Showing posts with label Al Capone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Al Capone. Show all posts

18 December 2020

Capone-Johnson photo: A new identification

The Atlantic City Al Capone - Nucky Johnson Photo: A New Identification?



Updated January 9, 2021

The Conference

On May 13, 1929, Al Capone and several of his associates - along with several of his gangland enemies - converged on Atlantic City, New Jersey, for a conference with the stated goal of bringing peace between the powerful bootlegging gangs of Chicago. It was at least the third peace conference that we know of. Ever since the photo was published in 1930 there have been questions over the identities of the men with Al Capone and Enoch L. "Nucky" Johnson. After an evaluation of the available evidence it may now possible to narrow down the mystery to one person.

Chicago Gang Conferences Before Atlantic City

On October 8, 1926, the Chicago Daily News reported that the Windy City held its first big gangland peace conference. According to information supplied by "an important official and a policeman" (later identified as a police lieutenant and an official of the Italo-American National Union) who sat in on the grand meeting held at the Hotel, one of the city's premier hotels. The Chicago Daily Tribune adds that Maxie Eisen, a labor racketeer associated with the late Samuel "Nails" Morton (some sources believe the friend of Morton and the labor racketeer were two different people), joined with Antonino "Tony" Lombardo, the rappresentante of the Chicago Mafia, to bring together the leaders of the Cicero-based organization headed by Capone, the North Side gang led by Hymie Weiss, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci and George "Bugs" Moran, and their second-tier allies.

Preliminary to the meeting, Eisen met with the Mafia boss in Lombardo's office, and ideas were then passed from Eisen to Drucci and Moran, and Lombardo to Capone. They then agreed to send delegates to appear in person for the conference. The Cicero group was represented by Lombardo, Capone, Frank Nitto and Jack Guzik; the North Siders by Drucci, Moran, Eisen, Barney Bertsche and William Skidmore; and the minor racketeers included members of the North Side-friendly Myles O'Donnell and McErlane-Saltis gangs, and the Capone allies Ralph Sheldon and Danny McFall gangs. Sheldon was one of the participants. 

Reportedly both sides agreed to cease killings and beatings, consider past killings and shootings to be closed, disregard malicious gossip, and have leaders responsible for violations by the rank and file. However, a snag hit when Weiss and Drucci insisted that Capone put two of his men "on the spot" in retaliation for an ambush shooting a month prior. Lombardo refused the demand. When the Mafia boss told the Big Fella he supposedly said, "I wouldn't do a thing like that to a yellow dog." One of the two men whose death was demanded by Weiss and Drucci  (and the only one named), Frank Clemente, was reportedly wounded by machine-gun fire in Cicero. A follow-up piece identified the second potential victim as "Mops" - but not Anthony "Mops" Volpe. (This writer is unaware of any other Outfit member with that nickname. Later sources identify the two men as Volpe and Frank Rio, or Albert Anselmi and John Scalise.)

Later, the conference attendees were whittled down to five men sitting around a table: a prominent attorney, a police lieutenant, an official of the Italo-American National Union (known as the Unione Siciliana until 1925), and presumably Eisen and Lombardo. Not long after the conference, on October 11, Hymie Weiss and associate Paddy Murray gunned down in the street. Three others with them were hit by gunfire.

FBI HSCA Subject file LCN, MI 92-262

A second meeting was held in Milwaukee between 1926 and 1927, or maybe even 1928, in a nightclub owned by that city's boss, Pete Guardalabene. According to a member of the Milwaukee borgata (and confidential informant), Chicago Mafia underboss Joseph Aiello, regularly lost large sums of money gambling in Capone-owned joints. Afterward, Aiello sent his men to raid the games to take back what he lost - and more. The peace conference consisted of members of both factions, as well as leaders of other crime families from across the country. "The meeting ended with everybody throwing fruit and vegetables at each other," the source said. Aiello, who led a renegade faction of the Chicago Mafia allegedly over Lombardo's friendliness to Capone, was machine-gunned to death by Outfit killers while hiding out at a friend's home in 1930.

Lead-Up To A Third Conference

The third mobster conference, held in Atlantic City, followed the attempts on the life of top Capone gunman Jack McGurn (born Vincenzo Gibaldi in Licata, Sicily), first on March 7, 1928, and then barely a month later on April 17. The first attempt left McGurn with serious injuries after gang rivals fired off a Tommy gun in a drive-by shooting. The second shooting was also a drive-by using a machine gun. The Gusenberg brothers, James Clark and Billy Davern - all North Siders - were suspected of the brazen attacks.

It followed the assassination of Mafia chief Lombardo on September 7, 1928, and his successor Pasqualino Lolordo on January 8, 1929. Lombardo, who had been an ally of Capone, was reportedly killed either by Aiello or Frankie Yale of Brooklyn. Insider sources, however, gave a different story. Informants Nick Gentile and August Maniaci reported that Capone was actually inducted into the Mafia by Joe "the Boss" Masseria, head of what is now the Genovese crime family, as a capodecina (equivalent to captain or boss of a street crew) in 1928 with the authority to "make" ten men into his crew. Masseria told him that if he eliminated Lombardo he would recognize him as the head of the Chicago borgata. It was Al Capone, not Aiello or Yale, who was responsible for killing Lombardo. 

Mob turncoat Joe Valachi also supports this version. He recalled attending a lecture given by Salvatore Maranzano of what is now the Bonanno crime family in early 1931 after he was made the Capo di Capi (Boss of Bosses). At a large meeting celebrating his victory over Masseria, Maranzano recited the crimes committed by his enemy Masseria, including the murder of a "big boss" named Don Antonio, who was undoubtedly Lombardo.

It followed a national Mafia gathering in Cleveland on December 5, 1928, that featured a large contingent from Chicago. Local police were suspicious of the outsiders entering the swank Hotel Statler early in the morning and soon it was raided. Police arrested 23 men, most of whom were armed. Among those arrested were Tampa Don Ignazio Italiano, future Brooklyn bosses Vincenzo Mangano and Joseph Profaci, and from Chicago came Mafia chief Pasqualino Lolordo, Joseph Giunta, Frank Alo, James Intravia, Sam Oliveri, Giuseppe Sacco, and Phil Bacino (AKA Tony Bello). It was rumored that Al Capone was due to arrive but turned around when he heard of the raid, however, his presence probably wasn't necessary. Lolordo was said to be Capone's "puppet."

Arrested Mafiosi after meeting in Cleveland on December 5, 1928

It followed the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of seven members and associates of the North Side Gang, then headed by Moran after Drucci was slain in a shoot-out with police. Among those killed was Moran's second-in-command Albert Kachellek and his top gunmen Pete and Frank Gusenberg.

It also followed the brutal killings of Joseph "Hop Toad" Giunta - Lolordo's replacement - and mob executioners Anselmi and Scalise by beating and gunfire. Giunta, who attended the Cleveland meeting with Lolordo, allegedly connived with Aiello, Anselmi and Scalise to eliminate Capone until their plot was discovered. Al Capone, who had been staying at his Florida home, returned to the Windy City on May 7, 1929, narrowly avoiding two Moran gunmen who just happened to be picked up by police.

A banquet was held in Capone's honor, and the guests included the aforementioned three Mafiosi. Depending on the source the dinner was either held in a Hammond, Indiana, roadhouse called The Plantation, or the Chicago Heights nightclub Miami Gardens. Jesse George Murray, a columnist for the Chicago American, imagined a ruse concocted by Frank Rio and Capone to expose the plotters. However it happened, they suffered a painful death. An inside source associated with Accardo's original crew told this writer that future Outfit boss Anthony Accardo did indeed earn his moniker "Joe Batters" by beating the men at a dinner before they were shot on May 8, and their bodies left in a vacant section of Hammond, Indiana. (It should be made clear that this triple homicide remains officially unsolved and that the Moran gang was also suspected of the killings.)

Five days after the deaths of the three traitors Al Capone found himself in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The city, which was considered the gambling mecca of the East Coast, thrived under the rule of Republican political boss Enoch "Nucky" Johnson. The two had known each other since 1921, when Capone's mentor John Torrio took him to see the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in Jersey City. They met again for the 1927 Dempsey-Tunney bout at Soldier Field in Chicago, known as the Long Count. Nucky was welcomed by entourages from fellow GOP leaders, such as Illinois States' Attorney Robert E. Crowe. Capone made sure the visiting dignitary had a fleet of limousines at his disposal.

