5/5/1924 - Already sporting a criminal resume at the age of thirty that includes car theft, the murder of Oak Park police officer Herman J. Malow, Jr., a failed escape attempt from Joliet Prison, running a bootleg operation with Joseph "Polack Joe" Saltis on the south side of Chicago (allied with Johnny Torrio and Al Capone), the killing of rival O'Donnell Brothers' gangsters, Jerry O'Conner, George Bucher, George Meegan, and Thomas Keane (Keane's partner, William Egan, somehow survives the two shotgun blasts sent into him during a "one-way" ride), mobster Frank McErlane demonstrates in a Crown Point, Indiana saloon why mixing booze, access to weaponry, and a psychotic personality is always a bad idea.
Booze bragging to buddies John O'Reilly and Alex McCabe about being a regular Robin Hood with a pistol as he downs a number of boilermakers, McErlane's marksmanship boasts are questioned by his drunken comrades with "Prove it!" demands. Not one to ever back down from a challenge, the 5'8", 190 pound gangster quick draws his pistol and fires on the target he has randomly picked to show his prowess with firearms ... sitting at the end of the bar, lawyer Thaddeus S. Fancher. Boom ... true to his word, McErlane's shot hits the attorney in the forehead, killing the man instantly!
Fancher's Resting Place
And he gets away with the murder! Finally arrested for the Fancher killing in 1926, McErlane goes on trial and is acquitted in November of 1927 ... an unsurprising outcome when at least one witness to the bar shooting is murdered himself, and several others change their original testimony or come down with bad cases of memory loss (not as lucky as the buddy they egged on, both of the gangster's pals are found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison ... appealing his conviction, McCabe will be released when the chief witness against him fails to appear in court ... having been recently bludgeoned to death by "persons unknown"). Freed to continue his criminal pursuits, McErlane is just getting started!
Confronted by the O'Donnell Gang reinforcing itself with members of the Sheldon Gang, McErlane kills rival mobsters George Karl and William Dockman, then decides he isn't dangerous enough shooting folks with a pistol or shotgun, and in 1925, becomes the first gangster in the United States to use a Thompson sub-machine gun, soon to be called a "Chicago Typewriter," in his operations, going after his chief nemesis, bootlegger Spike O'Donnell. Standing in front of a drugstore, talking to a beat cop, a car pulls up and McErlane yells, "Hello, Spike!" before loosing a machine blast on his rival (O'Donnell survives this first machine gun encounter by dropping to the ground before being struck ... in all, there will be ten unsuccessful attempts on the gangster's life). Still playing with his new toy, a few days later McErlane shoots up the clubhouse of members of the Sheldon Gang, killing Charles Kelly, then for good measure, unleashes a bullet barrage into the bar of "Buff" Costello, wounding mobsters William Wilson and John Foley. Lethal firepower demonstrated under "working" conditions, soon all the gangs of Chicago want machine guns, as does the Chicago police force.
Brig. General John T. Thompson
Demonstrating The Weapon That Bears His Name
Gunning down rivals not a one way street, in 1930 while walking down the street, McErlane takes a bad bullet wound to his left leg just above the knee that shatters the appendage and requires the mobster be taken to a local hospital for treatment and rest. Permanent rest many rival bootleggers hope, and on 2/24, while propped up in traction for his still healing leg, three gunmen burst into his hospital room and open fire on the gangster ... who with rattlesnake quickness, pulls an automatic from under his pillow and in turn, opens up on the intruders, chasing them out of the room (and lucky for the men, the meds McErlane is on apparently prevent him from firing with dead Fancher accuracy, and all successfully flee). Hit three times, McErlane survives and bites down the rage he is feeling about the encounter ... refusing to identify his attackers to police, the murderous thug declares, "I'll take care of it" ... and take care of it he does. Released from the hospital, rival gangster John "Dingbat" O'Berta and his driver, Sam Malaga are soon Swiss cheesed while on a drive on the outskirts of Chicago.
O'Berta And Wife
A menace already, years of drinking take away what little mental stability McErlane has, and in 1931, liquor bombed once more, the gangster grabs a shotgun and marches up and down the street he lives on, blasting away at imaginary rivals and foes (disarmed by police, the gangster will take five different charges for his conduct, one of which is for biting his sister on the cheek). Candidate for a rubber room, despite the shootup, McErlane is still not behind bars on 10/8, when while driving (drunk of course), he gets in a fight with his equally inebriated common-law wife, Elfrieda Rigus (aka Marion Miller), whom he takes to Fist City quite often when the pair have been drinking. One word too many, McErlane wearies of the argument, pulls over, and treating his supposed love like he does rival crooks, yanks his gun and puts four lethal slugs into the woman ... then, with ammo still available, not in the mood for their howling over the murder, kills Rigus' two German shepherds.
Rigus And Dogs
Too much for even the homicidal maniacs of Chicago, a fund is soon put together by fellow gangsters to retire McErlane, and in 1932, he is farmed out to Beardstown, Illinois to live on a lavishly furnished houseboat docked on the Illinois River. There, in the fall of the year, he catches pneumonia and has to be hospitalized. Slipping into delirium, it takes four attendants to hold him down when his fevered thoughts tell him he is once more being attacked by rival mobsters. Doing everyone a favor, he finally croaks at the age of 38 on 10/8/1932.
Big News In Chicago
Interviewing a fellow gangster about McErlane's death, a Chicago newspaper reporter will be told, "I don't remember that he ever did anything good in his life. I don't believe he had a friend left" ... a fitting epitaph for a major monster!
Final Resting Place