Feature Articles

February 2011

Bombs And The Mob!

Part One: Chicago, Illinois

By J. R. de Szigethy


First came the knife. Then came the gun. Then came the bomb. Thus was the progression of tools made by Man to kill his fellow Man.

The American Mafia did not invent any of these, but instead perfected them, particularly the use of bombs to commit murder. Of these three methods of killing, the bomb had one decided advantage; it made a lot of noise, attracted a lot of attention, and projected an image of power and ruthlessness on the part of those who used it. For the latter part of the 19th Century, all of the 20th Century and into the next, the bomb would become a part of the American Mafia's way of life, and death.


Decades before the American Mafia was fueled by the opportunities brought about by Prohibition, organized crime found it's birthplace in the Labor Union movement of the 1880s. In 1881, followers of Karl Marx, who, in 1848 had published "The Communist Manifesto," established the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. This Labor Union a few years later change it's name to the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which survives today as the AFL-CIO. In 1884 delegates of this Union set the date of May 1, 1886, as the goal by which the Labor Union movement would establish the 8-hour work day as the standard for working people in America. Demonstrations were planned for most of the major U. S. cities on that date, with the rally in Chicago being organized by Union activists such as Albert Parsons, the Founder of the International Working People's Association.

Unsatisfied by the results of the Demonstration on May 1st, on May 4, 1886, thousands of Union activists descended upon the Haymarket Square retail center in Chicago. There Union activists clashed with the police, and a riot ensued, which escalated when a member of the Union protesters launched a bomb towards the police officers on hand. The bomb exploded, and in the ensuing chaos 7 police officers and 4 civilians were killed. 8 Union activists were charged with the murder of Police Officer Matthias U. Degan, who was killed by the bomb. Albert Parsons was among 4 Union activists convicted and executed for the murder of Officer Degan. Another man convicted, Louis Lingg, an activist with the International Carpenters and Joiners' Union, committed suicide by exploding a bomb within his mouth just hours before his scheduled execution. (1)

Thus, one of the 5 Union activists sentenced to Death for their role in the bombing murder of Police Officer Degan, himself died from a bomb.

That, however, would not be the end of this story, as Union activists contended that it was the Chicago police who rioted, and that it was they who were responsible for the bloodshed that ensued. Their claims would resonate throughout the coming decades, and into History.

As a result of the "Haymarket Riot," as the event came to be called, the date of May 1st, the original date of the Union Demonstrations, became known as "May Day," which would become the most important day of celebration for Communists worldwide, a date notorious during the "Cold War" when the Soviet Union and China would flout their stockpile of military weapons to an anxious World.


The Haymarket Riot and it's aftermath resulted in a backlash amongst the American people against the Labor Union movement. Thus, almost two full decades would pass before the next significant event in that movement. That event was the founding in 1903 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Chicago, created by career criminal Cornelius Shea, the scion of Irish immigrants who would become a leader in what would later be termed the Irish Mob.

The Irish Mob and the Italian Mob in Chicago would grow quickly during the first two decades of the 20th Century, fueled by income from gambling and prostitution rackets, and the millions of dollars brought in from Union Dues of the corrupt Unions emerging in the Midwest. The lawless gangs increasingly resorted to the use of bombs in order to instill fear in the hearts and minds of members of law enforcement and ordinary citizens. It worked. A point was soon reached where criminals went virtually unpunished; if a Mobster was indicted for a crime, witnesses would be afraid to testify against them, and jurors would be afraid to convict them. And, in those rare instances when someone was actually convicted, corrupt Judges and Prosecutors within the Judicial System could be counted on to turn the criminals back on the streets.

