Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kill Dillinger Here

It’s the ultimate Chicago crime scene: The Biograph Theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., where John Dillinger’s fifteen-month crime spree across the Midwest, which turned him into one of the 20th century’s most famous criminals, ended in a nearby alley with two shots to the chest and one in the back of the neck.

Dillinger, an Indiana native of rural extract, had a hard-knock childhood after his mother died when he was only 3. As a teenager in the 1910s, he was a school-boy terror, and by 1924, he landed in jail under lengthy sentence for his part in a mugging. His partner in the crime, Ed Singleton, sold the 21 year-old Dillinger down the river, bargaining for a light sentence while Dillinger, who was not well represented at trial, got a stiff 10 to 20 years. For the next nine years, most of which was spent at the notoriously vile prison in Michigan City, Dillinger stewed in resentment over what he saw as an unfairly harsh punishment. At the same time, he studied hard at “crime school,” building knowledge and contacts among the hardened crooks surrounding him, including future partners in crime “Handsome” Harry Pierpont, Homer VanMeter, and John “Three Fingered Jack” Hamilton. Finally paroled in May, 1933, Dillinger’s next fifteen months would take him from Indiana farm boy to international celebrity.

Four months after winning his freedom, Dillinger helped smuggle a cache of weapons back to his colleagues in the Michigan City prison, who then used them to break out of the hated facility, where new, untrained guards had been recently installed as a part of a change in gubernatorial administration in Indiana. Just days before the breakout, Dillinger, who had spent the summer using his new-found criminal expertise to lead a bank robbing gang on expeditions in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, was captured and sent to jail in Lima, Ohio. His friends Pierpont and Hamilton, newly on the lam from Michigan City, returned the favor by leading a brigade to break Dillinger out, in the process killing the county sheriff, Jess Sarber, who lived in the prison complex (Pierpont would later meet his fate on the electric chair for the murder).

Dillinger and his gang, which included at various times not only the aforementioned Pierpont, VanMeter, and Hamilton, but also other criminal luminaries such as Harry Copeland and Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis, would take a dollar where they could find it, but their primary targets in 1933-34 were banks. Their basic modus operandi was to leave a getaway driver on the street in a fast car, then enter the bank and calmly order everyone to the ground while they loaded up bags with cash. Surrounding themselves with human shields, they would then exit the bank, enter the car, and position their hostages on the sideboards as they drove off, making it extremely difficult for sharpshooting police to take a clear shot. In most of the rural and suburban locales they targeted, the police were armed with pistols, which were no match for the WWI-surplus Thompson submachine guns the Dillinger gang preferred. In addition, the police in these sleepy towns generally drove older model cars that were left in a cloud of dust by Dillinger’s 1933 and 1934 Ford Terraplanes, which could easily hit 80 mph. In those days before in-car radios, the police had little chance to catch up, and could not easily call a roadblock ahead (purportedly, Dillinger avoided banks in Michigan because police there were equipped with radios).

(Pictured: Three poses of John Dillinger. The description accompanying this series in the newspaper read: "The center picture, particularly, is characteristic of the killer's disdain of the law, his sneering, unchanging hate of the public and its institutions.)

Dillinger’s criminal career coincided with the nadir of the Great Depression. During 1933 and 1934, the national unemployment rate soared to over 25%. Real gross domestic product, a measure of the nation’s annual economic output, had fallen for four consecutive years, there of which were by double-digit percentages (by contrast, as of 2008, GDP has only declined in four years out of the last 34). Then, as now, the public recognized the downturn as a monetary phenomenon, and much blame and ire landed at the feet of bankers. Many Americans had suffered the humiliation of losing their homes and businesses to bank repossession, or had been turned down for additional credit, so Dillinger’s focus on banks gave him the aura of a robin hood figure, despite the fact that he spent most of his ill-gotten gains on himself and his girlfriends, not the downtrodden masses queued up at soup kitchens.

But despite his hardscrabble upbringing, his ability to make bankers tremble, and his almost supernatural ability to avoid police capture, it is doubtful Dillinger would have achieved much public acclaim without a particular legislative accomplishment of the New Deal – federal deposit insurance.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, was created as a part of the Glass-Steagall Act, passed by congress in June, 1933, and implemented as of January 1, 1934. Before FDIC, “runs” were a common feature of the banking system in the United States. When a rumor started that the local bank might be in financial trouble, some depositors would exercise caution by withdrawing cash. The sight of people withdrawing their deposits would further fuel the rumors of financial problems at the bank, leading others to take their money out of the bank. This process could quickly create a vicious circle, by which rumors of distress, which might not even be true initially, created a self-fulfilling prophesy as panic spread among depositors racing to the bank to get their deposits out before the bank’s reserves ran out.

