Feature Articles

February 2001

The Ledgend Of Little Tommy Maloy

By John William Tuohy

     Before the First World war Little Tommy Maloy (he stood just over five feet, but barely) had been a chauffeur to labor boss Mossy Enright but left just before Enrights murder in 1920. It was at that point that Malloy went into the movie business.

     He didn't take it over exactly. It was called an inheritance which means that Maloy, as tough a customer as they come, inherited the right to terrorize the membership. He was able to do that by the untimely death of another thug named Jack Miller who was killed when a bullet took out his right eyeball through the back of head.

     Jack Miller had, in turn, taken over the union from its first owner, a hood named Elmer Miller who made his collection rounds on a bike. It was Miller who formed the union by bringing in all the operators through threats of violence. Miller sold out his ownership in the union to Maloy so that he could open his own theater.

     Maloy carried the formal tittle of business agent. Nevertheless, he controlled hiring and legally collected monthly dues, and, for the most part, Malloy ruled through blackjack and Tommy guns. He had no problems about cracking a man's skull of anyone who refused to sign up for his union or of members who asked too many questions. Any projectionist who complained about the union books being closed to new members, yet having an empty bank account, was put out of work forever. If a theater refused to hire Maloys members, he burned the film first, then beat the theater owner and finally burned the place down. But usually he simply killed the theater owner and gave the place to a family member or gang crony to run.

     Maloy was an ambitious little crook. Right after he took the projectionist union, he started working with Umbrella Mike Boyle of the electricians union. Their goal was to corner the entire building trade's business city. Unfortunately for them they were both indicted for conspiracy by a grand jury in 1921 and charged with extorting money from builders to avoid labor troubles.

     Boyle refused to testify and the judge tossed him in jail for contempt but Boyle had been paying protection for years to the very corrupt Governor Len Small who granted him a pardon. In all, Small sold 8,000 pardons in the eight years that he was governor. Tommy Maloy simply paid off the jury in his case and walked away a free man.

     The Capone's never bothered with Maloy, because he was a one man operation and was careful not to flaunt his wealth and because movies didn't become very big business until the later twenties, so it was assumed that Maloy was a small timer in a business that was interesting and fun, but going nowhere.

     However, Maloy had alliances with the Capone, Moran and Saltis organizations, and other gangs, to keep them from taking over his union he gave their men license and put them on payrolls to explain their incomes.

     To an extent, Al Capone was correct, the movie business racket was small time, or at least it was until the advent of sound into film changed everything. Movie theaters exploded yet membership didn't increase in Maloys union, so he invented a scheme that called for theater owners to hire two of his men; one to run the film and one to synchronize the sound on the film. That worked for a while and then Hollywood figured out a way to synchronize the sound with the film so Maloy agreed to let go of the second man in the booth for a $1,100 cash payment. That was cheaper then paying the projectionist on the payroll so the owners agreed.

     In his next ploy to raise cash, Maloy issued work permits to non-union members and then closed the union to new membership completely. When the membership had enough, and stormed the union hall in 1924, Maloys men defused the situation by firing machine guns into the ceiling of the union hall. The members quickly took their seat and Maloy laid out his plan for hiring non-union men as "day workers with a permit"

     Maloy explained that since the union members paid only $3.00 a month in dues to the union, the permit workers would pay 10% of their pay check back to the union and he would reduce the regular memberships dues to less than a dollar every two months.

     The membership agreed to the terms.

     There were problems of course. In 1923 Maloy office was at Harrison and Wabash where other labor-skates like Con Shea of the teamsters and Steve Kelliher of the theater janitors union, had offices. Together, the three hoods ran a gambling pallor on the first floor beneath their offices and shared the profits among the three of them. Maloy and Kelliher had a falling out over the proceeds of the gambling den. Maloy hired an O'Bannion goon named Danny McCarthy and invited Kelliher to join him and McCarthy for a drink at Tierneys resort on Calumet and 25th next to a theater where Maloy ran a theater. When they were seated, an argument began and McCarthy drew his gun and killer Kelliher. McCarthy pleaded self defense and a dozen witnesses swore to it and he walked away from the murder rap Maloy took his union.

     Just days before that Big Tim Murphy decided that he wanted Maloys union but when Kelliher was dead Murphy changed his mind.

     In 1927 Pete and Frank Gusenberg, later killed at the St. Valentines Day massacre, wanted their younger brother Henry placed on Maloys payroll but he refused, sensing that the Gusenberg's might be trying to muscle in on his territory. In retaliation, they ran Henry for president of the union against Maloy. The cops were called out in droves for the election which was very violent. Four operators who came out for Maloy in the election had their car pulled over a curb and sprayed with machine gun fire. Eventually a compromise was reached and Henry was placed on the payroll at $175.00 a week and he never had to appear at work.

