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

this day in crime history: february 14, 1929

On this day in 1929, five of gangster Bugs Moran’s men, along with two men unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were gunned down by men impersonating police officers. The probable sender of this grisly Valentine: Al Capone. I guess Big Al didn’t think flowers and chocolates would do the trick. The killings became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Check out author/crime historian Pat Downey’s interview with Mario Gomes, the man who knows more about Al Capone than anyone. Well, anyone alive, anyway.

Further reading:

Mario Gomes’s My Al Capone Museum: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Mysterynet: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre With Pictures

Ghosts of the Prairie – Blood, Roses & Valentines: The Haunted History of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Wikipedia – The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre   

Deadly Valentines, by Jeffrey Gusfield

this day in crime history: november 10, 1924

On this date in 1924, Chicago North Side gang boss Dean O’Banion was shot and killed in the back of the Schofield flower shop (pictured above), which served as his headquarters. Apparently the Chicago Outfit, which ran the South Side, decided it didn’t like the competition. They sent some of the boys to visit O’Banion in his shop. They gunned him down as he was working on a floral arrangement for mob luminary Mike Merlo’s funeral. The hit touched off a gang war between the two factions that would last five years, and would come to an end in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

My Al Capone Museum – Dean Charles O’Banion

Wikipedia – Dean O’Banion

Graveyards of Chicago – Dion “Deany” O’Banion

this day in crime history: october 9, 1919


“Say it ain’t so, Joe.” On this date in 1919, the Chicago White Sox lost game eight of the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, 10-5. This gave the series to the Reds, five games to three. Of course, losing a baseball game isn’t a crime. Unless the game was fixed. And this one was, reportedly by NY gangster Arnold Rothstein. Eight of the Chicago White Sox players – dubbed the Black Sox – were banned for life from baseball.

Further reading:

History Files – Chicago Black Sox

Wikipedia: Black Sox Scandal

Wikipedia: Arnold_Rothstein