Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts

03 August 2018

Eight "Black Sox" players banned from baseball

On this date in 1921...

Landis (center) as he is appointed commissioner

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis announced on August 3, 1921, that eight players involved in the "Black Sox" scandal would never again be permitted to play organized baseball.

His announcement came one day after a jury found the players not guilty of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and dares no tell his club about, will ever play professional baseball.
Freeport IL Journal-Standard

The players banned from the game for life were
  • Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte, pitcher
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, outfielder
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman
  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, outfielder
  • Fred McMullin, utility infielder
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher

Landis, a veteran federal judge. had been given broad powers to protect the game when he was appointed baseball's first commissioner late in 1920. Major league ballclub owners feared at the time that the Black Sox scandal, just coming to light, would do permanent damage to the reputation of baseball.

Though there had been rumors about the 1919 World Series being "fixed" through the influence of gamblers, the 1920 regular season was almost finished when grand jury investigation was launched. Charles Albert "Commy" Comiskey, president of the White Sox ballclub, suspended the seven suspects who were still on his team (Gandil was no longer with Chicago at the time). This action was taken despite the White Sox remaining in contention for the 1920 American League pennant.

Eddie Cicotte appeared before the grand jury and admitted he was part of a conspiracy to throw the World Series in exchange for cash. Joe Jackson made a similar confession. Eight players were indicted for conspiracy in October 1920. They were placed on baseball's "ineligible list" for the 1921 season and  went to trial that summer. By the time of the trial, the Cicotte and Jackson confessions were missing, and the players were denying any cooperation with gamblers.

See also:

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series (Writers of Wrongs, Sept. 28, 2017)

31 May 2018

He fought the law, and the law lost

Chicago Outfit boss DiFronzo,
89, dies following illness

John DiFronzo, reputed boss of the Chicago Outfit, died Sunday, May 27, 2018, at his home in River Grove, according to published reports. (Chicago Tribune reports he died May 28) He was eighty-nine years old.
DiFronzo

Criminal defense attorney Joe Lopez told the media that the crime boss suffered with Alzheimer's disease and had been "extremely ill."

DiFronzo was widely suspected of involvement in the brutal 1986 murders of brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro (depicted in the film Casino). His role was discussed during the 2007 Family Secrets trial of Outfit leaders. But DiFronzo was not a defendant in Family Secrets, and federal prosecutors were unable to assemble a convincing case against him.

Attorney Lopez told CBS-Chicago that DiFronzo's greatest achievement was "beating the G."

The press frequently referred to DiFronzo as "No Nose." The nickname sprang from an attempted robbery back in 1949, though the details of that story are disputed. Some sources say DiFronzo jumped through a window to escape capture and had a piece of his nose sliced off by the breaking glass. (Actually, he neither jumped through a window nor escaped, but a glass injury cannot be ruled out.) Others say a bullet fired by a police officer tore off the nose...

Read a biography of John "No Nose" DiFronzo
on the American Mafia history website.


See also:

26 April 2018

Gangster Profile: Ted Newberry


“He must have done something. They don’t kill you for nothing.”

The above quote is credited to gangster Edward “Ted” Newberry, the last racketeer king of Chicago’s North Side, whose corpse was found on a lonely stretch of road in Indiana on January 8, 1933. So, who was Ted Newberry and what did he do to deserve the proverbial “one way ride?”

Ted Newberry
Newberry was born on Chicago’s Northwest side on June 28, 1898, and seems to have been involved in crime most of his adult life. As a young adult he had a job as a “superintendent” at the Checker Cab Company. What he did as superintendent isn’t known for sure but it probably had something to do with sabotaging rival Yellow Cab. While there he became involved with another infamous Chicago hoodlum named Eugene “Red” Moran, whose brother Robert, became head of the company and a lifelong friend of Newberry’s.

By 1924 Newberry had moved into bootlegging and was working with a guy named Leon Tarr, who had a working relationship with another bootlegger named Harry Callan. The latter catered to the well-to-do crowd of Chicago’s “Gold Coast.” According to Callan, he “tipped” Tarr off to a customer who bought $7,000 worth of booze but never paid Callan his share. Callan called him on it and a meeting was set up. Callan was waiting on a park bench when Tarr showed up with Newberry and another guy named Arresti Cappola. Callan said that he challenged Tarr to a fist fight but Tarr drew a gun and shot him.