Despite Nucky Johnson's influence his control over the city was not absolute. Capone and his bodyguard were seen at a nightclub and a boxing match, and there was a rumor that he was staying as a guest "who has a palatial home in the [center] of the fashionable Chelsea district." When Director of Public Safety W. S. Cuthbert found out about the gangster's presence he ordered the police "to pick up Al Capone if he is found in the city and arrest him as an undesirable." 

Conference Details

After the Atlantic City conference concluded, Capone and his entourage drove for Philadelphia to board a train bound for Chicago. Unfortunately, their vehicle broke down near Camden and they did not arrive in Philadelphia until the evening. Capone made arrangement for a later train and decided to take in a movie. He and bodyguard Frank Rio were promptly arrested as soon as they exited the theater. They were charged with carrying concealed weapons and rushed before a judge and jury, where they were convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. The speed of the entire process was mind-blowing. Capone and Rio arrived in Philadelphia at approximately 6:30 pm, they were arrested at 8:30 pm, brought before a grand jury at 10:15 am, tried at 12 noon, then pleaded guilty and sentenced at 12:21 pm.

Fortunately for us, however, Capone was interviewed by Philadelphia Director of Public Safety Lemuel B.. Schofield, and the director shared his conversation with the press. Capone, Moran, and several other Chicago gang leaders signed a "peace pact" during his brief stay in Atlantic City. "With the idea in mind of making peace among the gangster in Chicago I spent the week in Atlantic City, and I have the word of each of the men participating that there shall be no more shootings," the crime lord said.

Capone added a few details of the conference. "We stopped at the President Hotel, where I registered under an assumed name. Bugs Moran, the leader of the West Side gang, seven of whose men were killed in the St. Valentine's Day massacre, and three or four other Chicago gang leaders whose names I don't care to mention participated. We talked over our troubles for three days. We all agreed at the end of that time to sign on the dotted line to bury the past and forget warfare in the future for the general good of all concerned," he said. The only names he provided besides his own were Rio and Moran. He also implied that the parley was small with only a handful of attendees.

The local newspaper, the Atlantic City Daily Press, reported that "the past few nights found him making whoopee, boom-boom, or what have you in several of the resort's best known night clubs." Look magazine wrote that Tony Accardo got a blue dove tattoo on the back of his left hand between the thumb and index finger during the trip to Atlantic City when he was acting as one of Capone's bodyguards.

Guesses as to the names of the other conference attendees began immediately. The Tribune believed that Joe Aiello, [Frank] McErlane, Joe Saltis, and John Torrio were there "either in person or by proxy." George Wolf, a criminal defense attorney who represented Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello, claimed in his biography of Costello that the two New York mob leaders organized the conference. Their guest list included Jewish and Italian mobsters from all over the country, such as "Lou Rothkopf and Moe Dalitz from Cleveland, King Solomon from Boston, John Lazia from Kansas City, Joe Bernstein and others from Detroit, Sam Lazar from Philadelphia...and Al Capone and his boys from Chicago." Luciano and Costello brought Joe Adonis, Lepke Buchalter, and Torrio. In this account not only do Torrio and Costello tell Capone to turn himself in for prison, but that they were forming the Commission, which we know from other sources was not created until 1931.

Some journalists, like Robert T. Loughran of the United Press, created an imaginary tale that stretched out the few points of agreement Capone spoke of into a fourteen-point plan. Among the points in Loughran's plan, Aiello was to be the head of the "Unione Siciliano," but subject to Torrio; and Torrio was to be the "king" of the rackets over Chicago. These and other points simply had no basis in reality.

The New York Evening Journal, owned by William Randolph Hearst, an FDR-supporting Democrat who drooled at embarrassing the Republican political boss, was the first to publish the photo. The authenticity of the photo was confirmed in 1941 when Elmer Irey of the IRS Intelligence Unit was targeting Johnson for tax fraud. Irey not only took down Capone in 1931, but his mentor John Torrio in 1939. In July 1941, newspapers all across the country reported Johnson's admission that he was with Capone when a New York photographer grabbed his image.

Arizona Republic, July 13, 1941

The Chicago beer baron admitted that he and all of his mobster guests registered using false names. Rio, for example, gave his name as Frank Cline. In the caption underneath only four of the five men are identified. The man on the far left was the man not ID'd, but next to him was David Palter, then Charles T. "Chuck" Greene, Capone, Johnson, and Lou Irwin. Palter and Greene were said to have been "high pressure" men, a euphemism for gangsters. Greene is also very likely an alias. All three men to Capone's left were underworld figures from Chicago.

New York Evening Journal, January 17, 1930

Mystery Man Number One: David Palter

The man second to the end to the left of Capone (from the viewer's perspective) is identified by the New York Evening Journal as David Palter, who "admitted paying $65,000 to avoid a year vacation in Atlanta, Ga. Federal Penitentiary after being convicted of mail fraud." This matches the David Palter listed as a defendant in a 1927 story from the Associated Press. Twelve individuals and a corporation were convicted of "using the mails to defraud in the sale of stock of the Glass Casket Corporation of Altoona, Pa." On March 7, 1927, the convictions were upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals. Gaston B. Means, an ex-Secret Service agent, and the late attorney Thomas B. Felder had promised to "fix things" for $65,000. In a separate case from 1938, a 46-year-old David Palter was described as a "former associate of 'Jake the Barber' Factor." Jake the Barber was known to be a crony of Capone and Nitto.

David Palter was born in New York on June 12, 1893, and worked as a jewelry salesman before serving in the military. He is probably the same person who in early 1924, along with his wife, was robbed by two armed burglars who forced their maid to lead them to his bedroom in a Manhattan high-rise. They forced Palter, a broker, and his wife, to hand over $5,400 worth of cash and jewelry. In the summer of 1930 a Mr. and Mrs. David L. Palter celebrated their niece's fourth birthday at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood. In 1933 Palter and his partner Martin Lederer, who owned a stock brokerage at 82 Wall Street, were charged with conspiracy and threatened with a permanent injunction for selling worthless gold stock.

David Palter

On January 11, 1938, the Hollywood Citizen-News reported that David Palter, alias David Hunter, 46, who was indicted the previous October in New York for a bait and switch of $14,200 worth of whiskey warehouse receipts, was arrested at his apartment on the Sunset Strip. Another friend of Palter's was J. Richard "Dixie" Davis, mobster Dutch Schultz's former attorney. "In Palter we have one of the cleverest stock racketeers who ever operated in New York," Gang buster John A. Klein said.

Later it was reported that the fraud case was in Reading, Pennsylvania, not New York. On February 10, 1938, the case against him was dismissed for lack of evidence. On March 15 he was exonerated after it was shown that Palter had separated from the warehouse company before the fraud took place. Palter returned to New York and passed away on April 15, 1965.

Mystery Man Number Two: Charles T. Greene

The man to Capone's immediate left (from our viewpoint) is more problematic than Palter. Due to the constant threat of death, Capone did not venture out in public without a bodyguard unless circumstances ruled it out. None of the men in the famous photograph, however, are identified as being one of his bodyguards. If the Chicago mob boss did have a bodyguard he most likely would have been walking next to him, and the person next to him was reportedly one Charles T. Greene. So who was Charles T. Greene? Could he have been a local gangster?

A search of newspapers in that time period using the newspaper databases at Newspapers.com, GenealogyBand.com, and Fulton Post Cards do not make a single reference to a mobster, gangster, or criminal named Charles T. Greene or Charles Greene in either New Jersey nor the East Coast. However, there was one mobster who had an alias of Charles Green (not Greene), and that was Charles Entratter. Entratter was a top lieutenant of Jack "Legs" Diamond who was murdered in New York in 1931. This Charles Green, however, did not resemble the man in the photo.

Charles Entratter (AKA Charles Green)

When Capone was arrested in Philadelphia he readily admitted to registering at an Atlantic City hotel using an alias, as did the other men who attended the conference. So perhaps Charles T. Greene was an alias for one of Capone's other bodyguards. We know that Capone traveled with Frank Rio, who was one of his many bodyguards (who often tended to be high-ranking lieutenants), since they were arrested together in Philadelphia. Yet, Rio does not resemble anyone in the photo.

