October 11, 1926
1. It is important to note that there were any number of Weiss/ Capone war hits and attempted hits Chicago newspapers mentioned in passing, or simply never recorded. Shortly after the Cicero assault, George Moran's auto was discovered by the police abandoned on a city street, ventilated with bullet holes. There was no blood, and police found Moran relaxing at his hotel, complaining that his car had been stolen. Back
2. The ownership of the
boarding house at 740 North State changed hands on October 6th, the new
owner being Mrs. Anna Rotariu.
3. In 1925, McErlane introduced the first use of a Thompson sub-machine gun to Chicago's Prohibition wars in what was another in a series of unsuccessful attempts to kill the rakish Spike O'Donnell. Chicago police were at first stumped by the crime scene, having never before seen lines of bullet holes so precisely placed in a wall. Back
McErlane was often described as a short, heavy, porcine thug with slits for eyes. McErlane once put a double-barreled shotgun to the head of one of O'Donnell's men and blew it to pieces; in another incident, he shot a man in the head from across a crowded tavern to prove his marksmanship to several friends. This murder led to a trial in which virtually every prosecution witness was either threatened with death, or was actually killed. McErlane was acquitted on November 31, 1927.
4. Capone, acutely aware of Saltis' defection in south Chicago, would have to eventually deal with surly "Polack Joe", unless there was a conviction in the Foley case. For Capone, the prospect of Weiss and Saltis hooking up was not a pleasant one. Although McErlane was fighting his tavern murder case in Indiana, and was temporarily out of the picture, Capone proved the lessons he learned from Johnny Torrio were not forgotten. Capone would eventually sit down with Saltis to work things out-- rather than turn to his other considerable resources. Back
5. And Weiss' efforts
proved to be extremely effective. Saltis and Koncil were
acquitted on November 9, 1926, in a case that practically fell into the hands of the Chicago
Police. The words Al Capone used in 1923 to describe Chicago as a whole
were not prophetic, they were simply descriptive: "Nobody's on the legit."
6. Paddy Murray and Sam Peller (sometimes "Pellar") were reported by the Chicago Tribune to have
been personal bodyguards for Maxie Eisen, a Northsider politico and
extortion expert. Eisen was never an everyday member of the gang, and
survived and prospered in large part due to his relationships with Morton, O'Banion, and Weiss. As Weiss moved into a full leadership role, allies like
Eisen would provide him with contacts and staffing critical to one at the
7. Jacobs was a twentieth ward politician, a classic "ward heeler". He helped elected officials get reelected, and he made sure various fixes were "in" when they needed to be in. He also hired himself out as an investigator to various attorneys. He was a natural for the Saltis defense team. Back
8. In any book about
Prohibition Chicago, you can visually find the section describing the Weiss
hit when you find a glaring break in the text and the following in italics:
9. There is a school of thought that one of Capone's goals in this project was also to kill attorney O'Brien. Saltis was now an open enemy. O'Brien was a crafty, mobbed up lawyer who might have gotten Saltis off even without Weiss' help. Capone would not have been unhappy if, as a sidebar to the Weiss hit, O'Brien also happened to die. Back
10. The autopsy on Weiss found both steel jacket machinegun bullets, and lead pellets from a shotgun. Back
11. Hymie Weiss would leave an estate worth $1.3 million (do I really need to add, "in 1926 dollars?"), plus a bootlegging empire generating millions of dollars a year. Back
12. The two fleeing killers were described by witnesses as: male #1: 35 years old, gray topcoat, gray hat, lugging a machinegun; male #2: dark suit, light cap, revolver in each hand. Back
October 11, 1926
"I don't expect to live long, but I expect to live long enough..."
-- Earl Weiss
Hymie Weiss had been at war with Al Capone for one year and eleven months-- since the November 1924 killing of Dion O'Banion. During that time he eliminated the Genna crime family, drove Johnny Torrio out of Chicago, and made Capone feel like a hunted animal. Also during that period, Weiss expanded his Northside empire, setting up a professional criminal organization generating millions of dollars in revenue a year.