By insuring deposits, FDIC broke the circle. Even if a bank truly was in distress, those withdrawing their deposits late would lose nothing; hence, there was no reason for a rush to withdraw first, no panic, and no bank run. For this reason, bank runs have been exceedingly scarce since 1934. But at the same time FDIC solved the problem of runs, it also created a set of perverse incentives for bankers, who no longer faced the disciplining force of possible financial ruin in making risky loans and other investments. Before FDIC, banks typically kept relatively high levels of reserves – currency on hand – and competed with each other for customers by advertising their high reserves and other conservative practices. After FDIC, there was no reason to hold more reserves than required by law, and most banks today hold less then 5% of depositors’ money in cash. The consequently high level of leverage in the banking system creates instability, and many commentators blame the S&L crisis of the 1980s, as well as the panic of 2008, on excessive risk-taking by bankers.

An additional unintended consequence of federally-mandated deposit insurance was to make depositors essentially indifferent towards robbery. Before FDIC, the robbery of a small town bank could create serious losses for depositors and a major contraction in local credit, but with a federal assurance that depositors could lose nothing, the incentive to protect banks waned and the desire to glorify robbers like Dillinger grew. Some historians believe that many Dillinger gang bank hits were, in fact, inside jobs, with bankers using the famous criminal as a cover-up for their own malfeasance.

While Dillinger’s gang was never afraid to use violence to avoid capture, Dillinger himself was a relative pacifist. The only known case in which he killed anyone was during a January, 1934 robbery at the First National Bank in East Chicago, Indiana, where he machine-gunned a police officer who had shot him during his escape. It was this killing, however, that would eventually come to be closely linked with Dillinger’s own death at the hands of the East Chicago police force.

After the First National Bank job, Dillinger and his crew decamped for Tucson, Arizona, where they tried to lay low until the nationwide manhunt that was following them passed. But it was difficult to disguise these high-rolling gangsters and their big-spending girlfriends in dusty Tucson, and eventually the local police rounded up Dillinger, Pierpont, and several other gang members. Pierpont was shipped back to Ohio to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Surber during the Lima breakout, while Dillinger ended up in jail at Crown Point, Indiana.

It was at Crown Point where Dillinger made his most famous prison escape, one that would rocket him from a prolific, but regional, bank robber, to international superstardom. On March 3, 1934, prison handyman Sam Cahoon accidentally opened the main cell block door before the prisoners were safely locked back in their cells. Within seconds, Dillinger perceived the opportunity and jumped into action. Out of nowhere, he brandished a pistol, which he shoved into Cahoon’s side, forcing the handyman to assist him as he slowly made his way out of the facility, using the gun to take additional hostages as he went. Highlighting the audacious escape was the fact that, as later revealed, Dillinger’s “pistol” was really a wooden washboard slat, painted black and carved into the shape of a gun barrel.

Overnight, Dillinger became “the man no prison could hold.” But was Dillinger’s escape really so miraculous? Conspiracy theorists have always pointed to the utter unlikelihood of so many stars lining up at once, especially for such a high-profile inmate who should have been under especially high scrutiny. Moreover, Cahoon and other hostages at Crown Point that day swore to their graves that Dillinger’s gun was no fake. In these highly speculative, but fascinating, conspiracy tales, Dillinger was slipped a real pistol (and, possibly, the decoy as well) by corrupt members of the East Chicago police force, who may have visited Dillinger during his initial days at Crown Point, since his most recent robbery had been the First National job in East Chicago.

Lending some mild credence to these theories is the fact that the East Chicago police department in those days was notoriously corrupt. Situated just across the state line from the south side of Chicago, the town of East Chicago was an ideal spot for vice operations, and had for years been home to a myriad of gambling, prostitution, and (during Prohibition) booze operations. These resorts operated under protection from the East Chicago city government and police, who received a cut of the profits. In 1929, indictments were handed down against the mayor, police chief, and many other city officials for participation in this graft, and the top figures in the pay-for-play scheme served two years in prison, after a circus-like trial in which one of the prosecution’s chief witnesses, an East Chicago police officer turned state’s witness, was murdered. Among those who served time was East Chicago chief of detectives Martin Zarkovich, who would later play a critical role in the death of John Dillinger.

Another curious fact is that, just a month before Dillinger’s death on May 24, 1934, two other East Chicago police officers, Martin O’Brien and Lloyd Mulvihill, were found dead in their service vehicle. Most historians blame members of the Dillinger gang, and while some members of the gang were certainly capable of such violence, there was never evidence tying any of them to O’Brien and Mulvihill; conspiracists insist that the two policemen knew too much about the relationship between Dillinger and the East Chicago force, and met their fate at the hands of their fellow officers.

While these facts add up to make the theory that East Chicago officers helped Dillinger break out of Crown Point (perhaps in return for some of his loot) at least plausible, the case must be considered suggestive and circumstantial at best.

