Them Damn Sicilians

"The suspense is killing me,

I can’t stand uncertainty.

Tell me now, I gotta know,

Whether you want me to stay or go."

--" Love Me or Leave Me"


From time to time, the North Siders would hijack a convoy of beer trucks belonging to the heavily Italian South Side mob organization under "Papa Johnny" Torrio. In retaliation, Torrio’s desperadoes would counteract, heisting O’Banion freight. Fearing open warfare, which would seriously inhibit the free flow of money under more peaceable conditions, entrepreneurial Torrio called Deanie personally. He was willing to compromise.

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Johnny Torrio
Deanie accepted, cautiously, bringing Weiss with him to the parley. The "wops need watching," Deanie claimed. Torrio was originally a Naples-born Brooklyn thug and graduate of the notorious Five Points Gang. He had come Chicago-way when his uncle, a restaurateur named Giacomo (Jim) Colosimo, enlisted his aid in defeating extortionists bent on taking over his gambling concessions and brothels. When Colosimo later refused to enter into the bootlegging business in 1920, and nephew Johnny saw millions slipping through his hands, the former wound up stiff on the foyer floor of his own eatery.

Immediately following Colosimo’s funeral, signs of Torrio’s empire building became manifest, brick by brick. In two short years, it spread west from his headquarters, the Four Deuces Club in the waterfront Levee District, to the outlying suburbs of Cicero and Forest View, and south from the Loop to the Indiana border. A tremendous slice of geography.

A Machiavellian, Torrio architected his rise to power by opportunities and maneuverability. He knew best where to place his forces, where to invest his profits, whose palms to grease, and he used people to his own benefit. He was the first to treat his underworld as a corporation; in fact, his design served as the blueprint for the solidification of Organized Crime over the decades to come.

Nowhere better is his ingenuity evidenced than in the combination of alliances that he created and fostered between him and other territorial gangs that would have otherwise been enemies. First, he set himself up as king, built a tremendous army of loyalists, then, with an etiquette given a European ambassador, searched out one Lilliputian foe at a time and convinced the rascal that it is easier to compromise than die. He would leave them to their own devices, let them reap their own spoils, but they would have to pay the king monthly tribute.

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Al Capone
His general, another Neapolitan from Brooklyn named Alphonse Capone, maintained vigil over the dynasty, making sure the agreements were kept and lending his own gunsels when an ally needed reinforcements to ward off an intruder. Capone, who it was said adored Torrio and would do anything "Papa Johnny" asked, had cut and slashed his way up the ranks, first being implicated in the Colosimo killing. A dapper dresser who wore talcum powder to lighten an ugly scar on his left cheek (the result of a knife fight in his teens), he hid behind the facade of an alias (as his business card read) "Al Brown, Used Furniture Dealer." More than Torrio; more than Jake Guzik, the mob’s "greasy thumb" bookkeeper; more than Frank Nitti, their enforcer; more than "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, their executioner; more than any of the others in Torrio’s regime, Deanie trusted Capone the least.

When Deanie and Hymie entered Torrio’s upstairs office at the Four Deuces that day to hear Torrio’s "compromise," Capone was there to serve as arbitrator. One glance from his boss told Hymie to watch him -- closely. The deal that Deanie heard was similar to the one Torrio had offered all others, but with embellishments. Because Deanie knew he owned the most lucrative beer territory in the city, and that "the greaseballs" (as he often referred to them) coveted it, he listened carefully to the nuances behind Torrio’s peacemaking treaty.

"We can’t kill each other, there’s too much for us both to lose," Torrio told him, dripping of the diplomat. Al Capone and Hymie Weiss listened, but studied each other suspiciously. "I offer you no interference in your territory, if you provoke none in mine. For a share of your industry, and since you are the man to watch, Signor O’Banion, I will make you a fair offer."

What Torrio suggested was that they share proceeds from various breweries on the North Side, including the prosperous Sieben Brewery on Larabee Street. In return, Deanie would partake of an equal share in a number of Capone-run distilleries and betting parlors in the suburbs.

With reluctance, and telling himself that he would continue to watch these Italians, he accepted. He had now become a member of the Chicago area combine that was divided into a number of territories: Torrio/Capone had the Loop and much of the vast South Side, along with a number of suburbs; Deanie retained the North Side; the Genna family and "Diamond Joe" Esposito had "Little Italy" southwest of the Loop; Edward "Spike" O’Donnell, the Kerry Patch district far south; William "Klondike" O’Donnell (no relation) the Far West Side; Terry Druggan and Frankie Lake, the Near West; Joe Saltis and Frankie McErlane, the Stock Yards neighborhood; and Roger Touhy, the far suburbs.

Over night, Deanie was back to his old tricks, hijacking Capone’s as well as others’ trucks. He dared the Italians to blame the actions on him and, if approached, tuned on the baby-innocent smile and the Irish charm. He seemed to be taunting Capone and "them damn Sicilians".

One hijack occurred in May 1922. Deanie and Dan McCarthy, murderous president of the plumbers’ union, were having breakfast at the Sherman House Hotel when a friendly bartender from across the street searched out Deanie with important news. A trucker carting a shipment of beer through the territory had just left his place where he had stopped for a morning drink; the truck was heading westbound. .

"O’Banion and McCarthy told the waitress to hold their food," author Curtis Johnson states in Wicked City. "They intercepted the truck at Randolph and Canal as it slowed for a stop sign. They brandished their revolvers and told the driver to get out." They parked the truck a block away, returning to the hotel to finish their breakfast. Afterwards, Deanie drove the vehicle "to Morton’s garage where Morton paid him $22,500 cash for the prize: 225 24-pint cases of aged, uncut, pre-WWI, 100-proof whiskey."

1. Leprechaun

2. A Normal Childhood

3. Lads of Kilgubbin

4. Volstead's Law

5. Them Damn Sicilians

6. The Flower Shop

7. Crazy Deanie

8. Cicero

9. An Impractical Joke

10. 'Night, Swell Fellow

11. Hello, Mt. Carmel

12. Bibliography

13. The Author
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