“The Big Fellow Was Collecting Millions, Turning Out 50 Corpses a Year. Chicagoans Had Only One Hope”
By Frank J. Wilson As told to Howard Whitman
I WAS STUCK. bogged down. Two ftruitless, frustrating years had dragged by since I’d come to Chi.cago. All I had to show for it was an aching bead. When my wife and I started out for Chicago aU I said was. “Judith. I’m after a fellow named Curly Brown. The government says we’ve got to put him away.- If I’d told her that Curly Brown was an alias, a kind of nom de goon. of Scarface AI Capone, she’d have turned the car right around and made me take up some respectable trade like piano tuning.
We had been married only two years (this was in I923) and Judith wasnt used to the idea of my being a govern-ment sleuth. For a haw of operations the govern-ment gave me and my three assistants an overgrown closet in the old Pastorate building with a cracked glass at the door, no windows, a double fiat topped desk. and walls that were paling as if they’d been sunburned. I could hardly scratch my head without sticking my elbow in somebody’s eye.
We could see that banging an income tax rap on Al Capone would be as easy as hanging a foreclosure sign on the moon. In addition to having Cook county in the palm of his hand, the Grand Pan-jandrum of the-checkered suits and dia. mond belts was completely anonymous when it came to income. He did all his business thru front men. To discourage meddlers. his production department was turning out 50 corpses a year. It was common talk that be got a cut on every case of whisky brought into Cook county. that he ran a thousand speakeasies. a thousand bookie Joints. IS gambling houses. a luscious string of brothels; that be <totaled half a dozen breweries.
He had bought himself a Florida palace on Palm Island, imported a chef from Chicago and was spending $1.000 a week on banquets. He tore around in 16 cylinder limousines. slept In $50 French pajamas. and ordered IS suits at a time at $135 each. His per anal armed forces numbered 700, equipped with automatic weapons and armored cars. And I couldn’t show that this satrap earned more than $5,000 a mart Evi-dence of lavish living wasn’t enough. The courts had to see Income. One night I went to the cubbyhole of 22
In the movies and on TV. interest in Al Capone’s fantastic career has flared high again. Many a story has been written about the Chicago crime overlord. but none com-pares with this inside report by Frank J. Wilson. retired chief of the United States secret office. It is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Frank J. Wise,
Our counter-offensive and decided to check over all the data, the leads, the memoranda, the reports which the boys and I had piled up. Maybe there was a rough edge or two that we gill could pry’ open. At 1 o’clock In the morning I was so bleary I could hardly see. I was gather-ing up the stuff from when I bad spread It out when I accidentally bumped our filing cabinet and it clicked closed I couldn’t find the key. Now where’ll I put this stuff? I wondered. Just outside our glorified telephone booth was a storeroom, under the eaves of the build-ing. In It I found an old filing cabinet and pulled out some armfuls of dusty envelopes. “I can lay this Junk on the table.” I figured. “I’ll put my stuff in overnight.”
Way in the back of the cabinet was a package tied In brown paper. pretty heavy. Just out of curiosity I snipped the string and found myself holding three ledgers, black with red corners. One was • “special column cash book.” My eye leaped over the column ‘Radials: “Bird cage.” ..21,” ..CrapS7 Faro,” “Roulette.- “Horse Bets” I took the books into my cubbyhole.
Here was the diary of a big operation. with a take Of from $20,000 to 1130.080 a day. Net profits for 18 months (the books were dated 1925.240 were upward of hall a °Wirth. The ledgers had been picked up after the murder of Assistant State’s Attor-ney William Me$wlggin in 1928. They bad come from one of the biggest gambling palaces in Cicero. The Ship, where diamondstudded crowds from Chicago laid down $3,000,000 a year in warn Here was a record of income.
If I could hang it on Al Capone. we’d have a case at last. Inside the gang 1 had one of the best undercover men I have ever known: Eddie O’Hare. whose son. Butch, later became a war ace in the Pacific and gave his name to O’Hare field. EAdie rang my private number One afternoon and blurted, ” Print I’ve got to see Yea right aWay!’. “0. K., the taproom on Wilson al* nue!” We sat down across a table and Eddie was on the edge of his chair. red actd, waving a bony finger at me. “The big fellow is going to get you. They know where you keep your car and what time you pet in at night and what time you leave In the morning. The big fellow has brought In four killers from New York to do the Job.”