In any case, after the breakout, Dillinger rejoined VanMeter, Baby Face Nelson, and John Hamilton in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they continued their reign of terror. Later the gang spent time in upper Wisconsin, narrowly avoiding capture at the hands of the newly-formed Division of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) in a botched police raid. By June, 1934, Dillinger was back in Chicago. His face was as recognizable as any movie star’s, and five states plus the federal government had put a total $15,000 bounty on his head. Even Dillinger realized his crime spree couldn’t go on much longer. Biding his time, he disguised himself by dying his hair black, wearing a moustache, and sporting gold-rimmed glasses, and began slowly, tentatively, venturing out onto the streets of Chicago. He also underwent primitive plastic surgery to change his facial features, and took acid treatments on his fingertips to make his prints unidentifiable.

The disguise seemed to work well, but Dillinger nevertheless made plans to escape to Mexico. Here and there, he and his gang would reunite to hit a bank, but generally Dillinger kept a low profile during the summer of 1934, building his cash holdings and preparing for a trip south of the border, which was to depart on July 23. During the meantime, though, he began enjoying the Chicago nightlife, posing as “Jim Lawrence,” a fun-loving Chicago Board of Trade employee.

One night, he found himself at the Barrel of Fun nightclub on Wilson Ave., between Elston and Cicero Aves. Introducing himself as Jim Lawrence, he asked for and received the telephone number of a dark-eyed brunette named Polly Rita Keele (nee Hamilton). At the time, Polly was living with a friend and former employer, Anna Sage, in an apartment building on Halsted, just north of Fullerton.

(Pictured: Polly Keele)

Keele and Sage had become acquainted while both lived in Northwest Indiana, and Sage was operating a brothel where Keele sometimes worked. Polly, who had run away from home in Fargo, North Dakota, at age 13, wound up at Anna Sage’s “People’s Hotel”, a house of ill-repute in Gary. There, she met her husband, Roy Keele, a Gary police officer, and they married in 1929. By the spring of 1933, however, the couple was divorced and Polly sought out her old employer, who had by that time moved into Chicago. It’s possible that Anna Sage knew Dillinger from her Lake County days, and set up the meeting with Polly at the Barrel of Fun, or it may be that the encounter between Polly and Dillinger was by chance, and Polly introduced her new beau to her landlady at some point later. In any case, Dillinger and Polly Keele became lovers and were frequently at Anna Sage’s house, with some reports indicating that Dillinger even lived there himself during some parts of the summer of 1934.

With Sage, however, Dillinger’s luck had finally run out. He did not know that the reason Anna Sage was in Chicago was that, as a convicted proprietor of a house of prostitution and a foreign national, she was facing the threat of deportation back to her native Romania. Thus, she was looking for opportunities to redeem herself in front of immigration authorities at the very moment that Uncle Sam’s most wanted man walked into her life. Dillinger also did not know that one of Anna Sage’s boyfriends during her time in Northwest Indiana was East Chicago chief of detectives, Martin Zarkovich.

Arriving in the U.S. in 1909, Anna Sage and her husband, Mike Chiolak separated in the late 1910s, and by the early 1920s, Anna Sage was one of Northwest Indiana’s top madams. A patrol officer at the time, Zarkovich, who was married with children at the time, became a frequent visitor, and the affair with Sage was cited by his wife in divorce proceedings shortly after. A flashy dresser, fellow officers referred to Zarkovich as the "police sheik", and after his divorce, he was able to quickly advance in the East Chicago police hierarchy. During the 1920s, Zarkovich's power kept the police heat off of Sage’s properties, but after he went to jail in the graft case mentioned earlier, Anna Sage was convicted four times for running disorderly houses. When he was released from prison, Zarkovich managed to get his old job back, and did his best to erase the damage, helping Sage to receive two pardons from Indiana governor Harry Leslie, but immigration authorities pressed their case against her due to the other two convictions, causing her to flee into Chicago.

(Pictured: Anna Sage with her son, Steve Chiolak)

During June and July, John Dillinger and Polly Keele frequently double-dated with Anna Sage’s adult son, Steve Chiolak, and his girlfriend. Chiolak later described the fun times with “Jim Lawrence”, which included many summer evenings at the movies: “If he was the man they said he was, he was an all around fellow. He didn’t act tough and he didn’t talk tough. He didn’t drink hard liquor either; just mild gin fizzes.”

Chiolak did notice scars on his new friend’s face, ones that seemed out of place for a sober securities trader, but felt it wasn’t his place to ask. “I don’t like to ask a guy about his face. I’d get mad if some one asked me about mine,” he told reporters later.