Callan stumbled to a cop and was taken to a hospital where he spilled the beans on how he came to be shot. Newberry was picked up for the shooting but nothing came of it. A few months later however, he took part in the murder of an Innkeeper, which almost cost him his freedom.


Omar Finch, about 59 years old, and his son Cole, 29, had a good thing going. They bought denatured alcohol and redistilled it into quality grain alcohol which they resold to numerous other saloonkeepers.
On December 11, 1924, Newberry and three confederates, one of whom was purported to be his colleague from the Checker Cab Co., Eugen “Red” McLaughlin, posed as Prohibition agents and kidnapped Finch in an attempt to extort him.

Finch was transporting four barrels of alcohol when he was pulled over by Newberry and his confederates. After taking his, stuff, Newberry and his associates brought him to a hotel on Chicago’s North Side where they demanded $5000 to let him go. Finch told them that he didn’t have that kind of cash but that he could raise a thousand. Newberry agreed to accept that as a down payment. They made an appointment the next day to receive the money and let Finch go.

According to Finch’s son Cole, the following day his father decided that the four barrels of alcohol weren’t worth a grand, so he decided not to pay the money. Acting under the belief that Newberry and his gang were actual Prohibition agents and not murderous thugs, Finch and his son went and moved their still and all remaining evidence. Finch believed that Newberry and company couldn’t do anything with the four barrels of alcohol and that they couldn’t prosecute him after attempting to shake him down and then letting him go. Assuming he pulled one over on the agents, Finch blew off the meeting.

A few hours later the gang burst into Finch’s saloon. They called him a double crosser then drew guns and opened fire at the saloonkeeper. One bullet proved fatal and Finch died at the hospital.

Newberry’s involvement came to the attention of the police when two young bootleggers reported that a gang of hijackers had stolen their car and their liquor on December 10. The bootleggers said that the hijackers told them they could have their car and liquor back if they paid $200. They also stated that one of the men in the car was Omar Finch. The auto used by the gangsters was described to the police who were able to trace it back to Newberry.

Newberry's sedan
 After the murder of his father, Cole Finch left town but returned after the arrest of Newberry. Though his wife received calls threatening that if her husband talked he’d be dead in twenty-four hours, Cole assured authorities that he would testify.

A federal investigator stated that by posing as Prohibition agents, Newberry’s gang had extorted thousands of dollars from over thirty saloonkeepers. “A federal badge was found in Newberry’s possession, and we know he used it on more than one occasion,” United States District Attorney Edwin Olson told the press. “Conviction on that alone would mean a penitentiary sentence.”

Newberry at time of arrest
In addition to having Newberry’s car and badge, prosecutors also had Bell boys from the hotel where they kept Finch who could identify Newberry. They also had Cole and two other witnesses from the saloon that could identify Newberry as one of the killers. It didn’t look good for Newberry. But this was Chicago and although the lead up to the trial was well covered in the press, the trial itself was not. It wasn’t stated what happened but Newberry apparently went free.

By the end of the decade Newberry was a big shot on the Northwest Side of Chicago controlling the alcohol and gambling. He was considered a strong ally to the North Side gangsters headed by Bugs Moran. In fact Newberry was with Moran on the Morning of February 14, 1929 when the latter was on his way to the gang’s headquarters. As they approached their destination, they saw a couple of detective cars pull up so they took a walk. Who they thought were cops were actually gunmen employed by Al Capone who entered the garage and murdered seven of Moran’s boys.

Three months later Capone was arrested in Philadelphia on a gun charge and sentenced to a year in prison.

It appears that the Capone gang may have had their gun sights fixed on Newberry as well. On November 30, 1929, Newberry was slightly wounded in a drive-by as he was approaching a club said to be run by Moran’s gang A little over a month later, according to the Chicago Tribune, Newberry learned of a machinegun nest that was planted in an apartment across the street from his headquarters. Once this was found out, Newberry high tailed it to Canada and his second in command, Al Shimberg, fled to Michigan. Left to run things were subordinates Benny Bennett and John Rito, known as the “Billiken.”

Around the first of February Bennett disappeared. About a month later, Rito likewise disappeared but he didn’t stay disappeared for long. After spending two weeks under water, his body broke loose from its constraints and floated to the top of the Chicago River.

