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

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

19 May 2019

The Pittsburgh machine gun murder that wasn't

'The Big Gorilla' may have been
killed with his own shotgun

On this date in 1927...

Lamendola
A Pittsburgh booze racketeer known as "The Big Gorilla" was murdered May 19, 1927, in what was initially proclaimed by the local press to be the city's first underworld assassination to involve machine guns. Newspapers subsequently backed away from the machine gun claim, when law enforcement concluded that a shotgun was instrument of death.

Coverage of the killing of Luigi Lamendola involved a great many journalistic disagreements. Newspapers could not agree even on the age of the victim. He was reported to be twenty-seven years old, thirty-two and thirty-five. (He was probably close to twenty-seven.) And the uncertainty did not end there. He was said to be a member of a Black Hand extortion organization or a victim of a Black Hand extortion organization or possibly neither. He suffered either three or six bullet wounds in the head. And he was killed in a hail of machine gun fire or through a double-barreled blast of a shotgun. Or possibly two shotguns.

There was general agreement that Lamendola - known to his friends as "The Big G" - was a bad guy. He was a brutal Prohibition Era gang leader, who held a monopoly on moonshine liquor distribution in Pittsburgh's Hill District and used threats of violence and a fair amount of actual violence to maintain that monopoly.

Some have claimed that he learned his craft from the Capone Outfit in Chicago before striking out on his own. (It is difficult to support this claim. However, Lamendola may have had connections with the underworld in the Hamilton, Ontario, area.) He may have served as a lieutenant of sorts for the Pittsburgh Mafia organization (led in the period by Stefano Monastero) until ambition caused him to strive for greater status.

Lamendola knew well that he had enemies. It was said that he did not often stray from the Hill District restaurant, 27 Chatham Street, that served as his headquarters. The building was also his home, as it contained a well furnished bachelor apartment upstairs. When he did go out, he carried a sword-cane with him. With the touch of a button, the outer cane covering fell away to reveal a fifteen-inch blade.

Late Thursday evening, May 19, after he locked up the restaurant and relaxed in the establishment with a couple of business partners, some enemies came calling. A large touring car with curtained windows pulled up in front. Two men got out and tapped on the restaurant's front window and called for Lamendola to come outside.

The Big Gorilla made it to the doorway. The two who tapped on the window ducked behind the car, and two others pointed weapons - most likely shotguns - at Lamendola through the car window curtains. The weapons fire, according to the Pittsburgh Press, "shattered" Lamendola's head. The damage done left the impression that a machine gun was used.

Pittsburgh Post


Lamendola partner Peter Curatolo, nearby at the time of the shooting, was superficially wounded by some of the shrapnel.

The automobile then proceeded north on Chatham Street, while the gunmen inside of it continued to fire. At least one bit of the fired lead cracked through the window of Charles Sparano's New Italian cafe at the corner with Webster Street - still busy at that late hour - and passed within inches of the head of a violinist in the cafe orchestra. The vehicle turned onto Bigelow Boulevard and sped away to the northeast.

Lamendola was rushed to Mercy Hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Authorities noted that he was wearing diamonds valued at about $12,000 and had four $1,000 bills in his wallet. His death certificate attributed the end of Lamendola's life to "shock and hemorrhage following gunshot wound of head. Prob. murder."

During their investigation of the killing, police searched the Lamendola restaurant and discovered several hundred gallons of moonshine whiskey. In the upstairs apartment, they found automatic pistols, knives and ammunition, including shotgun shells that matched those that took his life. They found no shotgun. At least not right away.

When detectives traced the escape route taken by the gunmen, they found a shotgun discarded on Bigelow Boulevard, near Washington Street. They assumed the gunmen tossed it out of the car as they drove away.

Days later, rumors circulated that Lamendola had been betrayed by someone in his own organization and had been killed with his own shotgun.