While it’s unclear whether Chiolak was truly unaware that Jim Lawrence was really Public Enemy #1, Anna Sage either was already aware of it, or quickly figured it out after he started hanging around her house. She contacted her old friend from East Chicago, Det. Zarkovich, and the two arranged a meeting with the Division of Investigation’s top G-man in Chicago, Melvin Purvis. Later, when Sage continued to face deportation proceedings after the death of Dillinger, she told reporters:
I was told that I could stay. The men who wanted Dillinger so bad told me it would be a small thing to stop my going away. When it was first suggested that I help in getting Dillinger, I said I was not interested in rewards – all I wanted was permission to stay in this country. Shouldn’t the government keep its promises, when I believed them?
Purvis, Zarkovich, and Sage arranged for a take-down a few days later, on the evening of July 22, 1934, when Dillinger, girlfriend Polly Keele, and Sage were all planning to attend a movie. It hadn’t yet been determined precisely which movie or which theater, but a signal was agreed upon: if the destination was to be the Biograph Theater, just behind Sage’s home, she would wear no hat; if Dillinger decided to take the women to the Marboro Theater on the Westside, Sage’s head would be covered.

(Pictured: Martin Zarkovich of the East Chicago police force)

Just after 8:00 p.m. on the evening of the July 22, John Dillinger and the two women left the house. Dillinger sported a white silk shirt, gray linen trousers, and a straw hat, but as it had been a hot day, he decided against wearing a coat, which would have helped conceal the pistol he always carried with him. Instead, he tucked the gun into his belt, where it was slightly more difficult to retrieve. As they left the house, Anna Sage, who wore a white blouse and an orange skirt, stopped the trio and asked Dillinger if they were going to be traveling far for the movie that night. If so, she needed to take her hat.

No, Dillinger said, we won’t be going far. Sage left her hat at home, and the team of police officers staking out the Sage home on Halsted signaled Purvis with the news: Dillinger’s last stand would be at the Biograph.

The group assembled to take down Public Enemy #1 included ten federal agents, plus four East Chicago officers, including Martin Zarkovich, who had gotten the tip from Sage. The deal worked out was that, after Dillinger was killed or in custody, the East Chicago team would receive the $15,000 reward money, while the feds, who were ineligible for the monetary prizes, would get all of the glory and publicity. They truly needed it, as the fledgling Division of Investigation, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, had gained a reputation for bumbling during their long and fruitless quest to end Dillinger’s crime spree.

Walking arm-in-arm, Dillinger, Keele, and Sage walked down the alley between Halsted and Lincoln Ave., and headed up the block and into the Biograph Theater, where they sat down to enjoy “Manhattan Melodrama,” a gangster film starring Clark Gable.

The Biograph, which was built in 1914, advertised itself as the “best ventilated theater in Chicago,” a feature the value of which would not have been lost on Chicago audiences, who couldn't forget the Iroquois Theater disaster a decade before, in which poor ventilation led to the deaths of hundreds. When it opened, the Biograph was one of the city’s first film venues, offering an augmented orchestra and large pipe organ to accompany silent pictures. By 1934, of course, “talkies” had arrived, as had air conditioning, and the Biograph’s cool environs were perfect for a hot summer evening. Even before Dillinger’s famous date with death there, the Biograph had been subject to various crooks, including a bookie running a handbook there, which was raided in February, 1933, and a smash-and-grab robber named George Genovese, who specialized in ripping off theater ticket counters; Genovese was finally caught after robbing the Biograph in March, 1933.

While Dillinger enjoyed the movie, Purvis wandered up and down the aisles of the theater, looking for the man whose name would forever after be linked with his. Unable to locate Dillinger in the dark, he waited impatiently in the theater lobby for the two hours duration of the film. The theater’s management, unaware that a major police operation was underway, became suspicious of the plain-clothes officers lingering in and around the building, and telephoned the Sheffield Ave. police station. When Chicago police arrived on the scene, the federal agents and East Chicago officers had to inform them of the plan to avoid being hauled back to the stationhouse.

Finally, at 10:40 p.m., John Dillinger walked out of the Biograph, with Polly and Anna on either side, and turned south on Lincoln, likely heading back to Sage’s apartment. The next building to the south of the theater was a tavern called the Goetz Country Club, and Melvin Purvis stood directly in front of it. Dillinger and Purvis’s eyes met, but Dillinger’s showed no sense of recognition that a setup was underway. As Purvis later described it, “It was a good job the surgeon did, but I knew him the minute I saw him. You couldn’t miss if you had studied that face as much as I have.”

Dillinger continued walking passing the Goetz until he was in front of the next building to the south, a National Tea Company retail store. At that moment, Purvis lit his cigarette, a signal to his team of officers that now was the time to strike. Again, Purvis describes the action:
“He saw me give a signal to my men to close in. He became alarmed, reached into a belt and was drawing the .38 caliber pistol he carried concealed when two of the agents let him have it. Dillinger was lying prone before he was able to get the gun out and I took it from him.”
In the mouth of the alley south of the National Tea Store, Dillinger fell to the ground, hit twice in the chest and once in the back of the neck. Of the three bullets, two ricocheted and hit bystanders: Etta Natalsky, mother-in-law of the owner of the Goetz tavern, and Theresa Paulus, a theater-goer. Neither was seriously injured, but Dillinger was fatally shot. Crowds turned and gasped, and word spread quickly that the man lying in the pool of blood on Lincoln Ave. was the world’s most famous criminal.

