Friday, October 9, 2015


10/9/1942 - Tired of being trapped behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, Irish-American Chicago bootlegger Roger Touhy, orchestrates a crash-out from the Stateville Correctional Center of Illinois.


The youngest member of a crime riddled family (brother James is shot and killed by a policeman during a 1917 attempted robbery, brother John is killed in 1927 by gunmen working for Al Capone, brother Joseph is gunned down by Capone hitmen in 1929, and brother Tommy becomes a major mobster who rises to the position of Public Enemy #1 in 1934 ... only bartender brother Edward manages to not get in trouble with the law), at first Roger is able to stay on the straight-and-narrow, working over the years as a telegrapher, oil field worker, a union organizer, cab driver, automobile salesman, and owner (with two of his brothers) of a trucking company.  He also serves in the United States Navy during WWI.  With the onset of Prohibition though, the greedy siren call of the thirstys' millions of dollars changes the direction of Touhy's life, and he is soon distributing illegal, but very high quality beer and alcohol in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, eventually selling 1,000 barrels of beer a week at the modest sum of $55 a barrel ... a profit of 92% on each and every barrel sold (he also expands into illegal gambling, and by 1926 his slot machines scattered about the town are bringing in $1,000,000 a year) ... success that makes Mr. Alphonse Gabriel "Scarface" Capone a very jealous man.

Tommy Touhy
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After visits from Capone killers "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, and Frank Rio fail to intimidate Touhy in selling his organization to the Chicago "Outfit," open warfare breaks out between the two groups in 1931. Use to removing opponents with massive amounts of lead, when several rub-out attempts are thwarted by Touhy, Capone comes up with a more peaceful method of removing his rival ... deciding to have Touhy sent away for years on trumped up kidnapping charges.
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Campagna & McGurn
Frank Rio.jpg

Despite evidence in the possession of FBI Special Agent Melvin Purvis that the culprits in the kidnapping of Minnesota brewer William Hamm are members of the notorious Barker-Karpis Gang, Touhy and three others are indicted for the crime in 1933.  Brought to trial, they are all found not guilty on 11/23/1933.  Not dissuaded by the result however, Capone tries a second time with much more success; enlisting the help of mobster John "Jake the Barber" Factor (the brother of legendary cosmetic tycoon, Max Factor), who pretends to have been kidnapped by Touhy.  Again brought before the bar on charges of kidnapping, after two trials in which witnesses perjure themselves and jury members are bought off, Touhy is found guilty of the crime, and again with three close associates, is sentenced to 99 years in prison.  He is not a happy camper when he arrives at the Stateville Correctional Center in 1934.
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1933 Headlines
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Jake the Barber - 1940
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Reuniting with Touhy Gang member Basil "The Owl" Banghart (so named because he has large eyes), a dangerous felon with four successful escapes from behind bars already on his criminal resume, also in for the phony Factor kidnapping, the men spend the next seven years observing the works of the prison, and then planning their escape.  Taking no one into their confidence, the pair map out the exact location of every prison facility, learn the height of the walls and the position of each guard tower, the distance between each guard tower, and note the number of guards on duty during various times during the night and day, and what kind of weaponry each of their keepers carry.  Then the men offer places in the escape to a handful of cons that they believe can help in the plot ... 32-year-old lifer (he is serving a 199-year sentence for murder) Edward "Big Ed" Darlak is recruited to provide weapons for the break (two .45 automatics and ammunition that Darlak's brother hides in bushes near the prison, guns that are then brought inside when a trusty goes out in the evening to lower the American flag ... brought inside wrapped in the flag!), while 43-year-old highway robber (serving two 20-year sentences) William Stewart, 36-year-old Eugene Lanthorn (serving 1-year to Life for assault to commit murder and two previous escapes), 31-year-old St. Clair McInerney (serving 1-year to Life for robbery, burglary, and parole violation, and 40-year-old Martilick Nelson (serving 1-year to Life for robbery and parole violation) are brought aboard for muscle and their outside contacts.  On the afternoon of October 9, 1942, the group is ready to make their try for freedom.
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Just before 1:00 in the afternoon, Touhy takes possession of the prison garbage truck by beating up its driver, and then he drives over to the machine shop where Lanthorn is working, and where the other cons in on the break simultaneously arrive.  More whipass bestowed, the seven men overpower the guards on duty in the shop, cut telephone wires, rip several ladders out of locked racks, and then keeping two guards as hostages, its back in the truck and the party heads for northwest corner of the prison yard with Touhy and Banghart holding the .45s, and Lanthorn carrying a crudely made Molotov Cocktail.  At the foot of Tower Three the convicts are able to bring the guard on duty under control with a couple of near-miss-to-the-head .45 rounds.  Ladders up, with Banghart staying below to cover them, the men scramble up into the tower, relief the guard of his keys and weapons (two high-powered rifles and another .45), unlock the tower door out of the prison, and drive off towards Chicago in the tower guard's car.  Up, over, and out in roughly 15 minutes ... but it is an out that doesn't last very long!