John "the Billiken" Rito
The day after the Billikin surfaced, Capone was released from the Eastern State Penitentiary and returned home. At some point a peace was made between Newberry and Capone and the latter recognized the former as the leader of the North Side. To commemorate, Capone gave Newberry a diamond studded belt buckle, a gift that the big guy seemed to bestow on a lot of his esteemed colleagues.

As the top man on the North Side, Newberry was frequently in the papers. He was said to be involved in bucket shops as well as an attempt to organize racetrack workers. He was also arrested for the usual stuff i.e. murder and bootlegging.



 
One murder that garnished him much attention was that of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle when it was discovered that Lingle was killed with a gun that was sold, in part, to Newberry. Though the gang leader wasn’t responsible for the murder of Lingle, Jack Zuta, a North Side associate was, and, since Lingle’s murder adversely affected every gangster in Chicago, Zuta had to be killed. When he got his, witnesses stated that one of the gunmen was Newberry. The accusation was never proved.

The beginning of the end for Newberry came when Capone was sent away for good in the spring of 1932. Newberry and Frank Nitti, Capone’s successor, did not get along. Reasons given are that, with Capone gone, poor management plus lower earnings due to the depression, led to the Capone organization not earning what it once did. The North Side however, which catered to the wealthy, weathered the depression better and was still making money. Nitti and Co. began to eye Newberry’s fiefdom in a most coveted manner and they started to chip away at his empire. It was also said that Newberry owed the Capone gang a large sum of money and to guarantee a return they inserted a representative to oversee affairs.

The person they sent was Gus Winkeler, who had a good relationship with Newberry, but other Syndicate men followed. Soon, Newberry felt that he was being squeezed out. His response was to have Nitti killed. On December 19, 1932 police raided Nitti’s office and one of the officers shot the gang leader a number of times, supposedly in self-defense.

It was a sloppy attempt and Nitti survived. The wounded gang leader figured out straight away who was behind the botched hit and, less than three weeks later, Newberry’s body was found. Around his waist, the diamond studded belt buckle given to him by Al Capone; a reminder of the good old days.

Officer points to where Newberry's body was found

Sources:

Mr. Capone, Schoenberg, Robert, William Morrow and Company,1992
Al Capone and His American Boys, Helmer, William, Indiana University Press, 2011
Capone, Kobler, John, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971
The Man Who Got Away, Keefe, Rose, Cumberland House Publishing, 2005


"De Luxe Rum Broker Shot" Chicago Tribune 09.27.1924
"Elite Rum Baron Ready to Give Up in Shooting" Chicago Tribune 09.28.1924
"It Was Shoot or Get Shot Says Leon Tarr" Chicago Tribune 10.08.1924
"Village Saloon Keeper Shot to Death By Gang" Chicago Tribune 12.12.1924
"Witnesses Call Newberry One of Finch's Slayers" Chicago Tribune 12.21.1924
"Seize Hijacker; Finch Slaying Solved, Belief"  Chicago Tribune 12.20.1924
"Detectives Seek Newberry's Pals" Moline Dispatch 12.23.1924
"Ted Newberry Indicted; Writ Moved Balked"12.23. Chicago Tribune 1924
 "Billiken Rito is Shot to Death; Pal is Missing" Chicago Tribune 03.17.1930
"Ted Newberry Taken on Gang Ride and Slain" Chicago Tribune 01.08.1933

25 January 2018

Stroke complications take Capone

Al Capone, notorious Prohibition Era gang boss of Chicago, died January 25, 1947, at his south Florida home. Dr. Kenneth S. Phillips, who had treated the retired crime figure for years, announced that death was caused by pneumonia and heart failure, complications of a recent stroke.

Miami Daily News
For many years, Capone had dealt with the symptoms of advanced syphilis. Immediately upon the November 1939 expiration of his long prison sentence for tax evasion, Capone was admitted into Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore for treatment of paresis. The former gangland boss, burdened with an ailing body and a failing mind, never returned to command the Chicago Outfit organization he built during Prohibition, instead moving into a quiet Florida retirement.

Capone suffered an apoplectic stroke at about four o'clock in the morning of January 21, 1947, just a few days after his forty-eighth birthday. It was feared that the unresponsive Capone would soon die. At six o'clock, a Roman Catholic priest, Monsignor William Barry, went to the twenty-five-room estate, 93 Palm Avenue on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay, to administer the last rites. Newspapers learned of the stroke and scrambled to cover the final moments of Capone's life.