In statements to reporters, Purvis claimed Dillinger had attended the movie alone, per his agreement with the East Chicago police that all credit for the take-down would go to the feds, but witnesses consistently mentioned two women, including one whose bright orange skirt, under the harsh lights from the theater marquis, appeared red. Hence, the newspapers began searching for the famous “Lady in Red,” Anna Sage.

Returning to the conspiracy theories mentioned earlier, some speculate that if caught alive, Dillinger might have revealed the corruption within the East Chicago department, and hence, Zarkovich and his fellow officers always intended to kill, not capture, him. Confirming this aspect of the theory, a Chicago police officer who was near the scene at the time of the shooting told a reporter:
…[O]ne of the [federal] agents told him after it was over that he was among the luckiest of men. “When we got the signal, you were close to Dillinger,” said the agent. “You looked like Dillinger and I was about to shoot you when the other fellows let loose and killed the right man.”
The crumpled form of John Dillinger was rushed to Alexian Brothers Hospital, but he died on the way. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, it was refused admittance on the grounds that the body was already dead. Four officers accompanying the medics stood on the grass in front of the hospital, surrounding Dillinger’s body, until the deputy coroner arrived and approved its removal to the county morgue. While Dillinger had taken in over $300,000 in cash from his bank robberies during the previous 15 months, at his decease, only $7.70 was found on his person – either because he had spent the rest on the trip to Mexico he was planning to begin the following day, or, as some suspect, because the officers who accompanied Dillinger to the hospital helped themselves to his loot. Dillinger also wore a ruby ring, given to him by Polly Keele, and a pocket watch with an inset photo of her.

(Pictured: Headline and story in the July 23, 1934 Chicago Tribune)

Dillinger’s death led above the fold in newspapers around the globe, and when the coroner’s inquest ended, his body was put on public display at the morgue, where thousands of curiosity-seekers filed past to get a look at the man no prison could hold. As Dillinger biographer Dary Matera put it:
To get an indication of Dillinger’s comparative fame today, imagine Charles Manson – after committing his mass murder, Helter Skelter atrocity in California – getting arrested, escaping prison, killing a second batch of Hollywood celebrities, getting arrested again, escaping again, killing a third and fourth gaggle of celebrities, then being gunned down on the streets of Los Angeles by the FBI. And after all that, having Manson’s bullet-riddled body put on public display for tens of thousands of people to parade by.
Dillinger’s life and death meant changes in the way many police departments operated, with upgrades to faster cars and better equipment, including in-car radios, following his crime spree. It also meant a much stronger role for the federal government in policing – Congress approved the right of federal officers to make arrests during the time Dillinger was on the loose. It is not a stretch to say that the modern FBI owes much of its power to John Dillinger.

After Dillinger’s death, Polly Keele left the city and hid out at her family home in Fargo, later returning to Chicago and working in hotel hospitality until her death in 1969. Dillinger’s fellow gang members John Hamilton, Homer VanMeter, and Baby Face Nelson were soon gunned down in separate incidents by federal agents (Hamilton, in fact, was already dead). Melvin Purvis faced intense jealousy from J. Edgar Hoover for taking so much of the credit for Dillinger’s end, and he quit the Division of Investigation in 1935, intending to write his memoirs. He lived until 1960, when he committed suicide, apparently over poor health.

After the shooting, Anna Sage ran back to her apartment, changed clothes, and returned to the scene of the crime, blending in with the growing crowd. She was able to avoid deportation for two years, and during that time ran a beauty parlor at Fullerton and Orchard. However, when Purvis left his position in 1935, there was no one left to fulfill the promise he had made to Sage, and in 1936, she was deported back to Romania, where she remained until her death in 1947. Her only consolation was $5,000 she received from the reward money, though she would much rather have had a U.S. visa.

Martin Zarkovich, who also received a sizable portion of the reward money, was promoted in the East Chicago police department, eventually making chief in 1947. Just three years later, however, he was again indicted for graft associated with casinos operating openly in Northwest Indiana under his protection. Demoted from the chief position, he retired in the late 1950s and died in 1969.

The Biograph Theater continued operation as a movie theater until 2004, frequently showing “Manhattan Melodrama”, the film Dillinger saw the night of his death, particularly on the anniversary of the incident. For the last five years, the Biograph has offered live theater instead of movies.

The spot in the alley where Dillinger was shot is pictured below. The building that housed the Goetz Country Club still stands (it appears to be abandonded); the National Tea Company building is gone, replaced by a Qdoba restaurant.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Angelo Genna's Violent Life and Death

Angelo Genna was the toughest, meanest, and most violent of the Genna brothers. Hot-headed superstitious, and quick with a trigger, the Chicago police were so afraid of him, they refused to serve warrants for his arrest. But Angelo Genna got his on May 27, 1925, when he was driving south on Ogden Ave., at the intersection of Hudson Ave. and Menomenee St.

