knew was soon to be raided. On the morning of May 19, 1924, Chicago police raided the brewery arresting thirty-one bootleggers, including Torrio, and recovered 128,500 gallons of beer (Schoenberg, 1992:112). O’Banion had set-up Torrio which was inexcusable. At noon on November 10, O’Banion was gunned down in his floral shop (whose trucks specialized in delivering alcohol along with flowers) at 738 N. State Street. The suspects were none other than the Genna brothers, working at the direction of Torrio and Capone. Despite the fact that O’Banion had been an altar boy at Holy Name Cathedral, he was denied funeral services by the Catholic Church. This was standard practice for the Church which steadfastly refused to allow gangsters to be buried in consecrated ground.


On January 24, 1925 Torrio himself was shot, presumably by members of the rival O’Banion gang. A short time later he entered the Lake County jail to serve out his nine-month sentence stemming from the Sieben’s brewery incident. Upon his release, Torrio retired to New York where he once again became involved in bootlegging and worked as a bail bondsman for organized crime figures (McPhaul, 1970:224-238). When Torrio left Chicago, he transferred everything to Capone. Al Capone was now the lord of the Levee and much of Chicago’s underworld. With the disintegration of the Torrio coalition, however, Capone faced war with many of Chicago’s criminal gangs. The intense competition that resulted led to Chicago’s famous "Beer Wars" during the late 1920s. The gangs mainly aligned themselves according to ethnic ties. The Irish, Polish, and Jewish gangsters, such as the West Side O’Donnells and the Saltis-McErlane gang, joined behind O’Banion’s successor, Hymie Weiss. The Sicilians, notably the Gennas and most other Italians, stuck with Capone. So did Druggan and Lake whose Valley Gang was headquartered in the Near West Side Maxwell Street area immediately adjacent to the Taylor Street Italian stronghold.

Among the first casualties of the war was Angelo Genna himself, who died at the hands of Weiss, Moran, and Drucci on May 26, 1925 (Smith, 1954:62). One month later, Mike Genna was killed by police after he had ambushed Moran and Drucci at the corner of Sangamon and Congress. On July 8, Anthony Genna was also killed; some suspected Vincent "Schemer" Drucci. The surviving Gennas fled Chicago. Upon the death of Angelo Genna, Sam "Samoots" Amatuna ascended to the presidency of the Unione Siciliana, but he too was soon murdered while sitting in his favorite barber shop.

Under the guidance of Angelo Genna, the Unione Siciliana had placed its mantle of authority over the home production of alcohol in the city’s Near West and Near North Side Italian communities. These activities placed the Unione in direct competition with the Capone Syndicate. As such, Capone engineered the election of one of his own followers, Antonio Lombardo, to the presidency of the Unione Siciliana. In an effort to overcome the negative publicity surrounding the Unione’s involvement in bootlegging, Lombardo changed the name of the organization to the Italian American National Union and opened up its membership to all Italians (Smith, 1954:65). Lombardo also asked Giovanni Schiavo of New York University to write about the experience of Chicago’s Italian community. His efforts resulted in the publication of the 1928 book The Italians in Chicago.

After the fall of the Gennas, their bootlegging activities were taken over by the Aiello brothers. The Aiellos were a large and extensive family of nine brothers and numerous cousins. Joey Aiello was the kingpin of the group. They were the Near North Side’s equivalent of the Terrible Gennas. The Aiellos owned a bakery at 431 W. Division in the heart of Little Sicily (Smith, 1954:66). The Aiellos, like the Gennas, were also major forces in the Unione Siciliana. Joey Aiello was unhappy about the ascension of Capone’s man Lombardo to the throne of the Unione, which he thought should be his because of his long years of service to the organization. Consequently, Aiello formed alliances with other North Side gangs, such as the O’Banion forces (who were now led by "Bugs" Moran), Billy Skidmore, and Jack Zuta, for the purpose of eliminating Lombardo and Capone (Niel, 1990:70).


The Aiello and Moran forces made a number of attempts on the lives of Lombardo and Capone. The Aiellos promised $50,000 to anyone who would kill "The Big Fellow" as Capone was referred to by his men (Kobler, 1971:205). On September 20, 1926, Moran, Weiss, and Drucci attacked Capone’s headquarters at the Hawthorne Hotel in Cicero (Pasley, 1930:19). Seven cars, no less than ten feet apart, fired over one thousand bullets into the Hawthorne restaurant where Al Capone was eating. Strangely enough, no one was killed. Joey Aiello then hired Angelo LaMantio to shoot Capone and Lombardo as they were leaving Hinky Dink Kenna’s cigar store at 311 South Clark, but the assassination attempt was interrupted by the police (Smith, 1954:66-67).

After three years in office, Antonio Lombardo was finally killed at 4:30 on the afternoon of September 6, 1928 at the corner of Dearborn and Madison Streets in the heart of downtown Chicago (Pasley, 1930:229). He was replaced by another Capone appointee, Pasquilino Lolardo, who was also murdered four months later. Lolardo was replaced by Joey Aiello, who finally attained the presidency of the Unione. The "War of "Sicilian Succession," as the struggle for the control of the Unione Siciliana had became known, had claimed two more lives. The cause of this war was the control of the home alky cooking system, originated by the Genna brothers, that now had become a $10,000,000 a year enterprise (Pasley, 1930:227-228).

