CALL ME AL: GANGSTERS AND GAMBLING AT THE ULTIMATE “GIN-JOINT”
It would be hard to imagine a more appropriate location for a Halloween Night party of gambling, dancing, and imbibing spirits than the former estate of Al (“Scarface”) Capone on Palm Island.
And this was just the spot chosen for a Wolfsonian fund-raising event in which participants (most of whom were dressed as “hoods,” “molls,” or “flappers”) purchased chips and played games of chance—with all the proceeds being donated to the museum.
EVENT PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF NATHAN VALENTINE / WORLD RED EYE
I had been asked by Ashley Abess, the event organizer, to speak at the VIP celebration, so naturally I drew on materials from the museum library collection for a “show and tell” presentation on Al Capone and his nefarious rise to power in the era of Prohibition and gangland murders.
Although not a particular strength of our collection, we do have a few sheet music covers and postcards from the Prohibition era which showed how unpopular the U.S. laws were and how people with means evaded them with secret stashes and trips outside the states.
GIFTS OF VICKI GOLD LEVI
The library also holds a rare pamphlet written by social critic Harry Gannes and illustrated by Jacob Burck decrying the baneful and corrupting influence that the new and dangerous breed of bootleggers and gangsters like Capone were having on the big city politicians and police forces.
But thanks to a generous donation by Linda La Rocque facilitated by Bliss Van Den Houvel, the library possesses a unique and historically valuable archive of the Miami Beach Greyhound Racetrack which includes photograph albums, scrapbooks, and hundreds of loose black and white publicity photos.
After describing Capone’s early years and his rise to prominence in the Chicago underworld during the era of Prohibition, I thought it appropriate to end with a discussion of a murder-mystery surrounding the fate of his former business partner, Edward J. O’Hare.
A St. Louis lawyer, O’Hare moved to Chicago in 1927 where he immediately recognized the necessity of dealing with the city’s dominant mob boss. The inventor and patent-holder of the mechanical rabbit, “Easy Eddie” approached Capone and struck up a partnership that earned him a fortune as the front man for the mafia kingpin’s investments in a number of racetrack/gambling concessions.
In 1930 O’Hare arranged a lunch meeting with Federal IRS agent Frank J. Wilson, where he agreed to turn over some of Capone’s key financial records, help break the codes, and provide information that would eventually convict his silent partner of tax evasion. O’Hare likely directed investigators to Capone’s bookkeeper, who became the government’s star witness in the 1931 trial of Capone on charges of tax evasion and violations of the Volstead Act enforcing Prohibition. During the course of that trial, O’Hare also alerted the prosecution to Capone’s “fixing” of the original jury; much to Scarface’s chagrin, the presiding judge orchestrated a last-minute switch of the jury. In the end, Capone’s plea bargain was revoked, the jury delivered a guilty verdict, and Capone was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison.
For a number of years after his silent partner went away, O’Hare prospered and lived “the good life.” Prohibition was repealed, mob influence and violence reduced, and no one seemed the wiser of the role he had secretly played as the government’s most valuable informer against Capone. But things changed in late 1939. Harsh prison conditions in Alcatraz and medical problems stemming from syphilis contracted in his youth had reduced the former criminal mastermind to a mental incompetent. Capone was due to be released from federal prison any day, and now “Easy Eddie” was more than a little uneasy, especially after his bodyguard was stabbed and he began receiving threats.
On November 8th, 1939, O’Hare left Sportsman’s Park in Cicero in his Lincoln Zephyr with a loaded semi-automatic pistol in the passenger seat. As he came to the intersection of Ogden and Rockwell, a dark sedan rolled up beside him and two assailants blasted him with a shotgun slugs before speeding away. O’Hare died instantly, his Lincoln careening into a lamppost on the side of the road.
As a racetrack owner “Easy Eddie” had lots of nefarious underworld connections and no one was ever convicted of his murder. But given the “coincidental” timing of Capone’s pending release and their former association, much of the press of the time either directly or indirectly implied a Capone-connection to the gangland-style slaying.
Given Capone’s physical and mental condition, it seems less likely that he had a direct hand in his former partner’s killing. It is, however, certainly possible that Capone’s brothers or other gang members may have taken action independently or on his behalf—given that the family of the ailing mobster were scrambling to raise money to pay off his medical bills and tax fines.
~ by "The Chief" on November 1, 2012.
Posted in 1930s, American left artists, archives, collectors, Cuba, Cuba Style, donations, gifts, library donors, museums, Photograph albums, postcards, rare books and special collections library, The Wolfsonian-FIU library, Vicki Gold Levi, Vintage postcards, Wolfsonian, Wolfsonian library, Wolfsonian library collection, Wolfsonian museum library, Wolfsonian staff, Wolfsonian-FIU library
Tags: 18th Amendment (Prohibition), 1920s, Al Capone's estate on Palm Island, alcohol, Alphonse (Al) Capone (1899-1947), anti-prohibition sentiment and songs, Ashley Abess, Bacardi, Bliss Van Den Houvel, bootleggers, bootlegging, Cathy Leff, Chae Dupont, Chicago, Chris Adamo, Christina Frigo, Cicero, corruption, Craig Robins, crime, criminals, Daniel Milewski, Don Soffer, Edward ("Easy Eddie") O'Hare (1893-1939), Everybody Wants A Key To My Cellar, flappers, Frank J. Wilson, fund-raisers, Gabrielle Anwar, gambling, gangland slayings, gangsters, Gonzalo Acevedo, Graft and Gangsters, Halloween, Harry Gannes, informers, IRS, It Will Never Be Dry Down In Havana, Jacob Burck (1907-1982), jury-tampering, Kelly Gazo, Linda La Rocque, Mafia, Miami Beach Greyhound Racetrack Archive, mob, mobsters, molls, murder mysteries, Prohibition, Scarface, Sheet music covers, Tax evasion, Vicki Gold Levi Collection, Volstead Act, World Red Eye