Tuesday, September 3, 2013
North Clark Street Murder of Dion O'Banion Touches Off Chicago Gang War
The first major assassination in the Chicago beer wars occurred here across from Holy Name Cathedral. On this block used to be Schofiled's Florist the headquarters of the north side mob. And in November 1924 it was the scene of the brutal murder of Dion O’Banion leader of that gang.
Charles Dean O'Banion was born in the lovely north side neighborhood known as “little hell” on July 8 1892.Dion was a renaissance man a gangster, a singer and a man with a passion for flower arranging. And like many passions it was to be his undoing.
His friends as a youth were Earl "Hymie" Weiss, Vincent"The Schemer" Drucci, and George "Bugs" Moran. They grew and engaged in a wide variety of criminal activity and by 1920 they were the most feared gang on the north side. The advent of prohibition would only increase their power.
Since the beginning of prohibition the competing gangs had divided the city into territories and they had peacefully gone about their illegal enterprise. There was peace but also tension and following the election of reform mayor William Deaver in 1923 pressure increased. After that election Capone moved his organization to Cicero and took over the town turning it into a goldmine.
Where ever gold is discovered a rush is sure to follow and Cicero was no different. O’Banion wanted a cut of the action. Which he got but he kept pushing for more and scheming to set up Torrio. First he tried to frame Torrio for the murder of John Duffy an out of town gangster. A murder his own gang had committed. After that he set Torrio up and succeeded in having him arrested in the Siebens brewery raid.
At the same time he was waging a war with Taylor street bootleggers the Terrible Genna’s. Suppliers to Al Capone they had begun encroaching on O’Banions north side territory. The only thing keeping O’Banion alive is that Unione Siciliana head Mike Merlo refused to sanction the hit. Merlo had along with Torrio been instrumental in setting up the truce that had everybody so rich and powerful. But by late 1928 he was suffering from cancer and was about to become the rare head of the Union to die a natural death while in office.
On November 3 O’Banion got in a heated phone argument with Mike Genna over a gambling debt owed to O’Banion. Who gave Genna week to pay. On November 8th Merlo died and two days later the debt was paid with lead.
Following the death of any local gangster Schofield's was where all the hoods went to order their flower arrangements. So it wasn’t unusual when John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, top gunmen for the Genna mob and Frankie Yale a Brooklyn gunman and Capone ally came in to order arrangements for Menlo’s funeral. When Yale took O’Banions hand to shake it he held the hand as the other the other two drew pistols and emptied them into O’Banion. This starts the five year “beer war” that culminates five years later on St Valentine ’s Day.