Frank Rio, 1929

His other bodyguards were well known. Gunmen such as Jack McGurn, Louis Campagna, Willie Heeney, Phil D'Andrea, Mike Spranze, and Tony Accardo were all known bodyguards who accompanied him at various times. Yet none of them resembles the mysterious man in the photo.

Tony Accardo, 1930

Another candidate is Anthony "Mops" Volpe, whose features appear to very closely match the man in the photo. The height of the man in the photo is between the height of the Palter, who stood 5'6," and the nearly 5'11" tall Al Capone. Volpe's height ranges between 5'7" and 5'10," which averages to 5'8.5" and accords with Greene.

Who was Volpe? "Mops" was born in Argentina to Italian parents and worked in Chicago Mafia-affiliated Giuseppe "Diamond Joe" Esposito's Italian restaurant before joining Capone's Outfit. When the press first became aware of his existence back in 1916, he was a gang leader arrested for a shooting that was apparently ruled self-defense. Arrested with him was a gang member nicknamed Nickelodeon, whose real name was Nick Circella. Later known as Nicky Dean, Circella would become a close friend of Capone and involved in extorting the Hollywood studios with labor racketeer Willie Bioff in the 1930s.

Anthony "Mops" Volpe, 1930

In 1921, Volpe was a Cook County deputy sheriff and a secretary to (and brother-in-law of) Diamond Joe, a Republican committeeman in the old Nineteenth Ward. In 1925 Volpe was described as a "notorious gun fighter," and by 1928 he, along with Rio, Nitto and a Joe Kelly, was noted to be one of Capone's bodyguards. In 1930 he joined Capone, Rio, Moran and twenty-four others on the first list of Public Enemies.

On December 15, 1930, the Secretary of Labor had Volpe arrested by immigration agents to deport him to Italy. Several months later it was confirmed that he was born in Santa Fe, Argentina, sometime in October between 1890 and 1892, but his Italian-born parents had taken him back to their home country to be naturalized as a child. He came to the U.S. at age 15 and became a citizen in 1920. Italy and Argentina, however, refused to accept him, asserting that he lost his right to return when he was naturalized in America. Nevertheless the government did not give up its fight to deport him until 1953. As for his mob status, Volpe remained a fixture in Cicero as an old-timer in the crew headed by Joseph Aiuppa until his death in January 1965.

So was Volpe the mysterious Charles T. Greene? John Binder, who teaches at the University of Illinois and has written two books on the Chicago Syndicate, followed-up this question. Using Biometric Vision's FaceMatch software, which claims a success rate of 99.9% accuracy, Binder compared four photos of Volpe taken between 1930 and 1945 with a high quality scan of the Atlantic City photo contributed by researcher Mario Gomes. The result was that the man identified as Greene did not match Anthony "Mops" Volpe. So for now the definitive identification of the man next to Al Capone in the 1929 photo remains an unsolved mystery.

This essay will be updated if new information becomes available.

Sources

"3 Slain; Scalisi [sic], Anselmi?" Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1929.

"Al Capone's Machine Runs Rackets As He Hides From Police." Chicago Daily News, September 22, 1930.

"And This Completes The Picture." New York Evening Journal, January 17, 1930.

"Asserted N.Y. Racketeer Seized Here." Los Angeles Daily News, January 12, 1938.

"Atlantic City Calls Capone 'Undesirable." New York Times, May 16, 1929.

"Al Capone Suns Held In Roller Chair," Atlantic City Daily Press, May 16, 1929.

Binder, John J. Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition. New York: Prometheus Books, 2017.

"Broker And Wife In Bed Forced At Gun Point To Give Up Gems Concealed Under Her Pillow." New York Evening Telegram, January 8, 1924.

"Capone Considers Starting To Prison." New York Times, October 30, 1931.

"Capone Moves; Fails To Report His New Address." Chicago Daily Tribune, August 8, 1928.

"Capone Takes Cover In Jail." Chicago Daily Tribune, May 18, 1929.

"Chicago's Own 'Scarface' Held In $35,000 Here." Philadelphia Inquirer, May 17, 1929.

"Capone's Pal 'Mops' Volpe Dies In Cicero." Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1965.

"Colorful Atlantic City Republican Boss Awaits Tax Trial." Arizona Republic, July 13, 1941.

"Conspiracy Charged." New York Evening Post, October 17, 1933.

"Conviction of 12 in Glass Casket Case Is Upheld." Tampa Tribune, March 8, 1927.

"Cops On West Coast Arrest David Palter." Pottstown (PA) Mercury, January 12, 1938.

Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime in America. New York and London: Routledge, 2008.

"Diamond Aide Slain, Capone Hand Seen." The Morning Post (Camden, NJ), July 7, 1931.

Eghigian, Mars. After Capone: The Life and World of Chicago Mob Boss Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2005.

"Fake Gold Stock Is Flooding City, Says Bennett Aid." New York Evening Post, October 31, 1933.

FBI HSCA Subject file LCN, MI 92-262, Report of SA Alexander P. Le Grand, Milwaukee, May 28, 1964, NARA Record Number 124-10287-10189.

Ferry, Frank J. Nucky: The Real Story of the Atlantic Boardwalk Boss. Margate, NJ: ComteQ Publishing, 2012.

"Fraud Charge Against Stock Broker Dropped." Hollywood Citizen-News, February 10, 1938.

"Gang Chief To Be Deported." Chicago Daily Tribune, December 16, 1930.

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"Gangland Lays Its Guns Aside; Peace Declared." Chicago Daily Tribune, October 21, 1926.

Gentile, Nick. Translated Transcription of the Life of Nicolo (E) Gentile. Washington, D. C.: Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1947?

Gomes, Mario. "Albert Anselmi and Giovanni Scalise." My Al Capone Museum, June 2009. http://www.myalcaponemuseum.com/id132.htm (Accessed December 6, 2020).

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"Gunmen Kill One, Wound Another, In Saloon Fight." Chicago Daily Tribune, February 3, 1916.

Heise, Kenan. "Jesse George Murray, 86, Wrote For Chicago Papers and Theater." Chicago Tribune, September 19, 1996.

Helmer, William J. Al Capone and His American Boys: Memoir's of a Mobster's Wife. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2011.

Hoover, J. Edgar. Memorandum For Mr. Joseph B. Keenan, Acting Attorney General, August 27, 1936. FBI Subject file St. Valentines Day Massacre, Part 1.

Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona. "Cleveland Convention Was To Be Masseria Coronation." Informer Journal 3:1 (January, 2010).

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"McGurn Again Guns' Target; Escapes Unhit." Chicago Daily Tribune, April 18, 1928.

Mappen, Marc. Prohibition Gangsters: The Rise and Fall of a Bad Generation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013.

Murray, George. The Legacy of Al Capone: Portraits and Annals of Chicago's Public Enemies. New York: Putnam, 1975.

Newman, Scott. "Hotel Sherman." Jazz Age Chicago: Urban Leisure from 1893 to 1945. https://jazzagechicago.wordpress.com/hotel-sherman/#:~:text=The%20Hotel%20Sherman%20was%20one,of%20the%20early%20twentieth%20century.&text=Sherman%2C%20a%20three%2Dtime%20mayor,Street%20between%20Clark%20and%20LaSalle. (Accessed December 16, 2020).

"Officials Probe Booze Deals In Gang Shooting." Chicago Daily Tribune, February 15, 1929.

Palter, David. U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940, Ancestry.com.

Palter, David. World War I Draft Registration Card, No. 11538, San Francisco, California, May 23, 1917.

"Peace Seen For Chicago." Chicago Daily News, May 17, 1929.

"Philadelphia Justice For Al Capone." Literary Digest, June 15, 1929.

"Phyllis Stille Honored On Birthday Anniversary." San Pedro News-Pilot, July 23, 1930.

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"Rio Burke." Edwin's Roadhouse aka Capone's Miami Gardens. http://caponesmiamigardens.com/burke.htm. (Accessed December 16, 2020.)

Schweder, Hanna. "Have A Whiskey For Nucky." Press of Atlantic City, January 20, 2017. https://pressofatlanticcity.com/life/have-a-whiskey-for-nucky-jan-20-is-atlantic-city-racketeers-birthday/article_1912d46a-a727-560d-b8ae-3fd5ba030acf.html (Accessed December 16, 2020.)