Adding further insult to fatal injury, press coverage subsequently suggested that Lamendola was working in the U.S. as an agent of the Fascist government of Italy. That charge seems to have resulted merely from the fact that Lamendola's remains were returned to his native city of Caltanissetta, Sicily, for burial.

Authorities held Lamendola's business partners for a while and questioned known members of the Pittsburgh underworld. But Lamendola's murder was never solved.

Sources:

  • "'Ghost' of murdered bootleg czar stalks through 'Hill' with death in either hand," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 23, 1927, p. 3.
  • "Death spurts from auto in Chatham St.; misses girl," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Hill District man victim of machine gun slayers," Pittsburgh Post, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Hunt slayers of Lamendola," Pittsburgh Press, May 20, 1927, p. 23.
  • "Italian murdered by gang here believed Fascist agent," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 16, 1927, p. 3.
  • "Lamendola, slain here, is buried in Italy," Pittsburgh Press, July 16, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun killers sought in Pittsburgh," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 26.
  • "Machine gun theory falls when weapon that killed Hill District man is found," Pittsburgh Post, May 21, 1927, p. 5.
  • "Man ambushed and killed," Pottsville PA Evening Herald, May 20, 1927, p. 9.
  • "Murder cafe owners held," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 22, 1927, p. D-12.
  • "Nab gangster as murderer of Monastero," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 9, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Pittsburgh police probe slaying of restaurant owner," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 31.
  • "Two more padlocks are clamped on," Pittsburgh Post, April 9, 1926, p. 3.
  • Gazarik, Richard, Prohibition Pittsburgh, The History Press, 2017.
  • Luigi Lamendola Certificate of Death, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, file no. 45184, registered no. 4142, May 19, 1927.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Conte Rosso, departed Naples, Italy, on Nov. 20, 1926, arrived New York, NY, on Nov. 30, 1926.

14 February 2019

Moran's men massacred

On this date in 1929...

Disguised as law enforcement officers, gunmen murdered seven members and associates of George "Bugs" Moran's North Side gang at 10:30 in the morning of February 14, 1929.

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 15, 1929.
The North Siders were assembled at the SMC Cartage Company garage, 2122 North Clark Street. A team of professional killers, two of them dressed as police officers, entered the building. Believing they were being raided by authorities, Moran's men cooperated and lined up facing a wall of the garage.

The helpless gangsters were then slaughtered in a hail of machine gun and shotgun fire. The killers escaped.

Belvidere Republican, Feb. 14, 1929.

Decatur Herald, Feb. 14, 1929.

Uniontown PA Standard, Feb. 15, 1929.

Boston Globe, Feb. 15, 1929.
Gang boss Moran, said to be the primary target of the attack, also escaped. Lookouts working with the hit team mistakenly believed Moran was present in the garage and initiated the attack too early. According to reports, Moran was just approaching the building when he observed what looked to be a police raid and decided on a different course. When he learned of the massacre, he went into hiding.

Minneapolis Star, Feb. 14, 1929.
The victims of the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre":
  • James Clark, 42. The top lieutenant of George Moran (and often referred to in the press as Moran's brother-in-law), Clark (born Albert Kachellek) had been imprisoned several times for robberies and parole violation.
  • Frank Gusenberg, 36. Often a suspect in burglaries and robberies, he served one jail sentence for disorderly conduct. He was considered an enforcer for Moran. He was the only one of the seven victims still living when police arrived. He died hours later.
  • Peter Gusenberg, 40. The brother of Frank Gusenberg, he was the top enforcer of the Moran bootlegging operation. He served several prison terms for robberies and parole violation.
  • Adam Heyer, 40. He had been in and out of prison since 1908, convicted of robberies, confidence games and parole violation. It was reported that Heyer managed the gang finances and ran the S.M.C. Cartage Company.
  • John May, 35. A former thief, he was an associate of the Moran gang and worked as a automotive mechanic.
  • Albert Weinshank, 35. A member of the Chicago cleaning and dying association, authorities believed he joined the gang when Moran was scheming to take control of that industry.
  • Reinhardt Schwimmer, 30. An optometrist, he often socialized with the Moran gang and bragged of his underworld association.
New York Times, Feb. 15, 1929.
Out-of-town gunmen working with Al Capone's Chicago Outfit are generally believed responsible for performing the massacre.


