Thursday, January 15, 2009

Al Capone Murders Joe Howard

Al Capone arrived in Chicago in 1921, working as a street-level thug for Johnny Torrio. Capone's business acumen led to quick promotion through the ranks of the gang. His capacity for violence didn't hurt either. An incident that occurred here, at 2300 S. Wabash, on May 7, 1923, proved early on Capone's willingness to employ the gun. The following day's Tribune reported:
Another murder in the liquor and crime serial was accomplished last night. Alphonse Capone, vice lord of the south side bad lands where he is better known as Al Brown of "Four Deuces" fame, is sought as the slayer.

The order to capture Capone went out thirty minutes after the body of Joseph L. Howard, beer runner and burglar, credited with three notches on his gun, was found lying in front of the cigar counter of "Hymie" Jacobs' saloon at 2300 Wabash avenue. Howard had been shot six times, four times in the face and twice in the right shoulder.
Howard was a low-level neighborhood hoodlum, and after one too many drinks, became involved in a physical altercation with a leading Torrio-Capone associate, Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik. When Guzik told Capone about the confrontation, Big Al hunted Howard down at Hymie Jacobs' bar, just a half-block from Capone's Chicago headquarters at the Four Deuces. When Capone arrived, he demanded an apology from Howard, and Howard replied by calling Al Capone a pimp -- a moniker he despised (though it was true). Thus, Capone's rage and violence.

After the command to find Capone went out, the police immediately checked the Four Deuces and Capone's home on Prairie Ave., with no success. Capone went into hiding for a month (probably in Cicero), while sending word through his lieutenants that any witnesses with loose lips had better think twice before talking to the police. In fact, though there were several eye witnesses in the saloon who say the murder, strangely it seemed that everyone just happened to be looking away at the exact moment of the killing.

"I'll bet 50 cents Al Brown didn't kill him, and I'll bet $50 they never convict him of the murder," was the word on the street.

Eventually, realizing the coast was clear, Capone walked into the police station one day, saying, "I hear you're looking for me. What's this all about?" A young assistant state's attorney, William McSwiggin, continued the investigation earnestly for a few more months, but was never able to put together enough evidence to prove Capone's involvement. A couple of years later, in 1926, McSwiggin himself met his end at the hands of Capone's henchmen, though accidentally, it seems.

Nevertheless, even years later, in 1931, Capone feared he might be prosecuted for the Howard murder, and sent Louis "Little New York" Campagna to "take care of" any remaining witnesses. But by that time, tax evasion was the more pressing problem for Big Al, and it doesn't seem that anything came of the order.

Interestingly, this wasn't even the first gangland murder to take place at this address. In 1913, Jimmie Kelly (nee James Fletcher -- for a time in the early 20th century, it was common for gangsters to change their names to sound more Irish) was found murdered in a hallway in the residence above the bar. Kelly was the leader of the Archer Avenue Gang, and was killed by rival gangsters.

The building that housed Hymie Jacobs' bar remained until the 1960s, when it was demolished. The lot currently serves as an industrial storage yard.

5 comments:

david woods said...

very well written blog well done, im a big fan of chicago's bootlegging years in the twenties, a very short period in American history, but pack a punch

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