Monday, February 9, 2009

Mossy Enright

Maurice "Mossy" Enright was one of Chicago's foremost hitmen, and led a gang of enforcers for the plumbers' union. When he pulled up in his trademark fog-colored "gray ghost" sedan, trouble was soon to follow. By late 1919, he was leaving behind his life of petty plunder for a career as a labor leader, and purchased this beautiful home at 1110 W. Garfield Blvd. He didn't enjoy it long, as just two months later, he was assassinated at the wheel of his automobile in Chicago's first recorded drive-by shooting.

Mossy Enright was born in Ireland in 1886, but came to Chicago as a toddler. He attended school intermittently for a few years, then became a plumber's apprentice, eventually joining the local 520 of the United Association of Steamfitters. He was popular and successful -- and was willing to crack skulls when necessary -- characteristics which led to his election as union secretary, an honorary position, but one that carried political influence. He also became known as an enforcer, and man who could "do a job" when needed.

Economic theory teaches that labor unions operate essentially like OPEC, DeBeers, or any other cartel, cutting the supply of their product -- labor -- in order to raise prices (wages). A crucial element in the success of a labor union, then, is limiting the number of workers available to employers by keeping nonunion labor off the job. Thus the need for "sluggers" or enforcers, who intimidate and incapacitate nonunion workmen. The Tribune described the Enright gang's modus operandi:
Their duties would be to pick out one or two of these nonunionists working on a job, waylay them on their way home, and beat them to such an extent that they would not be able to return to work the next day. Their fate would act to scare the rest of the nonunion workers.
In 1911, Enright's steamfitters' union was involved in a major dispute with another plumbers' union over the rights to work in a number of new buildings under construction in the Loop. Each union sent their enforcers to intimidate the other side into submission. Thus did Mossy Enright kill Vincent Altman, a slugger working for the rival labor group. Fleeing the scene of the crime, an onlooker grabbed Enright, who shed his overcoat in the man's hands and escaped.

The overcoat, which had identification in the pockets, led to Enright's arrest and indictment for the crime. Released on $7,500 bail (paid for by the steamfitters), he worked assiduously to pay off jurors and to kill and intimidate witnesses. After the prosecution's chief witness disappeared mysteriously, it appeared "The Moss" might walk out of court a free man, but in a dramatic turn, the witness reappeared the day before jury deliberations began, having recovered of a pistol wound to the shoulder. The jury returned a verdict of 11-1 in favor of the death penalty, the one holdout saving Enright's life. In late 1911, Mossy began serving a life sentence at Joliet for the Altman murder.

At roughly the same time, six members of the Enright enforcer squad were tried, convicted, and sentenced to serve between five and eleven years in the penitentiary for the death of a nonunion worker they had killed.

But the story of Mossy Enright does not end in 1911, for in 1913, Governor Edward Dunne released him on a pardon. One of the state's main witnesses admitted perjuring himself that year as he lie on his deathbed, and 40,000 union members signed a petition to Dunne to secure his release.

After walking out of Joliet in 1913, Mossy Enright moved into higher levels of union intrigue, attempting to consolidate power over several Chicago unions. He achieved some success in this business, becoming wealthy enough to purchase the large Garfield Blvd. home pictured here. But he also attracted powerful enemies, including rival gangster and union man, "Big Jim" Colosimo.

One of the unions under Enright's control was the First Ward Streetsweepers' union, known as the "white wings" for their uniforms. This was the union where Colosimo had gotten his start in politics, and the Levee vice lord maintained a close affiliation throughout his life. In 1919, Colosimo managed to make his personal bodyguard, Michael "Dago Mike" Carrozzo, president of the union, displacing the Enright-supported man who had held the position previously.

In early 1920, Enright and two henchmen proved they would not accept this action lying down, and attacked Carrozzo and members of his faction at the Vestibule Cafe in the Levee district. Their bullets missed, and Enright was a marked man.

At a secret meeting at Colosimo's Cafe, Carrozzo and two allied union heavies, Frank Chiaravaloti and "Big Tim" Murphy, plotted Enright's murder. They hired "Sunny" Jim Cosmano, a colorful figure who, in 1912, had taken a bullet from Johnny Torrio while trying to extort Colosimo through "Black Hand" letters, to be the assassin. Since they didn't fully trust Cosmano, they also hired an expert hitman from Buffalo, New York, known only as "Tommy the Wop". This group followed Enright for a week to learn his habits and to wait for the right moment.

That moment came on the afternoon of February 4, 1920. Mossy Enright left his office in the Loop at 5:30 and drove the gray ghost down to his favorite saloon at 54th and Halsted, where he lingered, chatting with friends over beers. When the bar telephone rang, it was Enright's devoted wife, Etta, telling him dinner was on the table.

Enright got into his car and drove home, tailed by a rare Chalmers sedan carrying his assassins. As he parked in front of his home, the sedan pulled up next to his car. Cosmano fired twice from a sawed-off shotgun and Mossy slumped over the steering wheel.

His wife, Etta, heard the shots and ran out to the street, only to find her husband dying in the car. "Moss, in the name of God, speak to me!" she cried.

"Oh, Et--." Enright couldn't finish the thought and expired.

After the shooting, the police found the Chalmers sedan, and rounded up Cosmano, Carrozzo, Murphy, and the car's driver, James Vinci. Vinci confessed, and was put on trial first. Though he later renounced his confession, claiming that the state's attorney drugged him, he was convicted. In the mean time, the other three managed to make two key witnesses disappear, and the state's case against them fell apart entirely. They were never tried, and on the day of their release from jail, a celebration was held at Colosimo's. Vinci managed to appeal his conviction, and without the convictions of his partners in the crime, he too was exonerated on appeal.

This was the last known criminal act in which Big Jim Colosimo was involved, as he was assassinated just a few months after Enright, in May, 1920. Vinci and Murphy got theirs in the end, too, dying in beer wars gang shootouts in 1925 and 1926, respectively.

Several of Enright's followers went on to great success in crime. Tommy Maloy, Enright's chauffeur, became head of the fledgling movie projectionists' union , and was the first to realize the profit to be had in extorting theater managers to avoid strikes. He was the inspiration for the famous Bioff-Browne Hollywood extortion case in the 1940s. Walter Stevens, one of Enright's top hitmen, who killed 12 in his employ, went on to an even higher body count as a hitman for the Torrio-Capone syndicate during the 1920s.

Mossy's son, Tommy, who was 12 when his father was shot, also became a union leader, and ran (unsuccessfully) for Cook County Superior Court clerk in 1940.

The home on Garfield Blvd. remained in the Enright family until the 1950s. It is still a private home today.


Anonymous said...

It says in the Chicago Tribune that Mossy Enright was killed by Ralph Buglio in this article.

Evangeline Weck said...

Just reading a letter from my aunt Annabel Larkin, who along with her folks and my Mom, lived next door to 'Mossy' Enright's Irish parents at 80th and Carpenter Streets in 1923 (Mossy was killed in 1920). Apparently, my Mom's beloved Boston Terrier, Teddy, was the son of the Enright's male Terrier. From Annabel's letter, 'Mrs. Enright told Mother (my grandmother, Evangeline Grace Larkin) that there were stories about Mossy but he was good to them, bought them their bungalow.' But apparently the apple might not have fallen too far from the tree, as Annabel goes on to relate 'We had two relics of saints.' (They were also an Irish family, of course!) ' when Mrs. Enright was sick I gave them one relic and it was never returned.(!!!)

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