The Chicago Syndicate: Al Capone Era Murder Mystery To Be Examined by Chicago's Cold Case Unit
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Al Capone Era Murder Mystery To Be Examined by Chicago's Cold Case Unit

The City Council’s resident historian cracked open the history books for another re-write Tuesday, this time involving some of Chicago’s most notorious characters: mob boss Al Capone; Prohibition Agent Eliot Ness and Edward J. O’Hare, father of the city’s most famous war hero.

Thirteen years after absolving Mrs. O’Leary’s cow of responsibility for the Great Chicago Fire, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) wants to set the record straight about the role O’Hare played in Capone’s conviction — and possibly shed new light on O’Hare’s gangland-style 1939 murder.

At Burke’s behest, the deputy chief of detectives in charge of the Chicago Police Department’s Cold Case Squad agreed to take a fresh look at the 70-year-old murder case, with help from a soon-to-be-released book about Capone that just might provide a few clues.

Asked how much time he expects police to spend on the case, Burke replied, “Very little.” The alderman said he’s more concerned about setting the record straight about the role played by Edward J. O’Hare, Capone’s business partner-turned-federal informant.

“O’Hare was the linchpin in the criminal investigation that led to the conviction of Capone. But for his cooperation, Capone may never have been brought to justice,” Burke told the Police Committee. “If nothing else, O’Hare’s reputation ought to be rehabilitated and the truth ought to be known. ... It was not ‘The Untouchables.’ It was not the role played by Kevin Costner ... that led to the conviction of Al Capone, the most notorious criminal of American history. ... It’s a fiction of Hollywood.”

The story of Edward “Butch” O’Hare, is well-known. He was the World War II fighter pilot who shot down five Japanese bombers, saved the U.S.S. Lexington and was ultimately rewarded by having his name attached to the airport once known as Orchard Field.

Lesser known is the fact that the war hero’s father, Edward J. O’Hare, was a gambler and owner of the Hawthorne Kennel Club racetrack in Cicero who partnered with Capone only to turn on the Chicago mob boss.

The elder O’Hare helped crack Capone’s bookkeeping codes, leading to the mobster’s conviction on tax evasion charges.

On Nov. 8, 1939, the 46-year-old O’Hare was driving his new Lincoln Zephyr near Ogden and Rockwell when he was gunned down by three men wielding shotguns.

The car carrying the gunmen was reportedly traced to a Cicero nightclub owned by Ralph Capone, Al’s older brother.

Newspaper stories at the time described O’Hare as a “prize moneymaker for the mob” and speculated that he was assassinated, either in retaliation for ratting on Capone or to serve notice that Capone was planning a comeback.

During’s Tuesday’s Police Committee hearing, Jonathan Eig, author of the soon-to-be-published book, “Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster,” offered a different explanation.

Eig noted that, at the time of O’Hare’s murder, Capone was suffering from syphilis that had ravaged his mind and body — so much so that he was “incapable of and uninterested in resuming his career.” And even though O’Hare helped deliver the goods on his former partner, there was “no evidence to suggest that Capone knew it,” the author said.

Instead, Eig pointed fingers at a Capone family struggling to pay medical bills, court fines and a $300,000 debt to the IRS.

“Prohibition was over. The old outfit was earning at a fraction of its peak. But, Eddie O’Hare was still making money at his racetracks, including Sportsman’s Park,” Eig said.

Noting that Al Capone was a “silent partner” in the racetrack, Eig said, “To round up cash, the Capone brothers would likely have turned to O’Hare and demanded Al’s fair share of the profits. O’Hare was a big, strong, tough and stubborn man. If he refused to pay — or if he refused to pay as much as the Capones wanted — he would have understood the consequences. That’s why he was carrying a pistol at the time of the shooting.”

Burke believes the murder investigation was derailed from the outset by Daniel “Tubbo” Aloysius Gilbert, the chief investigator for the Cook County state’s attorney. Gilbert was subsequently described by investigators as Chicago’s “richest cop.”

“If the mob ever had a police chief, it was Gilbert,” Burke said.

Thanks to Fran Spielman

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