Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: History — Rick Moran @ 11:24 pm

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Seven of Bugs Moran’s boys lie riddled with bullets in a Clark Street Garage on Valentines Day, 1929.

All my life, I’ve been asked if I am related to Chicago crime boss George “Bugs” Moran, whose outfit was decimated on Valentines Day in 1929. The answer is no, I don’t think so. Moran was and is a very common name in Chicago, a result of an Irish influx in the 1880’s - the same migration that brought my grandfather’s family here from Ireland to escape another in a series of 19th century famines.

Though not related to him, I, like most Chicagoans feel connected to that bloody past if only because part of the legacy of Capone and the crime organizations that operated with impunity in the city was political. The fact is, the gangsters couldn’t operate as freely as they did without having the political clout to intimidate the police, the courts, and ordinary citizens into tolerating their illegal activities.

And it wasn’t just liquor. Gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, and murder for hire were rampant in the city as Capone’s gang literally ran wild in the streets. They routinely murdered those who stood in their way. They paid off police, judges, prosecutors, and most importantly, they had the Mayor himself in their hip pocket.

William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson was a larger than life character who was extremely popular with white, working class voters due to his bombastic style and pugnacious attitude. His first stint as Mayor (1915-23) was marked by the rise of various crime organizations who battled in the streets for control of the lucrative beer and liquor market. He had it in his mind to run for President so he began to collect $3 a month from city workers in order to build a war chest. It is thought that Al Capone was also giving him payoffs although it was never proven. (After his death, two safe deposit boxes were found in his name stuffed with $1.5 million in cash.)

As colorful as Big Bill Thompson was, he was also a civic liability. Here’s an excerpt from a Chicago Tribune editorial following his defeat in 1931:

For Chicago Thompson has meant filth, corruption, obscenity, idiocy and bankruptcy…. He has given the city an international reputation for moronic buffoonery, barbaric crime, triumphant hoodlumism, unchecked graft, and a dejected citizenship. He nearly ruined the property and completely destroyed the pride of the city. He made Chicago a byword for the collapse of American civilization. In his attempt to continue this he excelled himself as a liar and defamer of character

Capone assisted Thompson in his 1927 run to regain the mayoralty largely through intimidating opponents and their supporters. This was crucial to Capone’s plans to make Chicago a wide open city where a man with sybaritic tendencies could get anything he wanted, anytime of day or night. As Capone himself often pointed out, he was just supplying a service that the people wanted.

What the people didn’t want were the constant street battles between various hoodlum outfits. Beginning in the early 1920’s, Capone systematically destroyed these organizations through murder and muscle until in 1929, only Bugs Moran and his Northside Gang stood in his way. Hence, the attempt to wipe Moran and most of his gang out by staging a fake police raid at a Clark Street garage and gunning down 7 Moran associates. Moran himself escaped when he spotted the police cruiser being used by the assassins and never went into the garage.

Moran and his gang survived and the gangster hung on to his slice of the action on the North Side. But Capone’s days were numbered. The feds led by Frank Wilson, an agent for the Bureau of Internal Revenue, hounded Capone on income tax evasion and with the help of Elliot Ness and his Untouchables, wrapped up an ironclad case against the gangster for not paying taxes from 1925-29. Capone’s 11 year sentence finished him as boss. It did not finish his organization.

To this day, the old mob still has its tenterhooks in the city. Every once and a while, a connection surfaces between a politician or a policeman and various elements of the Chicago organization built by Capone. No one is surprised. No one is shocked. It’s the way that the “City That Works” …works.

It is a legacy that Chicagoans forget at their peril.


  1. Very good piece! Look up Staven Malanga’s latest column, in the NY Post, about how the recent roundup of Gambino associates isn’t denting the “culture of corruption” in the NYC construction industry. The cycle continues.

    Comment by Christopher K. Leavitt — 2/15/2008 @ 5:27 am

  2. That’s Steven Malanga, and here’s the URL:


    Mob influence still looms large in our fair city, as well, and it’s still savage. Thanks for the historical context.

    Comment by Christopher K. Leavitt — 2/15/2008 @ 5:41 am

  3. Well duh, I knew you wernt related to bugsy for the simple fact you would have stayed at a better hotel last time you went to vegas….lol.
    Sorry to bring up bad memories of the trop but i couldnt resist.




    Comment by ajmontana — 2/15/2008 @ 9:25 am

  4. It’s a normal day on the college campus nowadays.

    Comment by Banjo — 2/15/2008 @ 2:49 pm

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