Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss

Bugs Moran

Hymie Weiss
Hymie Weiss
From that moment on, Capone and Torrio looked over their shoulders constantly for "Hymie" Weiss and another Dion associate, Bugs Moran.   "Hymie" Weiss's real name was Earl Wajciechowski, which he shortened to Weiss.  The nickname "Hymie" stuck somehow and everyone assumed he was a Jewish gangster, when he was in fact a very devout Catholic.  George Moran was a violent and unstable man who got the nickname "Bugs" because everyone thought he was nuts or "buggy".

Torrio was so concerned for his life that he decided to leave Chicago for awhile and went to Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Capone was just as worried and took every possible security measure.  Still, over the next 2 years, the former colleagues of Dion O'Banion would make a dozen attempts to assassinate Capone.

Bugs Moran
Bugs Moran
Bergreen details the profound effect that the threats had on the way Capone did his business.   "Although he himself was unarmed as a mark of his status, he never went anywhere without at least two bodyguards, one on either side.  With the exception of his home on South Prairie Avenue, he was never alone.  He traveled only by car, sandwiched between bodyguards, with a trusted, armed chauffeur named Sylvester Barton...he preferred to travel under cover of night, risking travel by day only when absolutely necessary."

In January of 1925, twelve days after the Weiss-Moran gang tried to assassinate Capone, Johnny Torrio came back to Chicago.  He and his wife Ann were just returned from a shopping trip and got out of their car to walk to the door of their apartment building.

Torrio walked behind her carrying packages.  Weiss and Bugs Moran jumped out of a car and, thinking that Torrio was still in his automobile, fired wildly, wounding the chauffeur.  When they finally saw Torrio, they shot him in the chest and neck, then his right arm and his groin.  Moran held a gun to Torrio's temple and pulled the trigger, but the firing chamber was empty and poor Johnny Torrio, the peacemaker, heard only a faint click.

At the hospital, Capone took over while surgeons removed the bullets in Torrio's raw body.  The hospital was a dangerous place for a gangster.  The security was rotten, so Capone arranged for Torrio's security on his own, which included Al sleeping in his room on a cot making sure that his beloved mentor was safe.

Torrio, center, after murder attempt
Torrio, center, after murder attempt

Four weeks later, Torrio shocked everyone by appearing in court to face the charges on the Sieben Brewery raid.  The frail, shaken man pleaded guilty and was given a sentence of nine months.  Things could have been much worse.  He became close friends with the sheriff, who made sure that there were no more assassination attempts while he was in jail, and was treated like a privileged gentleman.

But things would never be the same for Torrio.  He wanted out of this life of violence.  He wanted to retire and live quietly on his substantial earnings.  He called Al to the jail in Waukegan in March of 1925 and told him that he was retiring from the Chicago rackets and going to live abroad.  Torrio was turning over his vast assets to Al and the rest of the Capone brothers.  It was an amazing legacy: nightclubs, whorehouses, gambling joints, breweries and speakeasies.  Capone's power increased immensely.

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