Sources:
  • "Doctor in massacre," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 15, 1929, p. 1.
  • "No one brought to trial for goriest gangland hit," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, Feb. 13, 1979, p. 6.
  • "Police records tell lives of gang slain gangsters," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 15, 1929, p. 2.
  • Binder, John J., Al Capone's Beer Wars, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017.
  • Gomes, Mario, My Al Capone Museum, myalcaponemuseum.com.
  • Helmer, William J., Al Capone and His American Boys, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. 
  • Helmer, William J., and Arthur J. Bilek, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Cumberland House, 2006.
  • Kobler, John, Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and Edward Baumann, "Chicago's grisly wall," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 13, 1987, p. 5-1.

31 August 2018

Gangster 'Legs' Diamond shows up in Europe

On this date in 1930...

Legs Diamond
Authorities had speculated for days about the location of notorious New York gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond, when Legs appeared aboard the Red Star Line steamer Belgenland in the English port of Plymouth on Sunday, August 31, 1930. Alerted by New York police to reports that Diamond was sailing for Europe, British and Irish Free State officials pledged to refuse him admittance to their countries. As Diamond made no attempt to disembark from the Belgenland at Plymouth, law enforcement merely noted his presence on the ship.

An international search for Diamond was first noted in newspapers on Tuesday, August 26. At the time, police were investigating the disappearance and likely murder of Harry Western (also spelled Weston), operator of a roadhouse near Kingston in upstate New York, and the discovery of a Diamond-linked arsenal in Brooklyn. (Some newspapers engaged in wild speculation about the bullets, bombs and bulletproof vests found in Brooklyn, insisting that an interstate underworld conflict was about to erupt between a New York gangland army and forces loyal to Chicago underworld boss Alphonse Capone.)

In the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, New York State Police from Saugerties and Troy raided Diamond's summer home in the hamlet of Acra, about thirty-five miles southwest of Albany. They found only Mrs. Alice Diamond, her friend and the friend's young daughter, a maid and nineteen-year-old errand boy William Warring. Warring told police that Diamond boarded a transatlantic liner in New York several days earlier.

Wrong ship

Lucania
Warring's story was initially considered a red herring, but police checked into it. They found that Diamond had purchased a ticket to travel to Europe aboard the White Star Line's Baltic, scheduled to stop at Cobh, Ireland, on August 31, and then at Liverpool, England, on September 1. The police contacted authorities in Ireland and England and managed to send an image of Diamond using radio and transatlantic telephone.

White Star Line contacted the captain of the Baltic, and he reported that no one matching Diamond's description was aboard the vessel. Police had some lingering doubts.

On August 30, the New York Times reported that Jack "Legs" Diamond was aboard the Baltic and accompanied on the liner by four of his henchmen: Salvatore "Charlie Lucky" Lucania later known as Charlie Luciano, Charles "Charlie Green" Entratta, Salvatore Arcidiaco and a man named Treager. The report caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the pre-FBI Bureau of Investigation.

Years later, the FBI made note of the trip in a memorandum:
A confidential circular from the Bureau of Narcotics in the files of the Identification Division reflects that Luciana was an associate of the late Jack Diamond and accompanied him, Diamond, and [name deleted] to Europe in the summer of 1930, when it was believed that a conspiracy existed to smuggle narcotics from Europe into the United States...

Entratta
When the Times report hit the streets, the police had already become convinced that Diamond was not on the Baltic. Concerned that his travel plans were known by too many people, Diamond made a last minute switch and boarded the Belgenland, they reasoned. Belgenland left on the same day and from the same location - New York's North River Pier 60 - as the Baltic. It was due to land at Plymouth before proceeding on to Cherbourg, France, and Antwerp, Belgium.