One example occurred in 1917, when a hired thug for the Teamsters' Union, "Wild Bill" Rooney, went on trial for jury tampering. "Con" Shea, however, testified on his behalf, and Rooney was acquitted. (2)

The failure of the Rule of Law in Chicago would increase during the latter part of that decade as the power of the Irish and Italian organized crime syndicates grew, and with that power tensions between the two groups. From 1916 to 1921 over 30 people would be murdered in Chicago by these competing gangs in an episode in American history known as "Alderman's Wars." The war pitted the Irishman Johnny Powers, who maintained control of the rackets of Chicago's 19th Ward, against an upstart Italian immigrant, Anthony D'Andrea, who was removed as a Priest of the Catholic Church after his conviction for counterfeiting. D'Andrea challenged as Alderman of the Ward a close associate of Powers in the election of 1916. The war that broke out between the two ethnic groups escalated, and would include the use of bombs, which were used to blow up the house of Powers, the campaign headquarters of D'Andrea, and the home of one of his close associates. A bomb was also detonated at a public rally of D'Andrea's supporters, injuring 5 people. (3)

Racial tensions would also result in the Chicago Race Riots of 1919, in which Caucasians, most of them Union members, attacked African-Americans, most of whom were not members of a Union. The final murder tally was 23 Blacks and 13 Whites, including one Police Officer. (4) Among those Caucasians who participated in the Riot were members of the Irish Hamburg Athletic Club, which included in it's membership 17-year-old Richard J. Daley, who would never confirm nor deny his participation. (5) Daley would go on to rule Chicago as Mayor for two decades, and would be remembered for yet another infamous Riot in the city streets, while all the world was watching.


In 1922 a concerted effort against the Mob was made by the Chicago authorities after a series of bombings and murders, which included those of two Police Officers, Thomas J. Clark and Lt. Terrence Lyons. Both men were murdered within 30 minutes of each other on the evening of May 10, 1922. Officer Clark was shot while assigned to guard a factory that had recently been bombed due to a Labor Union dispute. (6)

Authorities responded with the arrests that month of 8 leaders of Organized Labor/Organized Crime, on various charges including the murder of one of the Police Officers, Lt. Lyons. Among those charged with these crimes were Cornelius "Con" Shea of the Teamsters' Union, Jerry Horan, President of the Building Service Employees International Union, Timothy "Big Tim" Murphy, an Irish Mob Boss who controlled Unions representing Workers in the railroad, Laundry, and toolworkers industries, and Fred Mader, the President of the Chicago Building and Construction Trades Council. The New York Times would report that two of the 8 men indicted had secretly pleaded guilty and agreed to co-operate with the authorities. Those two were Isadore Braverman, an Officer of the Fixture Hangers' Union, and Robert McCloud, a top Aide to Fred Mader. The arrests were followed up by a raid on a Mafia bomb factory on Ogden Avenue which yielded an enormous quantity and variety of weapons. In response to these arrests, criminal lawyers for the various Unions filed lawsuits and other legal actions designed to derail the criminal proceedings. More ominously, letters were sent to various law enforcement authorities threatening that Union activists would burn Chicago to the ground. This threat was taken very seriously, given the legacy of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that rendered 100,000 people homeless. One of the letters was signed " a damned good bomber who lives in the 19th Ward," who warned that he and his criminal co-horts would "get away with it!" (7)

That would be exactly what would happen to those charged with the murder of Police Officer Lyons; they would get away with it. In this case, the charges against the Defendants who had not Pleaded Guilty were simply dropped by the Prosecutors.

Fred Mader would later be convicted of Conspiracy relating to advocating violence during a Labor Union dispute during construction of the Drake Hotel. That conviction was later tossed out on Appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court. "Con" Shea continued his labor union crimes, including his membership in "Sangerman's Bombers," a labor union terrorist organization founded by Joseph Sangerman, an Officer of the Barbers' Union. By the time of his death, "Con" Shea would have beaten charges including murder, mail fraud, assaulting a Worker during a labor dispute, conspiracy to restrain trade, commit violence and prevent workers from obtaining work, bribery, extortion of scrap metal dealers in exchange for labor peace, fraud, and stolen car trafficking. Shea was arrested in 1919 for his role in a bank robbery, but while police officers were searching his car for evidence relating to these charges, his car was destroyed by a car bomb. (8)

