1925 -- War in Chicago
1. Genre authors are
scattered on this subject. Pasley writes that Torrio took off for Hot
Springs, Arkansas, New Orleans, The Bahamas, Havana, Cuba, and Palm Springs,
Florida-- chased by Weiss gunmen all the way. Kobler repeats these locations
and adds St. Petersburg, Florida. Schoenberg cites Pasley with the same
locations, but asserts the multi-city chase may have been more rumor than fact (if
Torrio knew Weiss' killers were after him, why would he have left himself
unguarded on January 24, 1925?). Bergreen
cites Asbury's "Gem of the Prairie" (no sources listed there) to describe the
2. As most keenly seen with ex-FBI agent turned author William Roemer, who spent too much time listening to wire tap recordings of 1960s Chicago mob figures. Roemer built a phantom history of the Chicago mob based on their taped latter-day testosterone, alcohol and drug-induced ramblings. Roemer's wildly embarrassing published accounts of the St. Valentine's day massacre, his ridiculous claim that it was Capone who tried to kill Torrio on 01/24/25, and his tales of mass gang killings in Las Vegas that never occurred have, at times, actually been accepted as insider history of organized crime. In fact, Bill Roemer's writings are replete with well-intentioned male bovine manure. Back
3. In addition to the Thompson machinegun, another extremely lethal weapon of choice among Chicago gangs was the automatic shotgun: a deadly combination of the devastating effects of a manual shotgun with the quickness of an automatic weapon. The load of choice was most often .57 caliber slugs, able to penetrate automobiles and walls. Back
4. At some point in Weiss' all-out assault on the Gennas, Al Capone must have felt an amazed and grudging admiration. His fiercest enemy was eliminating his most threatening enemy. Back
5. Scalise and Anselmi were arrested, but several trials and re-trials, featuring tainted witnesses and bribed jury members, found them innocent. Donated and extorted mob money paid for their defense team, whose outrageous and hateful arguments somehow managed to turn Scalise and Anselmi into victims-- in an incident in which they shot three policemen. This was one of the most unjust episodes of the 1920s Chicago gang wars. Back
6. Intriguing, but the events of the incident tell a different story. Scalise and Anselmi, ever eager to move up, turned on the Gennas, but probably did so with the death of of Tony Genna. The third Genna to die was definitely a Capone hit, no doubt featuring the Sicilian murder duo. In retrospect, the deadly Gennas were caught in a demonic vise between Weiss and Capone, and once Scalise and Anselmi became "Capone guys", the Gennas were simply cooked. Back
7. Killed in the early morning of December 26, 1925, at the Adonis Social Club on 20th Street in Brooklyn, were White Hand boss Richard "Pegleg" Lonergan, and gunmen Cornelius "Needles" Ferry and Aaron Harms. Several others were wounded, and the Irish White Hand threat to Yale was crushed. Remarkably, Capone was listed in the New York newspapers as the Club's "bouncer" and a "former Chicago gunman"--obviously, his fame had not yet spread to the East Coast. Back
1925 -- War in Chicago
Events happened quickly.
Immediately after O'Banion's November 1924 murder and funeral, Johnny Torrio hurriedly left Chicago, acutely aware of Hymie Weiss' rage. One of the most difficult-to-document episodes of this history is the truth or myth that Weiss sent gunmen after Torrio as he bounded from one North American destination to another.1
This small episode in the Weiss story is a reminder of the influence casual authors and gangsters have traditionally had on all aspects of the history of Prohibition Chicago, and on the history of American organized crime in general: rumors, tall tales and embellishments have always been a staple ingredient of the chronicle, providing a sometimes confusing array of false information and a great deal of very bad history.2
That a furious and motivated Weiss would have immediately gone after Torrio, as the ultimate power behind O'Banion's death, is reasonable. Whether his gunmen chased a fleeing Torrio to Florida and Cuba is not fully documented-- but, given that Weiss caught up with Torrio on January 24, 1925, a scant two months and four days after O'Banion's death, it is likely he had a team of killers on Torrio's trail from the day after O'Banion's funeral.