"Slay Doctor In Massacre." Chicago Daily Tribune, February 15, 1929.

"Start Search For Aiello In Triple Killing." Chicago Daily Tribune, May 10, 1929.

"Stock Broker Here Cleared of Old Theft Charge." Los Angeles Daily News, March 16, 1938.

"Suspect Hunted On N.Y. Charges Arrested Here." Hollywood Citizen-News, January 11, 1938.

"Tony Accardo, The New Mr. Big In Crime, Al Capone’s Former Bodyguard, The Mob." Look, July 28, 1953.

"Triple Killing Laid To Gang Feud." Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1929.

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"U.S. Defeated In New Suit To Deport Volpe." Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31, 1953.

"U.S. Moves To Avert New Beer War." Chicago Daily News, October 8, 1926.

Valachi, Joseph. The Real Thing. Typed manuscript, 1963-1964. RG 60. National Archives, College Park, MD. (Also available online at http://mafiahistory.us/a023/therealthing.htm.)

Volpe, Anthony. Declaration of Intention, No. 165, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, March 24, 1924.

Volpe, Anthony. World War II Draft Registration Card, No. 1898, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, April 27, 1942.

"Volpe, Facing Deportation, Is Barred From Italy." Chicago Daily Tribune, July 8, 1933.

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Wolf, George, with Joseph DiMona. Frank Costello: Prime Minister of the Underworld. New York: Morrow, 1975.


Thanks to John Binder for providing photo analysis, David Critchley for additional material, and to Edmond Valin for his editorial comments and suggestions.

20 September 2019

The Mother Of All Drive-By Shootings


Al Capone (left) and his bodyguard Frank Rio.

On this day ninety-three years ago, members of Chicago's North Side Gang led an extraordinarily violent raid against their archrival Al Capone near his headquarters in the suburb of Cicero, Illinois. A procession of automobiles raked an entire city block with submachine gun fire to avenge the murder of their boss, Dean O'Banion, two years earlier. This attack was unlike anything seen in the American underworld at the time, and it has become one of the canonical stories of Al Capone's rise to power. Many myths have sprung around it over the years, namely around the number of vehicles involved and Capone's bodyguard Frank Rio saving his boss from certain death at the hands of his enemies. It was a scene tailor-made for the silver screen, where it would indeed end up just six years later. The purpose of this article is to give the various accounts of the Hawthorne attack a fresh examination and create an accurate depiction of this seminal event.

Background

By the summer of 1926, twenty-seven-year-old Alphonse Capone had been at the head of an ever-expanding vice empire that raked in multiple millions of dollars from the manufacturing, smuggling, and sale of illegal alcohol for over a year. Other rackets that fed Capone's coffers included illegal gambling, labor racketeering, prostitution, and protection racketeering. Due to the election of reform mayor William Dever in 1923, Capone headquartered his mob just across the Chicago city line in Cicero. Al and his crew installed themselves at the three-story Hawthorne Hotel at 4823 West Twenty-Second Street (modern-day Cermak Road). The gangsters commandeered the entire third floor for their use; Capone installed solid steel shutters on the windows as a security measure. Al was right to take such precautions as he had plenty of rivals who were eager to see him dead. Capone's former boss, Johnny Torrio, had been shot and nearly killed in January 1925 by North Side gangsters Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran, both of whom were eager to avenge the assassination of their friend and leader Dean O'Banion two months earlier.

Earlier in the spring of 1926, Capone had begun a brief move against a West Side gang headed by the O'Donnell brothers. One foray against them on the evening of April 27 resulted in gangsters Jim Doherty and Thomas "Red" Duffy being shot to death outside of the Pony Inn on Roosevelt Road (police later determined that Capone, eager to try out the newfangled Thompson submachine gun, personally did the shooting). Also killed in the assault was Assistant State's Attorney William H. McSwiggin, known around Chicago as the "hanging prosecutor." McSwiggin had merely gone out to have a few harmless drinks with his pals in the O'Donnell Gang when he found himself caught in the crossfire of gangland warfare. Capone was forced to lay low for a good chunk of the summer while the case against him was fixed. Despite the intense uproar over the killing, the Cicero gang boss not only managed to beat the rap but also to neutralize the threat that the O'Donnell mob posed to him.  


North Side Gang boss Earl "Hymie" Weiss



The so-called North Side Gang posed the greatest challenge to Al Capone in the summer of 1926. They controlled lucrative bootlegging and vice rackets on the city's North Side. After their previous leader, Dean O'Banion, was assassinated at the Schofield flower shop at 738 North State Street by men believed to have been sent by Johnny Torrio and Capone, the gang was taken over by Earl "Hymie" Weiss. Twenty-eight years old, Weiss was an intelligent, industrious gangster who had long been regarded as the "brains" behind the North Side mob; police believed that he was the one who had steered the crew into large-scale bootlegging. Weiss was noted for intensity that practically oozed from his pores and a hair-trigger temper. When photographers tried to snap his picture, he'd stare at them and say, "If you take a picture of me, I'll kill you." In one interview, Fred Weiss said he had seen his brother Earl only once in twenty years, "That was when he shot me, six years ago." According to his descendants, Weiss suffered from frequent migraine headaches, and in the mid-1920s was diagnosed with arterial cancer. These health ailments, along with the knowledge that he probably did not have long to live as a result, are said to have contributed to Weiss's fearlessness in the underworld. Despite his fearsome reputation, Weiss was known to secretly pick up the grocery tabs of less fortunate denizens of his North Side neighborhood.

Vincent "Schemer" Drucci

Backing up Hymie Weiss in the ranks of the North Side Gang was an equally colorful cast of characters. Vincent Drucci was a Sicilian-American gangster who got his nickname of "Schemer" because of his wild criminal schemes and madcap personality. While being chased by police through downtown Chicago in 1922 after trying to dynamite a safe, Drucci came upon the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which was raising to allow a river-going freighter to pass through. The Schemer's response was to floor his car's accelerator and gun his ride Bluesmobile-style up and over the bridge's increasing gap. Unfortunately for Drucci, the cops also managed to make the jump and caught up with him a couple of blocks later. Another top echelon member of the North Side Gang was George Moran, who was often incorrectly said to have been of either Irish or Polish extraction; he was, in fact, French-Canadian. Born Adelard Cunin in St. Paul, Minnesota, Moran was known as being a tough and shrewd criminal who had been moving in North Side gang circles since at least 1917, when the crew was primarily a safe-cracking outfit led by Charles "The Ox" Reiser. Due to his occasional fits of temper, Moran was nicknamed "Bugs."

George "Bugs" Moran
By the summer of 1926, Hymie Weiss had managed to forge an alliance with the South Side-based Soltis-McErlane mob. Their territory encompassed what is known as the New City area of the Southwest Side. As gang boss Joe Soltis explained to Chicago police captain John Stege, "My district extends from Thirty-Ninth to Fifty-[F]ifth sts., and from the city limits to Loomis st. And I'll kill any [expletive] who cut in on my business." A tough and often murderous saloonkeeper who had branched into bootlegging, Soltis was a fierce fighter who managed to generate immense profits while navigating the violent, rapidly shifting gangland ecosystem of Chicago's South Side. Soltis's partner was Frank McErlane, one of the most feared men in the entire city. An alcoholic psychopath who made even his own gang mates nervous, McErlane was credited with being the first Chicago gangster to use a Thompson submachine gun on his enemies in the late summer of 1925. Although McErlane was currently in Indiana fighting a murder charge, Joe Soltis secretly made a pact with Weiss to move in on Capone around mid-summer.