"Big Tim" Murphy, who had previously beaten a murder charge, continued his career of crime until the day of June 27, 1928, when he answered his front door, which had been knocked on by his assassin. Because Murphy had so many enemies and victims of his crimes, no single suspect was identified, by law enforcement nor Crime Historians. (9) Jerry Horan also continued his life of crime, and beat charges of attempting to tamper with the Judge in Al Capone's 1931 tax evasion trial. Although Horan somehow managed not to get murdered, he would eventually kill himself by alcoholism. (10)

The murders of two Chicago Police Officers, with no consequence for the murderers, would repeat itself in June, 1925, when Police Officers Charles Walsh and Harold Olsen were gunned down by two Mafia hitmen, Albert Anselmi and John Scalise. Both men were convicted for the murder of Officer Walsh, but acquitted in a separate trial for the murder of Officer Olsen. An Appeals Court, however, ordered a retrial on the case of the murder of Officer Walsh, and in that trial, both the Contract killers were Acquitted. (6)

In both trials, the Chicago Mob resorted to the use of the bomb as a means of intimidating witnesses, Prosecutors, and potential jurors. The Italian Mob, then led by Al Capone, planted bombs at the Water Street Market, as well as the house of a U. S. Senator, an Illinois Judge, and a Detective involved in the shoot-out with Anselmi and Scalise. In a 7-month period beginning in October, 1927, 64 bombings took place in Chicago. (11)

On February 14, 1929, the off-and-on tensions between the Irish and Italian Mafia in Chicago culminated in the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," in which 7 members and associates of the Irish gang led by "Bugs" Moran were executed with machine guns by hitmen for the rival Italian gang led by Al Capone. If nothing else, the executions proved that "Omerta," the "Code of Silence" of the Mob, was then very much in place. One of the victims, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive when the police arrived, despite having 14 bullets in his body. When the police asked the dying thug who had shot him, Gusenberg replied: "Nobody shot me!" (12)

As was all too typical, arrests were quickly made of suspects, with the charges quickly dropped. In this case, the arrested were John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. Just a few weeks later, however, the disfigured bodies of Scalise and Anselmi were discovered in rural Indiana. Various stories have emerged in the ensuing decades as to who killed them; the Irish Mob, in retaliation for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, or their Mob Boss Al Capone. (13)


Contemporary with the rise of the American Mafia in the 1920s and 1930s was the rise of the Modern Media and Entertainment Industry, a vocation encompassing newspapers and magazines, and then radio, television, the motion picture industry, and the music industry. Employees of this industry soon found that in order to best sell their product, it was sometimes necessary to "spin" a story, person, or event, in a manner which would appeal to a segment of the public. Thus, some in the Media began to portray organized crime figures in sympathetic, Romanticized treatments. Long before members of the Gotti family took this development to new levels, Chicago Mob Boss Al Capone allowed some members of the Media to portray him as something he was not; a heroic figure, deserving of adulation.

Such was the state of affairs in Chicago during that time, with some journalists perpetuating the cynical notion that every public figure was corrupt, that they could be bought for a price. What was needed to counter-act this was the emergence of a true, All-American hero, someone of uncompromising virtue who would have the courage to stand up to serial murderers such as Capone. Along came just such a man, a young man, not yet 30, who worked for a government agency few had heard of; the U. S. Treasury Department.

His name was Eliot Ness, and his place in American History is hard to define. For his crime-busting efforts, Ness would be championed, Romanticized by the Media, made into a national hero, and then later denigrated over his personal life by the same Media that created him. His book about his career, "The Untouchables," published in 1957 just after his death, barely made a dent in the national psyche, only to be resurrected by the television industry in the 1960s, and reincarnated as a blockbuster Hollywood film in 1987. Many Americans only know of the Ness legend from this movie, in which Director Brian de Palma depicts Capone as the homicidal maniac that he was, the man directly responsible for the innocent victims of his criminal enterprise, such as the child who is the unintended victim of a Mafia bomb in the opening scenes of the movie. Ness is portrayed as an uncomplicated, unyielding champion of Justice, who nevertheless crosses the line of criminality.

