WBEZ | Gangsters http://www.wbez.org/tags/gangsters Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Dingbat's funeral http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-03/dingbats-funeral-105974 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/03-11--Dingbat.jpg" style="width: 270px; height: 282px; float: left;" title="The departed Dingbat (author's collection)" />On this March 11 in 1930, the big story in Washington was the funeral of William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States. In Chicago, the big story was also a funeral. The city was saying good-bye to the Dingbat.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The Dingbat was John Oberta, his nickname derived from a comic strip. He was 29 at the time of his death. Like Taft he was a Republican politician, the 13th Ward Committeeman. Unlike Taft, he was a gangster.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Oberta was a protégé of Big Tim Murphy, bootlegger and labor racketeer in the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood. One morning Big Tim opened his front door and had his head blown off by a shotgun blast. A few months later, Dingbat married Big Tim&rsquo;s widow.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Now Dingbat was gone, too. He had been found shot dead in his car, along with his chauffeur, on a deserted road near Willow Springs.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">By 1930 the gangster funeral had become a familiar Chicago custom. Dingbat&rsquo;s friends would not scrimp. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m giving him the same I gave Tim,&rdquo; Mrs. Murphy Oberta told reporters.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Dingbat was waked in his home on South Richmond Avenue. He lay in a $15,000 mahogany coffin with silver handles, under a blanket of orchids. Joe Saltis, Bugs Moran, Spike O&rsquo;Donnell, and all of Dingbat&rsquo;s pals were present. So were assorted politicians.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Two priests of the Polish National Catholic Church conducted a brief service. Then the pall bearers prepared to carry the coffin to the waiting hearse. Out on the street, a crowd of 20,000 people had gathered. (In Washington, half as many were reported at Taft&rsquo;s funeral.)</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/3-11--Dingbat's Funeral02.jpg" title="The scene on Richmond Avenue ('Chicago Tribune'--March 12, 1930)" /></div></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&quot;Carry my Johnny out the back way,&quot; Dingbat&rsquo;s mother wailed. &quot;Don&rsquo;t let them see him! They didn&rsquo;t care about him!&quot; The pall bearers ignored her and brought Dingbat out the front door.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The coffin was loaded, then the hearse moved away. Following it were four carloads of flowers and a procession two miles long. When the funeral cortege arrived at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, hundreds more curiosity seekers were there to greet it.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Dingbat was laid to rest a few feet from Big Tim Murphy. There was just enough space between them for another grave. Presumably that spot was reserved for their mutual wife.&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The&nbsp;killing of Dingbat Oberta was never officially solved. And with the Great Depression fast descending on the country, the gaudy gangland funeral went out of fashion.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 11 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-03/dingbats-funeral-105974 Mexican poet leads march against drug war http://www.wbez.org/news/mexican-poet-leads-march-against-drug-war-102148 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/JavierSiciliaCROP.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Led by a renowned Mexican poet, a four-mile march through Chicago&rsquo;s West Side on Monday evening called for an end to the U.S. war on drugs. Javier Sicilia, whose 24-year-old son was killed last year by Mexican drug traffickers in Cuernavaca, blames the drug war for tens of thousands of violent deaths in that country.</p><p>Sicilia says the war has been devastating north of the border too. To make that point, he is leading a month-long bus caravan through the United States. His group joined hundreds of Chicago activists on the march, which began in the city&rsquo;s Little Village neighborhood and ended in West Garfield Park.</p><p>&ldquo;These are African-Americans and Latinos who have been criminalized,&rdquo; he told WBEZ in Spanish, motioning to bystanders watching the march. &ldquo;They are more vulnerable because there is a drug war.&rdquo;</p><p>Sicilia said the war on drugs, which dates back to President Richard Nixon&rsquo;s administration, has fueled mass incarceration and street violence in the United States.</p><p>He compared that bloodshed to Chicago gangster violence during Prohibition almost a century ago. But the drug war has deeper effects, Sicilia said, &ldquo;because the scale is international and the weaponry is more powerful.&rdquo;</p><p>Sicilia said authorities should treat drug use as an issue of public health, not criminality.</p><p>The caravan is scheduled to wrap up in Washington next week.</p></p> Tue, 04 Sep 2012 00:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mexican-poet-leads-march-against-drug-war-102148 A different St. Valentine's Day story http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-02-14/different-st-valentines-day-story-96117 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-14/V day massacre_schmidt.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you're from Chicago, you probably know about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. On February 14, 1929, seven men were gunned down at the SMC Cartage garage at 2122 N. Clark Street. Most of the dead men were members of the Bugs Moran bootlegging gang. The killings were thought to be ordered by rival gang lord, Al Capone.