Prelude

On the warm summer day of Tuesday, August 3, thirteen-year-old John Novak was horseback riding with his eleven-year-old brother Joseph in a forest preserve in Palos Township in southwestern Cook County. In the early afternoon, with the temperature climbing, the Novak boys sought to water their horses at a cistern. When their mounts shied away from drinking, the brothers investigated and were shocked to find the body of a dead man submerged in the water. The corpse had been bound hand and foot before being weighted down with stones and bricks from a nearby house that had burned down months before. The deceased was soon identified as thirty-six-year-old Anthony Cirringione, aka Tommy Ross, known as Al Capone's chauffeur. Cirringione (his name is usually misspelled as Curingione or Cuiringione) had been abducted over a month earlier, while Capone was still in hiding over the McSwiggin case. The chauffeur had been beaten and tortured severely (one account says his corpse was covered with cigar and match burns) before his skull was crushed by a blunt instrument (some contemporary news accounts mistakenly say he was shot). What Cirringione's killers hoped to get out of him would not become clear for another month or so. While this murder is usually attributed to the North Side mob, the location of the killing (rural southwest Cook County) and the use of torture indicates that the Soltis-McErlane crew was at the very least involved, if not solely culpable, in the slaughter of Capone's driver.

Capone was convinced that one way or another, the North Siders were responsible for the murder of his friend, and thus began planning accordingly. On the morning of Tuesday, August 10, Hymie Weiss went to the Congress Hotel at 500 South Michigan Avenue to meet Vincent Drucci, who lived in a suite on one of the upper floors. After they finished breakfast around ten o'clock, both men began walking south on Michigan. At East Ninth Street, the gangsters crossed the street and headed towards the Standard Oil Building. The exact business of Weiss and Drucci that morning is still unclear to this day, but the latter had a total of $13,200 cash in his pocket, money that he would later claim was earmarked for a real estate deal. Police would later note that the Standard Oil Building contained the office of the Chicago Sanitary District, known as perhaps the most corrupt pork barrel in the entire city (an impressive feat in and of itself). At that moment Morris Eller, a Sanitary District trustee and alderman of the Twentieth Ward, was in the office talking with Assistant State's Attorney John Sbarbaro.

As the North Side gangsters neared the Standard Oil Building's entrance, the busy morning calm was shattered by the loud sounds of gunfire emanating from two gunmen who were firing at them from a nearby sedan. Pedestrians screamed and yelled, and Weiss joined most of them in ducking for cover. Drucci knelt behind a mailbox, pulled his own gun, and returned fire. Over thirty shots were fired in the adrenalized melee, with stray shots breaking nearby plate glass windows and hitting parked cars. Despite the bad intentions, the only casualty was an innocent bystander named James Cardan, who was grazed in the leg.

The two triggermen jumped from their car and rushed forward to get a clearer shot at Drucci's defilade position. Just then a squad of police hurried into the block. At the sight of the blue uniforms, the attackers' getaway driver evidently panicked, as he hit the gas and left his comrades behind. Weiss and one of the assailants managed to vanish into the gathering crowd. Drucci ran into the street, jumped on the running board of a stopped automobile, and jammed the barrel of his still-warm revolver against the head of motorist C.C. Bassett. "Take me away, and make it snappy," he yelled. Police yanked him away before Bassett could comply with that command.

The cops also managed to catch the second gunman, an Italian man of about thirty who was dressed in a gray summer suit and straw boater. The suspect had smartly ditched his weapon as he ran away and claimed that he had only fled the scene so he wouldn't be hit by a stray bullet. The man gave his name as Paul Valerie and his address as 3533 Walnut Street, both of which would turn out to be false. Police eventually released him from custody when Vincent Drucci claimed to have never seen the man before. For his part, Drucci denied that the gunfight was gang-related, claiming that it was merely a stick-up gone bad. The gangster was charged with carrying concealed weapons and assault with intent to kill. Mary Weiss, Hymie's mother, signed bonds totaling $5,000 for the release of her son's associate.

A Chicago Tribune rendition of the Standard Oil Building gunfight.

While the cops may have been in the dark about what the Michigan Avenue gunplay was about, Hymie Weiss and his men had no doubt who his would-be killers worked for. While the sheer number of adversaries and the steel window shutters made Capone's Hawthorne Hotel headquarters virtually impervious to an armed assault, one of the facts that had been tortured out of chauffeur Tony Cirringione was that Capone frequently ate lunch at the Hawthorne Restaurant, located just east of the hotel. In this eatery, on the ground floor and out from behind the steel shutters, Weiss knew his enemy would be vulnerable. After contacting their South Side allies, the North Side gang boss planned a spectacular attack that would not only get rid of Al Capone but strike fear into the hearts of every member of Chicago's underworld.


September 20, 1926

That Monday began fair and cool in the Chicagoland area, with the temperatures peaking in the sixties. Local newspapers were filled with stories about the horrific carnage recently wreaked on South Florida by a large Category 4 hurricane that was presently thrashing Alabama and Mississippi; the so-called Miami Hurricane remains the costliest storm in American history.

Twenty-Second Street was Cicero's main thoroughfare. One hundred feet wide with streetcar tracks running down the center, the streets fairly teemed with pedestrians and vehicles. The Hawthorne Hotel was located on the south side of the street, with the Anton Hotel one door to the west. Also on that block were a barbershop, a delicatessen, and a laundry shop. Another notable business was the Hawthorne Smoke Shop, an ostensible tobacco shop that served as a front for one of Al Capone's lucrative gambling joints.

Capone himself had just returned to town the previous week from a trip to the eastern United States. Two days earlier, he had proudly reopened his gambling joints that had been padlocked during the law enforcement crackdown in the wake of the McSwiggin killing. Today Capone had his eye on the horse races at Hawthorne Park, as the autumn racing season had just begun a week earlier. About noon, Capone left the Hawthorne Hotel and headed next door to the restaurant for a bite to eat before he departed for the racetrack.

Clyde Freeman had just arrived in town from rural Louisiana with his wife and their five-year-old son Clyde, Junior. Freeman was a racehorse owner, and like many of the people on the block today, he and his family looked forward to attending the races. Although the street was extremely crowded, Freeman was lucky enough to maneuver his car into a parking space at the curb in front of the Hawthorne Hotel. Pre-occupied with his family, the Louisianian paid little attention to the muscular, well-dressed gentleman who stepped into the restaurant. In contrast to the Freemans, an anonymous face in the mass of people did indeed notice when Capone entered the greasy spoon for lunch. This individual quickly yet stealthily made their way to the nearest pay telephone, dropped a nickel in the slot, and said that the time had come.

The Hawthorne Restaurant featured about fifteen tables and a lunch counter. Although relatively small, the café was jam-packed with racing fans today. Sometime around one o’clock, Capone was sipping coffee at his table located in the back of the dining room. The gang boss sat facing the door so he could see everyone who entered the place. As the first race did not begin until two-thirty, he was in no hurry. The loud din of conversation hung in the air as patrons ate, drank, or perused their racing forms.

At this moment, twenty-nine-year-old Paul Ricca was walking towards the door of the Hawthorne Restaurant. Born Felice De Lucia, he had illegally immigrated to America from his native Italy with at least two murders on his hands. After arriving in Chicago in 1920 and anglicizing his name to Ricca, he found work in Diamond Joe Esposito's Bella Napoli restaurant as a maître d (his underworld nickname was ‘The Waiter'). Esposito was the Nineteenth Ward political boss and a Chicago underworld figure. By the summer of 1926, Ricca had shifted to Al Capone's crew and was now known as one of his rising stars. Ricca was now on his way to the restaurant to join his boss Capone. As Paul put his hand on the door, his finely-honed survival instincts seem to have been aroused. The young gangster looked down the block and saw something straight out of a bad dream heading right for the hotel.

Then it happened. 

The vast majority of Chicagoans in September 1926 did not know what a Thompson submachine gun sounded like. They were living in an era where television did not exist, movies were still silent, and only a fraction of them owned radio sets. Some may well have heard of the weapon, but unless they were a member of the military, law enforcement, or the underworld, the staccato drumming of that gun would have been alien enough that they may have honestly mistaken it for something else. Paul Ricca was another matter completely, as he recognized the song of the Thompson at once. Paul darted into the doorway of the restaurant and shouted a warning to Al Capone, who hit the deck just as all hell broke loose.

Several slow-moving sedans filled with men armed with three or more submachine guns and an unknown number of shotguns began firing into the buildings as they reached the Anton. Passerby screamed and yelled while breaking for cover. Bullets and buckshot strafed both hotels and the five businesses in between. Parked cars were peppered with shots. Trapped and terrified beyond belief, Clyde Freeman and his family screamed in terror as at least thirty slugs raked their car hard enough to make it rock on its axle. The caravan pulled to a stop outside the restaurant, their shots vaporizing the plate glass windows. Straight lines of waist-high and chest-high bullet holes dotted the walls and gouged out chunks of plaster. Dishes, glasses, and coffee cups jumped or outright shattered as they were struck. Patrons in the restaurant hugged the floor and plugged their ears against the loud cacophony of gunfire. Broken glass, porcelain fragments, various liquids, wood paneling, and even ceiling plaster showered down on the cowering diners. Capone remained frozen on the floor.