By eight o'clock that morning, Dr. Phillips saw some signs of improvement in his patient. At the family's request, the physician became a spokesman, delivering health updates to the swarm of reporters gathering outside the walls around the estate. Capone regained consciousness later in the day, and Dr. Phillips reported to the press that he could speak, though the doctor urged him to remain quiet and rest.

Dr. Phillips told the press on January 23 that Capone continued to show progress in his recovery. The doctor expressed concern that the stroke might leave Capone paralyzed on the left side. "It'll be two or three days before I can tell conclusively about his condition," Dr. Phillips said. "He's doing just about the same and it looks like he is out of danger if there are no unforeseen complications."

The possibility of pneumonia was discussed early the following day. Dr. Phillips reported that Capone was "harboring considerable lung congestion." The patient's condition worsened quickly. Dr. Phillips rushed to Palm Island that afternoon and returned with Dr. Arthur J. Logie, a Miami-based chest specialist, that evening.

Dr. Logie met with reporters as he left the estate. The specialist's prognosis was grim. "I doubt very seriously if there is a chance for recovery. It is impossible to say how long he will last. His lungs are pretty well filled... Both lungs are badly congested and his heart has begun to fail."

The doctors administered oxygen, using tanks and equipment brought to the Palm Island home. Press reports the following day suggested that Capone would already be dead if not for the oxygen pumped into him during the night.

Dr. Phillips and Capone's wife and son were with Capone when he died in his bed at twenty-five minutes after seven on Saturday night, January 25. As he passed, his wife collapsed and required the attention of Dr. Phillips. The doctor emerged from the estate with news of Capone's death at about eight-thirty.

Capone was survived by his wife and his son, both of his parents, two brothers and a sister. His body was taken to the W.L. Philbrick Funeral Home at Miami Beach. Reports indicated that Louis Rago, funeral director at 624 N. Western Avenue in Chicago, flew to Miami Beach to take charge of arrangements, as the family wished for Capone to be buried in a plot in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago.

Sources:
  • "Ex-Gangland chief rallies after stroke," Moline IL Dispatch, Jan. 22, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Hint Capone's left side may be paralyzed," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 24, 1947, p. 6.
  • "Doctor speeds to bedside of Al Capone," Miami Daily News, Jan. 24, 1947, p. 23.
  • "Al Capone hit by pneumonia, heart weaker," Baltimore Sun, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 3.
  • "Al Capone gets pneumonia, doctor doubts recovery," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Capone dying, doctor says," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 1.
  • Sosin, Milt, "Capone under oxygen mask, hovers on brink of death," Miami Daily News, Jan. 25, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Capone dies at island villa," Miami Daily News, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Al Capone dies in Florida villa," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Al Capone, gang czar, dies," Des Moines Register, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 4.

See also:
Writers of Wrongs: "Out of prison, into hospital."

08 January 2018

Rude guests pump bullets into their host


On this date in 1929: Chicago underworld leader and olive oil merchant Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo, forty-three, was shot to death by visitors to his apartment, 1921 W. North Avenue. 

Lolordo (left), scene of murder (right). Chicago Daily Tribune

Lolordo welcomed three guests at about three o'clock in the afternoon and shared drinks and conversation with them in the livingroom for an hour.

Joe Aiello (left),
Lena Lolordo (right)
At four o'clock, his thirty-eight-year-old wife Lena, tending to the ironing in the apartment kitchen, heard gunshots and ran to the livingroom. She brushed past the visitors on her way to her fallen husband. The visitors left quickly and quietly. Lena grabbed a velvet pillow and placed it under the dying man's head.

Lolordo succumbed to gunshot wounds to his skull, neck and shoulders before an ambulance arrived. Police found an empty .38-caliber pistol on the building stairway and another near Lolordo's body. Three half-filled drinking glasses sat on a livingroom table. A broken glass was in Lolordo's lifeless hand.

Police determined that Lolordo was unarmed when he was shot, though they found a sawed-off shotgun in his bedroom. Eighteen men, believed to be members of the Joe Aiello bootlegging gang, were viewed by Lena Lolordo, but she recognized none of them as her husband's visitors. Later, she picked out a photograph of Aiello himself, saying he was one of the gunmen.

