Battlefield Chicago

"Some coats have fur of rabbit, at Vassar sex appeal,
In Nebraska made of Airedale, in Chicago lined with steel."

-- Doin' the Raccoon

Hymie Weiss
(Chicago Police Dept.)

Upon Deanie's death, the leading players in the North Side gang, Moran, Drucci and Weiss ran an advertisement in the major newspapers announcing that, in respect to their assassinated leader, they, the survivors, would share the running of the organization as equals; they signed the article, "Board of Governors". The city was half shocked, yet amused by the gumption of gangsters posing so brazenly as any group of legal businessmen. Chief of Police Morgan Collins ranted at the absurdity; pretty much the rest of Chicago smirked.

The Torrio-Capone combine, however, read the real message behind it, and did not laugh. Firstly, it had been directed at them, and they knew it. And what it was really saying was, "All three of us, Moran, Weiss and Drucci, will not rest till you, Johnny Torrio and Alphonse Capone, are pushing daisies. As well, we think we know who pressed the trigger on Dion O'Banion and they, too, will die."

Spies covering City Hall for the North Side mob reported back to them that the day after O'Banion's murder the police had detained one of Capone's New York allies, Frankie Yale, in connection with the killing. Yale, had been in the process of boarding the New York Central bound for home. He had a good alibi for being in Chicago that week – the funeral of a fellow Sicilian -- and was released. But, Moran was convinced, as were his pals, that Yale had been one of the torpedoes. Underground connections suggested that the other two killers had been two of Capone's favorite henchmen, Alberto Anselmi and John Scalise.

Moran and company struck back, like a hammer on an anvil. And sparks flew. Their first attack came on the evening of January 12, 1925. Snow covered the city and temperatures had fallen below freezing; most of Chicago was indoors. A black sedan carrying Al Capone and a few of his gang members pulled up along the curb outside Palermo's Restaurant on the South Side. The street was empty as the passengers began to alight, so that is why the dark green touring car, idling around the nearest curb with its lights off, struck Capone's chauffeur as suspicious. "Watch it, watch it!" he cried, and flopped down on the seat below the dashboard. But, before he finished, the oncomers had cut loose with a barrage from three machine guns. Capone and his escorts dropped to the sidewalk behind the cover of the sedan and lay there listening to the body of their car being assaulted by a tac-tac-tac of bullets. Metal pinged, glass shattered, rubber burst; by the time the deadly vehicle moved away, their own was an inoperable shell rattling death through a hissing radiator. The driver, still crouched below the steering wheel, had received only a flesh wound, miraculously.

Capone lived and he had no doubt who had aimed those Thompson guns. From that point on, he traveled only in armored limousines that he had specially built. Throughout the rest of the 1920s, the North Side gunsels would make his existence a virtual hell of pop shots, threats and denunciations that, no matter how steely a front he exhibited, wore him down mentally and physically. He moved constantly in the midst of, at the least, fifteen bodyguards.

Despite friend Al's protestations, Johnny Torrio refused to harness himself with a bodyguard; he enjoyed the maneuverability without one. In fact, he rarely carried a gun. He most assuredly wished he had one, though, on January 24, 1925, twelve days after Al's near escape. He and his wife Anna had been shopping in the Loop that afternoon when they returned home to 7011 South Clyde in the wealthy South Shore neighborhood. Anna alit from their limo and went inside, carrying a few of the smaller items they had just bought. Torrio lingered behind helping their driver gather up the rest of that day's purchases on the running board. Neither man had noticed the three silhouettes in the gray auto across the street.