While British authorities noted the arrival of Belgenland on the thirty-first and the presence of Diamond, reportedly traveling under the name of Jack Nolan, there was no mention in press accounts of the Diamond companions named in the New York Times. Lucania, Entratta, Arcidiaco and Treager possibly were unnoticed. They may have sailed as originally planned on the Baltic or they may not have made the trip at all (despite the later claims of FBN and FBI).

New York Sun, Aug. 30, 1930

In Europe

Diamond remained aboard Belgenland until she docked at Antwerp on September 1. As he disembarked, Brussels officials ordered him detained.

Diamond expressed astonishment when interviewed by the press:
I do not understand what is going on. I embarked from New York under my own name and not for one moment have I concealed my identity. I wonder who imagined I was traveling under the assumed name of Knowland or Nolan. I left the states to take a rest on the continent where I was years ago. I even have a French identity card dating from my first visit three years ago. It is not my intention to remain in Belgium more than a day or so. I am suffering from my stomach and I want to go to Vichy immediately to cure myself.

Diamond
While Vichy was mentioned to the press, Diamond also expressed an interest in visiting Magdeburg, Germany, and in conferring with German medical specialists about his stomach problems. United States officials believed that his trip was related either to securing a source of high quality liquor for New York bootlegging operations or to establish narcotics supply connections with European pharmaceutical companies.

Officials at Antwerp found his travel papers in order and released him. They quickly changed their minds about Diamond and took him again into custody and insisted that he leave Belgium. Because he was found to possess a valid visa for Germany, he was allowed to exit the country at the German border.

German police arrested him as he entered that country. The United States embassy suggested to German authorities that Diamond was a wanted criminal in New York. That was not entirely true. While New York police had been looking for the gang leader, they publicly stated that there were no current charges against Diamond.

Germany decided that Diamond was an undesirable alien and ordered him out of the country. On September 6, he was driven by detectives to the port of Hamburg and placed aboard the freighter Hannover bound for the U.S.

'Clay pigeon'

Three weeks after his return to the U.S., Diamond was seriously wounded by gunmen who broke into his room at Manhattan's Hotel Monticello. Doctors saw little chance that he would survive. But Diamond managed to recover from his wounds and walked out of the hospital before the end of the year.

Near the end of April 1931, he was shot several times outside a roadhouse near Acra. Again he recovered.

As Diamond was charged with bootlegging offenses that summer, the often-targeted gang leader was referred to in the press as "the clay pigeon of the underworld." The bootlegging case resulted in a conviction and a prison sentence, but Diamond remained free pending legal appeal.

Several bullets to the skull, fired as Diamond was asleep in a cheap Albany roominghouse, ended the gangster's life on December 18, 1931.


Sources:

  • "'Legs' Diamond to be barred from Ireland," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 29, 1930, p. 14.
  • "Asserts Diamond is on the ocean," New York Sun, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Britons think 'Legs' Diamond is in London," Syracuse NY American, Aug. 31, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Charles Luciana, with aliases," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-X, Aug. 28, 1935, accessed March 2017.
  • "Diamond held upon arrival at Antwerp," Malone NY Evening Telegram, Sept. 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Diamond home Catskill raid gives no clue," Albany Evening Journal, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Diamond in Antwerp detained for checkup," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Germany arrests 'Legs' diamond, American gunman," Saratoga Springs NY Saratogian, Sept. 2, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Ireland will refuse landing to Diamond," New York Times, Aug. 30, 1930.
  • "Irish Free State bans Legs Diamond, New York gangster," Niagara Falls NY Gazette, Aug. 30, 1930, p. 18.
  • "Jack Diamond shot 5 times by gunmen in a 64th St. hotel," New York Times, Oct. 13, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Legs Diamond hiding out, New York police believe," Buffalo Courier-Express, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 5.
  • "Legs Diamond is now believed to be passenger on Belgenland," New York Sun, Aug. 30, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Sails from Hamburg," Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 7, 1930, p. 8.
  • "The four-year sentence...," Boston Globe, Aug. 14, 1931, p. 18.
  • Berger, Meyer, "'Legs' Diamond slain in sleep at Albany by two assassins," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1931, p. 1.
  • Reynolds, Ruth, "And Legs came sailing home," Catskill NY Recorder, Sept. 19, 1930, reprinted from New York Sunday News, Sept. 11, 1930.
More about "Legs" Diamond:


Legs Diamond: Gangster by Patrick Downey.

01 July 2017

Gangland assassination in Brooklyn

Capone gunmen blamed in Frankie Yale's murder

At about 4 p.m. on July 1, 1928, Brooklyn underworld leader Francesco "Frankie Yale" Ioele, 35, was driving his Lincoln automobile along 44th Street in Brooklyn, when he was overtaken by a black sedan.

Spot of Yale's death. (Police had removed his body from the car.)
Shots were fired into the Lincoln's rear window, and Yale accelerated in an effort to escape. The two cars came abreast between 9th and 10th Avenues, and a volley was fired by pistols and a sawed-off shotgun into Yale's car.

Yale's skull was cracked open by the slugs, and his car veered off the road, crashing into the stone steps in front of 923 44th Street. He died immediately.

Though some press accounts referred to the killing as the first New York gangland murder to feature the use of a "Tommy Gun" submachine gun, an autopsy attributed Yale's fatal wounds to a shotgun and a pistol.

At the time of his murder, Yale was believed to be a top lieutenant in the Manhattan-based Mafia organization of Giuseppe Masseria. Yale appeared to be the top-ranked Calabrian in the Sicilian-dominated Mafia network, which opened to non-Sicilians in the Prohibition Era. Later in 1928, following the slaying of Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila, Masseria became the U.S. Mafia's boss of bosses.


Police linked the Yale murder to gunmen working for Chicago's Al Capone, a Brooklyn-born gangster whose family was rooted in the Naples area of Italy. Capone and Yale, both vassals of Giuseppe Masseria, had been rum-running partners. Perhaps concerned that Yale was not dealing with him fairly, Capone inserted a spy named James DeAmato into Yale's organization. DeAmato was found dead on a Brooklyn street in July 1927, likely forcing Capone to take more decisive action.

Yale's funeral was an extravagant gangland sendoff, featuring a silver coffin, mountains of floral tributes and a cortege of two hundred automobiles.

For more on Frankie Yale, see 
"What do we know about Frankie Yale?" 
on The American Mafia history website.

02 June 2017

'Al Capone's Beer Wars' set for June 6 release

http://amzn.to/2s2p8w8
John J. Binder's latest book, Al Capone's Beer Wars, is scheduled for release in hardcover and Kindle and Nook e-book formats on Tuesday, June 6. It can be pre-ordered now through Amazon.com and other booksellers.

Although much has been written about Al Capone, until now there has been no complete history of organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition. This book, based on twenty-five years of research, covers the entire era, 1920 to 1933. Binder, an authority on Chicago organized crime history, discusses the bootlegging gangs in the region and examines other major rackets, such as prostitution, gambling, labor racketeering and narcotics.

Binder focuses on how the Capone gang — one of twelve major bootlegging mobs as Prohibition began — gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. Binder also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizens' groups, against organized crime. In the process, he refutes numerous misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other organizations, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and gangland killings.



Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition by John J. Binder.

29 May 2017

Chicago's Genna is laid to rest


On this date in 1925, Chicago Mafia leader Angelo Genna was laid to rest at Mount Carmel Cemetery in the village of Hillside, west of the Windy City. Observers said his funeral was as spectacular as that of his gangland rival Dean O'Banion half a year earlier.

