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GEORGE "BUGS" MORAN: HIS WAR WITH AL CAPONE
Pals


"We were rough and ready guys,
But oh how we could harmonize... "

-- Heart of My Heart

Born in 1893 on farm land near Minneapolis, Minnesota, little George Moran's parents, a good-natured Irish father and a devoutly religious Polish mother, brought him to the "City of Big Shoulders," Chicago, around 1899. As if the six-year-old took the moniker that poet Carl Sandburg had given his new town literally, Georgie Moran quickly developed a handsome girth and a set of broad shoulders. Those who knew the family said he inherited his mother's studious brown eyes and his father's features that sparkled of the map of Ireland.

The Morans (whom some researchists say might have been actually named Morrissey) settled in the Irish-populated urban area north of the Chicago River called Kilgubbin. It was a spider web of streets, a ten-minute trolleycar ride from Chicago's downtown Loop, dinned with the cacophony of a hundred what-not markets, billiards halls, saloons, honky-tonks and dance joints, most of which Moran lingered in or in the alleys behind them rather than attending school. Learning young that his father's laboring talents rarely earned the daily bread, and that the stomach required food, he began making nickels and dimes on his own. A quick way to do that was by emulating some of the Wild West outlaws he undoubtedly had read of in the popular dime novels of the day. He kidnapped horses off delivery wagons and held them in abandoned garages or storefronts until the owner paid a ransom. While some of his friends laughed and called him "Jesse James" or "Little Horse-Napper," his reply was always, "Hell, it's a living 'till something better comes along."

Michigan Ave, Chicago 

Kilgubbin was referred to at times as "Hell's Kitchen," for two reasons. Certain portions of it were citywide notorious, such as one intersection not far from Moran's home that claimed, according to the police, a murder every night. The district also incubated gangs of youthful toughs, many of them not out of puberty, whose fatal star led them to felonious crime and sometimes shootouts with the police before they were 21 years old. Moran's earliest pals, who were also to become lifelong ones, may have sung beside him in the boys' choir at Holy Name Cathedral, but they abandoned all sanctity with the removal of their spotless white cassocks every Sunday afternoon.

O'Banion in his 20's 

Leading the delinquents of Kilgubbin into whose dubious company young Moran fell was the impish Charles Dion O'Banion, whom intimates called "Deanie". Walking with a slight limp because of a streetcar accident as a child, the little bantam O'Banion was the cock o' the walk, afraid of no one and nothing; glib and personable, he could easily talk anyone into anything. Much the same, he was equally talented with a blackjack, which he used to convince when not feeling particularly verbal.

Under O'Banion's command, Moran stopped stealing glue-nags and followed the other, who was a year older and much wiser, and whom he idolized, through a parade of nightly activities that included pickpocketing, shoplifting, breaking and entry and, eventually, armed holdup and safecracking. Others to whom felt drawn to Deanie's fast-buck methods as well as to his Gaelic charisma were a skinny Polish kid named Earl Wajcieckowski and a moody Italian, Vincent "Vinnie" Drucci. Earl's immigrant parents had found their last name irreconcilable to Americans outside the Polish circle, so they shortened it to Weiss; the boys took to calling him simply "Hymie". Because of Drucci's penchant for calculating successful robberies, Deanie nicknamed him "The Schemer."

It didn't take the precinct police long to figure out that this group of teenagers were the thieves who were robbing Kilgubbin merchants blind. Ten-cent stores, meat markets, produce shops, no locked shutters discouraged Deanie's hellions. But, when they tried to rob a warehouse in 1912, night watchmen heard them. They all got away, except 19-year-old Moran. He was hustled off to Joliet State Prison, south of Chicago, for a twenty-four month stint.

Cold gray walls, filthy cells, long and tedious work hours doing jobs a simian could be trained to perform, chow that tasted like rubber, and guards meaner by a long shot than the convicts, Moran lived for the day he would be free again. That day came, and when he returned in 1914 it was as a hero. After all, he'd been the one among'em who could boast of having been "up the river" and survived. Best of all and gangleader O'Banion pointed this out -- Moran took the dive for all of them, never squealing despite police interrogation. "Loyalty, lads," he said, "is the sign of a good egg, a trusting egg. Moran is aces with me!"

Despite their criminality, loyalty was to prove the unwavering foundation of what would soon become known as (despite the presence of a Weiss and a Drucci) the North Side Irish Gang.