When a car door slammed behind him, Papa Johnny reflexively glanced. In that instant, before the gun blast, he must have recognized the two men walking toward him as Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran; Hymie toted a shotgun and Moran was reaching under his suitcoat for, well, Torrio could guess what. Hymie shot and Torrio's driver crumpled at the knees, wounded. Another charge blew the windows of the car out, sending shards of glass across Papa Johnny's overcoat. The consigliere tried to run, but reached his front lawn when he heard another roar and felt his cheek brand red hot. Dizzy, tumbling across the sidewalk, he noticed blood spurt from his face where, he would learn later, Hymie's missile had torn away part of his jawbone. Immobile, the world topsy-turvy, he remained conscious a few moments before passing out – conscious long enough to see Bugs Moran lean over him to flatten the open barrel of his automatic against his temple. "Coup de grace, compliments of Deanie," Moran said, and Torrio cringed. A click – that's all. Moran cursed. The Mick slammed the cylinder with his other palm and aimed again. Another hollow click. The last Torrio remembered was Moran fumbling at the gun while that gray car across the street began to bleat its horn wildly.

Drucci, at the wheel, didn't like the developing scene. People were looking out their windows, and cars at the end of the block were pausing to gawk. It was only a matter of minutes before the police would show up. "C'mon! let’s scram!" he shouted, a cry Hymie Weiss took up as he tugged at Moran's shoulder. Unable to complete the send-off he would have liked, Moran resigned himself to the fact that at least they hadn't missed this time. Hymie's shotgun had done its work. Papa Johnny's eyes glazed lifeless in the shadow of the crumpled brim of his expensive Hamburg, cockeyed on his head. Al's buddy was dead, next time Al himself!

But, Al's buddy did not die. He regained consciousness, jostled back by the insistent shaking of his driver and the screams of Anna. The gray automobile had fled the street and now the clanging of police cars came nearer. An emergency operation saved his life and, when interviewed days later by the police, all Torrio had to say, accompanied with a wave of his Sicilian hand, was, "I know who they were. It’s my business. I've got nothing to tell you."

Moran was picked up as the man who tried to deliver the final shot, based on a neighbor's description, but, in the end, Torrio refused to press charges, adhering to the strict code of omerta: Keep your mouth shut and get even in time. Frankly, he had had enough and if there was any payback to be done, he'd leave that job to Al. For that matter, Torrio decided to leave everything to Al – the paybacks, the headaches, the bullet dodging, the abberations, the nightmares, the legal hassles that were all part of playing the big league in Chicago.

Anthony Genna's car 

After he left the hospital, Torrio was moved to Cook County Jail to serve his nine-month sentence for violation of the Volstead Act, imposed on him for being found on site at the Sieben Brewery the day of O'Banion's joke-playing. Incarcerated, he read the newspapers to keep abreast of daily activities. Edition after edition recorded the growing hostilities taking place on Chicago streets. He read how one by one the Gennas and their cumpari, suspiciously everyone who had one time crossed Deanie O'Banion, were dying from shots fired by "persons unknown". Angelo Genna expired after three men in a car chased his auto down Hudson Avenue, ending when Angelo crashed into a lamppost, then being shot to death behind the wheel, trapped. Mike Genna, then Tony Genna expired. Giuseppe "The Cavalier" Nerone, a Genna ally, succumbed to a hail of bullets, to be followed by a Genna backer, Unione Siciliane chieftan Sal "Samoots" Ammatuna, riddled while getting a shave in a barber's chair. In every instance, Moran, Weiss or Drucci was suspected.

Torrio retired. "Not unmindful of the ongoing bloodshed in Chicago...Johnny Torrio gave his own situation careful thought," pens Curt Johnson, author of Wicked City. "The Genna deaths were only a preclude, (for) Weiss and Moran would not give up trying to exact full revenge...until, finally, someone subjugated or destroyed all the others...(Torrio) transferred all his Chicago properties to Capone... The Torrios took a train to New York City, where they took a luxury liner to Naples."

Al Capone was now in charge, elated to be in the driver's seat, but scalding with vengeance. Now it was his turn to get even.

Full gang war erupted.

As a backlash for the Gennas, Capone's gunners caught Moran and Drucci driving on Congress Avenue one afternoon and poured machine gun fire into their auto. Drucci, at the wheel, swerved the car to escape the spray, and in doing so lost control. When it hopped over a curb and slammed into a building, the two North Siders abandoned their vehicle for the sanctuary of the nearest doorway. Wounded and bleeding, but firing backwards at their pursuers, they ran through the building, out to the other street, and didn't stop until they reached a doctor's office several blocks away. They were soon back in action.