A man dressed in a khaki shirt and brown overalls stepped out of the second-to-last sedan, a Thompson in his hands. While the others held their fire and kept him covered with pointed weapons, the submachine gunner calmly walked to the front door of the restaurant, knelt in the doorway, and opened fire. The sight of this Angel of Death-like figure seems to have finally broken Capone's inertia, as he peeled himself off the floor and ran for his life. Bullets followed Al every step way until he made it out the café's back door. With his target now out of sight, the overall-clad submachine gunner proceeded to empty the remainder of his one hundred round capacity drum magazine into the already demolished dining room. After this final eff-you salute finished a few seconds later, the gangster walked back to his waiting automobile. A klaxon horn tooted three times and the caravan began to accelerate towards the Chicago city line two blocks to the east. As they went, witnesses noted that the final car was outfitted to look like a Chicago Police detective bureau sedan.

The scene of the crime not long after it happened. The restaurant in the left center of the photo was the focal point of the attack. Photo courtesy of www.myalcaponemuseum.com

Slowly but surely, the diners of the Hawthorne Restaurant and the other bystanders in the area emerged from their hiding places. Some women still may have been screaming, but most people were wide-eyed and panting, adrenaline still whipping through their systems. They were in a mild state of shock and still trying to mentally process what had just happened. Some accounts say Al Capone was discovered in a shop next door to the restaurant, while others state that he had re-entered the restaurant after the shooters had left; contemporary accounts make no mention of Frank Rio at all. Wherever he was, Capone was soon jerked out of his reverie by the screams of a woman coming from a nearby parked car. It was Clyde Freeman's wife. Capone instantly ran outside to see what he could do to help.

The police later claimed that the gunmen had fired about one thousand rounds (this seems to have been a bit of exaggeration; a careful review of the available evidence suggests that a total in the mid-to-upper hundreds range is more accurate). A slew of parked cars (thirty-five, by one reckoning) had been hit by gunfire. To this day, it is uncertain exactly how many cars were in the attacking caravan. Witnesses told differing accounts. The first reports filed later that night varied by newspaper, some saying that there were three or five vehicles, with the most reliable witness accounts settling on the neutral "several." As time went on, journalists and authors eventually added more cars to the tally; eight, ten, twelve, a baker's dozen; most modern renderings of the attack are divided between eight and ten vehicles.

Similarly, the number of shots fired in the drive-by gradually grew in retellings; one thousand, fifteen hundred, and so on. One recent venture was that a whopping two thousand rounds were fired that day; to show how logistically unfeasible that particular claim is, the raiders would have had to (at minimum) man a total of twenty submachine guns, each fitted with a one hundred round capacity drum magazine that would empty once. That is, of course, if not one of those drums jammed or misfed during operation.

Another oft-told detail of the Hawthorne drive-by involves a Chicago Police detective sedan rolling a block in front of the caravan featuring a submachine gunner firing blanks, a noisy ruse calculated to disperse bystanders and draw a curious Capone either to the street or the front of the café for easy elimination. The problem with this statement is that the Model 1921 Thompson is a friction-delayed blowback firearm. As such, its basic operation depends on high chamber pressure generated by a propellant to push the breech block to the rear, thus enabling the weapon to chamber and fire a new .45 caliber round. If a blank cartridge is used, there is no bullet traveling through the barrel, and the combustion gases will escape through the muzzle without building up enough pressure to chamber and fire the next round. Thus, the submachine gun will not fire blanks unless a constricting device is attached to the muzzle in order to build up enough chamber pressure to facilitate the blowback action. If the gents in this detective sedan were only looking to make some noise, a far easier solution would have been to just fire standard live rounds straight up into the air. Even more importantly, none of the original witness accounts taken at the scene mention such a vehicle. It appears that the blank-firing point car is one of more than a few canards that would pop up in the wake of the attack.

All outlandish claims aside, the drive-by shooting was indeed a savage event, and it was truly miraculous that no one was killed that day. Three of those injured were the unlucky Freeman family, whose car was turned into Swiss cheese by the assailants. Clyde Freeman's knee was grazed by a bullet, as was the scalp of five-year-old Clyde, Junior. Missus Freeman was hit the worst, as a submachine gun bullet passed cleanly through her arm. Despite their injuries, all three Freemans were given a "clean bill of health" by a doctor later that evening.

Many latter-day accounts claim that a sliver of glass from the car's windshield was driven into Mrs. Freeman's eye by the gunfire, with Capone later generously paying $5,000 for the surgery to save her eyesight. Contemporary news reports filed in the immediate aftermath of the shooting make no mention of Mrs. Freeman having such an injury, and it seems unlikely that she would have been given a "clean bill of health" had she been writhing in pain from a shard of glass lodged in her eye. Additionally, the entire Freeman family had recovered enough to view and dismiss two suspects (Bugs Moran and Frank Gusenberg) that police brought before them just a few hours after the shooting. It seems unlikely that Mrs. Freeman would have been in any condition to visually identify a suspect had she sustained such a grave injury to her eye. All in all, it appears that the Mrs. Freeman eye injury/Capone-financed surgery story is yet another tall tale.

The only other casualty that day was Paul Ricca, who took a bullet in his left shoulder just after he had shouted his warning to Capone. As soon as Chicago police Chief of Detectives Bill Shoemaker laid eyes on Ricca, he identified him as the "Paul Valerie" who was busted while running away from the Standard Oil Building gunfight a month earlier. Despite being in considerable pain from his wound, Ricca was alert enough to give police the new alias of "Louis Barko" and claimed that he was "only a lone wolf gambler" or a "bookmaker," depending on which paper you read. The wounded gangster admitted to seeing the attack from start to finish but claimed he could not identify any of the perpetrators.

Paul Ricca as he appeared at the time of the shooting.
For decades it has been assumed that faithful bodyguard Frank Rio had saved Al Capone's life by yanking him to the floor of the café once the fireworks began. Judging by contemporary news accounts and modern revelations, it is uncertain that Rio was even there to begin with. Recent research by Chicago organized crime expert John Binder indicates that it was actually Paul Ricca who was responsible for keeping Capone out of harm's way that day. In 2009, Binder interviewed a confidential source close to the Ricca family who confirmed Paul's role in the Hawthorne drive-by episode. Ricca himself vividly remembered the incident in his later years. As he recounted, "One of the men got out of the car and trained a machine gun on Capone in the restaurant, but Capone fled out the back way." The grateful gang boss certainly knew how to repay the favor to Ricca, who was almost immediately moved off the street and put to work directly under Frank Nitto in the upper echelon of the Capone mob's chain of command. Capone would even act as best man at Ricca's wedding the following spring, something he reportedly never did for any of his other associates.

In warning Al Capone just as the bullets began flying, Paul Ricca not only showed a bold disregard for his own safety but also loyalty, coolness under pressure, and decisiveness. These qualities would serve Ricca well enough to see him eventually ascend to the leadership of the mammoth criminal organization Capone had built.


Aftermath

North Side gangsters Frank Foster (left) and Frank (upper right) & Pete Gusenberg were suspected of taking part in the raid. 

Even before the gun smoke had fully drifted away from the 4800 block of West Twenty-Second Street, police suspected that the North Side Gang was responsible for the Hawthorne drive-by shooting. After questioning witnesses and getting license plate numbers of the cars used in the attack, police sent out the call to arrest Hymie Weiss, Vincent Drucci, Bugs Moran, Pete and Frank Gusenberg, Frank Foster, Michael "Puggy" White, and another pair of brothers named Ben and Ernest Applequist. Also suspected of participating were South Side gangsters like John "Dingbat" O'Berta, Vincent McErlane, and George Darrow, known as the torture expert of the Soltis-McErlane mob. Gangster John Touhy was also questioned after police traced one of the caravan car's tags to him. While no one in law enforcement doubted their guilt, none of these men were prosecuted. Paul Ricca repaid the favor that Vincent Drucci had done him a month earlier and refused to identify him or any of the other suspects.