The twenty-seven-year-old Genna was shot to death earlier in the week while driving in his roadster. Authorities determined that four shotguns fired at him from an automobile that pulled alongside of his. Genna's car smashed into a lamppost at Hudson and Ogden Avenues. Genna was taken to the hospital, where he died a few hours later without providing any statement about his killers. Family members also had no useful information for police and insisted that Genna, who had been involved in gangland conflicts for years and was once tried for murder, hadn't an enemy in the world.

Decatur Herald May 30, 1925
 Catholic officials denied Genna a church funeral, but a priest from Holy Guardian Church visited to pray with family members. A wake was held at the home of Genna's in-laws, the Spingolas, at Taylor Street near Halsted. (The Spingolas had become Genna's in-laws just a few months earlier at a lavish wedding that reportedly featured a one-ton wedding cake.)

As thousands, including judges, politicians and federal officials, visited the Spingola home to pay their respects, the home and the sidewalk outside became filled with enormous floral tributes. Chicago Tribune reporter Genevieve Forbes Herrick noted that notorious bootlegger Johnny Torrio, then in prison, sent a large vase constructed of pink and white carnations. Herrick went on to describe additional offerings:

There were bachelor buttons from the "Boys from Cicero;" a pile of blood red roses from the widow; a heart of pinks from the boys at Spingola's garage; peonies from "Diamond Joe" Esposito; lilies from Al Capone; a mass of flowers from "Samoots" Amatuna; more flowers from the Genna boys, still more from the Spingolas, and so until they spilled out of 31 limousines on the way to the cemetery.

Another source indicated that Capone's impressive eight-foot-tall floral piece was not his only contribution. The gang boss was said to have helped arrange the funeral.

Herrick noted that Genna's wounds were carefully concealed within the open casket at the wake. "The rich folds of the purple robe swathing his body hid the dozen or so bullet wounds, ugly things, which four enemies had poured into him...," she wrote.

At 10 o'clock, Friday morning, May 29, pall bearers from the Unione Siciliana carefully moved Genna's heavy $6,000 casket - said to be bronze with silver trim and the occupant's name written in gold - to the waiting hearse. A published report estimated the weight of the casket at 1,200 pounds.

A band played as the funeral cortege - a mile and a half long - made its way to the cemetery. An estimated 20,000 people lined the narrow streets of Chicago's Little Italy to view the spectacle. Genna's remains were interred in a $10,000 vault a short distance from O'Banion's gravesite.

Sources:
  • Angelo Genna death certificate, Cook County, State of Illinois, reg. no. 29944, filed Nov. 19, 1925, original reg. no. 1006, filed May 28, 1925.
  • Herrick, Genevieve Forbes, "New rich rum chief slain by gunmen in car," Chicago Tribune, May 27, 1925, p. 2.
  • "Feudist's death may renew war," Decatur IL Herald, May 27, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Splendor will surround Genna funeral today," Chicago Tribune, May 29, 1925, p. 3.
  • Herrick, Genevieve Forbes, "Chicago ne'er had funeral like Genna's," Chicago Tribune, May 30, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Funeral pomp awes Chicago's 'Little Italy,'" Decatur IL Herald, May 30, 1925, p. 1.
Link:

16 May 2017

1929: Capone meets City of Brotherly Love

Arrested with concealed weapon on his way
home from Atlantic City peace conference


May 16, 1929 - Chicago crime lord Al Capone and his lieutenant, Frank Rio, were stopped by police detectives outside the Stanley Theatre, southwest corner of Nineteenth and Market Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Washington Post
May 17, 1929
The notorious gangsters insisted they were in Philadelphia to kill only time, while waiting for the next Chicago-bound train. Detectives found that both men had handguns. Capone and Rio were arrested for carrying concealed deadly weapons.

