this day in crime history: may 21, 1924


On this date in 1924, two spoiled sociopaths in Chicago, IL committed what they thought would be the perfect crime; all to prove their status as Nietzschean supermen. Nathan Leopold, 19, and Richard Loeb, 18, kidnapped and murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks. They might have gotten away with it, had their perfect crime been just a little more… perfect. But perfection is hard to achieve, especially when you do things like:

-Hide the body where it will be quickly found

-Drop your (very unique) glasses at the body dump location

-Build your alibi around going for a drive in a car that could be shown to have been in the shop at the time

It didn’t take long for the alibi to break down and for both men to confess. So much for supermen, Nietzschean or otherwise.

Famed trial attorney Clarence Darrow was brought in to defend the indefensible. He couldn’t get his clients acquitted, but he did manage to head off a death sentence. Both men were sentenced to life in prison.

Loeb died in prison in 1936, the victim of a razor attack by another inmate. Leopold was paroled in 1958. He moved to Puerto Rico, where worked in a hospital. He died in 1971, at the age of 66.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Leopold & Loeb

Famous Trials – Illinois v. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb

this day in crime history: may 11, 1920

BigJim

On this date in 1920, Chicago mobster Big Jim Colosimo was shot and killed in his restaurant while waiting for a delivery. Colosimo, who had built his south side gang into a criminal organization to be reckoned with, balked at getting into the bootlegging business. He was making enough money through more traditional criminal enterprises like gambling, prostitution and protection rackets. Besides, he was also making a pretty penny selling illegal hooch in his restaurant. He saw nothing but potential trouble in setting up a distribution network that might attract the attention of the feds.

Unfortunately for Big Jim, his underboss, Johnny Torrio disagreed. Torrio arranged for Big Jim to be at the restaurant to take delivery for a shipment of booze. But the only thing Big Jim took delivery of was hot lead from a hired gun. The shooter was never arrested and the murder remains technically unsolved. Likely candidates for the shooter include Torrio’s right-hand man, Al Capone, and New York wiseguy Frankie Yale. (Between you and me, my money’s on Yale.)

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Colosimo’s

American Mafia History – Giacomo “Big Jim” Colosimo

Wikipedia – James Colosimo

this day in crime history: may 4, 1932

On this date in 1932, “Scarface” Al Capone boarded a train for Atlanta to start serving his prison sentence for tax evasion. Big Al learned the hard way that there are some lines you shouldn’t cross. Lie, cheat, steal, bribe, bootleg, murder–knock yourself out, dude. But you’d damn well better PAY YOUR TAXES!

Capone was released from prison in November 1939 after 7 1/2 years behind bars. The repeal of Prohibition put a hurting on his business. Syphilis put a hurting on his brain. He died of cardiac arrest in 1947.

Lessons learned from Big Al:

1. Pay your taxes
2. Diversify your business
3. Wear a Jimmy hat

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Al Capone’s tax trial and downfall

Al Capone at Chicago Historical Society

Al Capone on Wikipedia

this day in crime history: april 9, 1934

On this date in 1934, John Dillinger’s girlfriend, Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, was arrested by G-men in Chicago and charged with harboring a fugitive. An angry Dillinger vowed to break her out of jail, but a girlfriend of one of his gang members talked him out of it. He did pay for her legal defense, but she wound up being convicted anyway. Billie Frechette spent two years in federal prison. When she was released in 1936, she toured the country in a theatrical show called Crime Doesn’t Pay. Several members of Dillinger’s family were also featured in the show. I guess sometimes crime does pay after all.

Further reading:

American Experience: Public Enemy #1 – Evelyn “Billie” Frechette, 1907-1969

Don’t Call Us Molls – Evelyn “Billie” Frechette

this day in crime history: march 20, 1933


On this date in 1933, would be presidential assassin Giuseppe Zangara was executed in the Florida electric chair. Forty-five days prior to his execution, Zangara had tried to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. He missed Roosevelt, but managed to shoot several other people, including Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. Cermak later died of his wounds.

The general consensus among historians is that Roosevelt was the intended target, and that Cermak was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But there is another school of thought: Cermak was the real target. As the story goes, Cermak was behind the attempted assassination of Chicago Outfit boss Frank Nitti. The designated hitters for that job were officers of the Chicago PD, who claimed that they shot Nitti in self defense. Nitti survived the shooting and stood trial for his supposed assault on the officers. The jury didn’t buy it, and Nitti was acquitted. The officers, on the other hand, were eventually charged with assault. One flipped on the other, and they were both convicted and fined $100 each.

As payback for the attempt on Nitti’s life, the Outfit supposedly contracted Sicilian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara to kill Cermak. The hit went down as planned, and Zanagara took the fall as a “crazed gunman.” Of course, there’s not much proof to support this theory, which is fairly standard for conspiracy theories. But it makes for an interesting story. Maybe Oliver Stone will make a movie about it someday.

Further reading:

Awesome Stories: Frank Nitti – The Enforcer

Chicago TribuneThe Shooting of Anton Cermak

Executed Today – 1933: Giuseppe Zangara, who is not on Sons of Italy posters

this day in crime history: march 19, 1943

On this date in 1943, Chicago mob boss Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti committed suicide. Nitti, who rose to prominence as Al Capone’s right hand man, was facing a prison sentence for shaking down several Hollywood movie studios. Severe claustrophobia, which had surfaced during a previous eighteen month stint in prison, made the mobster terrified at the thought of being locked up again. On the morning of March 19th, after his wife left for church, Nitti began drinking heavily. Once he had enough liquid courage, Nitti got his gun and went for a walk. He wound up at a rail yard several blocks from his house. He sat down on the ground, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Frank Nitti

Find A Grave – Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti

Wikipedia – Frank Nitti

this day in crime history: february 15, 1936

gutterball

On this date in 1936, former Chicago Outfit trigger man “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn was gunned down in a Chicago bowling alley.

McGurn was born Vincenzo Antonio Gibaldi in 1902 in Sicily. He changed his name as a teenager while trying to make it as a boxer. McGurn would later go to work for Chicago mob boss Al Capone. He was believed to be the mastermind of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the cops were unable to pin it on him when Louise Rolfe – dubbed “The Blonde Alibi” by the press – claimed that she and McGurn had spent the entire day together.

By 1936, McGurn had been cut loose by the Outfit. His notoriety had made him too hot for the low profile the Outfit was looking to maintain.

A day after the seventh anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, McGurn entered a bowling alley with two men. Another man later joined the trio. After his arrival, a commotion ensued that resulted in Jack being shot dead and the three men leaving the bowling alley together. A Valentine card was left behind bearing the following poem:

You’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your dough;
Your jewels and cars and handsome houses!
But things could still be worse you know…
At least you haven’t lost your trousers!

The murder was never solved. Was it payback from Bugs Moran, whose men were killed seven years earlier? Was it revenge by a relative of one of Jack’s victims? Or was it the Outfit, fearful that Jack’s increasingly loose lips might sink their ship?

Further reading:

My Al Capone Museum – Machine Gun Jack McGurn

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

Wikipedia – Jack McGurn

Mafia Wiki – Jack McGurn

Find a Grave – Jack “Machine Gun Jack” McGurn