The first hit, however, slammed Capone. Weiss, Drucci and Moran armed with shotguns and a machine gun caught up with Al Capone at State and 55th Streets on the morning of January 12, 1925. As his car pulled up to a business he owned, Capone went inside, leaving his driver and two bodyguards in the car. Within seconds, the Northsiders car tore past, unleashing a fusillade of lead at the vehicle. The bodyguards hit the floor, the driver was hit but survived. Capone was very lucky to be alive.
This was the first of three direct attempts on Capone's life by Weiss, each one leaving Capone increasingly shaken and deeply concerned about his number in the Prohibition dead pool.
Twelve days after the machine gun attack on Capone, January 24, 1925, the three Northsider musketeers hit forty-six-year-old Chicago crime boss Johnny Torrio.
As Torrio was returning from shopping in The Loop with his wife and a bodyguard, Hymie Weiss, George Moran, and Vincent Drucci waited in their Cadillac around the corner from Torrio's lush apartment in South Chicago, and watched until his car drove up. Typical of their shear fearlessness, Weiss with a sawed-off shotgun, and Moran with an automatic pistol in each hand, charged Torrio as he left his car and started up the walkway to his apartment. With Drucci behind the wheel looking out for additional Torrio gunmen, Weiss neutralized the bodyguard with several rounds into the car, then Weiss and Moran went after the fleeing Torrio. They cut him down in a cross-fire as he ran for the apartment front door, hitting him in the neck, right arm and groin. Moran rushed up to the prone crime boss and pressed an automatic to the bloodied Torrio's temple for a kill shot-- but two things happened.
Moran's pistol clicked on an empty chamber and Drucci hit the car horn in a pre-arranged terminate-the-hit signal (when another vehicle drove up). The trio escaped, and Chicago saw the end of Prohibition's premiere mastermind, Johnny Torrio.
The Torrio hit is vintage Weiss-- an in-your-face throw-down, with the dirty work performed not by second-tier Northsider gunmen, but by the bosses themselves. It was also well orchestrated, with Drucci at the wheel perhaps providing base cover with a machinegun, and the hit terminated (no matter what) at a pre-arranged signal. Torrio barely survived, with Al Capone responding frantically to the emergency hospital in a panic and uncharacteristically spilling his guts to the press, "The gang did it, the gang did it!
After surgery and a long recuperation, Torrio did his short jail time (in a furnished jail cell with mob-funded extra guards) for the O'Banion Sieben Brewery frame-up. The day he was released from "jail", Johnny Torrio left Chicago forever, escorted by a palace guard of Capone gunmen, his bags no doubt crammed with several million dollars in well-earned combine cash. Johnny Torrio hurriedly left for New York City and Europe, placing his carefully crafted criminal cabal in the hands of Alfonse Capone.
These were difficult times for Capone: he had lost his long-time mentor, Torrio-- the man that gave Al Capone everything he had. And now, Hymie Weiss and his Northsiders, who hit Torrio and ran him out of Chicago, could now concentrate on getting Big Al.
Unfortunately for the Gennas, Weiss now took time to turn his fierce attention to them. On May 25, 1925, Angelo Genna was driving his automobile on Ogden Street when another car intercepted him and shotguns were fired in his direction.3 Accelerating to sixty miles an hour on city streets, Angelo fired a revolver out the driver's side window as he drove, doing his best to escape the Northsider hit team of Hymie Weiss, Vincent Drucci, and George Moran, with Peter Gusenberg at the wheel. But a frantic Angelo skidded trying to make a turn and hit a lamppost. As Angelo Genna tried to clear his head, and as he grabbed for another loaded pistol, the Northsiders pulled up next to his car and fired numerous shotgun slugs into his body.