Moran fell right in amongst his old crones, thrilled to be back and wanting to catch up on what he missed in Kilgubbin. The game had matured the gang was no longer pilfering handfuls of ten-spots from hardware store cash registers nor lifting crates of tomatoes from green-grocers' alley windows; the challenges now were racks of tuxedos and women's furs from downtown clothiers to be sold underground through big-time mob channels, or warehouse safes, the money from which would be divvied up among the gang.

These escapades promised adventure, and delivered. During one safecracking attempt, Moran the apprentice overfused the dynamite and blew out the brick wall of the place they were robbing; the safe door hadn't budged. Unhurt but for their posteriors, the thieves escaped over the rubble laughing, no worse for wear. When not stealing, the boys picked up loose cash by serving as enforcers for the Herald-Examiner newspaper in a day when publishers fought like opposing gangs; Moran and company terrified newsstand owners selling the rival Chicago Tribune through intimidation, beating and arson.

Of the Kilgubbin hooligans, Moran was the least likely to contain his emotions. Deanie O'Banion, when ired, kept a smile when insulted, but got even later. Weiss and Drucci, not as subtle, were learning steadfastly to control their outward tempers. But, George Moran was finding containment a difficult practice; he didn't stew, he simply exploded. He erupted. As spontaneous to anger as he was equally poised for a horselaugh, Moran's volatility identified him in Kilgubbin with a sobriquet that was to stick with him the remainder of his life: "Bugs". At first he detested the idea of it, but then it dawned on him that with a name like Bugs even the toughest of the tough stepped out of his way.

McGovern's cabaret 

Weekends, the group would hang about dimly lit, smoky McGovern's cabaret on North Clark Street where O'Banion part-timed as a singing waiter. While their Deanie waited tables, vocalizing tender ditties in lilting tones (he had a fine Irish tenor), Moran and the others picked drunks' pockets or rolled them for their billfolds in the lavatory. But, they befriended others, guys of their own mold characters such as Sammy Morton, who called himself "Nails," and who fenced stolen autos on the west side of the Loop; Louie Alterie, union breaker with a fascination for the Old West and with a Jesse James complex; and "Dapper Dan" McCarthy, an army deserter and plumber who basked in his love for couture clothing.

But, McGovern's, for all its seediness, also offered the gang a ladder out of the gutters. At the cabaret, it met and ingratiated itself with the favored politicos and union bosses who frequented its conviviality after work hours. Mostly Irish, they liked O'Banion, they liked Moran, and considered their piratical personalities earthy respite from the stuffy professional world. Never one to miss an opportunity, and exceedingly erudite at all times, O'Banion persuaded them that he and his fighting Mulligans could help end contract disputes or swing votes at election times. "We're a diverse lot," Deanie grinned, "And we wear our brass knuckles with style, sir!" The judges, aldermen, industry captains and City Hall potentates were impressed. Not the type to soil their own hands, they needed soiled hands to do such dirty work for them. Dwelling in the ritzy Lincoln Park lakefront area, a politically and economically important stretch of Lake Michigan property at the eastern end of the 42nd and 43rd wards, they had no intention of losing their status. They came to depend on O'Banion, Moran and the Kilgubbin lads.

Says Jay Robert Nash in Bloodletters and Badmen: "Deanie's boys swarmed through poling places, stuffing ballot boxes, herding floaters and repeaters through the lines, and bribing officials to dump votes for the opposition." Sometimes the gang needed to resort to "employing strong-arm squads who bashed in the heads of stubborn election judges and counters."

Favors done, favors earned, the O'Banionites' growing political support kept them out of jail. When Moran was once again arrested on suspicion of robbery, a judge let him off after a mild brashing. Drucci, Weiss and O'Banion too savored their prestige. "Police found their prints on the dial of a safe at the Parkview Tea Room, which they had robbed," explains Nash, "(but) a bribed jury quickly acquitted the burglars. Walking from court, O'Banion jerked a thumb at Weiss and side-mouthed to reporters, 'It was an oversight. Hymie was supposed to wipe off the prints and he forgot." The remark drew a belly laugh.

But, in 1917, when George Moran was caught red-handed in the midst of an armed robbery attempt in a Loop department store, in front of many witnesses, there was very little even the wardsmen could do. He was a three-time loser in the eyes of the courtroom and, especially since the police department needed convictions to cover recent charges of corruption, Moran returned to dreary Joliet for five more years. The best Deanie could do was promise to take care of him when he was released.

"We'll ride to the top together, lad, I'll see to it," he said. "No more prison rags for you."

He kept that promise.


  CHAPTERS
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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