Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The St. Louis Family

Egan's Rats

What began as a political organization forged by St. Louis Fifth Ward Democratic Committeeman Thomas Egan and Missouri State Senator Thomas Kinney, was by 1907 known as Egan's Rats. Early "political activities" included robbery, burglary and theft from railroad boxcars.

In April 1919, Thomas Egan died of natural causes and was replaced as Fifth Ward Boss by his brother William T. "Willie" Egan. During the teens, Rats' lieutenant Max "Big Maxey" Greenberg was imprisoned on federal charges of interstate theft. Willie Egan was able to pull strings, which reached all the way to President Woodrow Wilson, to get Greenberg's sentence commuted. He served just six months of a five-year sentence. Greenberg then repaid Egan by switching his allegiance to the Hogan Gang.

Greenberg fled St. Louis for Detroit where he got involved in smuggling liquor from Canada. Needing better financing he sought out Irving Wexler (Waxey Gordon) in New York, who in turn introduced him to Arnold Rothstein. Wexler and Greenberg established a successful rum running operation before Greenberg returned to St. Louis in early 1921.

Upon Greenburg's return, Egan retaliated. In March 1921, one of his gunmen fired at Greenberg while he was standing with a group of men at Sixth Street and Chester. Greenberg was wounded and political lobbyist John P. Sweeney was killed.

In the fall of 1921 rivals got even with Willie Egan when he was gunned down as he left a saloon at 14th Street and Franklin Avenue. The Rats blamed the murder of their leader on the Hogan Gang, led by Edward J. "Jellyroll" Hogan. Rumors spread that $30,000 was paid for the hit. Egan died in City Hospital refusing to name who shot him. "I'm a good sport," Egan replied before dying. A week later, Greenberg walked into police headquarters with a Hogan Gang lawyer Jacob H. Mackler and provided an airtight alibi.

The alibi didn't satisfy William P. Colbeck, Willie Egan's replacement in the Rats. "Dinty" Colbeck, was a husky plumber and a former World War I infantryman. Taking over the gang, Colbeck had surmised that Greenberg had planned Egan's death; the attorney was the payoff man, and James Hogan was one of the gunmen. Those three, plus Hogan gunmen John Doyle and Luke Kennedy, were marked for death.

The first to go was John Doyle in January 1922. Next, Rat gunmen fired on an automobile containing Mackler, Kennedy and James Hogan at Eleventh and Market Streets. No one was injured. Mackler was not as fortunate on February 21 when fifteen shots were fired into his automobile on Twelfth Street killing him instantly. The Hogan Gang responded by murdering Rat member George Kurloff in a restaurant on Franklin Avenue. The Rats retaliated by dispatching the bodies of Joseph Cammarata, Joseph Cipolla, and Everett Summers in ditches along lonely county roads. Those murders were followed by the death of Luke Kennedy, whose car was riddled with bullets in May 1922. Hogan gunmen retaliated a few days later by blasting away at Colbeck's plumbing store on Washington Avenue. The following day, Egan's Rats gunmen shot up "Jellyroll" Hogan's home.

During the trigger-happy forays that were occurring, several businesses had their windows shot out and once a young boy was hit by an automobile driven by fleeing gunmen. Public anger, caused by the mob shootings, forced police into action and Colbeck moved the gang's headquarters outside of the city to St. Louis County. The gang converted an 11-room house into the Maxwelton Club, and took over an abandoned horse and motorcycle racetrack near St. Charles Rock Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. Here the Rats raced around the track taking target practice on tin cans and whiskey bottles terrorizing the local residents.

Over a two-year period, the death toll in the Egan's Rats / Hogan Gang War reached 23. After the deaths of Doyle and Kennedy, the Rats turned their attention to Greenberg. Colbeck and William "Red" Smith were arrested while waiting outside police headquarters where Greenberg was once being questioned. The police smuggled Greenberg out a back door and the following day he fled to New York where he worked again with Wexler. In April 1933 Greenberg was murdered in an Elizabeth, New Jersey hotel.

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