The Chicago Syndicate: Dean O'Banion
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Showing posts with label Dean O'Banion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dean O'Banion. Show all posts

Monday, July 09, 2018

Where the Mob Bodies, Bootleggers and Blackmailers are Buried in the Lurid History of Chicago’s Prohibition Gangsters

In 1981, an FBI team visited Donald Trump to discuss his plans for a casino in Atlantic City. Trump admitted to having ‘read in the press’ and ‘heard from acquaintances’ that the Mob ran Atlantic City. At the time, Trump’s acquaintances included his lawyer Roy Cohn, whose other clients included those charming New York businessmen Antony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno and Paul ‘Big Paul’ Castellano.

‘I’ve known some tough cookies over the years,’ Trump boasted in 2016. ‘I’ve known the people that make the politicians you and I deal with every day look like little babies.’ No one minded too much. Organised crime is a tapeworm in the gut of American commerce, lodged since Prohibition. The Volstead Act of January 1920 raised the cost of a barrel of beer from $3.50 to $55. By 1927, the profits from organised crime were $500 million in Chicago alone. The production, distribution and retailing of alcohol was worth $200 million. Gambling brought in $167 million. Another $133 million came from labour racketeering, extortion and brothel-keeping.

In 1920, Chicago’s underworld was divided between a South Side gang, led by the Italian immigrant ‘Big Jim’ Colosino, and the Irish and Jewish gangs on the North Side. Like many hands-on managers, Big Jim had trouble delegating, even when it came to minor tasks such as beating up nosy journalists. When the North Side gang moved into bootlegging, Colesino’s nephew John Torrio suggested that the South Side gang compete for a share of the profits. Colesino, fearing a turf war, refused. So Torrio murdered his uncle and started bootlegging.

Torrio was a multi-ethnic employer. Americans consider this a virtue, even among murderers. The Italian ‘Roxy’ Vanilli and the Irishman ‘Chicken Harry’ Cullet rubbed along just fine with ‘Jew Kid’ Grabiner and Mike ‘The Greek’ Potson — until someone said hello to someone’s else’s little friend.

Torrio persuaded the North Side leader Dean O’Banion to agree to a ‘master plan’ for dividing Chicago. The peace held for four years. While Torrio opened an Italian restaurant featuring an operatic trio, ‘refined cabaret’ and ‘1,000,000 yards of spaghetti’, O’Banion bought some Thompson submachine guns. A racketeering cartel could not be run like a railroad cartel. There was no transparency among tax-dodgers, no trust between thieves, and no ‘enforcement device’ other than enforcement.

In May 1924, O’Banion framed Torrio for a murder and set him up for a brewery raid. In November 1924, Torrio’s gunmen killed O’Banion as he was clipping chrysanthemums in his flower shop. Two months later, the North Side gang ambushed Torrio outside his apartment and clipped him five times at close range.

Torrio survived, but he took the hint and retreated to Italy. His protégé Alphonse ‘Scarface’ Capone took over the Chicago Outfit. The euphemists of Silicon Valley would call Al Capone a serial disrupter who liked breaking things. By the end of Prohibition in 1933, there had been more than 700 Mob killings in Chicago alone.

On St Valentine’s Day 1929, Capone’s men machine-gunned seven North Siders in a parking garage. This negotiation established the Chicago Outfit’s supremacy in Chicago, and cleared the way for another Torrio scheme. In May 1929, Torrio invited the top Italian, Jewish and Irish gangsters to a hotel in Atlantic City and suggested they form a national ‘Syndicate’. The rest is violence.

Is crime just another American business, a career move for entrepreneurial immigrants in a hurry? John J. Binder teaches business at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and has a sideline in the Mob history racket. He knows where the bodies are buried, and by whom. We need no longer err by confusing North Side lieutenant Earl ‘Hymie’ Weiss, who shot his own brother in the chest, with the North Side ‘mad hatter’ Louis ‘Diamond Jack’ Allerie, who was shot in the back by his own brother; or with the bootlegger George Druggan who, shot in the back, told the police that it was a self-inflicted wound. Anyone who still mixes them up deserves a punishment beating from the American Historical Association.