Several months earlier, Lolordo had succeeded the murdered Antonio Lombardo as leader of Chicago's gangland-linked Unione Siciliana organization.


Lolordo death certificate
See also: 

23 December 2017

Gangsters move to the Big Screen II



The Public Enemy  - Starring James Cagney and Edward Burns. Released May 15, 1931

This gangster pic was released four months after Little Caesar and like the latter the story takes place in Chicago. Whereas Little Caesar dealt with the Italian underworld, the former deals with Irish hoodlums.


Like its predecessor, The Public Enemy also bases some of its characters and scenes on reality. The model for Paddy Ryan’s gang was Chicago’s North Side gang. One of the main gangsters with the mob is a big shot named Nails Nathan who is a guiding force of Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his friend Matt Doyle (Edward Burns). In the movie Nails Nathan gets thrown from a horse and is accidentally killed. Upset with the death of their friend and mentor, Powers and Doyle go to the stables and shoot the horse that Nathan was riding when killed. Sounds like pure Hollywood invention right? Nope. Actually happened. The Nails Nathan character is based on an actual Chicago gangster named Samuel “Nails” Morton, a top member of the North Side gang who was popular with his associates. Just like in the film, Morton was thrown from a horse and killed while out pleasure riding and his friends really did go to the stable and kill the horse. 

Nails Morton Chicago gangster rubbed out by a horse
The main foe of the Paddy Ryan mob is the gang headed by “Schemer” Burns. Cute nickname, anyone in Chicago with that moniker? Yup, but it was a North Sider, Schemer Drucci.

In the movie, a gang war breaks out  and there is a scene where Powers and Doyle are walking along the street and rival gangsters, who have been staking out their hideout from a machine gun nest in a second story apartment window, open fire and kill Doyle. This scene is inspired by the murder of North Side gangster Earl “Hymie” Weiss who was taken out by a machine gun nest while approaching the gang’s headquarters.

The film ends with the rival gang kidnapping a wounded Powers from the hospital and taking him for a one way ride. Gangsters wouldn't actually invade a hospital to finish a job would they? Well, turns out that idea may have been snatched from gangdom as well. Though not kidnapped, a year or so before the movie was released, a Newark, New Jersey gangster by the name of John "The Ape" Passelli was bumped off in the hospital while recuperating from a botched hit. 




Any other scenes or characters that are familiar to you?


04 December 2017

Chased from Boston to Chicago to Pittsburgh

Camorra killers catch up with
their target in the Steel City

1 - Location of the Scalise residence on Sixth Avenue in Pittsburgh.
2 - Frank Yacca is arrested by special officers near the city morgue.
3 - A railroad employee spots a suspicious man at the B&O Railroad yard.
(Map by Thomas Hunt.)

"Get up! We have come to kill you," a man called out.

Peter Scalise was shaken to consciousness. It was about nine o'clock in the evening of December 4, 1904, and Scalise already had been in bed at his sister Louise's Pittsburgh home, 546 Sixth Avenue, for about an hour. The twenty-year-old Sicilian stone carver opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by three Italian men, killers belonging to a criminal society that had followed him through several states.

Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904.
This "rude awakening" of Peter Scalise provided the public a rare glimpse of an interstate Neapolitan criminal network operating in the United States.

Scalise let out a scream for help as the intruders pulled out knives and began stabbing and slashing at him through his heavy winter blankets. His sister and a cousin, who were visiting with neighbors, heard the scream and rushed to his aid. They entered the bedroom and grappled with the knife-wielding attackers, suffering blade wounds to their hands and wrists but continuing a determined fight.

Scalise, wounded more than a dozen times (some accounts said eighteen times, while others claimed more than twenty) and losing blood through slashes on his chest, legs and forehead, rose from the bed to engage one of his assailants. Grabbing at the man's knife, Scalise suffered a hand wound that nearly cost him his left thumb.

The would-be killers, perhaps discouraged by their loss of numerical advantage or perhaps concerned that the police would soon appear, withdrew, fled the building and ran off into the chilly night (it was just below freezing). Peter Scalise, wearing only his underclothes, pursued the men toward the Monongahela River along Ross Street. That route caused the men to pass in front of several city buildings, including the jail and the morgue.

