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Earl "Hymie Weiss" Wajciechowski

Earl "Hymie" Weiss was the Dean O'Banion's closest friend during the Prohibition, and the task of avanging O'Banion's death fell on his shoulders. Under Weiss' leadership, the Chicago Northsiders waged war with Torrio, Capone and the Genna Brothers.

Earl "Hymie" Weiss According to his death certificate, Earl Weiss was born in Chicago, the son of William Weiss from Buffalo. His real name however, was Earl Wajciechowski and he was born in Poland in 1898. When Earl was 3 years old, the Wajciechowski family emigrated to the US and adopted the infinitely more pronounceable surname, Weiss. Earl, who was known to his friends as Hymie, grew up in the Kilgubbin district of Chicago's Northside. Originally the city's Irish quarter, Kilgubbin became the home to much of Chicago's poor immigrant population. It was one of the toughest areas of the city, earning the sobriquet "Little Hell."

It is a common misconception that Hymie Weiss was a Jew, but like most members of Dean O'Banion's Northside Gang, he was a devout Catholic who always carried his rosary beads with him. As a teenager, he met three boys who became his lifelong friends and business partners: Dean O'Banion, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci and George "Bugs" Moran. The foursome were part of the Little Hell Gang, a band of delinquent youths who made their money from mugging and shoplifting. The gang was a youth section of the Bloody Market Streeters and the boys were elevated to this division as they matured. They worked as salesmen for the Chicago Tribune, a job that was not as innocent as it sounds. Whenever a newsagent was found selling a rival publication, stalls were overturned, shops were broken up, newspapers were destroyed and storekeepers were beaten. Brass knuckles appeared to be standard equipment for paper-boys in Chicago at the time.

Eventually, the four inseparable gangsters drew the attention of Moses Annenberg who offered them a higher commission if they promoted the Chicago Examiner. This put them in direct competition with the Bloody Market Street Gang, but their old mob did not offer any meaningful opposition and the Examiner soon had a monopoly on newspaper sales in Kilgubbin.

Throughout their criminal careers; Weiss, Drucci and Moran were overshadowed by O'Banion. The undoubted leader of the group, he was an eccentric and charismatic character who liked to play amusing tricks on his enemies. In stark contrast, Weiss was the most sensible and grounded member of the group, but was also O'Banion's most trusted aide and closest friend. The two spent hours together on the roofs of Kilgubbin's tenement apartments shooting pigeons and rats in order to hone their pistol skills.

On Annenberg's recommendation, safecracker Charles Reiser often called on the four young thugs to assist with his heists, and he taught them his trade. The boys learned quickly and became adept burglars in their own right. The gang also operated a successful car-jacking ring. They stole automobiles at gunpoint and sold them to Sam "Nails" Morton, owner of Morton's Garage on Maxwell Street. Morton was able to disguise these cars and sell them to his customers.

As they increased in power, they moved on from the newspaper rackets and became political racketeers who intimidated voters and rival campaigners. One person who benefited from these services was Judge Robert E. Crowe who presided over Weiss' larceny trial in January 1920. Weiss was acquitted of the charges when Judge Crowe decided there was not enough evidence against him. "If you ever come before me again, and there is enough evidence to convict, I'll give you the full limit," he said in an effort to keep up a facade of justice.

Like many criminals of the day, this four-man gang really came into power during the Prohibition. In 1919, the United States amended the constitution to put a ban on alcoholic drinks. After this amendment was ratified, Dean O'Banion expanded his criminal organization and what started as 4 teenage hoods became the powerful Northside gang. Even before January 1920 (when the Prohibition came into effect), the Northsiders had set up illicit breweries and were selling tax-free beer to local saloonkeepers. In 1920, this became a huge business. It is estimated that it cost $3-$4 to make a barrel of beer, and the Northside gang sold it for $9 a barrel. Despite the initial set-up costs for a brewery and the mandatory kickbacks to the police and politicians, this made for sizeable profits.

Though O'Banion was the leader and public face of this beer empire, the more cunning Weiss is credited as the brains behind the bootlegging operation. O'Banion was extremely proud of his "Real McCoy", genuine commercial-quality beer smuggled from Montreal, Canada. It was Weiss who established the gang's contacts in Canada and set up the smuggling network. He often made trips to Montreal to deal with business and to visit his girlfriend, Josephine Simard.

Soon, the gang had complete control of all politics and the beer trade in the 42nd and 43rd wards. The Northsiders would not allow the owners of speakeasies in the area to buy beer from anyone else. Other bootleggers who worked in their territory found that their trucks were being hijacked and their men beaten. Then someone had the audacity to hijack one of the Northsider's beer trucks. They soon discovered the culprit, Steve Wisniewski, one of the gang's own bootlegging contacts. In July 1921, Weiss invited Wisniewski for a drive along the scenic Lake Michigan, but Hymie returned alone. He was quoted saying "I took Stevie for a one-way ride." Since the Wisniewski hit, the phrase "one-way ride" has become entrenched in mob vocabulary and it is still a popular execution technique among modern-day criminals.

