5

Capone the Lawman

The oldest brother of gangster Al Capone, James Vincenzo Capone, led a life quite different from that of his notorious sibling.  Leaving home at 16 he ultimately settled in Nebraska, losing his New York Italian accent.  He served in the Army both during the Punitive Expedition and World War I, earning a Lieutenant’s commission and being decorated by General Pershing.  Returning from the War he changed his name to Richard James Hart, married and became a Prohibition agent.  Leading raids against bootleggers he acquired the nickname of Two Gun Hart.  Newspapers in the mid 20s discovered his relationship to Al Capone.

In 1926 he embarked on a career as a special agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  During his years as a special agent he is credited with bringing in 20 wanted killers.  He was accused of brutality in the performance of his duties, but from this distance in time it is hard to determine the truth of the charges.  Law enforcement was a fairly rough occupation during that period, and in much of the West, the rough and ready spirit of the Wild West was still a reality.   On the other hand. he was noted for learning tribal languages and having good relationships among the Indians whose tribes he helped protect from gangsters.

He ultimately was fired from his post at the instigation of a superior who was on take from bootleggers. During the subsequent time of financial stress he received a large gift of money from his brother Al, family blood counting for more than the fact that they were lawman and crook.  Hart became a prohibition agent again and ultimately a justice of the peace in Homer Nebraska.  He died in 1952 at age 60 of a heart attack.

1

The Real Sermon on the Docks

This seems appropriate for the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker.

Probably the most powerful sermon ever placed on film, Father Barry speaks of Christ and his crucifixion on the docks.  The best performance Karl Malden ever gave.  Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront  (1954) was also his response to the criticism he received for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.

 

 

The character of Father Barry was based on the actual work on the docks of a hardbitten Irish-Catholic Jesuit Priest, Father John Corridan.  From 1946-1957 he waged a one man crusade in New York against the gangsters who controlled the International Longshoreman’s Association.  One of the bosses who controlled the union was “Tough” Tony Anastasia,  a brother of Albert “The Madhatter” Anastasia, one of the former bosses of Murder, Inc.

In the face of these murderers, Father Corridan, son of a New York cop who had died when Corridan was nine, was completely fearless.  Teaching longshoremen Christian principles in labor\management relations at the Saint Francis Xavier Labor School, Father Corridan faced down a union thug sent to disrupt his class:  “If anything happens to the men I’m trying to help here, I’ll know who’s responsible, and I’ll personally see to it that they are broken throughout this port. They’ll pay and I’ll see that they pay.”

Father Corridan compiled information which eventually filled sixteen filing cabinets on the mobsters who controlled the ports and who made life miserable for honest longshoremen.  He shared this information freely with reporters, including Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun who won a Pulitzer for his series in 1948 on “Crime on the Waterfront”.  Father Corridan realized the pressure that could be exerted on the mob and the crooked politicians who protected the mob by such stories, and he used every opportunity to expose them in the press.  He wrote scorching articles himself for America and other publications.  Gradually the public began to become aware of the problem of mob domination of the docks.

A turning point came in 1951 when a faction of the longshoremen rejected a union negotiated contract and went on a wildcat strike.  Father Corridan supported them to the hilt.  The strike shut down ports in New York and New Jersey for twenty-five days.  To refute a claim by the mob dominated union that the strikers were communists, Father Corridan held a public prayer service with the strikers.  He also successfully pressured Governor Dewey of New York to address the issue of mob control of the docks.

Father Barry in the movie had his sermon on the docks.  Father Corridan preached many of them and one of them had this memorable statement:  “I suppose some people would smirk at the thought of Christ in the shape-up. It is about as absurd as the fact that He carried carpenter’s tools in His hands and earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. As absurd as the fact that Christ redeemed all men irrespective of their race, color, or station in life. It can be absurd only to those of whom Christ has said, ‘Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not.’ Because they don’t want to see or hear. Christ also said, ‘If you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me.’ So Christ is in the shape-up.”

The shape up was the system by which the mob completely controlled which longshoremen would work and which would not.  Father Corridan succeeded in having the shape up banned by the time that he left the docks in 1957, and a New York\New Jersey commission was in place to regulate the harbors.