The simple truth about Eliot Ness, the historical figure, is that he came along and was willing to take on one of the most dangerous criminals in American History, at a time when no one else had the courage to do so. Ness and his co-horts succeeded in bringing down Al Capone, and Ness lived to tell his tale. His story is just that simple, and it is the stuff of Legend.

A generation would pass before another crime-buster would come upon the American scene willing to take on the American Mafia at great personal risk to himself, his wife, and their children. In the 1930s it was Eliot Ness; in the 1950s, it was Robert Kennedy. Like Ness, Kennedy's memory is obscured by legend and myth, and he is too often defined by the story of his brother, and that of his gangster father.

The simple truth about Robert Kennedy is that he took on the American Mafia, notably the Teamsters' Union, at a time when few others had the courage to do so. In the 20 years after the conviction of Al Capone, organized crime in Chicago did not disappear, but rather, evolved. The use of overt violence, such as the use of the bomb, gradually waned as a tool of the Chicago Mob, although the bomb's use would continue as a staple into the 1970s in Cleveland, Youngstown, and Las Vegas. As a result of Congressional legislation in the 1930s, the growth of Labor Unions was facilitated. By 1949, the Teamsters' counted 1 million Dues-paying members.

With that Union money came corruption. Many millions of Teamsters' dollars wound up financing Mafia projects in the new Western city, Las Vegas. Teamsters' President Dave Beck would himself accept an interest-free "loan" of $300,000 from his Union, which he would not pay back. (14)

Determined to make his mark, a young Robert Kennedy approached Senator John McClellan and asked to be Chief Counsel on a new Committee that would investigate organized crime in America. The McClellan Committee became a national obsession, with Kennedy the star during televised hearings in which Kennedy grilled leading Mafia figures of the day, most of whom repeatedly invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Kennedy taunted his adversaries relentlessly; during one such grilling of Chicago Mob Boss Sam Giancana, the wiseguy erupted into a nervous giggle, prompting Kennedy to taunt: "I thought only little girls giggled, Mr. Giancana!" Bobby Kennedy also aggressively pursued Dave Beck, Jimmy Hoffa, and Tony Provenzano of the Teamsters' Union as well as Mob bosses Joey Gallo, Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante. As a result of Kennedy's work on this Committee, many Mafia/Labor figures went to prison, including Teamsters President Dave Beck. Efforts by Kennedy to do the same to Beck's successor, Jimmy Hoffa, would come as a result of Kennedy's later work as Attorney General.

Robert Kennedy was also instrumental in drafting the Landrum-Griffin Act, legislation which enhanced and protected working people from corrupt Labor Unions. Following the example set by Ness, Kennedy distilled his crime-busting career in a book, "The Enemy Within: The McClellan Committee's Crusade Against Jimmy Hoffa and Corrupt Labor Unions."

Kennedy then strove to turn his book into a Motion Picture, securing Budd Schulberg, who had won an Oscar for his anti-Mafia screenplay "On the Waterfront," to adapt the book. However, Kennedy and Schulberg soon encountered resistance from the labor Unions that wielded enormous power in Hollywood. The Teamsters threatened that their truck drivers would not deliver copies of such a movie to the thousands of movie theatres across America that they were under contract to. The Projectionists that loaded the movies within every theater also belonged to a mobbed-up Union. Jimmy Hoffa's cronies also waged a campaign of intimidation against Hollywood moguls to keep the movie from being made. (15)

By this time in the mid-1960s, Kennedy had become a formidable force in American politics. Kennedy also was compared favorably with another prominent crime buster, Thomas Dewey. While Ness was fighting the Mob in Chicago, Dewey was doing the same in New York City. Dewey famously battled crime figure Dutch Schultz, charging Schultz with income tax evasion, the same charges that brought down Al Capone. However, in two separate trials, Schultz beat the rap.

