24 January 2019

Torrio surrenders Chicago rackets after ambush

On this date in 1925...


Chicago rackets boss Johnny Torrio, at liberty before beginning a nine-month sentence for Prohibition violations, was shot and seriously wounded in front of his home on the afternoon of January 24, 1925.

The attack did not result in Torrio's death but it did effectively remove him from the Chicago underworld. Following weeks in the hospital and months in Lake County Jail in Waukegan, Illinois, Torrio sold his interests in bootlegging businesses and left Chicago. His top lieutenant, Alphonse Capone, took over Torrio's gang and built the Chicago Outfit.

Bullet holes in the Lincoln auto used by the Torrios.

A portion of the Chicago Daily Tribune account of the attack on Torrio follows:

John Torrio, czar of bootlegging and vice in Chicago, was shot five times yesterday in front of his home, 7011 Clyde avenue. He is expected to recover.
The assailants escaped. The police and the underworld are convinced they are gangsters loyal to the memory of Dean O'Banion, the beer runner who was murdered in his flower shop two months ago. O'Banion had challenged Torrio's control of beer running and was killed by Torrio's men, police are certain.
Torrio attended O'Banion's wake. His presence was interpreted by the underworld as a warning to any who challenged him that they might expect to sleep in silver-bronze caskets surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of flowers.
But Torrio's enemies were not cowed. A week ago they tried to assassinate his first lieutenant, Al Capone.
That attempt failed. Yesterday three of them lay in wait for half an hour opposite the Torrio home, waiting for Torrio to return. At 4:30 o'clock Torrio and his wife, Anna, drove up in a heavy sedan. While one of the gunmen remained at the wheel, the other two jumped out and shot Torrio, who tried to escape by running into the apartment building. The attackers leaped back into their machine and fled.
["Torrio is shot; police hunt for O'Banion men," Chicago Sunday Tribune, Jan. 25, 1925, p. 5.]

Mrs. Anna Torrio
The newspaper noted that Torrio left the country for a time following O'Banion's wake. It said that he and his wife traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, before embarking for Havana, Cuba, and then reentered the U.S. at St. Petersburg, Florida, before returning to Chicago. The Tribune suggested that friends of O'Banion followed them every step of the way, waiting for an opportunity to avenge O'Banion's murder.

The trip outlined by the newspaper was not out of the ordinary for the Torrios, who frequently traveled inside and outside the U.S. (Their visit to Havana following O'Banion's death was documented by a passenger manifest of the S.S. Governor Cobb, the ship that brought them from Cuba to Florida on December 13, 1924.) But it is odd that Torrio was permitted to leave the country between his May 19, 1924, arrest on federal Prohibition charges and his January 17, 1925, sentencing.

Anna and John Torrio pulled up to their apartment building on January 24 in a chauffeured Lincoln automobile borrowed from a friend. Anna stepped out of the car and walked to the apartment steps, while John gathered a bunch of packages from the vehicle. Two gunmen - one carrying a shotgun and the other a handgun - climbed out of a gray Cadillac around the corner, approached Torrio and opened fire. Torrio made a dash for the building but fell to the sidewalk. The gunmen escaped in their Cadillac.

The chauffeur of the Lincoln, wounded in the knee by a bullet, drove off as the first shots were fired. He was later found and questioned by police. He refused to discuss the shooting.

John Torrio
Torrio, wounded in the chest, arm and jaw, was treated at Jackson Park Hospital. He also refused to provide any information to investigators. According to the Tribune, he told Assistant State's Attorney John Sbarbaro, "I know who they are. It's my business. I'll tell you later." The paper reported that Alphonse Capone was in tears when he rushed to his boss's hospital bed. After Capone made arrangements for Torrio's care and safety, he was taken in for questioning.

As a result of the shooting, federal authorities postponed for thirty days Torrio's scheduled January 28, 1925, entry into DuPage County Jail in Wheaton. Just two weeks later, however, Torrio said he was sufficiently healed to begin his sentence. He requested that he be allowed to serve his time at Waukegan in Lake County, which would be better able to treat any health complications. Federal officials found the request suspicious but granted it.