South Side gangsters John "Dingbat" Oberta (left), Vincent McErlane (upper right) and George Darrow were suspected of taking part in the raid. All three were members of the Soltis-McErlane crew.

Throughout the city, the Hawthorne raid caused shock and indignation. One newspaper headline blared, "THIS IS WAR!" While Chicago newspapers gave the shooting front-page coverage, editors felt it didn't quite rate banner headline status (such treatment indicates that the attack was indeed embellished by subsequent accounts). A modern examination of contemporary news reports shows that despite the considerable power that Al Capone wielded in September 1926, he had yet to become the iconic crime overlord he is currently remembered as. Most news stories somewhat vaguely referred to him as "Caponi" or "Al Brown," his usual alias. Most of the Chicagoland public still considered him to be a Cicero gangster, even though his influence was increasingly felt throughout the entire city.

Just about all the gambling joints that Capone had recently reopened were closed yet again by a new crime crackdown necessitated by the attack. Capone himself paid for the repairs to all the businesses and automobiles damaged in the raid. As one of his underlings said, "The Big Fellow never wants bystanders hurt." About three weeks later, Capone himself discussed the Hawthorne assault with reporters, "It has shown the authorities that I have no corner on the machine gun market. A machine gun was used to shoot up the Hawthorne Hotel a few days ago, and they can't blame that on me. Why, I'm still paying the owners of automobiles parked in front for the damage done to their cars in that raid, and I am trying to save the eye of the poor innocent woman they wounded sitting in a car in front." In trying to gain some good press for himself, Capone may have inadvertently been responsible for the start of the myth of Mrs. Freeman's injured eye.

In the nine decades since the Hawthorne drive-by shooting, it has been portrayed numerous times in film and television, ranging from the 1932 feature Scarface (where George Raft, presumably in the Paul Ricca role, manages to bag one of the passing raiders with a single shot from a revolver before running out of the café and appropriating the fallen gunman's submachine gun) to the 2016 AMC series The Making of the Mob. Each depiction is a bit different in its make-up, much like the accounts of the witnesses themselves.

This still is of a scene in the 1967 film The St. Valentine's Day Massacre that depicts the Hawthorne raid.

In summation, the Hawthorne attack is indeed one of the key events of Al Capone's rise to power, despite the routine exaggerations of the press and the handful of myths that have built up around it (the point car shooting blanks, Mrs. Freeman's eye injury, the bullet and car counts, Frank Rio’s heroism, etc.) The raid showed that Capone was in grave danger as long as both the North Siders and Soltis-McErlane crew were simultaneously gunning for him. It is often said that Hymie Weiss was the only man that Capone was ever truly afraid of, and the Hawthorne attack is Exhibit A for that statement. Despite Capone's immense personal courage, it is obvious that this unprecedented drive-by unnerved him. In an attempt to emulate the tendency of his mentor Johnny Torrio to deal with his enemies peacefully, Capone got word to Weiss that he wanted to talk peace.


Sources

Binder, John J. Al Capone’s Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017.  

Burns, Walter Noble. The One-Way Ride: The Red Trail of Chicago Gangland from Prohibition to Jake Lingle. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1931.

Chinn, George M. The Machine Gun, Volume IV: Design Analysis of Automatic Firing Mechanisms and Related Components. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Ordnance, Department of Navy, 1955.

Helmer William J. & Bilek, Arthur J. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone. Nashville, Cumberland House, 2004.

Keefe, Rose. The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story. Nashville, Cumberland House, 2005.

Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone. New York: Putnam’s, 1971.

Pasley, Fred D. Al Capone: The Biography of a Self-Made Man. Pub. 1930. Reprint 1971; Salem, NH: Ayer, 1987.

Schoenberg, Robert J. Mr. Capone. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1992.

Anthony Cirringione Death Certificate. State of Illinois, Cook County, Department of Public Health – Division of Vital Statistics, Registration #1115, 1926.

Chicago Daily News, September 20, 1926

Chicago Herald & Examiner, September 21, 1926.

Chicago Journal, October 13, 1926.

Chicago Tribune, August 4, 11-12 and September 21-23, 1926.

The Hawthorne Hotel at Mario Gomes's myalcaponemuseum.com

Hymie Weiss at Mario Gomes's myalcaponemuseum.com

Vincent Drucci at Mario Gomes's myalcaponemuseum.com

16 April 2019

Death of former Chicago gang chief goes unnoticed

Torrio founded Chicago Outfit
and mentored young Al Capone

On this date in 1957...

Chicago Tribune
May 8, 1957
Johnny Torrio, seventy-five-year-old former Chicago underworld boss, died April 16, 1957. His passing was virtually unnoticed. Newspapers were not alerted until about three weeks later, when his will was filed for probate.

Raised in the gangs of lower Manhattan's Five Points area, Torrio went west (along with longtime friend and fellow Five Points gangster Rocco "Roxie" Vanella) around 1909-1910. He became bodyguard, enforcer and business manager for Chicago vice lord "Big Jim" Colosimo - possibly a relative of Torrio's step-father Salvatore Caputo.

After a while, Torrio brought young Al Capone from Brooklyn to Chicago to assist him. Following Colosimo's 1920 murder, Torrio turned the Colosimo organization into a bootlegging operation and competed with other local gangs and the powerful Chicago Mafia for rackets territory.

A January 1925 assassination attempt convinced Torrio to retire as gang boss, and he turned his organization over to Capone. Following a jail term at Waukegan, Illinois, for Prohibition violations, Torrio returned to New York. He and his wife settled into a Brooklyn residence, spent winters in St. Petersburg and traveled abroad regularly. Torrio continued his involvement in underworld rackets, repeatedly running into trouble with the authorities.

The final decade of his life was spent out of the public eye. His last years were lived quietly in a recently constructed apartment building, 9902 Third Avenue in Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton section.

On April 16, 1957, he suffered a heart attack while in a barber's chair and was rushed to Cumberland Hospital (named for its first home on Cumberland Street but located on Auburn Place in 1957). He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Torrio was survived by his wife of forty years, Anna.

NY Times, May 8, 1957

15 April 2019

'Joe the Boss' murder befuddles press

On this date in 1931...

U.S. Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Masseria was shot to death in a back room at Gerardo Scarpato's Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant, 2715 West Fifteenth Street, Coney Island. The murder, arranged by Masseria lieutenants including Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania,  concluded the Mafia's Castellammarese War.

The killing of "Joe the Boss" Masseria was covered by newspapers across the country. But all struggled to make sense of it and many made incorrect assumptions. Lacking precise witness statements, the papers of the New York area presented starkly different accounts of the incident.

New York Daily News of April 16, 1931 ("Joe the Boss slain; Capone marks spot," by John Martin), attributed the killing to a rivalry between Masseria and Chicago gang boss Al Capone (Masseria and Capone actually were close allies during the Castellammarese War, with Capone serving as a Chicago-based capodecina in the Masseria organization):

    Joe the Boss, head of the Unione Siciliana and arch enemy of Scarface Al Capone, was put on the spot by the connivance of his own bodyguards as he dallied over a hand of pinochle in a Coney Island resort yesterday afternoon.

    Two bullets through the head and one through the heart toppled him lifeless beneath the table. Clutched in his hand, when treachery overtook him, was the ace of diamonds.

    In taking off Joe the Boss - Giuseppe Masseria on police records - the killers removed one of the most feared gang leaders in the east; a man who is said to have slain more than 100 persons with his own hand and to have dictated the killings of Frankie Marlow and other big shots of gangland.

    Defiance of Capone is believed to have accomplished Masseria's dethronement, as it has spelled death for countless other racketeers. Recently the Chicago underworld czar sent Joe the Boss warning to pull in his horns or they'd be amputated.

    The slaying took place in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant, at 2715 West 15th st., Coney Island, miles from the domain of Joe the Boss, which took in a large section of downtown New York and a slice of Brooklyn.

    Masseria in addition to controlling the Italian lotteries, was said to have dug in his tentacles so deeply that not a stick of spaghetti was sold in the city without paying him a tax.