</p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size:10px;">Listen to John Schmidt discuss this post on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em></span></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332729424-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/848 120214 John Schmidt.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p></div></div><p>After 83 years, there's not much new to be said about the massacre itself. So I'm going to be talking about a neglected postscript.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-04/02-14--re-enactment.jpg" style="width: 490px; height: 326px;" title="Police re-enact the massacre. (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>The original <em>Scarface</em> was one of the movie hits of 1932. As the name suggests, it's a thinly-disguised biography of Capone. Paul Muni is the star.</p><p>About halfway through the story, Scarface decides to eliminate rival mobster Gaffney, played by Boris Karloff. Gaffney learns of the plot and disappears. But he can't stay put. One night he goes bowling.</p><p>Meanwhile, Scarface is at the theater when word comes that Gaffney has been spotted. So Scarface and some henchmen head for the bowling alley. And they don't take their bowling equipment with them.</p><p>Out on the lanes, Gaffney is happily spilling pins."Now watch this one," he tells the guy next to him. He grabs his ball and trots to the line.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-06/02-14--Karloff bowling.jpg" style="width: 490px; height: 366px;" title="Boris Karloff goes bowling in a scene from 'Scarface.' (Film still)"></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/kOa-pmOczhM" frameborder="0" height="360" width="480"></iframe></p><p>Just as Gaffney lets go of the ball, gunshots ring out, and he crumples to the floor. But the camera follows the ball down the lane. The ball hits the pins and they scatter--all except the 10-pin, which spins crazily in circles a few times before finally falling over.</p><p>Film critics loved the bowling scene. They praised director Howard Hawks and his use of the slowly toppling pin as a symbol of Karloff dying off-screen. In fact, the whole idea of killing a character in a bowling alley was brilliantly original. That had never been done.</p><p>Gangland applauded the film, too. Members of the Capone mob were tickled to see their exploits portrayed on the giant screen in glorious black-and-white. Among them was Machine Gun Jack McGurn.</p><p>You may remember Machine Gun Jack as the man responsible for the attack on comedian Joe E. Lewis. History records McGurn as the planner of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Some writers claim he was the lead gunman.</p><p>McGurn was a sportsman. He was a scratch golfer and an expert bowler. Disdaining the wicked city where he made his livelihood, he owned a bungalow in sedate, suburban Oak Park.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-07/02-14--Machine%20Gun%20Jack%20%26%20Blonde%20Alibi%20questioned%20in%20court_0.jpg" style="width: 490px; height: 356px;" title="Machine Gun Jack in court with his 'blonde alibi.' (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>On St. Valentine's Evening in 1936, McGurn decided to roll a few lines. Along with two friends he drove into the city. They arrived at Avenue Recreation, 805 N. Milwaukee Avenue, about midnight.</p><p>McGurn and his pals removed their outer clothing and prepared to bowl. Suddenly, three armed men rushed in, announcing a stickup. During the confusion one of the intruders ran up to McGurn and pumped three slugs into him.</p><p>Machine Gun Jack died on alley two with a house ball in his hands. One homey touch was the unsigned Valentine left on his body:</p><p><em>You've lost your job,</em></p><p><em>You've lost your dough,</em></p><p><em>Your car and your fine houses.</em></p><p><em>But things could be worse, you know--</em></p><p><em>You haven't lost your trousers.</em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-07/02-14--McGurn Times photo.jpg" style="width: 490px; height: 363px;" title="Machine Gun Jack goes bowling, but doesn't finish his game. (Chicago Times)"></p><p>The murder was never solved. What's unmistakable is the eerie echo of Gaffney's death in <em>Scarface</em>. Someone had seen the movie, been impressed by the staging, and decided to copy it. Once again, life imitates art.</p><p>Happy St. Valentine's Day.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 14 Feb 2012 13:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2012-02-14/different-st-valentines-day-story-96117 The Hotel Sherman Treaty http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-21/hotel-sherman-treaty-93222 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-21/10-21--Capone.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The war has been getting out of hand. So Don Corleone calls for a summit meeting. All the gang chiefs sit down together and hammer out a truce.</p><p>It's a famous scene from "The Godfather." But it really did happen--here in Chicago, on October 21, 1926.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-18/10-21--Hotel Sherman view.JPG" style="width: 220px; height: 300px; margin: 8px; float: left;" title="Hotel Sherman--NW corner, Clark &amp; Randolph">Prohibition was the law of the land then, and the gangs of Chicago were supplying bootleg booze to thirsty citizens. In the fall of 1924, Warfare had erupted when the two biggest mobs began squabbling over territorial rights. This was another of those North Side vs. South Side conflicts--Dion's O'Banion's mostly-Irish Cub fans against Johnny Torrio's mostly-Italian Sox fans.</p><p>(<em>Okay, I don't know which baseball teams the boys followed, but you get the idea</em>.)</p><p>Anyway, the South Siders struck first, assassinating O'Banion in his florist shop. Naturally, the North Siders retaliated. Then, the South Siders re-retaliated. And so on, and so on.