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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Chicago Mobster Charles Dean O’Banion

charles-o-banionCharles Dean O’Banion, better known as Dion O’Banion, is born to Irish Catholic parents in Maroa, Illinois on July 8, 1892. He graduates from the violent newspaper wars of early 20th century Chicago to become the chief bootlegging rival of mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio.

After the death of his mother in 1901, O’Banion moves with his family to a North Side neighborhood populated largely by other Irish Americans. The neighborhood, then known as Kilgubbin after an Irish place name and now called Goose Island, is notorious for its high crime rate, and O’Banion by all accounts fit easily into that environment. In his teens, he forms a street gang with Earl “Hymie” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran with whom he continues to associate throughout his life.

Chicago of the period is, according to Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, a “wide open city.” Wide open for rackets such as prostitution and gambling, and wide open for violent competition among gangsters. Bombings and murder are met with token official resistance but are often settled by uneasy truces among the rivals.

The violence extends to the press. O’Banion and his friends are “sluggers” for, first, the Chicago Tribune and later for the Tribune’s rival, the Chicago Examiner. Sluggers intimidate sellers and readers of the wrong newspaper. Although played for laughs in stage and film in productions such as The Front Page, the Chicago newspaper wars are quite violent and include lethal gunfights in saloons and on the streets.

In 1909, O’Banion is arrested and convicted of robbery and assault.

The newspapers wars are a good warm-up for O’Banion’s work as a bootlegger when Prohibition comes into effect in 1920. Chicago, with its large population of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe, is a town that loves its beer, wine and liquor. Almost from the start, O’Banion’s North Side Gang is at odds with the South Side outfit led at the time by Torrio.

About 1921, O’Banion and Torrio, who actively wants peace with his rival, works out a deal that seems to satisfy both the South Side gangsters and O’Banion’s group. O’Banion not only keeps the North Side and the Gold Coast, a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Michigan, but he even gets a slice of Cicero, a suburb controlled by Torrio and Capone on the South Side of Chicago, and they all share profits from a lakefront casino called The Ship.

Eventually the peace breaks down. O’Banion is enraged by efforts of a third gang, the Genna crime family’s West Side Gang, to expand its bootlegging and rackets operations into his territory. The Gennas are allied with Torrio’s South Side gang. O’Banion seals his fate when he refuses to forgive a gambling debt that one of the Gennas had racked up at The Ship.

On the morning of November 10, 1924, O’Banion is in his North Side flower shop, Schofield’s, a front for his mob activities. A Torrio associate from New York City, Frankie Yale, enters the shop with Genna gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. When O’Banion and Yale shake hands, Yale grasps O’Banion’s hand in a tight grip. At the same time, Scalise and Anselmi step aside and fire two bullets into O’Banion’s chest and two into his throat. One of the killers fires a final shot into the back of his head as he lies face down on the floor.

Since O’Banion is a major crime figure, the Catholic Church denies him burial in consecrated ground. However, a priest O’Banion has known since childhood recites the Lord’s Prayer and three Hail Marys in his memory. Despite this restriction, his funeral is the biggest anyone can remember. Among those attending are Al Capone and members of the South Side Gang. But there soon will be other funerals. The Beer Wars, as they become known, are just beginning.

Torrio escapes an assassination attempt in 1925 and turns over his operation to Capone, the greatest gangster of all. O’Banion’s friend and conspirator Hymie Weiss, who is fingered as one of those who tried to kill Torrio, is gunned down in 1926. In 1929, in an effort to permanently put down the North Side Gang, led then by Bugs Moran, seven of the North Side mobsters are killed in the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but Moran survives through the end of Prohibition in 1933.

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Death of Irish American Mobster Mickey Spillane

Michael J. Spillane, Irish American mobster much better known as Mickey Spillane from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, is killed outside his apartment in Queens on May 13, 1977. Spillane, who is called the “last of the gentleman gangsters,” is a marked contrast to the violent Westies mob members who succeed him in Hell’s Kitchen.

As a young boy in Hell’s Kitchen, Spillane starts as a numbers runner for various organized crime figures in his neighborhood. In 1960, he takes over the rackets left to him by his predecessor Hughie Mulligan. He marries Maureen McManus, the daughter of the Democratic district leader Eugene McManus.

Though Italian mobsters dominate organized crime in the city, the Italian mob stays out of Hell’s Kitchen while Spillane is the boss. Often, Spillane kidnaps members of the Italian Mafia and holds them for ransom to raise money for his operations. Although he runs the rackets such as gambling and loansharking, he never allows the sale of drugs.

It is Spillane’s refusal to allow the Italian mobsters to participate in the Hell’s Kitchen rackets that leads to his downfall. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is being built on Spillane’s westside at the time. The amount of money the new convention center, Madison Square Garden, the waterfront and the unions are generating for Spillane is enormous, and the Italians are desperate for a piece of the action. Spillane refuses to allow the Italian mob to participate, and the New York Irish-Italian Mob War begins.

In the 1970s the Irish mob sees an increased threat from the Italian Mafia as the Genovese crime family seeks control over the soon to be built Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Since the convention center is located in Spillane’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Spillane refuses to allow any involvement by the Italians. Although the Italian gangsters greatly outnumber the members of the Irish mob, Spillane is successful in keeping control of the convention center and Hell’s Kitchen. The Italians, frustrated and embarrassed by their defeat to Spillane and the Irish gangsters, respond by hiring a rogue Irish American hitman named Joseph “Mad Dog” Sullivan to assassinate Tom Devaney, Eddie “the Butcher” Cummiskey, and Tom “the Greek” Kapatos, three of Spillane’s chief lieutenants. By the mid-1970s, Spillane has moved his family out of Hell’s Kitchen to Woodside, Queens, because of threats of violence against his children.

In 1966, a young upstart named Jimmy Coonan attempts to take the neighborhood from Spillane, muscling in on his territory and murdering a Spillane underling. Ultimately, Coonan is sent to prison in 1967. When he is released from prison, Coonan seeks to align himself with the Gambino crime family through an up-and-coming mobster from Brooklyn, named Roy DeMeo. This marks the beginning of the end for the Irish mob, as Coonan eventually goes to work for the Gambinos.

On May 13, 1977, Spillane is killed outside his apartment in Queens. It has long been rumored that DeMeo murdered Spillane as a favor to Coonan, who subsequently takes over as the boss of the Hell’s Kitchen Irish Mob. Spillane is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.