Capone had no illusions about his future in Chicago with Weiss gunning for him. His attempts to kill Weiss, Drucci and Moran had thus far failed.1 His generous proposal for a lasting peace accord had also failed. So Capone made alternative plans.
In the early 1920s, Dion O'Banion had bought part ownership in William Schofield's flower shop at 738 North State Street, across the street from Holy Name Cathederal, near the corner of West Superior. O'Banion's fondness for florals was supplemented by the increasing use of the upper floor of the shop to conduct Northside business. After Weiss assumed command, he had the offices above the florist shop redone as his headquarters.
Shortly after the September 20th raid on Cicero, a man
giving his name as Oscar Lundin inquired about an $8 dollar a week
room in a three-story rooming house at 740 North State Street, next door to
Schofield's. Lundin asked
for the second floor front room, but it was occupied, so he took an interior
hallway room until the street view room became available. The female tenant
moved out of the front room of 740 North State on Tuesday October 5th, and Lundin
happily moved into it from the his hallway room.2
At about the same time, a young woman who called herself "Mrs. Theodore Schultz," with a Mitchell, South Dakota home address, rented a third floor apartment at 1 West Superior Street. West Superior is an east-west street that intersects North State, and #1 has a view of the intersection and the back alley behind Schofield's.
Both tenants paid rent several weeks in advance, then simply disappeared. But the rooms were not empty-- a number of men came and went from these rooms, spending days at a time in the bleak boarding-room surroundings. They were later described by witnesses as "Sicilian" and "swarthy."
Hymie Weiss had made alliances with independent gangs a priority in his fight against Capone. The irascible "Polack Joe" Saltis had kept a piece of Southwestern Chicago as his own beer distribution territory since the start of Prohibition. Saltis' top gun protecting his turf was an unstable sociopath name Frankie McErlane.3 After an early alliance with Torrio, Saltis began breaking away and getting into turf battles with other Torrio-allied minor gangs. Weiss gradually began putting out feelers to Saltis and there seemed the possibility of a strong Northside-Southside alliance-- one guaranteed to crack the glass on Capone's stress meter.
On August 6, 1926, Saltis and one of his men (Frank "Lefty" Koncil) shot and killed John "Mitters" Foley, who had been selling beer in Saltis' southwestern territory. Unfortunately for Saltis, and to the delight of the Chicago Police, there were two good eyewitnesses willing to testify in court. But when the Saltis-Koncil trial came up in October, Hymie Weiss had already made plans to ensure the trial would end in acquittals.
If Weiss could successfully derail an almost slam-dunk murder case against Joe Saltis, a Northsider alliance with a very grateful Saltis would be cemented. With a piece of South Chicago behind them, not only would the Northsiders expand their sphere of influence, the war against Capone would now open a new front. Weiss, Drucci, and Moran must have reveled in the prospect of having the volatile psychopath Frankie McErlane in on the hunt for Al Capone's head.4
Quickly, supporting witnesses in the Saltis murder case seemed to disappear or were now unclear in their potential testimony. During the jury selection process, the special prosecutor trying the case had his offices broken into and records tampered with; Weiss also reportedly dedicated $100,000 to spread among cooperating jurors. The fix was definitely in, Chicago-style.
From the very start of jury selection, Weiss and his associates were in the courtroom almost daily, right up to October 11th when the final juror was selected. Testimony and the presenting of evidence would begin the next day.5
By October 11th, the men in the two boardinghouse rooms on North State and West Superior Streets had been waiting seven long days. They worked for Al Capone, and their assignment was to kill Hymie Weiss when the best opportunity presented itself. That meant that Weiss, coming and going from his office at Schofield's, was in the crosshairs of Capone guns for five or six days. Either there were too many people on the street at times, or Weiss was being extra careful-- because the hit teams must have repeatedly held back.
Until October 11th.
Hymie Weiss left the Criminal Courts Building at
3:30 PM for the quarter mile drive to Schofield's Flower Shop, in his pocket
were the names of the final twelve jurors selected for the Saltis trial. Back in
his office, the next phase of fixing the trial would start: endless meetings and
strategizing on how to get to as
many of the twelve jurors as possible.