On June 13, 1925, a bizarre series of events led to the death of Mike Genna, and two Chicago police officers.
Mike Genna was a prime target for Weiss-- he was the man who shook Dion O'Banion's hand in the Torrio hit. Kobler speculates that Weiss' people set up an ambush via one Sam Samoots Amutuna, who guaranteed to have Mike Genna, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi at the corner of Sangamon and Congress Streets at an appointed hour. This would be the ideal hit for the Northsiders-- killing the three men who killed Dean O'Banion.4
But it was a double-cross. Sam Amatuna was working for the Gennas.
As George Moran and Vincent Drucci frantically drove to the designated street corner, the Genna gang was waiting for them. A fusillade of shots erupted, and Drucci and Moran sped off to save their lives. With Drucci slightly wounded and their dying car shredded by shotgun slugs, Drucci and Moran ditched the car and fled on foot, making their way safely back to Northsider territory.
As the Gennas began cruising around the neighborhood looking to finish off their quarry, a car full of Chicago police spotted them, recognized the gangsters, and gave chase. A truck pulling into the street forced the Genna gangsters to swerve and hit (yet another) light pole. Mike Genna, Scalise and Anselmi, piled out of their car with shotguns ready as the police car skidded to a halt nearby. The officers got out of their car and a furious gun battle erupted, with three of the four officers going down immediately-- two of them dead. Scalise, Anselmi, and Mike Genna fled on foot, chased by the surviving officer who was joined by responding on-duty and off-duty Chicago policemen.
Mike Genna, running through backyards of tenement buildings, turned to face the pursuing officer, raised his shotgun and clicked on an empty weapon. The officer fired back, hitting Genna in the leg and severing an artery. Mike Genna went down, and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.5
Another version of this story has Scalise and Anselmi, betraying the Gennas, already on Capone's payroll. In the process of taking Mike Genna for a one-way ride, as the story goes, they were interrupted by the police who gave chase. But this is is not a likely scenario.6
On July 8, 1925, Tony Genna was shot to death by Capone gunmen-- the third Genna family member murdered in a little over six weeks. The rest of the family either immediately fled the fertile mother lode of Little Italy or went into deep cover, and were never again a factor in the Chicago crime wars.
Now, with three Genna brothers eliminated, Hymie Weiss and Al Capone methodically completed the destruction of the Genna empire. For Capone it meant killing off another half dozen of the Genna gang's bench players and capturing the Unione Sicilione; for Weiss it meant knocking off his own share of the rapidly dwindling Genna roster, and clearing the decks to again focus on hitting Capone.
On July 22, 1925, Genna allies Sam Samoots Amatuna and his henchmen Eddie Zion and Bummy Goldstein took control of the Unione. During a seventeen day stretch in November, all three were shot to death, as roving Capone and Weiss teams almost competed with each other to erase every name on the official Genna gang membership list.
Vincent Drucci found and eliminated the duplicitous Samoots Amatuna in a Chicago barbershop on November 10, 1925, in a hit that would be echoed thirty-two years later when Gambino family head Albert Anastasia was shot to death in a barber's chair in the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City.
In December 1925, Capone took leave of Chicago for New York City, to serve two critical people in his life: his son (Sonny), whose severe left ear infection required Capone to seek a renowned New York surgeon; and Frankie Yale, whose New York enterprises were threatened by a gang of New York Irish "White Handers".
Both New York operations were successful: Capone's son's infection was stopped, and the Irish gang threatening Yale was personally bushwacked by Capone, and his new employees, Scalise and Anselmi, in a Brooklyn club.7 That he personally led the ambush reflects Capone's physical courage and his deep loyalty to Frankie Yale. Yale would reciprocate with a cross-country hard liquor deal that would dramatically enrich both gangsters empires.
Capone was still expanding his criminal cabal, and, as the stakes grew higher, the war between Hymie Weiss and Al Capone would get much deadlier.