Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss

Dion O'Banion

Dion O'Banion
Dion O'Banion
While Capone's name was often linked with these murders, the fact was that there were many other gangsters responsible that Capone and Torrio had tried to keep in line.   One flamboyant example was Dion O'Banion who had a burgeoning bootlegging and florist business.  Schoenberg describes him as having a perennial-boy likability.   Dion "never acted tough.  His habit of calling even enemies 'swell fellow' mirrored an ingrained cheeriness and courtesy.  He chronically beamed at the world; it amounted to a fixed grin, belied only by unblinkingly cold blue eyes.  He was an indefatigable handshaker and backslapper, though never at the same time: at least one hand stayed free to go for one of the three gun pockets tailored into his clothes."

O'Banion was known for bizarre behavior which included gunning down a man in front of crowds of people for the flimsiest of reasons and then killing a man after meeting him at Capone's Four Deuces, which dragged Capone into a murder investigation needlessly.   There was a growing sense of realization that something was going to have to be done about Dion O'Banion's irresponsible and childishly impulsive behavior.

Angelo Genna, victim
Angelo Genna, victim
The worst problem was the antagonism between two Torrio-Capone allies --Dion and the Genna brothers, who were close friends of Torrio.  The dispute arose when the Gennas started selling cheap rotgut booze to O'Banion's customers. While it didn't really hurt O'Banion's vast beer income, it was the principle that mattered to Dion.  Then Dion hijacked a truckload of the Genna's liquor and Torrio wondered how he was going to keep the peace this time.

O'Banion offered Torrio an out.  Dion offered to retire to Colorado if Torrio bought out his interest in the Sieben Brewery.  Knowing full well that there was going to be a raid, O'Banion arranged to close the deal with Torrio at the brewery.   Not only did Torrio end up in jail, but O'Banion refused to return the money for a now padlocked brewery.  Even worse, he bragged about how he had tricked Torrio.   His fate was sealed.

Dion's flower shop
Dion's flower shop

Mike Merlo, the head of the Unione Sicilana in Chicago, a group that provided national cover to gangsters of that era, died of cancer.  A huge funeral was planned in which Dion, florist to the gangs, naturally had a large role.  Frankie Yale, head of the powerful New York branch, agreed with Torrio and Capone that Angelo Genna, who Dion had just humiliated over a gambling IOU, would take over the Chicago branch.

2 days after Merlo's death on November 10, 1924, Dion was in his flower shop fixing flowers for the Merlo funeral when 3 gangsters came into the shop.   Dion's employee left the men alone to their business.  O'Banion had expected the visit to pick up a wreath.  He greeted the men and prepared to shake hands.  One of the men pulled O'Banion's arm and knocked him off balance.

Mike Genna, victim
Mike Genna, victim
Dion's employee heard six gun shots and ran to help his boss who was lying on the floor in a pool of blood.  The three men had vanished.  It seems certain that two of the men were the vicious Silician assassins John Scalise and Albert Anselmi.  There is some confusion as to whether the third man was Frankie Yale, who was in town for Merlo's funeral, or Mike Genna.  None of the likely murderers ever came to trial.

Dion's funeral was stupendous.  The Chicago Tribune loved every gaudy detail of it: "At the corners of the casket are solid silver posts, carved in wonderful designs.  Modest is the dignified silver gray of the casket, content with the austere glory of the carved silver post at its corners....Silver angels stood at the head and feet with their heads bowed in the light of the ten candles that burned in the solid golden candlesticks they held in their hands...And over it all the perfume of flowers.

Dion's lavish funeral
Dion's lavish funeral

But vying with that perfume was the fragrance of the perfumed women, wrapped in furs from ears to ankles, who tiptoed down the aisle, escorted by soft stepping, tailored gentlemen with black, shining pompadours."

Some 10,000 people fell in before and after the funeral cortege, while another 5,000 people waited at the cemetery.  Twenty-six cars and trucks carried the funeral flowers, three bands and the police escort. 

Dion's funeral was a celebration for Torrio and Capone because they took over Dion's excellent bootlegging territory and they had finally rid themselves of a dangerously unpredictable colleague.  What they didn't appreciate at the time was the aftermath of Dion's death and what it meant to them personally.  While the police scratched their heads over who killed O'Banion, Dion's friend "Hymie" Weiss knew exactly who was responsible and he vowed revenge.

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