Weiss went to Schofield's in his Cadillac; at the wheel was his driver Sam Peller, and in the front seat bodyguard Patrick Murray.6 Driving in another car to Schofield's directly from court were Saltis defense attorney William W. O'Brien and O'Brien's investigator Benjamin Jacobs.7
Peller drove up West Superior Street and stopped the car on Superior directly next to Holy Name Cathedral. Weiss, Peller and Murray waited until they saw Jacobs and O'Brien pull up and park on North State Street, just before it crosses Superior. Weiss and Murray bolted out of their car and walked up the sidewalk past Holy Name to North State Street, followed by Sam Peller. O'Brien cut across the intersection to join them as Jacobs locked up his car.
Hymie Weiss jumped across the street car tracks on North State Street on his way to the front door of Schofield's. Patrick Murray was a half dozen steps ahead of him just up on the sidewalk in front of Schofield's. Sam Peller was about ten steps behind Weiss, with William O'Brien cutting diagonally across the intersection to meet up with Weiss at the front door. Benjamin Jacobs had just begun to walk in the same direction after locking his car doors.
Suddenly, from somewhere in front of them, a machinegun started to rattle. Then exploding shotgun blasts. In an instant, Patrick Murray was hit by eight bullets and collapsed onto the sidewalk directly in front of Schofield's. He was dead when he hit the sidewalk. Hymie Weiss was hit by eight bullets and fell to the street, just in front of the North State Street sidewalk. He would be quickly hit again by part of a shotgun blast. The killers now aimed for the others. Sam Peller pulled out his revolver and fired a single shot to his front just as he took a bullet to the groin. He turned around and staggered backwards toward the Cathedral, still holding his gun.
Attorney William O'Brien had just about caught up with Weiss at the curb when the shooting started. He took a bullet in the arm, whirled around and began to run toward the safety of a basement stairwell next to the flower shop. He was hit three more times in the side and stomach before he reached the stairwell and stumbled down on his hands and knees.
Benny Jacobs had crossed Superior and was crossing North State when the shooting began. He was hit in the right foot and started to go down. Sam Peller stumbled by Jacobs, looking to get around the corner of the Cathedral to safety, and Jacobs quickly turned around and hobbled after him. The killer firing the Thompson submachine gun from the second floor window now reloaded and focused on Peller and Jacobs. His Thompson stitched after the fleeing men, following them in a line as they ran across the street, up the sidewalk, and around the corner of the Cathedral.
The front of Holy Name would be splattered with thirty-five .45 caliber rounds.8 Peller tossed his weapon down a narrow basement door stairwell as he stumbled past the Cathedral and headed down Superior to safety.
As suddenly as it began, the shooting stopped. Peller and Jacobs staggered east down Superior to Cass Street, where they turned south to the first doorway they found-- fortuitously, the offices of Dr. Walter Moore at 720 Cass Street. O'Brien huddled in the basement stairwell on State until a woman came out and told him there was a doctor's office down the block. O'Brien, shot four times, hobbled past the flower shop and the boarding house to the doctor's office at 748 North State Street. After police arrived, he was transported in critical condition to Mercy Hospital. He would survive.9
The first emergency vehicle to respond to the State Street ambush was a Chicago Fire Department rescue squad, which happened by the shooting scene after responding to a suicide call in a nearby neighborhood. Fireman Louis Diana found Murray dead and Weiss still alive, but unconscious. He was bleeding from numerous gunshot wounds, including one above his left eye. Fireman Diana assisted in hoisting Weiss into the rescue truck and they rushed to him to Henrotin Hospital, where Weiss died without regaining consciousness.10
Witnesses saw two men with guns (one with a Thompson machinegun, the other with two pistols) run to the rear of the North State Street boardinghouse, burst through the windows of a first floor back room, and bolt south in the alley behind the building. The two men cut across West Superior, and turned from the alley westbound up Huron Street. As they ran past 12 West Huron Street, one of the killers tossed the machinegun over a fence. It landed on top of a dog house, where police later found it. The two men turned south on Dearborn and were lost in time.12