Binder does his own spadework, too. Digging into Chicago’s police archives, folklore, and concrete foundations, he establishes that Chicago’s mobsters pioneered the drive-by shooting. As the unfortunate Willie Dickman discovered on 3 September 1925, they were also the first to use a Thompson submachine gun for a ‘gangland hit’. Yet the Scarface image of the Thompson-touting mobster was a fiction. Bootleggers preferred the shotgun and assassins the pistol. Thompsons were used ‘sparingly’, like a niblick in golf.

Al Capone’s Beer Wars is a well-researched source book. Readers who never learnt to read nothing because they was schooled on the mean streets will appreciate Binder’s data graphs and mugshots. Not too shabby for a wise guy.

Thanks to Dominic Green.

Friday, June 02, 2017

The First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosemo and the Ladies of the Levee

My tendency to either skim books or proofread them (from early magazine days) has encountered a new one from former Cook County police chief Art Bilek that I can’t put down: The First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosemo and the Ladies of the Levee.

This is a masterpiece of writing and excruciatingly accurate research that describes how Big Jim Colosimo rose from a lowly street-sweeper to the most prominent operator of whorehousesThe First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosemo and the Ladies of the Levee, gambling joints, and low-life restaurants in the days leading up to Prohibition, with the collusion of the police and politicians and the managerial skills of John Torrio and Al Capone. When his increasingly notorious Colosimo’s Café combined with his growing desire for respectability, love for a young songbird, and failure to exploit the opportunities afforded by Prohibition, Torrio (we must presume) had him murdered in the vestibule of his elegant restaurant in 1920—and the band marched on.

Nowhere has Chicago’s graft and corruption been so carefully and entertainingly documented, with special attention to the backgrounds of Torrio and Capone, who worked hard to weld the new and competing bootlegging gangs into the greatest illicit booze empire the country has ever known--one that did not factionalize into Chicago’s bloody Beer Wars that began with the killing of North Side mob-leader Dean O’Banion four years later. My own work has concentrated on the years following Prohibition, so I’m especially happy to report that Bilek’s book explains what made the Roaring Twenties possible.

Reviewed by William J. Helmer, courtesy of On the Spot Journal.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Valentine's Day Massacre 81st Anniversary Italian Pizza Banquet and Slide-Lecture: Gangster Ghosts and Secrets

By Richard T. Crowe

Sunday Feb. 14 -- St. Valentine's Day --
7 to 7:30 PM check-in and optional cocktail time
followed by dinner and lecture.


645 W. North Avenue, Chicago
(in the heart of "Bugs" Moran territory!)
(312) 654-2576

Featuring Italian specialties --
PIZZAS -- A selection of Thin and NY styles --
cheese/sausage/pepperoni/veggie/etc. Unlimited soft drinks -- Homemade Italian
Bread and Foccacia Chips -- Mixed Green Salad w/Assorted Dressings -- Penne
Pasta w/ Marinara Sauce -- Cinnamon Ticos (dessert)

Hear the facts not fictions --

Gangster and Capone legends and much more.

Strange tales about the hangouts of Al Capone and the cursed bricks of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre wall; bizarre secrets of Capone's, Frank Nitti's, and Deanie O'Banion's gravesites; the haunted Dillinger escape jail in Crown Point, IN; and more local lore.

Richard Crowe was scheduled to appear on the celebrated Al Capone "treasure vault" TV special but was dropped from the show when he uncovered the real facts about the so-called "secret vault." Discover the inside story of Capone's headquarters at the Lexington Hotel! Years before the Geraldo/Capone show, Crowe searched with a metal detector for lost treasure at the home and grounds of mobster Mossy Enright (gunned down in 1920) -- a Chicago gangster legenday treasure tale with much more credence than the dubious Lexington Hotel fable.


