Mr. Torrio, Chairman of the Board



"It's all yours, Al . . ."


shooting scenetorrioJohnny Torrio and his missus went shopping in the better stores on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on January 24, 1925, and drove back to their apartment on Clyde Avenue. Mrs. Torrio went upstairs. Mr. Torrio said he would gather up the packages and join her but as he started for the house two gunmen bore down on him from across the street and opened fire. Torrio sank to the pavement with garlic-tipped bullets in his chest, abdomen, jaw and arm. Doctors at Jackson Park Hospital didn't give the racket emperor much chance to live, but ten days later he was well enough to look over suspects hustled in by the police. Nothing came of this process, of course. "No use bringing anyone in here," the wounded millionaire told the detectives. "I won't rap any of them. I wouldn't lay the finger on . . . I know the man who shot me."

He knew the five slugs in him had come from the vengeance-bent North Side heirs of the late Dion O'Banion. He had just got careless. It wouldn't happen again. Torrio had the streets outside the hospital patrolled by his own guard, led by Al Capone, lest the Banions come back to finish the bungled job. And he went from his bed of pain direct to the Lake County jail; it seemed a good time to serve the nine-month sentence he drew when he got caught in the Sieben brewery raid which he believed O'Banion engineered.capone The jail proved a very snug haven. Torrio's cell had a bed instead of a cot, a dresser, easy chairs for approved guests, a rug on the cold stone floor and bullet-proof steel-mesh blinds. The racket king also enjoyed the additional security ofo'banion extra round-the-clock deputies to patrol the corridor, paid out of his own ample purse.

The North Side gang didn't let its shooting irons go rusty while its prime target hid behind the state's concrete-and-steel curtain. Three of the Terrible Gennas Angelo, Michael, and Anthony (also called Tony the Gentleman) were rubbed out from May to July. The Sicilian brotherhood, close to Torrio and similarly on the outs with O'Banion when he was assassinated, stood high on the drop-dead list drawn up by Hymie Weiss, Deanie's successor. Nobody on that roster was safe now, Weiss being such a dedicated type. Torrio was so convinced of this that he turned the baton over to Al Capone when his time in the homey jail was up. "It's all yours, Al," said the dandy little organizer. "Me, I'm quittin'. It's Europe for me." If it was an outright gift, it was a healthy one. The gangland Empire then was grossing some $70,000,000 a year from bootleg booze, gambling and girls.

hymie weisstorrioTorrio was going to Italy. He had bought his mother a luxurious seaside villa on her native Neapolitan soil a few years back. There, three thousand miles away from Hymie the Polack and the bloodletting due to wet down Chicago right through 1926, he could reflect on some pretty good old days. He started out as Big Jim Colosimo's bodyguard around 1910. He became overseer of Big Jim's flesh-peddling operations, running such Chicago landmarks as the House of All Nations and the low-cost Bedbug Row joints. He took over everything after Big Jim went on the spot marked X. He called in the warring gangs O'Banion and the Gennas, Frankie Lake and Terry Druggan, Klondike O'Donnell, Polack Joe Saltis, and the little ones. He organized The Syndicate and cut down all the senseless gunfire just in time for the big clean-up on Prohibition. He made the move into the outlying gold mines Cicero, Chicago Heights, Burnham, Calumet City, and the other suburbs. He blazed the dirty trail in the 932-square-miles of corruption known as Cook County. He kept the cops in line "I own the police force," he said once. He made the high-up political connections, even carrying a card in the William Hale Thompson Republican Club (named for the flamboyant and tolerant Mayor who always ran an "Open-City" platform). He made the brewery connections and kept the beer coming. He was The Brain, The Supreme Court, The Chairman of the Board. He made the rackets Big Business. He brought civilization to the gangland jungle. He kept the peace. In Italy, he might reflect that everything could still have been that way except for the trouble with Deanie O'Banion.

Maybe it was all for the best. He would never want for money; no one would ever know how much he carried out of Chicago or shipped out ahead of him. Now he was a young man thirty-nine, untainted by bad booze or other temptations. He could sit by the Blue Mediterranean or go back to his boyhood Brooklyn and settle on middle-class Shore Road and take his ease. Johnny Torrio needed no pity and no handouts.

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