Feature Articles

May 2001

Ambush At Clyde Avenue

By John William Tuohy

     On January 23, 1925, Johnny Torrio, undisputed boss of the Chicago Mob, stood trial for violating the prohibition act.

     Several months before, Dion O'Bannion of the North Side gangs, had invited Torrio to a meeting at the Sieben brewery, claiming that he was leaving the rackets and retiring to Colorado. He wanted Torrio to buy out his final shipment of booze and the brewery itself. When Torrio arrived at the brewery, federal agents and police staged a raid and Torrio was arrested.

     Now O'Bannion was dead, Capone, Torrio's top street general, had the other gangs on the run.

     At the trial, Torrio played it smart. He pled guilty, thinking it safer to spend some time in the relative safety of a jail cell, while Capone and his boys settled business with the remaining O'Bannions. Federal Judge Robert Cliffe cooperated with Torrio's wishes by finding the little hood guilty and sentencing him to prison. However, he allowed Torrio five days to get his house in order before he had to begin his sentence.

     The next day, Torrio and wife spent the afternoon shopping. Since their own car was in for repairs, they borrowed Jake Guzak's Lincoln and a driver from Capone, Robert Barton. Silvester Barton, Capone's regular driver had been wounded in a driving-by shooting a few weeks before.

     At dusk, the couple returned to their expensive third floor apartment at 7011 Clyde Avenue and began to unload packages from the trunk. Anne Torrio walked ahead of Barton and her husband to hold open the apartment house door.

     At that second, a black limo slowly drove up out of the dark and unleashed a barrage of bullets, which filled the two men full of holes. Torrio was hit in the jaw and ribs. Barton was hit in both legs.

     Seconds later two men leaped out of the car and fired more shots into Torrio, one in the right arm, the other straight in the balls while two other gunners fired from inside the limo, shooting up what was left of Jake Guzak's Lincoln town car.

     One of the shooters walked over to Torrio's body and held a .45 to his temple and pulled the trigger but the gun jammed or it was empty. Before he could finish his work, the limo driver blasted his horn and the shooters leaped inside the car and disappeared into the night.

     Ann Torrio dragged Johnny into the lobby of the building and an ambulance was called. When the medics arrived Torrio yelled for them to cut off the circulation in the areas where he had been hit because he was convinced that the killers had dipped their bullets into garlic to cause gangrene to set in faster.

     Although a teenage boy who had witnessed the shooting later claimed that Bugs Moran was the shooter whose gun jammed over Torrio's temple, the police picked Bugs up for questioning but let him go because he could account for his whereabouts.

     No matter what the witnesses may have said, New York's mobster Lucky Luciano and a lot of other people figured that Capone was behind the try on Torrio's life to get him out of the way. "I know Al was behind the try at Torrio," Lucky said. "He tried to eliminate Johnny the same way Johnny done with Colosimo."

     In Chicago, the rumor was that Capone's shooter, Leonard "Needles" Gianola, had actually been the hit man.

     Torrio recovered from his wounds within three weeks and left the Jackson Park Hospital surrounded by an army of bodyguards. That same day, February 19, 1925, he appeared before the Federal Judge and was sentenced to nine months in the Lake County jail at Waukegan and fined $5,000.

     Life in the Lake County jail, for Johnny Torrio anyway, wasn't all that bad. The warden, a man who understood how things worked, fitted Torrio's cell with bulletproof metal and steel mesh and assigned two deputies to stand guard outside the cell twenty-four hours a day. Inside the cell Johnny was allowed to have an easy chair, pictures for the walls, a down mattress and a radio.

     Since Torrio was also free to hold business conferences when he chose to have them he called a meeting between his lawyers and Capone's lawyers at the County jail in March of 1925.

     The meeting was called so that Torrio could resign from the organization he had built. Never a brave man, he knew that although Capone's gunners had missed the first time, they wouldn't miss the next. It was time to throw in the towel.

     Torrio had his lawyers draw up the papers and everything Johnny Torrio owned, that is everything he had stolen from Big Jim Colosimo after he had him killed, was handed over to Al Capone free of charge. Torrio didn't ask for, not did Capone offer, a penny for the hundreds of gambling joints, beer halls, speakeasies and whorehouses that Johnny owned. The estimated revenue that Torrio walked away from was in the tens of millions of dollars.

     But Johnny the Fox knew that in order to keep them that he would have to fight for them against the considerable forces of the city's Italian and Irish gangs. It wasn't worth dying for. He had millions salted away anyway. After his sentence was completed, Johnny Torrio packed up his millions of dollars and wife and left Chicago for New York and never looked back.

     It was rumored in Chicago that when Torrio left for New York he took $40,000,000 out of the syndicate he had built with him. He took millions certainly, but $40 million seems excessive even by mob standards.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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