     A few months later, on August 29, 1927 the city's theater owners locked out Maloys union. Across the city only seventy- five theaters, all small ones, were opened in the entire city.

     Jack Miller, the original owner of the projectionist union, led the revolt, but not for idealistic reasons. He wanted to lead the owners and the projectionists as the boss of bosses. It didn't work, Maloy, backed up by goons from Bugs Moran's squads, broke the lock out.

     Jospeh Maloy, Tommy's brother, held the post of city examiner for license for the motion picture operators under Cermak who created and appointed him to the job. Maloy played his cards the right way and sent Anton Cermak $5,000.00 in his run against Big Bill Thompson. In order to get an operators license Maloy had to give the recommendation and his brother gave out the license. Without them, nobody worked. When Joe Malloy died, Tommy made sure one of his boys took his place in city hall.

     Without a large organization behind him, kidnapping and extortion were always a problem and it was known that Maloy kept $100,000.00 in cash in a safe in his house. Once, independent kidnappers snatched Malloy's black house maid and, with placing a pistol in her mouth in a car outside the house, convinced her to give them the keys to the house. But neighbors had witnessed the entire episode and called police. Hearing the sirens approaching, the hoods took the key but released the maid unharmed.

     When some of Roger Touhy's boys kidnaped Maloys bodyguard Georgie Graham, they thought they had snatched Maloy. It was a humiliated Roger Touhy that had to call Malloy with the news "Tommy we got Georgie graham, is he worth ten G's to you?"

     Malloy didn't pause a second "Naw, he ain't worth a plug nickel to me" Touhy released the bodyguard unharmed.

     Otherwise, everybody made moeny with Maloy. Thomas J Reynolds, Maloys president was on the payroll of western electric company at $143.00 a week as a "consultant." He had been taken on by Western Electric in 1927, right after the company synchronized sound machines. It was that sort of blatant abuse that brought Maloy and his entire operation to the attention of the Internal Revenue Agency.

     As instrumental as the I.R.S was in getting Maloy out of power, it was insurgents from inside the unions had provided the tax men with the information they needed to nab Maloy. It wasn't the first time the membership had revolted. On two other occasions the rank and file stepped behind to insurgents who went up against Maloy and both times those men were found shot to death on the streets.

     Jacob Kaufman was a dedicated union organizer who had tried for years to have the courts get Tommy Maloy and his thugs tossed out of the unions. Maloy had warned Kaufman to back off but in June of 1931 Kaufman entered another suit against Maloy and announced that he would run against Maloy in an open election. Kaufman's candidacy meant trouble for Maloy since Kaufman had a reputation for honesty and was well liked by the rank and file.

     On the night of June 20, 1931, Kaufman heard a can fall inside his garage on Princeton street. He told his wife to phone the police and walked from the house into the garage. When he opened the garage door somebody fired six shots into his head killing him. Murray Humpreys was strongly suspected by police as the killer for hire.

     Another dissident who had caused problems for Maloy was 60 year old Paul Osers who had brought Maloy to court several times to unseat him. In salaries, Tommy Maloy made only $300.00 a month, his bodyguard, Johnny O'Hara earned $150.00 a week for his services to the union, but Oser had sent out letters to the members stating that he had proof that Maloy had grafted $50,000 a year from the union.

     When Osers went to New York to complain to the national union President Fred Green, Emmet Quinn and his sluggers met Oser at the train station and beat him senseless in front of newspaper reporters and then Maloy fined each member in the party $5,000.00 each to be paid at a rate of $5.00 a week "Some of them" said Maloy "got families. Just shows you I ain't all business"

     After Oser entered another suit against Maloy, he and Maloy met in Judge John Patrick McGooritys chambers. Oser thought that perhaps this was his moment of truth, the moment when the judge would force Maloy out of the union. But all judge McGooritys did was to encouraged them "to meet privately and work out their troubles like true gentlemen"

     Maloy had no intention of talking. He had enough of Osers, and decided to kill him. He called in Thomas O'Hara to do the dirty work. O'Hara had been a dance hall operator before the first world war then organized the piano tuners into a union and in 1919 became the business manager for the Chicago Federation of musicians but was tossed out for beating up the president of the national union. It was shortly after that O'Hara hooked up with Maloy.

     Oser had been summoned to the office by Tommy Maloy for a peace conference although Maloy later denied that there was an appointment to see Oser and said that Oser simply showed up and said "lets work this out between us and to hell with them lawyers" They walked into to the inner office, Maloy said, when Oser suddenly drew a gun out of his pocket forcing O'Hara to shot him dead. O'Hara said the same thing and Police did find a gun next to Osers dead body, but it was unfired and it turned out that it belonged to O'Hara anyway.

     Maloy disappeared after the killing hiding out at the Congress hotel in a suite paid for by the union.

