Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Mobster, Johnny Torrio, and the Handshake Murder.

In the nineteen twenties, Johnny Torrio was one of the top Chicago gangsters. He was prominent in the underworld but small in size at only five feet six inches tall. 

Chicago racketeer James "Big Jim" Colosimo brings his nephew Johnny Torrio to Chicago in 1910 from New York. Big Jim owned several houses of prostitution but did not favor working with illegal liquor. 

With the advent of prohibition, Torrio decided that the illicit liquor traffic would be more profitable than Colosimo's brothels. 

Colosimo was shot dead on May 11, 1920. No one was ever convicted of the murder.

With Colosimo out of the way, Johnny Torrio was the leading mobster controlling Chicago's South Side and the Loop.

Torrio now needed a loyal friend. He had already imported Al Capone from New York around 1920 to help him run Colosimo's "businesses." He let Capone start working as a bouncer in one of the brothels and soon found that Capone was ready for bigger and more important things. He then promoted Capone to be his right-hand man.

All the Chicago gangsters were busy trying to invade each other's territories.
Charles Dean O'Banion (1892-1924), the florist and his wife, Viola Kaniff. The leader of the North Side gang was the victim of the Handshake murder.

Charles "Dean" O'Banion graduated from the violent newspaper wars of early 20th century Chicago to become the chief bootlegging rival of mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio, who ran the South Side. Dean was the North Side boss. 

O'Banion told Torrio he was buying a ranch in Colorado and settling down to live the rest of his life peacefully. He said he would sell his brewery, Chicago's finest, to Torrio.

When Torrio went to the brewery to inspect his purchase, the police raided the establishment. Torrio knew that O'Banion had set him up. After Torrio had served the short jail term for operating a brewery, he decided that O'Banion should die for double-crossing him and ordered the hit.

Dean was in his North Side flower shop, a front for his Mob activities, when a Torrio associate from New York, Frankie Yale, visited, hand outstretched in friendship. With him were two known gunmen from the Genna organization. A few minutes later, O'Banion was dead from six gunshot wounds in his flower shop. This murder was nicknamed the "handshake murder." No one was pinned with the murder, but the police suspected that the hit was ordered by Torrio.
Johnny "Papa Johnny" Torrio, 1939
With O'Banion dead, Torrio figured he ought to get out of the way of O'Banion's men. He and his Anna Theodosia Jacobs Torrio returned to Italy for three years and then moved to New York, where he became involved in criminal activities again. He spent two and a half years in prison for income tax evasion, being paroled in 1941. Torrio died in 1957, leaving a legacy of one of Illinois' top 1920s gangsters. 

Dean's funeral was the biggest anyone could remember, and among those attending were Al Capone and the South Side Gang members. But there soon would be other funerals. Charles Dean O'Banion is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Chicago.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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