Near the corner of Ross and Diamond Streets, Scalise collapsed to the pavement and shouted for police. Two special officers of the police, John J. Dillon and John McDonough, responded by grabbing one of the fleeing men, Frank Yacca, sixteen years old. They immediately brought him to the fallen Scalise, who identified Yacca as one of the three men who tried to kill him. Yacca was dragged off to the police central station, while Scalise was taken for treatment to Homeopathic Hospital on Second Avenue near Smithfield Street. Scalise's wounds were ugly but, likely due to the protection afforded by the thick, dense blanket, they were not life-threatening.

A short time later, Dispatcher Hugh O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Railways Company, spotted a suspicious person around Try Street near the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yards. O'Donnell went after the man but lost him in the railyard.

At the hospital, Scalise gave a description of the two assailants still at large. He also provided police with an explanation of the attempt to murder him. Scalise said he committed some offense against an Italian criminal society known as "Camorra." While a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, a death sentence was passed against him.

New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904.


Learning of his situation, Scalise traveled west to Chicago. The Camorra discovered his presence in that city and plotted his murder there as well. Apparently benefiting from some inside sources, Scalise was alerted to the threat in time to depart Chicago for Pittsburgh. Fearing for his life, Scalise seldom left his sister's residence. But the Camorra killers eventually followed him to the western Pennsylvania city and all the way into his bedroom.

Believing that Scalise might provide some useful information on the increasingly troublesome Italian underworld societies in the Pittsburgh area, Police Superintendent Alexander Wallace took personal charge of the case.

Scalise's sister and cousin were taken into custody as material witnesses (one early local report suggested that they were arrested as suspects in the stabbing of Peter Scalise). They were locked up in a cell opposite the one occupied by suspect Frank Yacca. Special Officer Peter Angelo, an Italian American, was secretly positioned nearby. According to published accounts, the special officer overheard Yacca making threats against the witnesses. He told them that if they dared to testify against him, his friends in the Camorra would kill them.

Note: The local press provided little in the way of updates to this case - odd, considering the national interest the story generated when first reported. But a Sunday supplement article from a West Coast newspaper months later included the attempted murder of Scalise in a collection of reported "Black Hand" extortion crimes. The article stated that $5,000 had been demanded from Pietro and Luise [sic] Scalise of Pittsburgh.


Sources:
  • Brandenburg, Broughton, "The spread of the Black Hand," Los Angeles Herald, Sunday Supplement, June 25, 1905, p. 1.
  • "Aroused from sleep to be killed," Mount Carmel PA Item, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 3.
  • "Camorra pursued Sicilian," New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Italian was stabbed in fight," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Incurred enmity of the Camorrata," Elmira NY Gazette and Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 8.
  • "Secret agents stab Italian," Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Waked him and said: 'Get up we have come to kill you,'" Detroit Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.

19 July 2017

Robbing Zukor's Wife



After having been reported missing about a week earlier, the bodies of Chicago hoodlums Paul “Needle Nose”  Labriola, 37, and his partner James Weinberg, 53, were found in the trunk of a gold Pontiac on March 15, 1954. The two men had been selling protection insurance to tavern owners. Police felt that they had the Syndicate backing in their venture but then something went awry. Both men had been strangled inside somewhere and then their bodies crammed in the trunk. Both corpses were frozen so the police had a bit of trouble removing them from rear of the car.


Police find Labriola and Weinberg


It shouldn’t have been a surprise that either man ended up in that trunk. Both were lifelong criminals. Labriola’s father was killed in a 19th Ward political feud back in 1921. His step father, Capone hoodlum, Lawrence (Dago Lawrence) Mangano was also bumped off, in 1944.


Needle Nose and Weinberg


So, what does this have to do with the Golden Age of Hollywood? Glad you asked. For that answer we must go back another twenty years and return to 1934 when the  great American Crime Wave was in effect and the exploits of desperadoes like John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Baby Face” Nelson filled the headlines. Though the Depression years are synonymous with bank robberies and kidnappings, Hollywood elites were also targeted by hoodlums looking to make a quick buck.

Of the two men pried out of the Pontiac, we are interested in James Weinberg. Back in ’34, he was running a small café in the Windy City but was already enmeshed in the Chicago underworld. On June 9, Lottie Zukor, wife of Paramount Pictures president Adolph Zukor, arrived in Chicago by train and checked into the Blackstone Hotel. She and her maid were going to spend a week in the city before being joined by her husband and son and heading out to Hollywood. They took a four room suite on the eighteenth floor. Not wanting to use the room adjoining her bedroom as an entrance, Mrs. Zukor left the key in the inside lock so that nobody could enter from the hallway. On June 11, the maid noticed the key was missing but failed to report it.


