Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mickey Cohen

The Racket World

A washed-up pug with no education whose only friends are gangsters has few choices in life. That's where Mickey found himself after his fight with Tommy Paul. He fell back on the only thing he knew hustling.

"I started rooting you know, sticking up joints with some older guys," he said. "By now I had gotten a taste of what the racket world really was the glamour, the way they dressed, the way they always had a pocketful of money."

He didn't realize it at the time, but the places he was robbing were mob-controlled carpet joints the illicit nightclubs and casinos that predated Las Vegas.

"Later on I learned that we were lucky to pull it through," he recalled. "Because we didn't even give a thought to whose joints those were. We were stepping on the toes of the outfit."

Fortunately for Mickey, the mobsters whose toes were crushed realized the rough talent he had and set him straight. After a killing he preferred not to talk about "statute of limitations and all that," he said Mickey moved from Cleveland to Chicago, where he later met Al Capone.

In the Windy City, Mickey, working as muscle in a card room, learned how influential the Outfit had become. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and when a couple of thugs died in a shootout, Mick was pinched.

"I certainly ain't gonna get out right away," he thought to himself, and laid on the bench to sleep. A telephone call from his goombah, Egan's Rat member Spike Hennessey, to a police captain changed that and Mickey was out on the streets without having to post bail. The charges then seemed to disappear.

"These guys were notorious anyway, and besides they had a piece on them," Mickey explained.

It was after that that Mickey met Al Capone for the first time.

Al Capone mugshot
Al Capone mugshot
"I walked into his office kind of awed, because I was a young kid anyway, walking into the office of Al Capone," he said. "He did something which was a very big thing for me he kind of held my head and kissed me on both cheeks."

That greeting solidified Mickey Cohen's place in the Chicago Outfit and led to bigger and better things, mostly on the gambling side of the Outfit's operations. Mickey was soon running card games and then craps tables and supervising other mobsters. He was close to Mattie Capone, Big Al's younger brother, and with Mattie's backing Mickey found he could get away with things other mobsters couldn't.

"Al intimated to me like if I found something to get into, he would back me up, you understand."

Jake Guzik (CORBIS)
Jake Guzik (CORBIS)
While he was working under Greasy Thumb Jake Guzik, Al's bagman, Mickey experienced the first of what would be many assassination attempts. Not surprisingly, the details of the attack were etched firmly in Mick's mind.

"I had on a camel hair coat that, boy, I was really in love with," he recalled. "It had big check in it not loud check and I think this was the second time I had worn it. So when they came by shooting, I didn't even fall because I didn't want to get my coat dirty!"

A beef with another gambler made Mickey leave town and for a while he was working back with Lou Rothkopf in Cleveland, a close friend of Meyer Lansky and Benny Siegel. There wasn't enough work for a guy like Mickey in Cleveland, so Lou and his friend Joe Gentile suggested Mickey head west to work with Ben.



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