Allowing for a sentence reduction of forty-five days for good behavior, Torrio's sentence expired near the end of September. His release was held up when some accused the Lake County sheriff of providing Torrio with illegal privileges during his incarceration. It was said that Torrio had his own comfortable furniture placed in his cell, was permitted to possess a loaded automatic pistol for his defense and even repeatedly left the jail for nights out in the company of the sheriff.

Torrio remained in custody as hearings were conducted into the actions of the sheriff. He was released on a $5,000 bond on October 6, as federal Judge Adam C. Cliffe considered the evidence. Cliffe decided a few days later that there was insufficient proof of any wrongdoing. Torrio left Chicago almost immediately after the judge's decision.

John and Anna Torrio set out again that fall for Havana. They traveled with Alphonse Capone and his wife Mae. All four indicated that they lived in New York. They returned to the U.S. together through Key West, Florida, on November 14, 1925. Capone went back to Chicago as a newly appointed underworld boss.

The Torrios headed to an apartment on Shore Road in Brooklyn, where John Torrio continued his involvement in liquor-related rackets. In 1939, he was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison for evading income taxes. Upon his release from Leavenworth, he worked in real estate. He reportedly died of a heart attack while in a Brooklyn barber's chair on April 16, 1957. He was seventy-five years old and had outlived his far more notorious protege Capone by nearly a decade.

Torrio's death went unnoticed by the media until more than two weeks later, when his will, leaving an estate estimated at $200,000 to his wife, was filed in Brooklyn.

Sources:

  • "Al Capone's mentor dies of heart attack," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, May 8, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Chicago police make big haul in war on beer," Freeport IL Journal-Standard, May 19, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Denies Torrio's plea," Chicago Sunday Tribune, Sept. 27, 1925, p. 2.
  • "Drop Torrio inquiry," Decatur IL Herald, Oct. 9, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Johnny Torrio gets 2 1/2 years," Brooklyn Eagle, April 12, 1939, p. 1.
  • "Johnny Torrio, ex-bootlegger who gave Capone start, dies," Richmond IN Palladium-Item, May 8, 1957, p. 9.
  • "Johnny Torrio, ex-public enemy 1, dies; made Al Capone boss of underworld," New York Times, May 8. 1957, p. 32.
  • "Johnny Torrio, once Capone's boss, is dead," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1957, p. 3: 11
  • "O'Bannion, arch gunman, killed," Decatur IL Daily Review, Nov. 11, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Pistol kept in cell," Cincinati Enquirer, Sept. 29, 1925, p. 3.
  • "Scarface Al Capone, ex-king of crime, dies," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Torrio and 2 aides admit tax frauds," New York Times, April 11, 1939, p. 1.
  • "Torrio free on bonds pending contempt edict," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 7, 1925, p. 12.
  • "Torrio is shot; police hunt for O'Banion men," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 25, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Torrio offers $10,000 if jail lark is proved," Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 18, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Torrio under heavy guard as he quits jail," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Oct. 7, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Torrio's power in rum ring bared," New York Times, April 1, 1939.
  • "U.S. is wary of Torrio's request for jail tonight," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 9, 1925, p. 3.
  • "Woman involved in Dion O'Bannion's murder in Chicago," Brooklyn Eagle, Nov. 11, 1924, p. 3.
  • Gordon, David, "Torrio admits guilt, halts tax evasion trial," Brooklyn Eagle, April 10, 1939, p. 1.
  • John Torrio World War II Draft Registration Card, serial no. U1962, Local Board no. 171, Brooklyn NY.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Cuba, arriving Key West, Florida, on Nov. 14, 1925.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Governor Cobb, departed Havana, Cuba, on Dec. 13, 1924, arrived Key West, FL, on Dec. 13, 1924.
  • Peterson, Virgil, "Inside the Crime Syndicate (No. 2)," Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine, Oct. 14, 1956, p. 28.
  • Stelzer, Patricia Jacobs, Prohibition and Organized Crime: A Case Study, An Examination of the Life of John Torrio, master's degree thesis, Dayton OH: Wright State University, 1997, p. 7.

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