The man who challenged
Earl "Hymie" Weiss
It is one of
the amazing ironies of the 20th century
The $100 million a year Prohibition-fed criminal empire created by Johnny Torrio and Al Capone in Chicago between 1920 to 1931 was not without its serious challengers. The biggest threat to this massive organization was not from arrest or prosecution by police, the district attorney, or the city's elected officials (each of whom had numerous members on the Torrio-Capone payroll). Capone and Torrio faced their greatest challenge from a single rival: the Northsiders gang.
First led by Dean O'Banion, the Irish-Polish-Italian-Jewish rainbow coalition known as the Northsiders peeled off from an initial wary co-existence with the Torrio combine to wage all out war for survival and domination. After O'Banion was killed in 1924, his partner and successor, Earl "Hymie" Weiss, had two life goals: the destruction of Capone and Torrio to avenge O'Banion, and total domination of Chicago bootlegging and rackets.
The most oft-quoted word-bite about Weiss is that he was the only man Al Capone ever truly feared. Considering Capone cut a bloody swath through Chicago for eleven years, this is a seriously significant statement. Weiss was seemingly without fear, and, if the word can be used to describe what was otherwise criminal behavior, he was also courageous. During his short life, Weiss was both hunter and hunted, engaging in open gun battles on the streets of Chicago in a two front gang war with the Torrio/Capone outfit and with Torrio's erstwhile allies, the deadly Sicilian Genna brothers. Both O'Banion and Weiss were complex, thoughtful, and brutally violent men. They were also devoutly religious and loyal to each other and to the men who comprised their Northside gang-- a loyalty so strong it took the St. Valentine's Day massacre to finally snuff it out.
The subject of Chicago gangland in the 1920s, and the unique social experiment known as Prohibition, have inspired a rich history of publication, the majority of which focuses on Al Capone. These also include newspaper accounts from the 1920s, excellent work by a number of current and past researchers and historians, and contemporary television documentaries.
In 1920, the United States enacted a law to ban the manufacture and sale of liquor in America-- the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In one of the amazing ironies of the 20th century, this unique social experiment, the intent of which was to create domestic morality, actually established the roots of organized crime in America.
This website is a research work in progress. The author welcomes comments, questions, and dialogue about this amazing period in American history. For more information and further contacts on this subject, visit the Notes & Comments, Bibliography, and Links sections of this website.
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--Richard J. Dyer
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