Touhy Prison Card

Later that evening the escapees crash through a police roadblock before abandoning their stolen ride in the middle of the town of Villa Park ... in a place where the authorities will know the men did not cross a state line, avoiding breaking a Federal law and getting the FBI involved (a nice pinch with oodles of publicity for whoever finds and arrests the escapees, Hoover of course involves his agents in the hunt anyway ... resulting in the biggest FBI manhunt since their John Dillinger days!).  From there they make their way on foot into the Cook County Forest Reserve where they spend four days hiding in an abandoned shack until Banghart goes out and steals a new ride for the group ... next stop is an apartment on the west side of Chicago where posing as long distance truck drivers, the group stays for almost two months.  Living together with the intense pressure of knowing they are being hunted finally breaks up the group after Banghart beats Stewart and Nelson unconscious with a pistol for leaving the men's hiding place and getting drunk.
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Escapee Apartment

Nelson is the first of the group to be caught, his arrest stemming from trying to contact family in northern Minnesota.  Following known associates of the men, Stewart is the next to be found and with that opening, the FBI in December identifies two apartments of interest in Chicago ... hiding in one, Federal agents gun down McInerney and Lanthorn when the pair refuse to surrender and open up instead on the agents in their apartment.  The following day, with Hoover present to direct his agents (the last arrest in which he is personally involved), at 5:00 in the morning, powerful searchlights are turned on the first floor hiding place of the escapees at 5116 Kenmore Avenue.  "Touhy, Banghart, Darlak, we are the FBI.  Surrender and come out with your hands up.  There is no hope of escape.  You are surrounded. You have ten minutes to decide.  We will then start shooting!" is blared over a loudspeaker.  After a short debate, the men decide to surrender, backing out of the apartment one at a time with their hands raised over their heads ... Banghart first, Touhy next (exiting in a pair of flaming red satin pajamas, his hair dies reddish-blonde), then finally Darlak (in the bust, the Federals will recover $13,605.84 from an armored car robbery the gang pulled off earlier in the month, stolen automobiles, weapons, expensive clothing, and multiple fake identity papers).
Apartment Building on Kenmore Avenue in Chicago
Site of the Capture

Returned to prison, with an additional 199 years added to his sentence for the escape, Touhy causes no more trouble behind bars, and eventually, justice is finally served when courts all the way up to the Supreme one determine that perjured testimony was used to convict the gangster.  After 25 years and nine months behind bars, for a crime he never committed, Touhy is paroled on November 13, 1959.  For 22 days he is as happy as a singing lark ... which is what worries the Chicago gangsters whose secrets Touhy knows and could sing about.  Silence needed, silence ordered, on December 16th, as Touhy and his bodyguard, retired Chicago police detective Walter Miller, climb the steps up to Touhy's sister apartment, two men step out of the shadows and open up on the pair with shotguns.
Miller survives the attack (and even manages to get off three shots at the fleeing hitmen), but struck in each leg above the knees, Touhy goes into shock and dies from blood loss an hour later at nearby St. Anne's Hospital at the age of 61.  His last words, told to a newsman entering the hospital are, "I've been expecting this. 
The bastards never forget."

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