This was the first of many an ambush by Capone to prove that he could spit out what he had been forced to ingest. Two attempts on Weiss' and Drucci's lives followed in 1926 – both led by Louis Barko, a Sicilian bodyguard aiming for higher things. Both incidents occurred on busy Michigan Avenue in the middle of a work-a-day crowd a week apart. Both sizzled – and fizzled.

The first affair happened on August 10. Weiss and Drucci were passing the Standard Oil Building en route to political boss Morris Eller's office to make a payoff when Barko and company opened fire from a car. As the bricks of the building behind them chinked by the splatter of dum-dum bullets, and dozens of citizens hit the dirt in terror, the two targets crawled behind parked autos until the shootists rolled out of sight. No one was hurt, but the police were enraged by such public display.

Five days later, when the same pair encountered the same torpedoes, same location, they were ready. This time, Drucci and Weiss whipped their revolvers from their vests and began popping back. What followed was something of a Dodge City showdown replayed on a day-lit artery of a modern city. Innocent drivers, caught in the melee, careened into haphazard paths to avoid crossfire; Drucci snaked around their autos to maneuver closer to the enemy, loading and reloading the whole time. Barko's driver panicked when he realized Drucci had reached his running board and, jerking the car onto the sidewalk to escape, simultaneously unloaded the snarling baggage onto the pavement. Drucci, cut and bruised from the fall, limped after the evaders sending bullets across the span of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

Vincent Drucci
(Chicago Police Dept.)

By the time police squads managed to break through the resulting traffic jam, Drucci told them he was merely trying to chase some thieves who tried to steal his wallet. The best they could do was charge him with creating a public disturbance.

The lalapalooza was yet to come; the queen mother of impudence in the face of the law, the most careless and outlandish symbol of the Roaring Twenties up to that time, perpetrated by Chicago mobsters. It took place in Cicero, but it reeked of Chicago.

"Big Bill" Thompson, Chicago's gangster-friendly mayor, had surprisingly lost to reforming Democrat William Dever in 1923, forcing the then Torrio/Capone regime temporarily out of the city. Requiring a safe-haven during Dever's term in office, Capone forces took over the already corrupt government of Cicero, moving mob headquarters from the Metropole Hotel in the heart of the Loop to the Hawthorne Hotel in that little village just west of Chicago. Not much changed, except location. As he had done at the Metropole, Capone now held court in the three-story brick suburban hostelry, doing business as usual and away from Dever's annoying restoration. Between business, Scarface leisured over one of the many gaming tables in Cicero, placed horse bets with a bookie in Anton's Hotel next door, chatted with his crones in the Hawthorne Smoke Shop or dined in the hotel's homey restaurant where he slipped waitresses $20 tips with a wink. It was there, while enjoying lunch on the afternoon of September 20, 1926, that the North Siders came close to eradicating Big Al for good.

Richard Lindberg's Return to the Scene of the Crime – Chicago describes the action: "A caravan of six automobiles, coming from the west, proceeded slowly down 22nd Street. Only the barrels of the machine guns poking through the curtained windows of the cars were visible to eyewitnesses. The lead car, equipped with an alarm bell on the front, resembled a police flivver.

"The streets were crowded when the shooting started outside of Anton's Hotel. Machine gun fire raked the windows of Angelo Gurdi's barbershop, where Capone received his daily shave; a delicatessen; a laundry; and the Hawthorne Restaurant. In a final, murderous volley, a man dressed in khaki overalls stepped from the running board of one of the cars and approached the main entrance of the Hawthorne Hotel. With the machine gun resting on his knee. He sprayed the interior lobby the way a gardener might aim the nozzle of a hose at a dry lawn. Then the attack cars sped off, crossing the city limits back into Chicago."

Police later estimated that over one-thousand shots had been fired.