Lottie and Adolph Zukor


The evening of June 13, found Mrs. Zukor attending a dinner party which would be followed by a trip to the World’s Fair. For the occasion Mrs. Zukor-who, as a young girl employed by a department store, worked at the World’s Fair in 1893 and would now be returning a millionaire-adorned herself with numerous articles of jewelry valued at about a million and half bucks in today’s dollars.

At around midnight, Mrs. Zukor called for her limousine. She returned to the Blackstone and, after stopping at the front desk to retrieve her key, headed up to her four room suite on the eighteenth floor. Once in her room she removed her jewelry and, too tired to return to the lobby to place her gems in the hotel safe as she did each previous evening, she simply placed them on the spare bed across from her own and went to sleep. [Most likely it was Mrs. Zukor’s maid who ran the jewels down each night, but on this occasion, the maid had the night off and Mrs. Zukor did not want to wake her.]

At about four-thirty that morning Mrs. Zukor awoke sensing something wasn’t right. She noticed the light on in the next room and called out to her maid but received no answer. She reached for her watch to check the time but couldn’t find it. Glancing to the bed across from her, she saw that her jewelry was gone.

The police dusted the room for fingerprints but found nothing. In fact no clue of any sort was uncovered. All Blackstone employees on duty were questioned but nobody admitted to seeing anything out of the ordinary. Afraid that the publicity might hurt attendance for the World’s Fair, the case was given high priority. Sergeant Thomas Alcock, a fifteen year veteran, was put in charge and was assigned a team of five detectives. Three of the men were assigned to the hotel lobby, each taking an eight hour shift with orders to pick up any suspicious characters or known hoodlums who might pass through. The other two detectives were sent to the World’s Fair to mingle with crowds and look for known jewel thieves. Alcock, in the meantime, visited the local pawn shops giving the proprietors both a description of the jewelry and a warning against trying to sell the stuff.

As the days passed, hundreds of local underworld sorts were brought in for questioning but nothing was learned. The Zukors had had the gems insured for $65,000 and, through the Chicago police, the insurance company offered a large reward for the return of the items. Descriptions of the pieces and mention of the reward were circulated throughout the nation. Still nothing happened.

Finally, on June 29, Alcock received a call from a lawyer stating that a man had contacted him regarding the reward for the jewels. It was decided to tap the lawyer’s found in hopes that the man called back. As this was happening, a U.S. Treasury Agent, working on different case, informed Alcock that he overheard a discussion regarding the Zukor jewelry during a tapped phone call with a notorious Chicago fence he was investigating. During the conversation the fence told the caller that the jewelry was too hot and that he should settle with the insurance company. After this, the lawyer received another call but when it was suggested that they meet in person the caller hung up. The caller was James Weinberg who was already under indictment in the case that the Treasury agent was working on.

Detectives began to shadow Weinberg and a tap was placed on his phone. On July 16, two squad cars pulled up in front of Weinberg’s apartment and Alcock lead the raiding party inside. Within a few minutes they retrieved the jewelry. Weinberg, his wife and another couple were arrested.  Though his wife actually had a record in St. Louis and Kansas City for hotel burglary, in the end Weinberg was the only one that would go to prison for the theft. He said that two young women left the jewelry in his café and he held it for a few days to see if they would return for it. When they didn’t he tried to claim the reward from the insurance company. No one believed him and he was shipped off to prison. If Weinberg told the truth about how the jewelry was stolen, it never made it to the press.


Detective Alcock, left, inspects Mrs. Zukor's jewelry


Weinberg was released in 1940 and headed back to the Chicago underworld. As was mentioned his career culminated with his being garroted and shoved in a car trunk like a spare tire. Lottie Zukor fared much better. After Weinberg’s trial, she got her jewelry back and continued with her life as the wife of a Hollywood mogul; traveling with her husband both in America and abroad. As a member of over thirty philanthropic organizations, she dedicated a lot of her time to charity work. She died on April 7, 1956 at the age of eighty leaving behind her husband, two kids, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.