Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Historic Photo Links Al Capone to Chicago's Mayor

A Chicago professor thinks he has finally gotten the goods on Chicago Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson and Al "Scarface" Capone.

His key piece of evidence comes courtesy of a photo snapped long ago in La Salle County by an Ottawa photographer.

On Dec. 9, 1930, a panoramic shot was taken of about 300 people standing in front of and on top of St. Joseph's Health Resort, along the Fox River in Wedron. The occasion was William Hale Thompson Day, because Thompson was at the resort recuperating from appendix surgery.

Thompson was considered by some the best mayor money could buy, holding Chicago's highest office from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931 — smack in the middle of the Capone era. Many historians also believe Thompson was smack in the middle of Capone's pocket. However, the hard proof connecting the two was not there.

Until perhaps nowThe Chicago Outfit, according to John Binder, a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a researcher into Windy City crime. In 2003, Binder penned a book, "The Chicago Outfit." He has also been interviewed about the Chicago underworld on such cable television channels as A&E, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.

He recently bought a print of the Wedron photo from a man who worked for the gas company in Chicago. The man said he entered a vacant building on the North Side to disconnect gas lines and found the photo on top a garbage can.

"I asked him about the origins of the photo several times and he never waivered from his story," Binder said as to how the man claimed he came upon the photo.

Binder examined the approximately three-foot long photo. Thompson was easily identifiable, but determining if Capone was present among the sea of mugs was similar to playing the game "Where's Waldo?" One heavy-set Italian-looking gentleman smoking a cigar in the front row, has always been a favorite choice for Capone among La Salle County locals who examined the picture. But despite sharing a general similarity, the man is not Capone, husband of Mae, said Binder.

Binder went online to search for information about the picture, coming upon an excerpt about Thompson and Wedron in the book, "Capone's Cornfields: The Mob in the Illinois Valley." During the next few days, Binder kept studying the photo until it came time for him to yell, "Eureka!"

Binder said he is "99 percent plus positive" Capone is standing about dead center on the roof, diagonally from Thompson, who is below on the resort's steps. The man Binder tapped for Capone is smiling, clad in an unbuttoned overcoat and wearing a vest and pearl gray fedora, the same type fedora Capone wore in a 1929 mug shot taken by Philadelphia police.

Several men on either side of the possible Capone also sport pearl gray fedoras — a trademark among the Capone gang, Binder pointed out. One of the chaps near Capone is also built like a refrigerator. Another trademark. Binder is certain one of the men is Mike Spranze, an underworld gunsel who was close to Capone. Another one looks similar to a man visible in a newsreel of Capone leaving the federal courthouse in Chicago in 1931.

Capone was 31 years old at the time of the St. Joseph's photo, standing 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and tipping the scales at more than 220 pounds.

Binder showed the photo to two other Capone experts — Scarface scholar Jeff Thurston and Mars Eghigian, biographer of Capone chum Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti — and they agreed with him. Capone and Thompson in the same picture.

"It makes it undeniable there was a connection. This explicitly links them. This wasn't downtown Chicago, where they could have accidentally come together," Binder said. "This photo is historically significant."

Binder is also convinced this links well with La Salle County lore that says Capone visited the county, in particular the Wedron resort.

Binder also pointed out as a clue Thompson and Capone were in cahoots, was the fact the Chicago Tribune more than once ran stories accusing Thompson of accepting money from Capone, stories which Thompson did not deny and for which he did not try to sue. After Thompson went to his reward in 1944, almost $1.5 million cash was found in his safety deposit boxes. Thompson never earned more than $22,500 annually during his 12 years as mayor.

The man who possibly rewarded Thompson on Earth — Capone — followed Thompson into the hereafter three years later, dying in Florida from complications of syphilis. The man who shot the Wedron photo, Ottawa commercial photographer Richard Kuyl, died in his apartment at 805 1/2 Court St., Ottawa, in December 1958 at age 73.

Thanks to DAN CHURNEYCapone's Cornfields: The Mob in the Illinois Valley, who wrote this article. Dan is the author of "Capone's Cornfields: The Mob in the Illinois Valley."He was called by John Binder, and they discussed the merits of the historic photo, with Dan sharing information about the resort, Thompson's visit and local lore about Capone. Dan sees the resemblance, but would like to see more evidence. If you have any thoughts, email Dan at danc@mywebtimes.com.

Chicago professor and mob researcher John Binder is convinced infamous gangster Al Capone is present in this photograph of Chicago Mayor William
Chicago professor and mob researcher John Binder is convinced infamous gangster Al Capone is present in this photograph of Chicago Mayor William "Big Bill" Thompson and others, which was snapped Dec. 9, 1930, at St. Joseph's Health Resort in Wedron. The man Binder believes is Capone, is standing on the roof, marked No. 2. The man third from Capone's left, marked No. 3, Binder identifies as Mike Spranze, a Capone henchman. This is a cropped version of the original photo, which shows more people.

The overall view of the Wedron photo. Chicago Mayor william Thompson is shown on or near steps at the left and is marked No. 1.
The overall view of the Wedron photo. Chicago Mayor william Thompson is shown on or near steps at the left and is marked No. 1.

1 comment:

  1. I'm leaning toward not Capone. #2's jaw doesn't see as round and he's not as heavyset. Plus his fedora hatband is straight whereas Capone seemed to turn the right side of his up a little.
    That being said, #2 does seem to be the leader of the other gray fedora wearers based on his stance. Because it would seem disrespectful for him to stand that way if say #3 was the leader.

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