Feature Articles

June 2002

Artful Eddie O'Hare

By John William Tuohy

There are three things most people don't know about Chicago's O'Hare International.
One, it's the world's busiest airport.
Two, it's named after a Navy flyer war hero, Lt. Commander Henry "Butch" O'Hare, and three, O'Hare's father was prohibition area hoodlum with the Capone outfit.

     Edward J. O'Hare, no one ever called him Edward, it was Eddie, was a lawyer from St. Louis.

     Early in his career, he entered a partnership with a local inventor named Oliver P. Smith, who in 1909 had developed a mechanical rabbit for use in dog racing. Over the next decade, Smith refined his invention and O'Hare took out the patent. Together, they toured the country and showed the running rabbit system, just as the sport of dog racing was catching on.

     With time, they had great success, taking a percentage of the gate in exchange for use of their invention When the inventor died in 1927, O'Hare, the lawyer, cheated Smith's wife out of any rights she had to the invention, gained complete control of the rights to the rabbit for himself.

     Flush with cash, Fast Eddie O'Hare dumped his long suffering wife, took his three children, Butch and his sisters Patricia and Marilyn, and moved to Chicago.

     Like almost everyone else who met him, Al Capone took an immediate liking to Eddie O'Hare, and brought him into Hawthorne Kennel Club, a Cicero dog race track, as a major partner.

     Dog racing was illegal in Illinois, but O'Hare and the boys kept the place open by successfully tying up its opponents in court for decades.

     It was worth the costs of the lawyers too, because O'Hare figured out a way to fix the races. He fed seven of the eight dogs in the race a greasy hamburger just minutes before the race was to begin, and then placed the mob's money on the unfed dog.

     O'Hare and Capone made so much money from the Hawthorne scam, that they were able to open tracks in Boston and Florida.

     When the law finally shut down the Hawthorne as a dog track, the hoods quickly converted it into the Sportsman's Park Race Track and began to run thoroughbred horses there, with O'Hare as its President.

     In the off season, Fast Eddie kept himself busy by setting up tax dodging real estate deals and the occasional political payoff.

     But, while Fast Eddie O'Hare might have failed as a human being, he was a better then average father, doting on his children, and sprinkling every conversation with his favorite "My son, Butch."

     When Butch was about to graduate from high school, he told his father that he wanted to go to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, which required the backing of a local representative in Congress.

     At the same time, Capone was locked in the midst of his tax fight with the government, which was desperately trying to put Capone away.

     It so happened that one day Eddie O'Hare ran into a reporter from the St. Louis Post Dispatch named John Rogers, who was also a friend of one of the prosecutors going after Capone.

     Rogers knew that O'Hare wanted to get his son into Annapolis. Introductions were made and a deal was cut, Butch O'Hare would enter Annapolis if Eddie O'Hare would play ball with the government and inform on Capone, which he did and did well.

     Capone went away forever, Frank Nitti took over the outfit and Eddie O'Hare went on to make even more money at various mob related ventures.

     In 1935, he purchased the Chicago Cardinals Football Club, and expanded his real estate holding to southern California.

     Life was good. O'Hare fell in love with his secretary, Ursula Sue Granata, sister of a Mobbed State Representative. The engagement went on for seven years because, as Catholics, O'Hare's divorce from his wife made it impossible for the couple to have a church wedding, and Sue Granata wanted a church wedding.

     However, Eddie had spread around some cash, and he was hopeful that a request for a dispensation from the Vatican would come through by 1940.

     In the mean time, Fast Eddie never did stop informing on the mobsters he did business with, but, unlike the legend that has grown up around him, O'Hare didn't inform on the mob for altruistic reasons, he did it for the money. Anytime a mob partner would lean on him for a higher percentage or cheat him out of a dollar, Fast Eddie O'Hare would drop a dime on the thug.

     It was a great deal for Fast Eddie, or at least it was until the day he cheated Paul Ricca, the reigning mob boss at the time, out of his fair share of a deal they had worked together.

     Ricca took his justice on November 8, 1939.

     That day, O'Hare was seen cleaning and loading a Spanish-made .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his office at Sportsman's Park.

     He left his office that afternoon, got into his black 1939 Lincoln coupe, and drove away from the track.

     As Fast Eddie approached the intersection of Ogden and Rockwell, a car roared up beside him and two shotgun-wielding punks opened up on him with a volley of big-game slugs.

     O'Hare was killed instantly.

     Inside the car, Police found the gun that O'Hare never had a chance to use. It was in his coat pocket next to a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion and a poem clipped from a magazine.

     The poem read: "The clock of life is wound but once And no man has the power To tell just when the hands will stop At late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still."

     As was his father's wish, Butch O'Hare graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1937.

     When war broke out with Japan, he was shipped off to the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific to fly a single-engine Grumman F4F fighter.

     One day, while flying a mission, O'Hare, accompanied by a wingman in another Grumman Hellcat, spotted nine Japanese twin-engine bombers zeroing in on the aircraft carrier Lexington.

     O'Hare zoomed in to attack the Japanese fighters when the .50 caliber machine guns in the second Grumman jammed, leaving only O'Hare between the airborne assassins and the USS Lexington.

     O'Hare attacked the superior enemy force, alone, flying straight into their formation, guns blazing. One by one, he picked them off, downing five of the nine Japanese attackers. Three more were shot down by Lexington pilots who were able to take off after O'Hare first engaged the bombers and the last Japanese plane, badly damaged in the shootout with O'Hare, crashed at sea some distance away.

     O'Hare was designated the Navy's first Ace of World War II. He was immediately promoted two grades from Lieutenant Junior Grade to Lieutenant Commander and President Roosevelt called his outstanding performance, "One of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation."

     On November 26, 1943, while on a night interception near Tarawa, Butch O'Hare was shot down and lost at sea.

     There is one last footnote to this story.

     Several months after Eddie was gunned down, Frank Nitti, the boss who ordered his murder, married Ursula Sue Granata, O'Hare's fianc´┐Że.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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