Schultz then decided to murder Dewey, which alarmed crime boss Lucky Luciano. During that time the "rules" of the American Mafia were being established, and mobsters such as Luciano worried that the killing of a member of law enforcement would be bad publicity and thus increase law enforcement efforts against the Mob. Thus, Luciano had Schultz killed. Dewey then turned his efforts against Luciano, and obtained a conviction on prostitution charges.

Hollywood took a liking to Thomas Dewey, who was nicknamed "Gangbuster," and made several movies inspired by his bold actions, making Dewey a national figure. In 1948 Dewey ran for President on the Republican ticket. Most members of the Media expected Dewey to win, given his enormous popularity with crime-weary residents of the major cities of the United States. When Dewey's opponent Harry Truman went to bed on election night, Truman did so believing he had lost the election, given that the urban vote had been tabulated and was overwhelmingly for Dewey.

Overnight, however, as the "farm" vote slowly came in from rural America, the vote total shifted towards Truman. The working people of Chicago awoke that day to the promise that they would be rescued by the election of a tough, anti-Mafia President in Prosecutor Dewey. The Chicago Daily Tribune's front page opened with the headline "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN!"

Dewey's near-election to the Presidency was not lost on Robert Kennedy. Kennedy recognized that his career as a crime buster would play well with urban voters, but Kennedy also had enormous appeal to voters in rural areas, notably the poor and those seeking social and economic Justice. This "City-Country Coalition," some political observers believed, would be enough to propel Kennedy into the White House. The only question was; "When?"

The conventional wisdom at that time in the mid-60s was that 1972 or 1976 would be Robert Kennedy's opportune moment to launch a Presidential campaign. However, in the first half of 1968, a series of events would convulse American Society, escalating the pace at which the country was undergoing change.


On March 12th, 1968, Senator Eugene McCarthy placed second in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, obtaining 42% of the vote to President Lyndon Johnson's 49%. What this meant was that the sitting President was vulnerable, and four days later, Robert Kennedy made his move, entering the race. By the end of the month, Johnson announced to the American people: "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

Johnson, who had a strong dislike and jealousy of Robert Kennedy, sought to forge a coalition of Union bosses and Democratic leaders, who would secure the nomination for Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's Vice-President, in States where Primaries were not to be held. Among these leaders was Richard Daley, the Mayor of Chicago, where the Democratic Convention was to be convened in August. Kennedy, however, took his campaign to the people in Primary elections, counting on his own coalition of Urban and Rural citizens.

On June 4th, 1968, Kennedy won the California Democratic Primary. With Senator McCarthy supplanted, all that remained was for Kennedy to march his supporters into the Democratic National Convention and wrest the nomination away from President Johnson's hand-picked successor. Savoring his victory, Kennedy spoke to his supporters, and to History: "We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. . . So, my thanks to all of you, and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there!"

Thus ended Robert Kennedy's final public speech, punctuated with his flashing of the Universal sign of "Peace" with one of his hands.

To this day, Historians debate as to whether Kennedy could have secured the Nomination for President, had he lived. What is not debated is the fact that the delegates who attended the Convention that August were deeply divided over a number of issues. Chaos reigned inside the Convention Center, as it soon would outside on the streets of Chicago.

As millions of Americans watched in horror on live television, uniformed members of the Chicago Police Department rioted against Demonstrators, many of them young people who were opposed to the Viet Nam War. The Demonstrators were kicked and beaten with batons and tear gassed, with hundreds arrested, many for no probable cause. Some cops would later claim the Demonstrators taunted them, throwing sticks and bottles. No bombs were hurled.

