Feature Articles

December 2001

The Milk Men

By John William Tuohy

     Al Capone was fascinated with the milk business. "Do you know," he would say, "they got a bigger markup in legit fresh milk than we could ever get away with in booze? Honest to God boys, we been in the wrong racket all along."

     So, in a manner of speaking, the boys entered the milk business. In the spring of 1931, Murray Humpreys, Capone's leading hood, Frankie Diamond, a thug and Diamond's brother, Johnny Maritote, who was married to Capone's sister, Mafalda, went to see Steve Sumner, the business agent for the teamster local 753 of the Milk Wagon drivers.

     In the meeting, the Hump told Sumner that Capone wanted his help in building Meadowmoor Dairies. "Since 1926," the Hump explained, "Capone has been trying to diversify his investments in legitimate business even while consolidating his brewing and distilling concerns, and that's why he's opening a retail dairy business."

     They told Sumner that Capone wanted him to keep the dairy union free. If he did that, they promised, they would allow him to invest in the deal.

     When Sumner refused the offer, Humprey told him: "Your union has a million dollars in the treasury. I will hand you a hundred thousand dollars cash today. All you have to do is walk away. Leave town. I'll take over from here."

     Sumner, who was 81, said: "Out of the question."

     As soon as the hoods left, Sumner ordered sheet metal and bulletproof glass put up around the headquarters and his home and had bulletproof glass installed in his car, armed his chauffeur and hired bodyguards.

     The Hump left Sumner alone and instead went after the union's president, Robert "Old Doc" Ritchie, and kidnapped him off the streets in late December of 1931.

     With Ritchie under wraps, they called Sumner and demanded $50,000 for Ritchie's freedom. Sumner paid. "I handed," he said, "Murray Humpreys fifty thousand dollars cash, in December. Two months later, on Feburary 23, 1932, Meadowmoor Dairies Incorporated was charted with fifty thousand dollars cash."

     The dairy opened three months before Capone went to prison, on May 4, 1932. It was located at 1334 South Peoria street. Its representative on record was Billy Parrillo, brother to the future congressman.

     The Hump was later accused, by the IRS, of withholding taxes on the $50,000 extorted out of Sumner. He pled guilty and paid the taxes on the money.

     Four years later, in November of 1936, Cook County States Attorney Investigator, Tubbo Gilbert, was indicted for helping the Teamsters fix milk retail prices in Chicago. By that time, the Chicago teamsters were little more than an extension of the Chicago mob.

     The scandal involved Dr. Herman Bundesen of the Chicago board of health, as well as officials of local 753 of the Milk Drivers Union. The indictment read that they had conspired to fix the amount of milk delivered in the city to squeeze the smaller distributors out of the business, leaving only Meadowmoor Dairies.

     Despite a mountain of evidence, the case went nowhere.

     States Attorney Courtney refused to bring it to court and refused to allow Tubbo Gilbert to resign. "If many people feel," he said, "that politics has entered into this, then I won't disagree with that conclusion."

     It's also interesting to note that a few years after the price fixing scandal died away, Murray Humpreys managed to drive most of his competitors in the dairy business out of the market by having the City of Chicago require all milk distributors to date their product, a practice now required of all meat, fish and dairy distributors across the country.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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