Within a year a dozen more men were killed in Chicago’s Near North Side Sicilian neighborhood, and $75,000 worth of property had been demolished by bombs as the Aiello and Capone forces continued to battle for control of the Unione. Father Louis Giambastiani of St. Phillip Benizi’s, troubled by the killings, posted a sign on the front door of the local parish church which read:

Brothers! For the honor you owe to God, for the respect of your American Country and humanity; pray that this ferocious manslaughter, which disgraces the Italian name before the civilized world, may come to an end (Lyle, 1960).

The war did come to an end on February 14, 1929 in the S.M.C. Cartage garage at 2122 N. Clark, when the remaining members of the Moran/Aiello alliance were murdered by forces loyal to Capone. Seven men were machine gunned to death in what has become known as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. No one has ever been convicted of the murders, though Vincenzo de Mora, alias "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn and Joseph Lolordo were arrested. Lolordo was the brother of Pasquilino Lolordo, the Unione Siciliana president whose murder Moran had engineered. Also arrested were Capone gunmen, Albert Anselmi and John Scalise. The car used in the murders was found in a garage at 1723 N. Wood, around the corner from the Circus Cafe, headquarters of the Circus Cafe Gang of which McGurn was a member.


The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre marked the end of the O’Banion gang and established the supremacy of the Capone mob as the leading force in Chicago’s underworld. One year later, on October 23, 1930 Joey Aiello was murdered. Capone had regained control of the Unione Siciliana, appointing Agostino LoVerdo as president. The final conquest of the Unione, however, became a short-lived victory. The end of Prohibition in 1933 marked the end of the importance of the Unione to organized crime in Chicago. By 1930, Al Capone, then only thirty-one years of age, had become the supreme overlord of crime in Chicago. The Chicago Daily News estimated that he controlled 6,000 speakeasies and 2,000 handbooks for betting on horse races (Pasley, 1930:289). The combined revenue from these activities plus prostitution and racketeering was estimated to be $6,260,000 a week.

Chicago was a "wide-open" town. Police and judicial corruption were so widespread that the Better Government Association petitioned the United States Congress to intervene in the internal affairs of the City, stating that its leaders were in league with gangsters and that the city was overrun with protected vice (Woody, 1974:136). The alliance between corrupt government and organized crime was made clear by Big Bill Thomspson’s return to City government. Promising that he "was as wet as the Atlantic Ocean", Thompson was returned to the Mayor’s Office in 1927 with strong support from Chicago’s criminal element (Nelli 1970:232). In fact, a number of Capone gangsters reportedly worked in Thompson’s campaign headquarters (Wendt and Kogan, 1953:269). It is also said that Capone, himself, donated $260,000 to Thompson’s reelection fund (Hoffman, 1989:2). With the advent of Thompson, Capone returned to the Levee, setting up headquarters in the Metropole Hotel at 2300 S. Michigan and in 1928 one block north at the Lexington Hotel. Speakeasies and vice again flourished in the First Ward, but they were not under the control of Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin (Wendt and Kogan, 1974:351). Vice remained strictly in the hands of the Capone syndicate. In fact, the Aldermen were called into Capone’s office and told that their future would depend on their usefulness to the Capone organization (Nelli, 1976:191). To this Coughlin was said to have replied, "We’re lucky to get as good a break as we did."

Capone gangsters also roamed the corridors of Chicago’s City Hall seeking favors from friendly and not so friendly aldermen alike (Wendt and Kogan, 1953:280). Capone set up headquarters for his gambling empire at Clark and Madison streets, one block from the mayor’s office. In charge of gambling operations were Jake Guzik and Jimmy Mondi. Guzik and Mondi reportedly summoned the owners of all of Chicago’s gambling services to their office and instructed them that they would have to pay 40% of their profits to the Capone syndicate in order to ensure protection from City Hall. The alliance between the Thompson administration and the Capone mob was an important milestone in the development of organized crime in Chicago. The Capone syndicate was now the official mediator between the underworld and Chicago’s established political structure. Independent gamblers could no longer seek out their own deals with local politicians.


Realizing that there was a total breakdown in municipal government, Frank Loesch, Director of the Chicago Crime Commission, traveled with a group of prominent businessmen to Washington D.C. in 1929 to meet with President Herbert Hoover regarding crime conditions in Chicago (Hoffman, 1989:21). As a result of this meeting, the President ordered a full-scale attack on the Capone syndicate by the Prohibition Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service. Under the supervision of Elliot Ness, Prohibition agents battered down the doors of twenty-five Capone distilleries and breweries and seized or destroyed more than $1,000,000 worth of whiskey, beer, trucks, and other equipment (Hoffman, 1989:33). While the "Untouchables," as Ness’ men became known, were busy dismantling Capone’s bootlegging empire, agents of the Internal Revenue Service were also busy assembling tax cases against Capone and many of his leading hoodlums.