Angelo, who was born in Sicily, came to Chicago with six of his brothers about 1910. The family became involved in running "Black Hand" style extortion plots, in which prominent businessmen, especially Italians, were forced to pay ransom or be killed, and Angelo was the muscle that made certain the payments came in. His ability to make others do his bidding through force made him especially fit for politics, and Angelo and the other Gennas became street-level recruiters for Tony D'Andrea in his ongoing political battle with long-time incumbent 19th ward alderman John "Johnny De Pow" Powers. As discussed in greater detail in this post, the 19th was primarily an Irish neighborhood in the 1880s when Powers was elected, but by the 1910s, was occupied primarily by Italians (especially Sicilians).

While Powers was largely successful in maintaining his hold on power, Tony D'Andrea sought to use the demographic shift in the ward to build a winning coalition of Italian voters. In 1921, he very nearly defeated Powers, but lost by the slimmest of margins. The election was a bloody one, with bombs exploded at Powers' home and at a mass meeting of D'Andrea supporters. The Gennas, who supported D'Andrea, were upset by his loss. They blamed Powers for the election violence, but more so, they hated their fellow Italian countrymen who had voted for him.

A few weeks after the election, on May 6, 1921, one of Ald. Powers' precinct captains and a long-time municipal court bailiff, Paul Labriola, who was Sicilian, left his home on W. Congress St., and walked west towards Halsted St. Labriola had been receiving disturbing telephone and mail threats ever since the election, but considered it all part of electoral politics in Chicago. He had dined with the victorious Ald. Powers just a few days before, and looked forward to enjoying further political spoils.

Before Labriola had walked more than fifty feet from his home, he was greeted by two men coming around the corner. Labriola recognized the men and words were exchanged. Suddenly, three more men came up from behind Labriola, and pistol shots rang out as all five began firing heavy-caliber lead at him. As Labriola fell to the ground, one of the men stood above him and fired three more gratuitous bullets into the bailiff's body, then the assailants dropped their weapons and fled down an alley.

Initially, the police believed Sam "Samoots" Amatuna and Frank Gambina, two prominent D'Andrea supporters, were among the shooters. They could find no solid evidence against the two, however. But then they found an eyewitness who fingered Angelo Genna, the wild gunman of Taylor Street.

The police arrested Angelo, and brought him to trial in October of 1921. The prosecution brought their eyewitness, Peter Eliopulas, to the stand:

"He killed him; Genna killed him!," Eliopulas exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "I was standing near the corner of Halsted and Congress streets when I heard a shot. Running to Congress street, I saw Labriola lying on the ground. A man, Genna, was standing over him. He shot him three times as he lay on the ground."

Eliopulas, who was neither Sicilian nor involved in 19th ward politics, seemed a believable witness, and whispers went around that Genna would be spending the 1920s behind bars. Until, that is, a teenager named Nick Ginopvolous, took the stand for the defense. Ginopvulos explained to a patient jury that Alderman Powers had offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of Labriola's killer. Eliopulas had approached Ginopvulos, he claimed, and offered him a share of the reward if he could provide a second eyewitness account of Genna's presence at the murder scene.

The court was in an uproar. Was Eliopulas just an opportunist, or were the Gennas behind Ginopvulos' testimony? The prosecution tried to staunch the hemmorage in their case by bringing other witnesses to the stand who could testify that Angelo had been in the neighborhood that day, but the damage was done. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and Angelo walked out of court a free man.

(Pictured: Angelo Genna, who stood 5'6" and 195 lbs.)

The death of Labriola, however, set off a blood vendetta between warring Italian political factions in the 19th, which eventually claimed 30 lives over the following three years. One of the earlier victims of this war of attrition was a close friend of the Genna family, Nicola Maggio. Again, Angelo Genna was very upset.

On March, 16, 1922, Paul Notte, a stockyards saloon-keeper who was believed to be close to Maggio's killer, left his home and began walking the half-block to his workplace. In front of his new bride, who was expecting, his wife, and his sister-in-law, Notte was approached by a short, stout man, and a few words were exchanged. Then the stranger drew his revolver and fired five shots and Notte, dropping him to the street before running off.

Notte was rushed to the hospital, where Chicago detective Edward Murphy questioned him.

"You know who shot me," croaked the dying Notte.

"No, I don't, Paul. Who was it?"

"The youngest one of those three brothers who run a poolroom in Taylor street."


"I don't know the name."

Lieut. Murphy rushed to Angelo Genna's home on Blue Island Ave., and not finding him there, went to the Genna headquarters on Taylor street, where he found his suspect. Murphy arrested Angelo and brought him to Notte's bedside, where, in front of his family, doctors, and police, Notte identified Angelo Genna as his attacker. A few hours later, Notte was dead.

Angelo's brothers, Anthony and James, were also arrested, but only Notte's death-bed testimony was considered strong enough to prosecute, so again, Angelo Genna alone stood for trial on murder charges. This time, Genna's attorney cross-examined the attending physicians at the hospital where Notte had died. Were any drugs given to the patient before he died? Yes, of course. Could any of those drugs have clouded his judgment, or made it difficult for him to remember the facts of his case? I suppose, under the right circumstances.