</p><p>By October 1926, Chicago had gotten a national reputation for gang mayhem. The South Side outfit was now being run by Al Capone. He realized all the outside attention could wreck business. The U.S. Senate had begun nosing around, conducting an investigation of the Prohibition law and its effects.</p><p>So Capone enlisted the aid of Maxie Eisen, a labor leader with wide contacts. Eisen arranged a general conference at the Hotel Sherman. All the gangs sent representatives, and the list reads like a Who's Who of the Chicago underworld--Capone, Bugs Moran, Klondyke O'Donnell, Schemer Drucci, to name a few.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-18/10-21--Capone.jpg" style="width: 199px; height: 249px; float: right; margin: 8px;" title="Diplomat Capone">Nobody tried to keep the meeting secret. The newspapers published reports on the conference, and a police detective attended as a neutral observer. The general tone was set by Maxie Eisen, who told the delegates: "Let's give each other a break. We're a bunch of saps, killing each other this way and giving the cops a laugh."</p><p>The result was the Hotel Sherman Treaty. Chicago gangs officially renounced violence as a matter of policy. All standing feuds were called off. The head of each gang would be responsible for disciplining his own people. Each gang would operate only within its designated territory.</p><p>The gangland truce lasted for less than a year. But then, have the diplomats of nations done much better in negotiating peace?</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 21 Oct 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-21/hotel-sherman-treaty-93222 William E. Dever: The mayor who cleaned up Chicago http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-03/william-e-dever-mayor-who-cleaned-chicago-92024 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-03/william dever_Chicago daily news.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Ken Burns has a new film about Prohibition. One of the forgotten players in that comedy-drama was a Chicago mayor. His name was William E. Dever.</p><p>Dever was born outside Boston in 1862. He came to Chicago at 25, worked as a tanner on Goose Island, and studied law at night. In 1890 he became a lawyer in the teaming West Town neighborhood.</p><p>Soon Dever was active in the clean-government wing of the Democratic party. He was elected 17th Ward alderman, and became one of the most visible and effective members of the City Council--even then, newspapers were touting him as a possible mayor. In 1910 he was elected to the Municipal Court.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-03/william dever_Chicago daily news.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 325px; float: left; margin: 5px;" title="(Chicago Daily News)">Being a judge was a nice job, but it was a political dead end. The public forgot about Dever. Then, in 1923, Democratic leaders were looking for a squeaky-clean candidate to run for mayor against scandal-ridden Big Bill Thompson. They chose Judge Dever.</p><p>Thompson saw the way the wind was blowing and decided to retire. Dever won an easy victory. He took office saying he "wanted to be associated with something big in the history of Chicago."</p><p>He immediately launched a massive public works program. He built bridges, widened streets, straightened the Chicago River, opened Municipal airport, and replaced the decrepit South Water Market with double-decked Wacker Drive. The parks were spruced up and his school board constructed a record number of schools.</p><p>And most of these projects came in on-time, and within budget. Not once was there even the hint of scandal.</p><p>Dever's problem was the Prohibition law. The bootleggers were operating openly. Though Dever felt Prohibition was a silly law, the ex-judge thought it had to be enforced. He ordered a massive crackdown, the so-called "Beer War."</p><p>Within months the bootleggers were routed. News of the remarkable happenings in Chicago spread throughout the nation, and journalists descended on the city. Dever became the second-most-photographed person in America, trailing only President Coolidge. Many people began to speak of Chicago's mayor as the next President of the United States.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-15/10-03--Dever Book.jpg" style="width: 266px; height: 416px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="For further reading">But the bootleggers had not been conquered. They had simply moved their operations into the suburbs, out of Dever's reach. And within the city itself, the mayor's cleanup eventually brought on more violence.</p><p>Think of it this way. Dever was drying up the city. Business was down, so the bootleggers had to market their products more aggressively, to keep ahead of competitors and preserve their own profits. The result was a major gang war.</p><p>So the people of Chicago had gotten grand public works, efficient city government--and violence in the streets. And they were starting to get thirsty. As Dever's popularity rose nationally, it declined at home.</p><p>Big Bill Thompson was watching events closely. Seeing that Dever was vulnerable, he jumped into the 1927 mayoral race, declaring he would make Chicago "a wide-open town." Big Bill crushed Dever by a margin of 83,000 votes.</p><p>The nation was stunned. How could America's best mayor be beaten by a crooked buffoon? Humorist Will Rogers thought he had the answer. "They was trying to beat Bill [Thompson] with the Better Element vote," Rogers said. "Trouble is, in Chicago there <em>ain't</em> much Better Element."</p><p>William E. Dever died in 1929. Today he is remembered with a public school and a water intake crib three miles out in the lake. Perhaps most significantly, he is also remembered as the last Democratic candidate for Mayor of Chicago to lose.</p></p> Mon, 03 Oct 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-03/william-e-dever-mayor-who-cleaned-chicago-92024