Father Corridan went on to teach economics at LeMoyne College in Syracuse , theology at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City and was a hospital chaplain in Brooklyn until his death at 73 in 1984.  It is said of Father Corridan that he could swear like a longshoreman himself at the sight of injustice.  If true, then I imagine his language is pure in his final abode.

5

November 14, 1957: The Apalachin Meeting

A Mafia summit meeting was held at the home of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, New York on November 14, 1957.  Head of the Luciano crime family Vito Genovese  called the meeting to discuss various matters and to attempt to take control of the governing body of the Mafia in America, the Commission having long been divided between a “Conservative Faction” that wanted to run the Mafia in America as the Mafia was conducted in Sicily, and a “Liberal Faction”, led by Genovese, that wanted the Mafia in America to chart its own course free of any Sicilian traditions.  About 100 Mafiosi showed up, with local law enforcement and the New York State Police quickly wondering why all these expensive cars were showing up at a house in sleepy Apalachin.  “Joe the Barber” had been under occasional surveillance by the State Police prior to the meeting.  A raid was conducted and about 58 members of the Mafia, including Genovese, were picked up.  They all claimed that “Joe the Barber” had been sick and they had come to visit him.

 

 

For the Mafia the Apalachin meeting was a long term disaster as it confirmed in the public mind the existence of the Mafia.  After Apalchin, J. Edgar Hoover could no longer ignore the Mafia, and a long term war began between the Federal government and the Mafia which would eventually reduce the Mafia to a shadow of its former self.

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Eliot Ness: Legend Eclipses Reality

 

I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)

 

Hard to believe it is 30 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released.  My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it.  A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang.  A truckdriver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather.  I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.

 

The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini.  De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone.  Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. Continue Reading

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February 14, 1929: Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

Ironies abound in the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre by which Chicago gangster Al Capone sought to destroy his competitor gangster Adelard Cunin, known to infamy as George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran had made a failed attempt on Capone’s life, which led to Capone, leading the Italian dominated South Side Gang, to target Moran and Moran’s Irish dominated North Side Gang.  Capone had a false call made to Moran on February 13, 1929 tempting him with a truck load of liquor from Detroit that he could have at a bargain price.  Moran ordered that the truck deliver the liquor the next morning at 10:30 AM at the garage of the S.M.C. Cartage Company on North Clark Street where Moran kept his bootlegging trucks.  Instead, two of Capone’s men, disguised as cops, appeared at the garage and ordered the seven men present to line up against a wall.  Two professional killers then entered the garage with tommy-guns and, with the aid of the two fake cops, murdered the men, only gangster Frank Gusenberg survived long enough to make it to the hospital and honor the gangland code of silence prior to his death, refusing to say anything about who was responsible.  Ironies to take note of in this example of gangland savagery:

  1.  If Moran hadn’t slept in that morning he would have been among the dead.  Albert Weinshank, one of the dead, looked like Moran and probably when he was seen entering the garage caused Capone’s hit squad to go into action.
  2. Two of the seven men killed had the abysmal bad luck to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One was optician Reinhardt Schwimmer who liked to gamble and palled around with members of the gang.  The other was mechanic John May who was working on a car.
  3. Moran was not put out of business by the murders, but kept control of his territory through the end of prohibition.  He would die in prison in 1957.
  4. The two probable Capone hit men involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre did not live to see another Valentine’s day.  The bodies of John Scalise and Albert Anselmi were found in the wee hours of the morning on May 8, 1929 on a lonely road near Hammond, Indiana.  They were joined in death by gangster Joseph Giunta.  The three men had been severely beaten and then shot to death.  It is likely that they had been involved in a plot against Capone.  Capone, ever a fanatic baseball fan, had worked them over with a bat before having his gunmen finish the task.
  5. Public revulsion against the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was so intense that the Federal government made a maximum effort to get Capone.  Capone’s tactical victory in the Massacre led directly to his eventual downfall for income tax evasion.
  6. Both Al Capone and Bugs Moran repented their sins before their deaths and may have stolen Heaven in the tradition established by Saint Dismas.
  7. I sat next to one of the last survivors of Al Capone’s gang back in the eighties during a Chamber of Commerce dinner.  Now a kindly great grandfather, he had gotten out of Chicago decades before and invested in farmland in Livingston County.  I resisted the temptation to ask him if any gangster bodies were buried in said farmland.

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