All major credit cards accepted. Or mail payment by check or money order to:

Richard T. Crowe
POB 557544
Chicago, IL 60655

Thursday, December 11, 2008

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Last night at an intimate gathering to celebrate author Rose Keefe's visit to Chicago ( Rose is the author of the definitive biographies of Chicago beer war chieftains Dean O'Banion and George 'Bugs' Moran and recently The Starker: Big Jack Zelig and brilliant conversationalist), a fellow blogger, Pat Hickey, had the pleasure of discussing the current political scandal concerning Illinois Governor Blagojevich with Richard Lindberg a veteran Chicago crime/political journalist/historian/author and host of the History Channel's 'Underground Chicago.'

Mr. Lindberg is coming out with a biography on the life of Michael Cassius 'Big Mike' McDonald the author of Chicago and Illinois political corruption. Recently Richard Lindberg authored the chilling study of the 1955 murders of two Chicago boys-The Schuessler-Peterson Murders by the monster Kenneth Hansen.

You can read the rest of Pat's account of his evening along with a capsule on Big Mike McDonald at:

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute: Michael C. McDonald and Illinois Corruption

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.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Long Before the Mafia, There Was the Irish Mob - PADDY WHACKED on The History Channel

Once called the "National Scourge," "The Shame of the Cities" and "The White Man's Burden," the Irish Mob rose from hellish beginnings to establish itself as the first crime syndicate in the United States. From "Old Smoke" Morrissey to "Whitey" Bulger, a parade of characters used ruthlessness, guile, and the diabolical power trio of "Gangster, Politician, and Lawman" to rise to power in the underworld. Their 150-year legacy of corruption is chronicled in the new special from The History Channel, PADDY WHACKED, a world premiere Friday, March 17 at 8 pm ET/PT on The History Channel.

After the devastating mid 19th century potato famine killed nearly a third of Ireland's population, the Irish looked across the ocean to America for salvation and opportunity. They arrived in New York City in droves, starving, destitute, determined ... and loathed by native New Yorkers. Gang wars soon enveloped the streets, and from the chaos rose the first mob boss, James "Old Smoke" Morrissey, as proprietor of gambling joints, saloons, and whore houses who aligned himself with the corrupt power corridors of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed. Soon, the Irish carried the dubious distinction of dominating the lower rungs of the immigrant ladder. For the next century-and-a-half, they rose and found power and glory in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Hollywood, before being done in by Italian foes, infighting, and eventually the law. PADDY WHACKED is the story of a long rise to power and a violent and bloody collapse, with a steady drumbeat of unforgettable characters along the way.

Highlights of PADDY WHACKED include:

* Re-creations of the early New York City gang wars made famous in
Martin Scorsese's film Gangs of New York.

* "King" Mike McDonald's efforts to establish the Irish Mob in Chicago,
under the philosophy of "There's a sucker born every minute" and
"Never steal anything big, the small stuff is safer," and the
portrayal of the mobster as "the man behind the man."

* The rise of bootlegging as a primary source of income for the Irish
Mob during Prohibition, an effort led by Dean O'Banion in Chicago and
Owney Madden in New York.

* The first glorification of the Irish mobster in Hollywood films
starring James Cagney.

* The arrival of ruthless foes like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer
Lansky, who wipe out Irish bosses by the dozen as the mafia rises to
power, while government foes such as FDR and Thomas E. Dewey doggedly
struggle to end corruption in the United States.

* The legitimization of the Irish in the upper levels of American
society crests in the 1950s and 1960s as Irish gangsters begin to take
over legitimate businesses. The son of upper-crust Irishman Joseph
Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, is elected President of the United States
after a multitude of back-channel dealing seals his Democratic Party

* The JFK assassination signals the beginning of a murderous era of
bloodshed that leads to Wild West-style shootouts in Boston between
the Mullin Gang, the Winter Hill Gang, and the Charlestown Boys.

* James "Whitey" Bulger's rise as the last great Irish Boss is fueled by
protection from his state-senator brother and his best friend in the
FBI ... a shining example of the "Gangster, Politician, Lawman"
triumvirate that was so hard to crack. But even the untouchable Bulger
can't hide from the government's most powerful weapon, RICO.

Executive Producer for The History Channel is Carl H. Lindahl. PADDY WHACKED is produced for The History Channel by Joe Bink Films Inc.


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