For the television news Media, the riot presented the challenge of switching coverage from the chaos inside the Democratic Convention to the crimes being committed by the Chicago Police outside. A defining moment came in an altercation between Senator Abraham Ribicoff and Mayor Daley. At the podium to offer into nomination Senator George McGovern, Senator Ribicoff stated, looking squarely at Daley: "And with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago!" Some television cameras then panned to an obviously furious Mayor Daley, who shouted angrily back at the Senator. While there was no sound microphone nearby to pick up Mayor Daley's angry words, those who have the ability to read lips have claimed that Daley yelled: "Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch!"

One result of this event was that 8 Demonstrators were indicted on charges of inciting a riot. With one Defendant facing a separate trial, the remaining 7 became known as "The Chicago Seven." During one Courtroom proceeding, Defense Attorney William Kunstler asked Mayor Daley, Under Oath, if he had made the statement attributed to him against Senator Ribicoff. Before Mayor Daley could answer the question, the Prosecutor, a long-time friend of the Mayor's, Objected to the question, with the Objection Sustained by the Judge. (16)

Eventually, the 8 Demonstrators accused of inciting the Chicago Police Riot of 1968 were cleared. For some Historians, these indictments were a disturbing parallel to the 8 Demonstrators indicted for inciting the Haymarket Riot of 1886. For some, this was an indication that despite the passage of 80 years, nothing had really changed in one of America's largest, and most troubled, cities; Chicago, Illinois.


With the Democrats bitterly divided in 1968, Republican Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in an election that was very close. In 1971, President Nixon Commuted the prison sentence of former Teamster's Union President Jimmy Hoffa, who, along with his predecessor, Dave Beck, had been brought to Justice by the life's work of Robert Kennedy. After Nixon resigned in disgrace for his Watergate crimes, his successor, Gerald Ford issued a Presidential Pardon to both Nixon and former Teamsters' President Dave Beck.

Dave Beck lived to the age of 99, whereas Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in July, 1975. His body has never been found. The FBI has identified Teamster official Tony Provenzano as the person responsible for the abduction and murder of Jimmy Hoffa. Provenzano was never charged with Hoffa's murder, but was convicted for the murder of a member of his own Local of the Teamsters' Union.


Coming up in the next installment of BOMBS AND THE MOB!


As in Chicago, rival gangs of Italian and Irish mobs in Cleveland, Ohio, descend into a Mob War, with bombings a signature calling card of the war. The bombings culminate in a watershed moment for the American Mafia, in which a large city Mafia Family is completely eradicated. And, in a case of unprecedented Irony, the saga of the Decline and Fall of the Cleveland Mob is chronicled by a Police Officer, whose family background uniquely qualifies him to tell this tale from both sides of the law.


1. "History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850: 1877-1896," by James Ford Rhodes Macmillan, 1919.

2. "Ex-Teamster Chief Tells of Murder Juror," Chicago Daily Tribune, April 8, 1917.

3. Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File Inc., 2005, as cited by's Wars

4. Sandburg, Carl. "The Chicago Race Riots, July 1919". The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. 2005.

5. "American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation" by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor. Back Bay Books, 2001.

6. Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc.

7. "Raid Bomb Factory in Chicago's War on Labor Terror." New York Times. May 13, 1922.

8. "Hunt 'Con' Shea To Clear Death Auto Explosion," Chicago Daily Tribune, June 5, 1919.

9. "Big Tim," Time, July 9, 1928.

10. "Capone Effort to Influence Judge Charged," Chicago Daily Tribune, February 25, 1933.

11. "Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties," by Michael Lesy. Norton, 2007.

12. "Forensic Ballistics: Styles of Projectiles," by Sue L. Hamilton. Abdo Publishing, 2008.

13. Bilek, Arthur, and Helmer, William J. "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre: The Untold Story Of The Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone." Cumberland House Publishing, 2004.

14. "Mobsters, unions, and feds: the Mafia and the American labor movement," by James B. Jacobs. NYU Press, 2006.

15. "Robert Kennedy: His Life," by Evan Thomas. Simon & Schuster, 2002.

16. Testimony of Richard Daley in the Chicago Seven Trial


J. R. de Szigethy can be reached at:


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