Bugs, Himself

"Don't let your heart grow too mellow,
Just be a real Punchinello, fellow..."

-- Laugh, Clown Laugh

Starting in 1926, the North Side gang began paving its way into legitimate business -- that is, in an illegitimate way. By taking over certain industries, such as the Dry Cleaners Union, they were preparing for the eventual end of Prohibition when money could no longer be made on bootleg alcohol. Prohibition was not, by any means gasping at that time, but high-profile politicians in Washington, such as the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt, senator from New York, were beginning to admit that the Volstead Act was a mistake. They began to quote a popular song whose lyrics rang:

"What’s the use of Prohibition
To produce the same condition?"

Helping them make ingress to the unions was a friend of Moran's, a wise-cracking but efficient labor pressurer, Maxie Eisen. During the year, he took a respite from the sordid business while he and his wife toured Europe. When he returned, immediately after Hymie Weiss' death, he was, to quote Robert J. Schoenberg's Mr. Capone, "properly appalled at how matters had degenerated" in the relationships between Chicago gangs. Sorrowed to see Weiss dead and worried that Moran or Drucci might be next, he convinced the latter two that, whether they liked it or not, the time had come to get some sense and contract peace with Capone.

Tony Lombardo
(Chicago Police Dept.)

"Close enough to what remained of the North Siders to appear a credible spokesperson, (Eisen) had also stayed aloof enough not to inspire instant suspicions of a setup," explains Schoenberg. "(He) arranged a first meeting with Tony Lombardo for Saturday, October 16. Both agreed this war had to stop."

Capone agreed. What resulted was a pow-wow of not only him and the North Side bunch, but all the hoodlum bosses in Chicago. Eisen and Lombardo, who directed the Unione Siciliane in Chicago, mediated. At the session's conclusion, a pact was drawn up that, on paper, read well – that there will be no more crossing of territories by rival outfits, that everyone will share the grapes of Chicago's booze industry, and that members of every gang will cease their taunting and name calling.

For the first time in years, there actually was peace.

In fact, the next major underworld death – that of Vinnie Drucci – was not the result of gangland squabbling, but of a fisticuff with a Chicago policeman. On April 4, 1927, Drucci was playing his part in the newly united syndicate's strategy to get their old friend, the Republican, "Big Bill" Thompson, re-elected in the upcoming mayoral election. Primaries were the next day and Moran and Drucci, representing their turf, had agreed to stymie the Democrat's North Side last-hurrahs by kidnapping 42nd Ward Alderman Dorsey R. Crowe, a vocal and go-get'em Dever supporter. Bursting into Crowe's office that morning, Drucci was angered to find that Crowe was not in; he pummeled the alderman's secretary and vandalized his office. Someone in the building must have heard the discord, for upon leaving the building, the troublemaker was arrested by two summoned policemen.

Drucci, handcuffed and shoved into the backseat of their squad car, cursed his luck and cussed the "coppers," telling them exactly where he would like to see them go in a hand-basket. Officer Dan Healy turned around from the front seat to warn Drucci to shut his mouth. That detonated the other. He struck the cop. Healy drew his pistol, demanding again that the mobster curb his tongue, but in a single, terse move, Drucci shoved Healy while trying to yank the revolver from his hand. Healy shot and Drucci jolted backwards, his chest ripped open.

At his grand send-off of a funeral, the Schemer's blonde flapper wife Cecilia told reporters, in the same proud-yet-bitter tone of a war hero's widow: "He was a wonderful husband, but a cop killed him for nothing."

Standing over his coffin, George Moran probably shared his sorrow over his pal with another concern: He was now the last and solo leader of the North Side Irish. And Capone was still out there, larger than life. And, despite the peace treaty, had been making allusions to coveting the profitable Gold Coast.

According to The Dry and Lawless Years by Judge John H. Lyle, Chicago's entrepreneurs and hoi-polloi refused to buy their liquor supply from Capone, a fact which made Capone jealous of Moran, who stood in good favor with them. Lyle quotes Deputy Detective Chief John Stege as having told him in conversation, "The North Shore millionaires, businessmen and country clubs buy their liquor from Moran. On the South Shore they do business with Ralph Sheldon (another bootlegger). These people don't trust Capone. They're afraid that if they open the door to him the Mafia will be after them with blackmail and shakedowns."

Bugs Moran staffed up his organization while arming for a fight that he feared might be coming. With Hymie Weiss and Vinnie Drucci gone, his forces – and probably confidence, too -- were depleting. Other old pals, Louis Alterie, Nails Morton, Dan McCarthy were either dead or gone on their way to other pursuits. He began an alliance with Terry Druggan, a South Side fellow Irishman who had fallen out of graces with Capone, and from whom he could call on for gun hands. As well, he hired an aide-de-campe in the form of Ted Newberry, a sharp rumrunner who knew the business. A small brigade of new gunsels included Billie Skidmore, Jake Zuta, and Barney Bertsche. Willie Marks headed up his union campaign. All these were put on 24-hour-watch, along with the regular hangers-on who had been with the North Side regiment since the O'Banion days. Among these were the enforcing Gusenberg brothers, accountant Adam Heyer, speakeasy operator Albert Weinshank, bodyguard James Clark and liquor driver John May, who doubled as the gang's mechanic for their fleet of vehicles.