‘Capone Is Offering $25,000 for You!’ I Was Warned
Luckily Judith had said a few days before that she’d like to live at the Palmer House. So after Eddie’s tip I simply phoned her and said, ” I have a surprise for you. We’re moving to the Palmer House—this afternoon. Pack the stuff.” Later Eddie came to me with another report: “The big fellow’s offering $25,000 reward to anybody who bumps you.off!” (Edward J. O’Hare, wealthy race track owner, was shotgunned to death by two men believed to have been Capone gang-sters, near Ogden avenue and Rockwell street, Nov. 8, 1939.)
While Capone was advertising his monetary interest in my corpse, I was working on the handwriting in the ledg-ers of The Ship. I think we must have collected handwriting samples of every hoodlum in Chicago. -The painful process of elimination finally left me with a character named Lou Shumway, whose writing was a dead twin to that in the ledgers. I found out that Shumway was in Miami, prob-ably working at • Hialeah or the dog tracks. All I had to go on was a descrip-tion: “A perfect little gentleman.”
In February of 1931, I stood by the rail at Hialeah and looked into the boxes at the man I had been stalking for nearly three years. Scarface Al Capone sat with a jeweled moll on either side of him, smoking a long cigar, occasionally raising huge binoculars, greeting a parade of fawning sycophants who came to shake his hand. I looked upon his pudgy face, his thick pursed lips, the rolls of fat descending from his thin—and the scar like a heavy pencil line across his cheek.
Gentleman Lou Shumway was not at Hialeah. But the second night I spotted my man in back of the betting win-dows at a dog track. I tailed him home. I called on Lou Shumway the next morning while he was having breakfast with his wife. He was already a pale green when we drove over the causeway toward the Federal building—and I hadn’t even told him what the case was about.
He turned a real green when I sat him in the office and said, “I am investigating the income tax liability of one Alphonse Capone.” Gentleman Lou didn’t merely shake at that. He rattled. I put my hand on his shoulder. “Lou,” I said, ” I know you’re in a helluva spot. You have only two choices; if you re-fuse to play ball with me, I will send a deputy marshal looking. for you at the dog track. I will have him ask for you by name, drive up to your -house and serve a summons on you. You get the point. Lou. As soon as the gang knows the government has located you they will probably decide to bump you on at once so you can’t testify. ” If you don’t like that idea, Lou, take choice number two: Come clean and tell the truth about these ledgers. You were bookkeeper at The Ship. You can iden-tify every entry in these books—and you can tell who your boss was, Lou. I’ll guarantee to keep it a secret until the day of the trial that you are playing ball with me. The government will send you away to a safe place. You will be guarded day and night.”
Gentleman Lou quivered like a harp string but he finally gave in. I spirited him out of Miami so that even his wife thought he was going to a sick relative in Oklahoma. For safekeeping, I hid him in California until we’d need him again. But we still had to show that income actually reached the pockets of Capone.
A very painstaking, and very boring, checkup on all the recorded money transactions in Cicero finally pointed up one “J. C. Dunbar” as a very interest-ing character. He-had brought to the Pinkert State bank enough gunny sacks full of cash to buy $300,000 worth of cashier’s checks. Agent Nels Tessem and I caught up with “Dunbar,” whose real name was Fred Ries, in St. Louis. We found out that a special delivery letter was about to be delivered to him, so we simply tailed the messenger. ‘Ries fume!. Espe-cially since the special delivery letter was from Capone’s headquarters, order-ing Ries to flee to Mexico at once as government agents were on his trail. “You have me all wrong. I never saw the Pinkert bank. I’ve never been to Cicero,” he snapped. That and, “Nuts to you,” was all we could get out of him But we had briefed ourselves bn :cocky, beady eyed, cop-hating Fred Flies and expected him to be tough.