With the dead man's testimony in question, prosecutors decided to nolle prosse the case. Again, Angelo Genna was a free man. After two murder indictments and no convictions, Angelo's legend grew in the Sicilian community. "Angelo the Immune" replaced "Bloody Angelo" as his street nickname. But Angelo's luck, in court and in life, would run out soon enough.

In August of 1922, two Genna family friends, Henry Penna and Philip Maltese stood accused in the sexual attack of a 15-year old girl, Genevieve Court. When it became clear that Court would testify against the two, they kidnapped her and took her to Milwaukee, where they raped her ("mistreated her," in the language of the newspapers of the day) and left her alone in a boarding house with no way to get home. Eventually, a search party conducted by Court's parents located her, and she returned to Chicago.

Again, she was more than willing to testify against her attackers in open court. In criminal court, she fingered Maltese and Penna as her attackers, and each was sentenced to one year in the state penitentiary, plus a $1,000 fine, a relatively minor punishment for a horrific crime. Maltese and Penna considered themselves lucky.

But then, the two were unexpectedly dragged into federal court to be charged with violations of the Mann Act, the 1910 "white slavery" law inspired by the Chicago case of Mona Marshall, which enforced heavy sentences on those convicted of transporting women across state lines for sexual purposes. If convicted, Maltese and Penna would face serious hard time in federal penitentiary.

Again, young Genevieve Court was willing to testify in court. Having done so already, Maltese and Penna realized she would certainly do so again. Two days before her date in court, Maltese, who was out on bail while awaiting the federal trial, and his close family friend, Angelo Genna, paid a visit to Miss Court, threatening her and her family with death if she should testify in the Mann Act case.

On the day of her hearing, Genevieve Court showed up before U.S. Commissioner Lews F. Mason, and walked to the stand. She opened her mouth, but then she looked out over the audience. In the first row, staring directly at her, was Angelo Genna. One look into his dark, terrifying eyes, and a wave of visible fear ripped through Miss Court. She began to sob. It was all a lie, she said: There was no attack, no rape, no kidnapping; Penna and Maltese were completely innocent.

A dumbstruck prosecutor quickly wised up to what had happened. After the hearing, he grilled Genevieve. Had anyone threatened her if she testified against her attackers in this case? With the redoubtable Genna out of sight, Genevieve's courage slowly returned. She admitted that Genna and Maltese had intimidated her.

When the prosecutor brought this fact to the attention of the judge in this case, he signed a federal arrest warrant for Angelo Genna's capture. First, he tasked the Chicago police with serving the warrant, but they knew how dangerous Angelo was, and they "didn't want to take any foolhardy chances" with a police invasion and manhunt in the 19th. With local police officers unable to serve the warrant, a team of U.S. deputy marshals was tasked with instructions to "go into the Nineteenth ward and bring him in."

Within a few days, they did, and in November of 1922, Angelo Genna suffered his first conviction in court, for intimidating a witness (the Mann Act case against Penna and Maltese was not prosecuted further, however). With the "Terror of the 19th Ward" soon to be behind bars, Chicago police chief Fitzmorris held a celebratory dinner, with the marshals who had served Genna's warrant as the guests of honor.

Angelo Genna, free on bail before sentencing, began an attempt to flee the country and return to Italy to avoid prison, but when word of his plans leaked, each witness in the trial was given a personal bodyguard until the sentencing hearing, and the federal judge in the case issued a writ of attachment for "Angelo Genna or his body." Again, a squad of fearless U.S. marshals, armed to the teeth, invaded the 19th ward and captured Genna. A few days later, "Angelo the Immune" was sentenced to one year plus one day at Leavenworth prison.

Prison appears to have slightly cooled the temper of the young Genna, and when he emerged from the penitentiary, he returned to Chicago in a mood to make money and mostly avoid trouble. Helping his brothers operate the massive dispersed Sicilian distilling network throughout Little Italy, which supplied the Torrio-Capone syndicate with a major share of the booze they retailed, Angelo Genna was able to move out of the poverty-stricken 19th ward and up to a cozy $400/month hotel condo overlooking the Lake at Belmont Ave.

In January, 1924, the young vice entrepreneur married into one of the city's wealthiest and most prominent Italian families when he wed Lucille Spignola, sister to Henry Spignola, a top attorney of the time, who was a long-time Genna family friend. The wedding was one of the largest in Chicago history, with 3,000 guests, and offered the biggest cake anyone could remember, tipping the scales at just over 1 ton.

(Pictured: Lucille Spignola, Mrs. Angelo Genna)

In May, 1925, Angelo Genna and his wife were making plans to move to ritzy new home in suburban Oak Park. Genna left his Belmont harbor home, drove south on Sheridan Rd. in his roadster coupe, and turned southwest on Ogden Ave., which at that time extended all the way to Lincoln Park.