Another move Moran made, in 1928, was to ditch the gang's old headquarters above Schofield's Flower Shop. Old man Schofield, the proprietor, had been making too much noise over the bad reputation his place was receiving in the newspapers, due to the deaths of Deanie O'Banion, then Weiss. As well, Moran agreed that, yes, because of that notoriety, every daigo in Chicago who wanted to draw a bead on him or his boys knew where to find them. He decided to relocate to an office space at 127 North Dearborn in the heart of the Loop, less conspicuous than the shop squatting amid residential rooming houses and private homes.

Most of the gang business, however, was conducted at the old S-M-C Cartage Company garage on North Clark Street back in the Kilgubbin district. Even though the freight handlers had abandoned the structure a couple of years back, Moran left the name of the firm on the front window, for it provided an excellent excuse for his unmarked beer trucks to roll in, unload and load, at all hours of the day and night. Besides being a depot, it also provided the gang with a place to have their vehicles repaired by mechanic Johnny May while they hung out to shoot the breeze. When renting the place from its owner, Moran played it safe. He had Adam Heyer, whose name was not publicly identified with "gangsterism," sign the two-year lease.

From their respective vantage points, Moran and Capone, now back in Chicago with the return of crafty Mayor Thompson, simply waited and watched each other keenly. There was some contention, bloodless. Moran owned a dog-track in southern Illinois that burned to the ground; Capone was the suspected arsonist. Not long after, Capone's Hawthorne Race Track near Chicago met the same fate.

Big Al's reticence to attack Moran outright was well-founded "With Bugs Moran (now) leading the gang, Capone realized that the war with the North Siders would continue and more than likely become more bloody – such was Moran's way," says [Da Mob]  website. "It was hard to find a mob shoot-out in the 1920s in which Moran was not a leading player."


Behind the façade of gangster, George Clarence Moran was an enigma. A tough guy he was, no doubt, but he loved to crinkle up his face in a good laugh. When it came to "them damn Sicilians," he was void of scruples, but he attended Mass regularly and thought of himself as a practicing Catholic. Like the rest of his North Side pals, he carried a rosary bead in his trousers pocket to pray that a hit would go off well. He hated prostitution and called Capone a "pimp".

To the outside world he was a fashion plate – on the job he preferred either a blue serge or brown, slightly pinstriped, suit topped with a milk-colored or brown fedora. If on the town at night with the Kilgubbin boys or escorting a socialite's daughter to the Civic Opera House, he wore tails. Yet, in the comfort of his apartment, he enjoyed loose yard clothes and a pair of floppy slippers

Thirty-four years old in 1927, the year he inherited full control of the North Side mob, he had begun showing signs of domesticity. A lover of brunettes, he married one in 1926, a showgirl who was full-blooded Sioux but went by the stage name of Alice Roberts. Moran coveted his time with her.

George & Alice Moran 

Reports crime historian Jay Robert Nash, "Leaving police headquarters one day, the dapper Moran swept an expansive hand past a stunning brunette sitting in his car 'Gentlemen,' he said to several newspaper reporters, 'my wife. If anybody comes looking for me you can tell them this is our wedding anniversary and we're going roller skating.' A sight to behold! George 'Bugs' Moran, two guns bulging beneath his expensive jacket, racing about a rink on roller skates."

The couple first lived in an upper-crust apartment building on Belden Avenue, then moved to the more secure Parkway Hotel at 2100 Lincoln, walking distance to the

S-C-M Cartage garage. They seemed to be a happy couple; by all accounts, Moran was extremely faithful. If it wasn't for the sight of a bodyguard with shoulder-holster lingering in the hallway outside their flat, the Morans might have been any other high-income business couple.

Criminal Courts Judge John H. Lyle, who presided at many a Moran hearing, remembers Moran as one of the more human, albeit complex, racketeers.

He could be humorous. One morning in court Lyle noticed that Moran repeatedly had requested a change of venue. "Don't you like me, Moran?" asked Lyle. "Oh, I like you, Your Honor," the defendant replied, "but I'm suspicious of you."

On another occasion, Lyle bumped into the gangster at Wrigley Field where he was watching a Cubs baseball game. Noticing the judge, he politely took off his hat and shook the magistrate's hand. "Judge, that's a beautiful diamond ring you're wearing," Moran gleamed. "If it's snatched some night, promise you won't go hunting me. I'm telling you now I'm innocent."

And he could be as tough as nails. Take the time he showed up at court on a minor charge and was mistakenly identified as a runaway felon. Lyle muses, "Late one afternoon in chambers I heard a commotion in the bull pen where prisoners were kept pending court call. Investigating, I found Bugs, white with fury, battling three bailiffs. He had a handcuff on one wrist, but the other cuff was free and he was attempting to use it as a form of brass knuckles. He halted at sight of me. 'Sorry, Judge, but these clowns were trying to throw me back in the can."

For all his rough-and-tumble behavior, Bugs Moran was a businessman after all. If he had lacked mission in his younger days, he had learned much from O'Banion, through personal experience and, strange to say, by observing Torrio. He had learned that the best way to avoid trouble was to prevent it from occurring. And trouble was coming big-time; he sensed it. Capone was ambitious, he wanted Chicago, all of it, and Moran was in the way. Capone's firepower was enormous. Moran had a few dependable guns.

That is why, out of the clear blue, he decided to help one of his oldest enemies, the Mafia, expediently douse one of its own allies, Alphonse Capone.

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
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