Showing posts with label Torrio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Torrio. Show all posts

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

24 January 2019

Torrio surrenders Chicago rackets after ambush

On this date in 1925...


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

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

Bullet holes in the Lincoln auto used by the Torrios.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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