He was a hard boy who feared nothing in this world—except maybe little insects like cockroaches and bedbugs. Tessem and I slipped him across the bridge into East St. Louis, the last place the gang’s shysters would look for him, and had him committed as a material witness to a special jail we had picked out in Danville, Ill. In it was a little room on the third floor especially de-signed for Fred Ries. He took one look and gasped, “This ain’t fit for a dog!” Cockroaches and other wild life were virtually holding a convention there. “If you don’t like it here just tell the jailer you are willing to play ball,” I said, shoving him a pack of cigarets. Ries cried uncle, all right. When we got back to Danville, Ries pleaded, “The bedbugs are eating me alive. I haven’t eaten a decent meal or slept for five days. Take me out of here!”
We took him to Chicago and sneaked him .into the grand jury chambers In the middle of the night There be gave the testimony that put the profits of The Ship square, in the pockets of Scarface Al. I packed my scowling little treasure off to South America with gov. ernment agents to guard him until we needed him in court. The Chicago “Se-cret Six,” a committee of business men out to fight crime, supplied the money.
In the autumn of 1931, two weeks be-1 fore the Capone trial was to begin, my undercover man, Eddie O’Hare, tele-phoned me, out of breath as usual, and we used our code to arrange a meeting. ” The big fellow is going to outsmart you,” Eddie said. “His boys have a com-plete list of the prospective jurors. They’re fixing them one by one. They’re passing out $1,000 bills. They’re promis-ing political jobs. They’re using muscle, too, Frank” “Eddie, you’ve been reading detective stories. The judge and the United States attorney don’t even have the jury list yet. I asked about it today.” “0. yeah? Well, take a look at this.” Eddie handed me a list of 10 names and addresses. “They’re right off the jury list—names 30 to 39! ”
The news hit U. S. Attorney George E. Q. Johnson and his. assistant, Dwight Green, with terrific impact. We went to the chambers of Federal Judge James IL Wilkerson, who was to sit in the trial. There was reassurance in just looking at the judge. Without moving a muscle he gazed at the 10 names Eddie bad given me. Then he said, rationing his words as if they were pearls, “I do not have my jury list yet. I do not believe it wise for me to ask for it, lest I engender suspicion. We will sit tight and wait for It to come to me in due course. I shall call you gentle-men when I get It.”
Capone’s Last Gamble
The next morning Judge Wilkerson sent for Johnson and me. He bad the jury list on his desk The 10 names on the list Eddie O’Hare had shown me tallied exactly with names 30 to 39 on the paneL But the big judge simply said. “Bring your case into court 35 planned, gentlemen. Leave the rest to me.** The day the trial started, the courthouse looked as If !tingling Brothers bad pitched camp on its stone doorstep. I bad to fight my way thru the crowd. rapone came into the courtroom in a Mal-ta taxi colored suit and sat down at the counsel table just a few feet from me. Phil D’Andrea, Al’s favorite bodyguard, came in and sat beside him: Phil, with his greased-fiat hair. looking like a croupier at 3 crap game.
Judge Wilkerson called his bailiff to the bench. He said in crisp, low tones. “Judge Ed-wards has another trial commencing today. Go to his courtroom and bring me his entire panel of jurors. Take my entire panel to Judge Edwards” The switch was so easy. so smooth, so simple. Capone’s face clouded but be did not move. In the black cloud was the despair of a gambler who bad made his final raise—and lost.
The trial marched on. My gems, Gentleman Lou Shumway and the bug-bedeviled Ries. stood their ground on the witness stand tho Capone and D’Andrea were staring holes thru them the entire time. I kept my eyes on D’Andrea. When he got up to stretch during a recess I could have sworn I saw a familiar bulge In his right hip pockel To get D’Andrea out in the ball I bad the boys send in word that a reporter wanted to et him. I followed him out. “Give me that gun!” I snapped. D’Andrea handed it over.’Fudge Wilkerson interrupted the trial to J cite D’Andrea for contempt and send him away for slx months.
The trial wound up in mid-Oetober- The jury went to its deliberations, and returned. “Gentlemen,” Intoned Judge Wilkerson, have you reached a verdict?” “Yes, sir, we have.” “What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” Scarfaee Al slumped forward as If a black-jack had hit him noiselessly on the back of the head.