Conditions were so bad in Chicago that a group of prominent businessmen joined in the effort against Capone. Taking the law into their own hands, they established the Citizen’s Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Crime. The Secret Six, as they came to be known, were so named by the press because their chairman, Colonel Robert Isham Randolph, refused to name his five colleagues lest he endanger their lives (Hoffman, 1989:16). Working in cooperation with the Chicago Crime Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Six donated $1,000,000 to fight organized crime. This money was used to hire private investigators who developed informants, tapped telephones, paid witnesses, and generally collected information on mob activity that was passed on to federal authorities. It was the Secret Six who spent $10,000 sending star witness Fred Ries to South America until he was needed to testify against Capone in federal court on charges of income tax evasion (Hoffman, 1989:16).

Though Al Capone was in jail when Prohibition ended in 1933, the organization that he had helped to create continued.

With Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti at its head, the Capone mob branched out into new forms of vice activity such as "call operations", "B-Girls," narcotics, and business and labor racketeering. It was racketeering that provided the Capone syndicate with its major source of revenue following the demise of Prohibition. Racketeering also provided an alternate source of income during the economic depression that followed the crash of the stock market in 1929. Money was tight, and people could no longer afford to spend what little they had on gambling and prostitution. In Chicago, the City itself was broke. Its debts totaled $280,000,000 with 40,123 public employees going unpaid (Pasley, 1930:151).

Racketeering is defined as "a scheme for making a dishonest livelihood through illegal or criminal practices which often involve the extortion of money by threat or violence." The word "racket" can be traced to the gangs of New York (Tyler, 1962:181). During the early part of the nineteenth century, it was a common practice for political and social clubs to sponsor benefit dinners on their own behalf. These were such loud affairs that they became known as "rackets" because of all the noise that was made.

The racketeer may be the boss of a supposedly legitimate business association, or he may be a union leader. As early as the late nineteenth century, small shopkeepers and peddlers paid money to neighborhood gangs to protect themselves from violence and property damage perpetrated by the gang itself. Later, racketeers organized small businessmen into business and trade associations in order to regulate competition and guard against price undercutting in a particular market or area. Any merchant who didn’t join the association and pay his dues was bombed, assaulted, or otherwise intimidated. For example, members paid the Midwest Garage Owners Association $1.00 a month for every car that they handled. Those garages that were not members of the Association often became the target of attack. In a one-month period in Chicago, 50,000 tires were reportedly slashed on cars parked in non-association garages (Kobler, 1971: 232). In 1927, the Employers Association of Chicago issued a list of twenty-three businesses that were manipulated by racketeers (Schoenberg, 1992:199-201). These included laundries and dry cleaners, parking garages, garbage collectors, and fish and poultry stores.

Many Chicago unions were also under the control of local racketeers. By 1928, the Cook County State’s Attorneys office reported that ninety-one Chicago Unions and Trade Associations were dominated by organized crime. These included the Musicians Union, the Motion Picture Operators Union, the Barbers Union, and the Milk Drivers Union (Kobler, 1971:233). Most gangsters did not infiltrate the unions as is popularly believed but were invited in by the unions themselves. Big business was no friend of organized labor and often hired underworld figures to break strikes and crash picket lines. The under-world, however, owed no loyalty to industry and frequently switched allegiance to labor in return for the appointment of racketeers to positions of authority within the union itself.

During the years that followed Prohibition, it became increasingly clear that organized crime in Chicago was now dominated by the Italians. The other ethnic gangs had simply disappeared. What remained was called the Syndicate and eventually the Outfit. The Capone organization had emerged as the most vicious fighters in the war to control the distribution of illegal alcohol in Chicago. There is no evidence, as is commonly believed, that these Italians were members of the so-called Sicilian Mafia. The involvement of the "Unione Siciliana," and the old world cultural practices of many Italian immigrants, fixed the image of the Mafia forever in the minds of many Chicagoans. As this review has shown, organized crime was firmly in place in Chicago when the first Sicilian immigrant set foot upon the shores of Lake Michigan.


Summary and Conclusion While the era of the gangster in Chicago is often attributed to Prohibition, the genesis of the gangsters’ power can be traced back long before the enactment of the Volstead Act. From the beginning of Chicago’s history, the underworld has been inextricably interwoven in the social and political structure of the city. Beginning with gambling king Mike McDonald, Chicago’s criminal underworld had, for many years, constituted the most powerful political force in the City. The vice lords, beer barons, and gangsters who had achieved an alliance with politicians and police ultimately assumed a quasi-legitimate function. The gangs provided services that the law prohibited but which, nevertheless, human appetites craved. Organized crime existed to control and regulate conduct in areas where official and legally sanctioned control had failed or did not exist. Looking beyond the myth of the Mafia, the story of organized crime in Chicago is really the story of the failure of our public institutions to work for the good of all men. It was political corruption that allowed organized crime to grow, and it was political expediency that allowed it to continue. I can think of no better explanation for the development of organized crime than Fredrick Thrasher’s (1927) classic statement that gangs were the result of the failure of the normally directing and controlling institutions of society to function effectively.