Frankie Rio, Capone's personal bodyguard, had yanked his boss to the floor when the shooting began. The coffee they had been drinking spilled on them, and they were covered with broken glass and slivers of wood from the window frame by the time the fusillade ended, but they were thankfully alive. Louis Barko, the gunsel who had caused Weiss and Drucci double trouble on Michigan Avenue a month earlier, had been slightly wounded. The only civilian injury was a Mrs. Freeman, who suffered a piece of glass in her eye. There would have been more had not the first barrage fired from the convoy been merely blanks designed to clear the streets of pedestrians.

Chicago historians believe that the attack had been designed by Moran and Weiss as a scare tactic, not necessarily as a murder attempt. They wanted to show their might and their belligerence. It worked. This time, Al was shaken. Because the man in the overalls had been identified by Capone allies as Pete Gusenberg, the North Side triggerman, Capone sent out word to O'Banion's avenging angels that they had made their point, and now it was time for a truce.

A peace meeting was held on October 4 at the Hotel Sherman in downtown Chicago. Capone wanted it simple, just one man representing his and the North Siders' interests; Tony Lombardo, head of the local Unione Siciliane, served as Capone's proxy and Hymie Weiss attended for his gang. Weiss was blunt: He and Moran would lay down arms on one condition and one condition only – that Capone turn over to them the two hitmen Scalise and Anselmi who had killed O'Banion. When Lombardo phoned in Weiss' request, Big Al grunted. "Why, you tell Weiss I wouldn't do that to a dog!" The dove had failed, and it was back to war-hawk tactics.

They came quickly. Exactly a week later, Hymie Weiss was shot to pieces.

That morning, October 11, 1926, Weiss had been observing trial proceedings for Joe Saltis, a South Side gangster accused of murder; it was later revealed that Weiss and Moran were pulling their influence with the courts to have him acquitted in return for his alliance against the Capone faction. After court adjourned for the day, Weiss left with an entourage who would return with him to the North Side headquarters above Schofield's Flower Shop to talk over the Saltis matter. These included William O'Brien (Saltis' attorney), Benjamin Jacobs (an alderman), Patrick Murray (Weiss' bodyguard) and Sam Peller (Weiss' bodyguard).

Holy Name Cathedral 

Parking on Superior, katty-corner from the flower shop, the group rounded the curb onto State in front of Holy Name Cathedral and proceeded directly towards the shop across the street. That's when two Thompson guns opened up from an upstairs window in a lodging house next to Schofield's. Hymie was killed instantly, as was Murray. The rest, wounded, managed to stagger from view back onto Superior Street. Bullets had blasphemously pockmarked Holy Name's façade; the cornerstone, in the line of fire had been so badly abused that entire words of its carved epitaph were obliterated. Instead of reading, "AD 1874 – At the Name of Jesus Every Knee Should Bow – Those That Are In Heaven and Those On Earth," it now read, "     Every Knee Should    Heaven And     On Earth".

That the slayers had had the nerve – and the opportunity -- to place their gunners' nest in a building less than twenty feet from Schofield's front door chilled Moran and Drucci, who suddenly found themselves minus another friend – and lieutenant. One by one the lads of Kilgubbin were dying on their home ground.

The surviving leaders determined that the Behemoth needed to be dethroned – somehow, any way -- before the local yokels began to sing: "Who holds the 42nd and 43rd Wards? CAPONE in his pistol pockets!"

1. Chicago's Own

2. Pals

3. Beer Barrel Bonanza

4. Battlefield Chicago

5. Bugs, Himself

6. Quest for the Mafia

7. St. Valentine's Day

8. Goodbye, Chicago

9. Bibliography

10. The Author
<< Previous Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 >> Next Chapter
Weekly Schedule
Forensic Files
Step by Step - NEW!
Wednesday@9:00pm E/P
When a woman tumbles down the stairs, everyone thinks it's an accident - until police get an anonymous tip.
The Investigators
Strange Felony Files
Sunday@11:00pm E/P
This real-life “Tales from the Crypt” brings a surreal twist to the true crime genre.

©2007 Turner Entertainment Digital Network, Inc. A Time Warner Company.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms & Privacy Guidelines