    Masseria was in the place with two of his bodyguards - since the murder of Frankie Yale, one of his henchmen, he had never set foot out of doors without his gunmen - when two dapper young men alighted from a large blue sedan and walked in. They emptied their guns and fled.

    The bodyguards went, too. So did the proprietors. They went in such haste they left top coats and hats and $40 in bills scattered on the floor. Outside were found two .45 caliber automatics, tossed away by the killers or betrayers.

New York Times of April 16, 1931 ("Racket chief slain by gangster gunfire"), warned of a tremendous gangland conflict resulting from Masseria's murder:

    It took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseria - he was Joe the Boss to the underworld - but this enemies found him with his back turned yesterday in Coney Island, and when they walked out into the bright sunshine Masseria's career was ended. There were five bullets in his body.

    To hear some of the detectives at Police Headquarters tell it, the killing of Joe the Boss is likely to cause an outbreak of gang warfare that will exceed anything this city ever has known. Some of the men who had kept tabs on the racketeer's long career insist that he was "the biggest of 'em all - bigger than Al Capone."

    It would be hard to tell why Masseria was "put on the spot," according to the police, for his name has been linked with numerous gang murders in the last ten years. And on the east side last night there was much furtive whispering and speculation as to what would follow. Even to his countrymen Joe the Boss was a mysterious power, greater in strength than many whose names appeared more often in the daily newspapers.

    At 1 P.M. yesterday Masseria drove is steel-armored sedan, a massive car with plate glass an inch thick in all its windows, to a garage near the Nuova Villa Tammaro at 2,715 West Fifteenth Street, Coney Island, and parked it. Then he went to the restaurant.

    What happened after that the police have been unable to learn definitely. Whether he met several men in the restaurant or whether he was alone when he went into the place, is uncertain. Gerardo Scarpato, the owner, said he was out for a walk at the time and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Anna Tammaro, said she was in the kitchen.

    At 2 o'clock the quiet of the little street near the bay was broken by the roar of gunfire and two or three men walked out of the restaurant to an automobile parked at the curb and drove away. When the police got there they found Mrs. Tammaro bending over the body of Joe the Boss. He lay on his back. In his left hand was clutched a brand new ace of diamonds.

    A few chairs were overturned in the restaurant and a deck of cards was strewn on the floor. There were several banknotes and a small amount of silver, about $35. Whether the ace of diamonds was put in Masseria's hand after he was shot, as some significant message for his friends, the police do not know. They are not inclined to believe that he was shot during a quarrel over a card game...

    Four hours after the shooting the automobile in which Masseria's murderers escaped was found abandoned at West First Street, near Kings Highway, Brooklyn, about two miles from the Nuova Villa Tammaro. On the back seat were three pistols. One lacked two cartridges; another had discharged one cartridge recently,a nd the third was fully loaded. Two other revolvers were found in the alley that runs along one side of the restaurant.

Paterson New Jersey Evening News of April 16, 1931 ("N.Y. fears gang war in slaying"), printed an INS wire story that echoed the incorrect gang war prediction of the Times but corrected the Capone relationship mistake of the Daily News:

    A violent gang war was predicted in New York as the aftermath of the killing of Guiseppe Masseria, known as "Joe the Boss." He was said by police to be an ally of Al Capone and worked with the Chicago gang leader in the liquor business, racketeering and gambling.

    Masseria was shot to death in a Coney Island cafe by two well-dressed young men who calmly walked into the restaurant and began shooting. They fired twenty shots and five struck Masseria - all in the back. He was found dead near an overturned card table.

    The killers walked leisurely out of the cafe and escaped in an automobile. Although fifty detectives surrounded the cafe shortly after the shooting, they uncovered no clews at the identity of the slayers.

    An armored steel car, equipped with bulletproof glass an inch thick, in which "Joe the Boss" was said to have traveled to protect him from many enemies, was found near the scene of the shooting. Police said they believed three of the Masseria gang, who had been with their chief in the cafe, might have hired the two young men to kill Masseria.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 16, 1931 ("Suspect seized in murder of 'Joe the Boss'") noted the arrest of a murder suspect (the suspect turned out to be a Villa Nuova Tammaro restaurant waiter who had borrowed Scarpato's automobile) and further discussed the Capone angle:

    Brooklyn detectives were rushed to Jersey City shortly before noon, where a suspect had been taken into custody in connection with the slaying yesterday of Giuseppe (Joe the Boss) Masseria, big shot racketeer.

    According to information from the New Jersey authorities, they had seized Anthony Devers, 31, after he had given an erroneous Jersey City address.

    Devers was arrested on the State highway on suspicion. He was driving a car owned by Charles Starapata, of 2715 W. 15th St., Coney Island, the address of the Nuova Villa Tammara, where Masseria was slain.

    The slaying of Masseria led the police to take steps to prevent, if possible, the worst gang war in the city's history which they fear will follow the "rubbing out" of Masseria.

    When Police Commissioner Mulrooney was asked about the shooting he declined to admit that the dead man was an underworld big shot or that he ever had heard he was the arch enemy of Al Capone, Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1.

    The Commissioner was asked:

    "Did you know that several Chicago gunmen are known to be in Brooklyn and are supposed to have done the shooting?"

    "No, I do not," Mulrooney replied.

    "Have you learned any reason for the shooting?"

    "No. But we have detectives making an extensive investigation."

    Joe the Boss was far from his usual haunts when three slugs wrote finis to his 11 years of criminal activity.

    ...Masseria was playing cards in the back room of the Nuova Villa Tammara with three other men at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon when a blue sedan drove up to the door and two men leaped out.

    Walking directly through the restaurant, the men disappeard into the rear room. Instantly there came the sounds of several shots. Leaving by a side door and throwing their weapons away, the men entered their machine and disappeared.

    When the police of the Homicide Squad under Capt. Ray Honan arrived, no one was found who could give a clear description of the slayers or of the men playing cards with Masseria. Two bullets had struck Masseria in the head, another pierced his heart...

    One of the officers of the Union Siciliano, an organization of Sicilians, Masseria was the king of the wine, fish and beer rackets, his domain including a large portion of the east side of Manhattan and a part of Brooklyn.

    The reign of this underworld chieftain began in 1920, when he graduated from burglary and assault into the policy racket.

    In his day he had control of practically every purveyor of Italian food in the city, demanding and receiving tribute from wholesaler and shopkeeper alike.

Brooklyn Standard Union of April 17, 1931 ("Police follow scant clues to murder of 'Joe the Boss'"), discussed the murder investigation while dismissing boss of bosses Masseria as merely "a piker" (small-time operator):


    Forty detectives sought to-day, by clues and what little they could learn from the underworld, to untangle the murder of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, without much hope of success, while sagas of racketeer power grew up about the Italian policy slip seller Commissioner Mulrooney has called a piker.

    Masseria's body still lay in Kings County Morgue, where it was identified yesterday by his son James, pending removal to the Masseria home at 15 West Eighty-first street, Manhattan, and the funeral accorded by henchmen to a gangster.

    The assassins who shot him from behind while he played cards Wednesday in a Coney Island restaurant were still unknown to police, and shielded by the frightened silence of all who might know anything about them.

    Acting Capt. John J. Lyons of Coney Island station questioned a half dozen local racketeers brought before him yesterday, without tangible results. Police Department fingerprint experts have gone over Masseria's armor plated car, which he parked near where he was killed.

    But hopes of police center now on three overcoats left in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant at 2715 West Fifteenth street where Masseria was killed. Two bear cleaners' marks, 6-504-28, and T-T 504. Detectives are checking these against the codes used in the city's dry cleaning establishments and tailor shops...

    The rumors about "Joe the Boss" continue to grow. Chicago gangsters of Capone ambushed him, one had it, because he was muscling into Brooklyn racket territory from his own bailiwick, the Bronx. Another had it he was taken by Al Wagner's gang on the East Side, over an insult from one of his followers to the wife of one of the Wagner gang. But "Joe the Boss" was, Commissioner Mulrooney insisted, a piker.

It is interesting that several accounts reported that Masseria's hand was holding a playing card when police reached the murder scene. The newspapers stated that the card was the Ace of Diamonds. A famous photograph of the scene, however, clearly showed an Ace of Spades card in Masseria's hand (at right). It has long been rumored that the photographer placed the legendary "death card" in Joe the Boss's hand before snapping the picture.