- Historic Sites
Said Chicago’s Al Capone:“I Give The Public What The Public Wants…”
What the public wanted, it seemed, was a vice and bootleg business netting sixty million dollars a year-and many gangland funerals
February/March 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 2
In his detailed account of crime and politics, Barbarians in Our Midst , Virgil W. Peterson, director of the Chicago Crime Commission, described the Cicero election as “one of the most disgraceful episodes in American municipal history.” Armed with machine guns, Capone mobsters (some two hundred by Kobler’s count) “manned the polls. Automobiles filled with gunmen patrolled the streets. Polling places were raided and ballots stolen at gunpoint. Voters were kidnapped and transported to Chicago where they were held captive until after the polls closed.” Apprised of the reign of terror, a Cook County judge dispatched over a hundred patrolmen and detectives from Chicago to Cicero, and gun battles between gangsters and police raged through the afternoon. Among the several fatal casualties was Big Al’s brother, Frank Capone. President Klenha was handily re-elected. “And Cicero,” observed Virgil Peterson, “became known throughout the nation as one of the toughest places in America, a reputation it was to retain for many years.”
Capone’s stunning conquest of Cicero left little doubt in the minds of rival mobsters that a new and formidable leader had arrived in their midst. From Torrio he had acquired the organizational skills to put together a tightly disciplined army of thugs, hit men, and specialists in assorted vices; and with them—after the retirement of Torrio in 1925—he proceeded to wrest from his rivals a large piece of virtually any racket he fancied.
Directly under Capone on the organizational flow chart was his good friend and business manager, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik. For liaison with the Unione Siciliane , there was Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti. His departmental chieftains included, for bootlegging operations, Capone’s brother Ralph (nicknamed “Bottles”) and his cousin, Charlie Fischetti; for brothels, Mike de Pike Heitler; and for gambling, Frank Pope. Farther down on the chart were Capone’s musclemen: Jim Belcastro, the bomber of breweries; Phil D’Andrea, the sharpshooting bodyguard; and Samuel Hunt, alias “Golf Bag,” so-called for the luggage in which he preferred to carry his shotgun. (Golf Bag’s first intended victim survived the buckshot, Kobler notes, and was thereafter known as “Hunt’s hole in one.”) Other torpedoes of importance included Anthony Accardo (alias Joe Batters), Sam Giancana, Paul “The Waiter” Ricca, Murray “The Camel” Humphreys, and Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, whose real name was DeMora and to whom police over the years attributed no fewer than twenty-two murders.
For the most part, Capone’s lieutenants enjoyed an esprit de corps unlike that of any other mob in Chicago. There was no place in the organization for men who would not adhere to a code of unfaltering loyalty and rigid discipline. Despite the predilection of some associates for booze and cigars, Capone insisted on keeping his troops in fine fighting shape. In one headquarters spread, at the Hotel Metropole, two rooms were set aside as a gymnasium and equipped with punching bags and rowing machines.
A subsequent command post was established in the Lexington Hotel. Capone occupied a corner suite, presiding at the head of a long mahogany conference table. Framed on the wall behind him were portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mayor William Hale Thompson. Two floors below, in a maids’ changing room, a hinged full-length mirror concealed a secret door leading to an adjacent office building. Capone used it frequently to frustrate those who tried to pry into the pattern of his daily itinerary.
He lived constantly within a shield of armed guards. When he dined in public, the bar of the chosen restaurant would be crowded—in advance—by his trusted henchmen. When he went to the theater, twelve seats were reserved for him and his entourage in the rear of the house, where vigilance was easy. In transit, the custom-built Cadillac was always preceded by a scout car, and followed by a touring car filled with his most proficient marksmen. His headquarters swivel chair had an armor-plate back. He crossed sidewalks and hotel lobbies in a huddle of bodies three deep. Yet for all these precautions, no life insurance company would write him a policy. Capone and his kind had been going to too many funerals, and too many rivals were planning a funeral for Capone.
On the North Side, for example, there was Dion O’Banion, the choirboy-turned-safecracker, and now ostensibly a florist, who had supplied twenty thousand dollars in wreaths and arrangements for the funeral of the slain Frank Capone. “A most unusual florist,” observed Virgil Peterson, for O’Banion “not only furnished flowers … but also provided the corpses.” Chicago police said he was responsible for twenty-five murders. O’Banion detested Capone. Among the choirboy’s chief lieutenants was George “Bugs” Moran, whom history remembers not only as the inspiration for a memorable Valentine’s greeting from Al Capone, but as the man who first produced and directed murder-by-motorcade, a system whereby, if all went well, the victim was rapidly riddled from a slow procession of passing cars.