Capone gave a detailed statement to authorities describing his situation: He and Rio were returning from a Chicago underworld peace conference at Atlantic City, New Jersey. They were driving to the North Philadelphia Station to catch the afternoon Broad Way Limited train back to Chicago. Automobile problems caused them to miss their train. The next train was scheduled to leave North Philadelphia some hours later, and the two gangsters decided to relax in the theater.

Capone's surprising stay in Pennsylvania began with a night in police lockup and would stretch on to a year. Treating the charge dismissively, the next day the Chicago boss and his aide pleaded guilty to weapons possession. They appeared stunned when Judge John E. Walsh sentenced them to one-year sentences in state prison.

The U.S. press immediately began speculating that Capone orchestrated his arrest and conviction in order to escape the vengeance of underworld rivals. Chicago's St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred only three months earlier. Some claimed that former Chicago underworld leader Johnny Torrio had come out of retirement to order Capone to have himself arrested so things in the Windy City could cool down. No known data or reasonable analysis of available data supports these notions.

Capone certainly was not a willing prisoner. His attorney tried to postpone the trial, to achieve Capone's discharge on a bond that he would never reenter the city and to arrange a suspended sentence. Capone subsequently griped over the speed of his trial and the severity of his punishment, and he actively sought his release on appeal.

 


Atlantic City convention

Other legends sprang up relating to the meeting in Atlantic City. Some books and television programs have suggested that it was an organizational meeting - called by Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania, Johnny Torrio or Frank Costello - for a nationwide criminal syndicate. Others claim it was a sort of intervention by the nation's gang bosses to break Capone of his murderous habits or a disciplinary hearing against the Chicago gang leader.

The original source of these legends is difficult to pin down, and it seems they have snowballed over time. It was reported in May 1929 that Capone personally told Philadelphia Director of Public Safety Lemuel Schofield: "We stopped at the President Hotel, where I registered under an assumed name. 'Bugs' Moran, the leader of the North Side Gang, seven of whose men were killed on St. Valentine's Day, 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, bury the past and forget warfare in the future, for the general good of all concerned." (New York Times, May 18, 1929, p. 1.)

When Herbert Asbury, who had a strong tendency toward sensationalism, published The Gangs of Chicago in 1940, he basically repeated the Capone account, calling the Atlantic City event a peace conference of Chicago bosses. Asbury's sensationalist tendency was satisfied merely by inflating the number of Chicago bosses to thirty.

In the same year (1940), Thompson and Raymond's Gang Rule in New York seems to have been the first book to claim that the meeting involved bosses from outside of Chicago. They placed the convention at the Hotel President and said attendees included "most of the leaders in the national Unione Siciliane." The purpose, according to the authors, was to put a stop to Sicilian and Italian gangland feuds and arrange a system for a panel of bosses to consider and approve of killings before they were performed. The authors claimed that Frank Costello developed those ideas.

Twenty-two years later, Bill Brennan further expanded the conference story and added details for his book, The Frank Costello Story. Brennan, apparently realizing that Costello was not a boss in 1929 and did not have the authority to call a nationwide conference of underworld leaders, portrayed the Hotel President gathering as a bit of an insurrection against old-line Mafia bosses like Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Providing no source, Brennan claimed that the attendees included Capone, Jake Guzik, Frankie Yale, Joe Adonis, Frank Erickson, Owen Madden, Max Hoff, George Remus, Solly Weissman, Larry Fay and members of Detroit's Purple Gang. There were problems with Brennan's account - not the least of which was the death of Frankie Yale almost a year earlier - but that did not stop other authors from picking up the ball and running with it.

President Hotel
The Chicago Crime Book of 1967, edited by Albert Halper, tried to return the story to its origins with added importance for former Chicago gang boss Torrio. A chapter written by Francis X. Bush said that the Atlantic City conference involved Capone, Torrio, Joe Aiello and Bugs Moran, along with their chief aides. The conference concluded, he said, with a formal written agreement establishing a crime syndicate in Chicago. Torrio was set up as its supreme arbiter. For some reason, Bush placed the meeting in June 1929, when Capone already was behind bars in Holmesburg County Jail (he was transferred to Eastern State Prison in August).