As he approached Hudson Ave., a large black touring car carrying four "characteristically 'unknown' assailants," as the Tribune described them, sped up next to Genna's car. The passengers fired a dozen shotgun bullets into Angelo Genna's car, causing him to lose control and crash into a lamppost. As his attackers gunned the engine and escaped, Angelo began to lose consciousness.

Rushed to the hospital, the life was draining out of Angelo's eyes. Police Sgt. Roy Hessler came to his deathbed.

"You're going to die, Angelo. Tell us who bumped you off," he pleaded noirishly.

But Angelo just shrugged his shoulders, and closed his eyes. In his last moments, he continued to adhere to the gangsters' code of silence, the same one that had shielded him from prison throughout his life. The Tribune noted,
...the folks who seem to be in the know about Taylor and Halsted streets, reiterate, quite simply, the formula that has worked in so many of the recent murders since the days of bootlegging.

"You'll know who murdered Angelo when the next big guy in the neighborhood is murdered."
But the next "big guys" murdered were all of Angelo's family members. Brother Mike was killed in a shootout with police just three weeks later. A month after that, brother Tony was gunned down on a West side street corner. Brother-in-law Henry Spignoli was killed the following year, and the Genna reign of terror was over as the remaining brothers wisely fled back to Sicily.

Who was killing the Gennas? The most likely theory is that Angelo Genna's death was one of vengeance for the death of Dion O'Banion in November, 1924. Angelo was considered one of the prime suspects in that case, in which the Northside mobster and bootlegger O'Banion, who had famously feuded with the Gennas, was gunned down inside his N. State Street flower shop and headquarters. In this theory, the shooters in the touring car were O'Banion's followers, most likely including Vincent "Schemer" Drucci, Frank Gusenberg, George "Bugs" Moran, and Earl "Hymie" Weiss.

A more speculative theory, but one that has a certain ring of believability to it, was that Johnny Torrio and Al Capone, putatively partners in crime with the Gennas, were afraid of their growing power, and wanted their own man, Tony Lombardo, to hold political control over the city's Sicilian population and their basement stills. Consistent with this theory, Lombardo appears to have taken over the presidency of the main Sicilian political organization, the Unione Siciliana, in 1925 after the death of its previous president, Angelo Genna. Also, the car used in the attack turned out to have been stolen from a resident at 5742 W. 22nd Street in Cicero, just a few blocks from Ralph Capone's Cotton Club, in the town where Al Capone was practically mayor.

Nevertheless, Angelo Genna's funeral, like his wedding, was one of the grandest in Chicago history. Refused a church burial by Roman Catholic Cardinal Mundelein, he was buried at Mt. Carmel cemetary in Hillside in a vault said to cost $10,000, encased in a $6,000 casket which weighed 1,200 lbs and nearly broke through the back porch of the funeral parlor. The flowers for the funeral were believed to have cost upwards of $75,000, including a grand 8-foot tall piece, heavy on lilies, sent by Al Capone, and a huge vase full of pink and white carnations, courtesy of Johnny Torrio, who was incarcerated in Lake County at the time (this proves little regarding the two's potential culpability, since it was common for gangsters to send flowers to the funerals of both their friends and their enemies). At the funeral, which was attended by thosands, a quartet of police officers from the Gennas' local Maxwell Street station frisked everyone for weapons before they could near the gravesite.

(Pictured: Angelo Genna's 1,200 lb. casket at his funeral)

The Tribune, for its part, used the opportunity of Angelo Genna's death to opine on the inferior traditions and weak-mindedness of southern Europeans, in relation to northern Europeans and "native" Americans (probably not a reference to Navajos).
The funeral of Angelo Genna provides an interesting commentary on our city. This crude yet costly glorification of a man of blood is a straight transplantation from Sicily or Sardinia, where to a simple folk the bandit leader is the prince of heroes. The American of native or northern European tradition must observe such a pageant with a new realization of the gulf which lies betwen his mind and moral system and those of Genna's colony.

That is, in fact, what the gathering at Genna's obsequies represents, not America but a foreign colony imported virtually intact and representing a stage of old world history centuries gone save among the mountain peoples of southern and eastern Europe. Considered as a graphic illustration in the argument for our new immigration policy, the Genna funeral is admirable.
For some reason, the Trib editors seemed to have forgotten the equally-if-not-more-ostentatious funeral thrown for mobster Dion O'Banion, an Irishman, just a few months before Angelo Genna's.

Ogden Ave., where Angelo Genna was driving when he was killed, has been completely vacated on the north side. At the corner of Hudson and Menomenee, where Ogden would have cut through, the diagonal sidewalk through the park (pictured below), harkens back to the road that was once there. For more on the history of Ogden Ave., see here.

At the corner where the most violent of the "Terrible" Gennas was shot, today stands a beautiful and peaceful Buddhist temple.