Monday, January 15, 2007

Guns and Roses

Friends of ours: Dean O'Banion, Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, "Bloody" Angelo Genna, "Big Jim" Colosimo, Earl "Hymie" Weiss, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci, George "Bugs" Moran

Before Al Capone became its underworld kingpin, Chicago's reigning gangster was the colorful and lethal Dean O'Banion, the stoutly built Irish florist the press nicknamed "Chicago's Arch Killer" and the "Boss of the 42nd and 43rd Wards." Based on information compiled from police and court documents, contemporary news accounts, and interviews with O'Banion's friends and associates, Guns and Roses traces O'Banion's rise from Illinois farm boy to the most powerful gang boss in early 1920s Chicago. It examines his role in the Irish-Sicilian clashes that rocked the North Side circa 1890-1910, his years as a slugger for William Randolph Hearst during the city's newspaper wars, and his turbulent relationship with "Scarface Al" Capone as the two gang bosses battled for supremacy.

Guns and Roses also shines a spotlight on many of Chicago's elite, among them Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson and playwright Charles MacArthur (The Front Page), as well as such underworld luminaries as dapper Johnny Torrio, "Bloody" Angelo Genna, "Big Jim" Colosimo, Earl "Hymie" Weiss, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci, and George "Bugs" Moran, the latter of whom barely escaped the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Of particular interest are O'Banion's notorious "handshake murder" ordered by the Capone, Torrio, and Genna factions and the bloody war for gangland supremacy that was sparked by his death and gave the city its reputation for violence. An enigmatic character, O'Banion was a powerful gang boss who could crack skulls as brutally as his henchmen, but he also supported entire North Side slums with his charity. While he had few gangster allies, the charismatic criminal inspired fanatical loyalty among his own men, who mourned his murder and sought violent revenge against those who ordered it. The product of fifteen years of research, Guns and Roses is as much a stroll through the history of Chicago as it is a chronicle of one of its premier underworld icons.

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