     Tubbo Gilbert, the State's Attorneys chief investigator, took the stand and pointed out that Maloy was lying since he had interviewed Maloys secretary who said that her only words to Oser were "Yes Mister Oser your at 2:30 please go right in"

     But Gilbert may have had his own plan for the union as well. Right after the shooting Gilbert sized all of the union's records with orders to do so from his boss the state's attorney. Those records ended in Frank Nitti's possession. Remarkably, even in corrupt Chicago, a jury ruled that killing Oser was justifiable since there were no other witnesses to say otherwise. Judge Fardy agreed. Members of the jury were professional jurors selected under political patronage system. After the trial, Corner Frank J Walsh issued an order forever banning the six jurors from ever serving on a jury again.

     The murder is what brought around the tax people and a revolt in the membership to get rid of Tommy Maloy was stronger then ever.

     On January 1, 1933, members of Maloy's unions lost a court battle to have Maloy and his thugs tossed out of the union by having the 1932 election results overturned and to have Maloy account for $230,000.00 in lost due's.

     The membership was shocked when the judge refused to grant a restraining order against Maloy coming after the members who had sued because the membership had not proven Maloy to be a threat to them or anyone else.

     Then, eleven days after adopting his nephew, on March 25, 1933, Ralph O'Hara 37 year old "organizer" for Maloy was shot and killed in his office by rebel fractions of the union in the afternoon as he sat in room 620 at 596 South Wabash Avenue.

     Maloy was losing his grip. He knew that if he wanted to retain control he would have to turn to the syndicate for help.

     Frank Nitti had known Tommy Maloy for years. In 1934 Maloy called Nitti to ask for two favors. Maloy was a man of respect he had nerve and he had guts and he was tough so Nitti listened

     Maloy said the Treasury Department was all over him for a tax evasion case. They say he owed $81,000.00 in back taxes and it looked like he was going to jail.

     He needed Nitti to use the influence he had built up with the Treasury to have the case thrown off the books.

     Secondly, Maloy said he wanted Nitti and the organization to back him for the presidency of the I.A.T.S.E. Nitti explained that he was already backing George Browne for the position so Maloy asked for the Vice Presidency. He said that in exchange for the position, he would give Maloy a road map to I.A.T.S.E.

     Maloy never figured that Nitti would double cross him, but he did. Nitti told Maloy he would have to think it over and get back to him but actually Nitti figured that Maloy would get convicted on his tax evasion charges. The syndicate would waltz into the projections union and take it over.

     Then, in November of 1934 it looked like Tommy Maloy would walk away from his tax case. It looked like he had worked out a deal by turning in Billy Skidmore, an independent gambler and bagman, over to the IRS in exchange for his own freedom. That was problem for Nitti. If the syndicate was going to take over the movie industry, they needed control of Maloys union. But Maloy wouldn't give up his union without a fight, and the tiny Irishman was a force to be reckoned with.

     On Christmas eve 1934 Nitti held a party for the outfit's top management and invited Browne and Bioff. During the evening the topic of Tommy Maloy came up. Nitti remarked that he needed control of Maloys union to continue his domination of the all the unions that ran the entertainment business.

     Browne and Bioff and anybody with ears knew what that meant. Nitti wanted Maloys union for himself and Maloy was expendable. He was a dead man.

     They met again at Harry Hochstien's house in Riverside. Hochstien was a political leader from the 20th ward who owed his political rise to Frankie Rio. Also present at the dinner party was Charlie Fischetti, Frankie Rio, Frank Nitti and Paul Ricca.

     They had drinks and then plates of hot food served from chafing dishes, followed by Italian espresso coffee and a wedge of spumoni ice cream. After the meal, and puffing on gigantic Cuban cigars, Nitti mentioned Tommy Maloys union and said that they should take it over when possible. Bioff reported later that there was a silence at the table. They all knew Maloy and liked him. According to Bioff, Frankie Rio turned to Nitti and said "Will Maloy stand for partners moving in on him"

     Nitti said "Not Maloy"

     Ricca said "Can we scare him?"

     Nitti answered "Not at all"

     There was another long pause and Nitti broke it and said "we really ought to have the projectionists"

     Rio said "Ill take care of it right after the first of the year"

     Two months later, on February 4, 1935, a bitter cold, icy Chicago morning, Maloy was speeding down the street with Doc Quinlan, a dentist and renown union racketeer. They were on their way to visit Maloys Mistress that he had been keeping for the past two years, a beautiful chorus girl.

     As they pulled Maloys cadillac in front of the deserted building that was to house the century of progress exhibition, a car pulled alongside Maloys cadillac on Lake shore drive and fired machine guns into Maloys body.

     They fired enough shots to almost take off the entire left-hand side of Maloys face. What was left of him was slumped over the steering wheel of his car which had smashed into a fire hydrant. He was 42 years old. George Brown was a pall bearer at Malloy's funnel. Two thousand people, curious onlookers mostly, lined the frozen streets to watch the hood get buried.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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