When Jack McPhaul took a shot at the Torrio life story in 1970's Johnny Torrio: First of the Gang Lords, he combined various elements from previous writers for his account of the convention. There was the Torrio supremacy of the Halper book, the imposed preservation of gangland peace of the Thompson and Raymond volume and the expansive guest list of Brennan. According to McPhaul, Torrio ordered Capone to attend the convention, which McPhaul viewed as a disciplinary hearing, and then ordered Capone to get himself arrested and imprisoned (apparently it did not matter to Torrio where Capone did this).

John Kobler, who handled many other phases of Capone's existence more responsibly in his 1971 book Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, seems to have found the Atlantic City convention legends irresistible. According to Kobler, the convention lasted three days and featured numerous gang bosses from around the country, all agreeing to combine into a national syndicate run by an executive committee. "Cutting across all the old ethnic and national divisions," Kobler wrote, "there gathered around the table not only Italians and Sicilians, but also Jews, Irish and Slavs, more than thirty gangsters in all." (Big table!) The list of attendees was expanded from previous accounts to include Dutch Schultz, Nucky Johnson, Joe Saltis, Frank McErlane, Sam Lazar and Charles Schwartz.

Fred Cook largely echoed this account for his (emotionally titled) 1973 book, Mafia! But Cook, perhaps benefiting from access to the meeting minutes, said the Atlantic City convention resulted in four major decisions: 1. U.S. was carved into crime districts; 2. No boss could be killed without approval of a leadership commission; 3. Syndicate would gather a bribery fund for police and politicians; 4. A fund would be set up "to groom young gangsters for the Syndicate." The resistance of old Mafia bosses to this new syndicate, Cook wrote, made the Night of Sicilian Vespers (another grossly inflated legend) necessary.

The next year, Frank Costello: Prime Minister of the Underworld by George Wolf with Joseph DiMona stated that the Atlantic City meeting was called by Frank Costello and Johnny Torrio. The book claimed that Costello was then - in 1929 - at the height of his power (allowing him a gradual decline spread out over the next four and a half decades). The conference guest list was dramatically altered so that Chicago's Frank Nitti could be there, along with Lou Rothkopf, Moe Dalitz, Charles "King" Solomon, John Lazia, Joe Bernstein and Louis "Lepke" Buchalter. Wolf's book provided a detailed but sourceless look at the convention, referring at one point to the "crystal chandelier" that "dangled above the rich mahogany table and chairs, which gleamed from recent polishing." (Wolf neglected for some reason to explain that mahogany is an excellent wood choice for furniture at a seaside hotel, as its density makes it extremely resistant to rot.) Wolf said the convention set up a national crime syndicate overseen by a commission of leaders and arranged for Capone to temporarily serve time in prison so things could be smoothed out with his Chicago rivals.

Virgil W. Peterson further increased the 1929 Atlantic City guest list for his 1983 book, The Mob. He had Albert Anastasia, Vincent Mangano, Frank Scalise, Longie Zwillman, Willie Moretti and Meyer Lansky (honeymooning with his new bride) also meeting at the Hotel President. Peterson reported a widespread belief that Capone arranged for his own Philadelphia arrest after the convention, but he left it for the reader to decide between unlikely choices: 1. Capone was ordered to prison by other gang bosses in attendance at the Atlantic City convention; 2. Capone arranged after the convention to go to prison seeking protection from enemies. Apparently unworthy of consideration was the possibility that Capone was an out-of-area gangster caught carrying a concealed weapon and a local judge threw the book at him.

Despite decades of invention and exaggeration, the truth of the May 1929 conference in Atlantic City probably is quite close to the earliest accounts.


"Al Capone's long stay in Philly" 
in this back issue of Informer.

http://www.magcloud.com/browse/Issue/112621