Weiss killed several rivals of the Northsiders, but his most famous hit is probably the murder of a horse. In May 1923, Dean O'Banion, his wife Viola and "Nails" Morton (the man who bought stolen cars from the Northsiders) were out riding when Morton was thrown from his horse and killed. In an act of vengeance; Weiss, Drucci and Louis "Two-Gun" Alterie hired out the offending horse, took it to the spot where the accident occurred and shot it.

But the gang had far greater enemies than a rogue horse. During the Prohibition, the Northsiders made a lot of money from hijacking beer and whisky shipments, and this got them in trouble with Johnny Torrio. Eventually, Torrio and his chief lieutenant Al Capone had a sit-down with O'Banion and Weiss. O'Banion agreed to join the syndicate, but unlike other members, he did not have to pay a percentage of his profits to Torrio. Also, the two sides exchanged business interests to strengthen the new partnership.

Weiss was happy with his boss' decision, until he realized that Dean had no intention of respecting the syndicate. He continued to hijack trucks belonging to the Torrio and stole customers from one of Torrio's men, Al Capone. Then he moved on to Torrio's allies the Genna brothers when he discovered they were selling whisky in the Northside area. O'Banion never lost an opportunity to make a racial slur against any of these Italian mobsters and he turned Torrio against him once and for all when he set his rival up at a brewery he knew was being raided by Prohibition agents. When he threatened Angelo Genna over a gambling debt, Weiss warned his boss that he was playing a dangerous game.

Weiss' worst fears were realized in November 1924 when Torrio and the Genna's had O'Banion killed in his headquarters, Schofeld's flower shop. A shop porter recognized two of the killers as Genna family hitmen Albert Anselmi and John Scalise, but the identity of the third man is unknown. The two likely candidates are Frankie Yale (Torrio's friend) and "Devil" Mike Genna.

Hymie Weiss became the new leader of the Northsiders and set out to avenge the death of his old boss. Torrio immediately went on vacation to Hot Springs, Arkansas, leaving Al Capone on charge of the "Outfit". Following O'Banion's death, Weiss personally killed a friend of Capone, Tony "the Greek" Anton. Numerous other shoot-outs occurred between the gangs and Capone never went anywhere without at least two bodyguards and an armed driver.

On January 12 1925 the trio of Weiss, Drucci and Moran were driving around Chicago looking for rival gangsters when they spotted Capone's limousine. They tailed the car until it pulled up outside a restaurant on 55th Street and State, then they opened fire. They left 26 bullet holes in the limo, injured the driver Sylvester Barton in the leg but left Capone and his two minders unharmed.

While Barton was recovering, Tommy Rossi took over as the driver until he was kidnapped by the Northsiders. Weiss and company tortured Rossi, beating him and burning him with cigarettes, but the driver refused to give up any information about Capone's routine. The unsuccessful interrogators killed him and dumped him in a cistern.

When Torrio returned from Hot Springs, he became the main target of the gang. In December 1924, Torrio was outside his apartment at 7016 Clyde Avenue when a group of gangsters (believed to be Weiss, Drucci and Moran) fired shots at him from a car. Torrio's hat was hit twice, but no other damage was done. On January 23 1925, Torrio was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for violating the Prohibition Act. The charges were the result of O'Banion's set-up at the brewery. The judge gave him a few days to settle his business before the sentence began, giving the Northsiders very little time to kill him.

On January 24, after Torrio returned from a shopping trip with his wife Anna, four gangsters pulled up in a black limousine. Three men opened fire on Torrio's car with a Thompson submachine gun, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .45 pistol. Al Capone's new driver Robert Barton (brother of the injured Sylvester) was driving the Torrios that day and was hit in both legs, while the Torrio family dog was killed by a stray bullet. Only then did the assassins notice that their real target was unloading groceries and was not in the car at all. Weiss (armed with a shotgun) and Moran (with his .45 calibre pistol) leapt from the limo and opened fire on Torrio, hitting him in the chest, neck, right arm and groin. Moran stepped up to deliver the coupe-de-grace, a shot in the temple at point-blank range, but was out of ammo. The getaway driver Vincent Drucci saw another car approach and sounded the horn in warning. Weiss and Moran jumped back in the limo and fled. The identity of the fourth man firing the Thompson gun is unknown. Torrio survived and was able to serve his prison sentence, but decided to retire to Naples, Italy due to the attempts on his life. Al Capone became the new leader of "the Outfit".

A few months later, on May 26 1925, "Bloody" Angelo Genna, head of Chicago's Unione Siciliana, was shot to death in his car. On July 13, "Devil" Mike Genna, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi were in a car when they noticed another car was tailing them. Scalise, Anselmi and possibly Genna were part of the hit team that killed Dean O'Banion. The three Italians spotted the usual Weiss-Drucci-Moran trio in the other car and opened fire. However, a police patrol car arrived on the scene and Genna's car was overturned in the chase. While the Northsiders fled, Genna and his men were forced into a shoot-out with the police and murdered two cops. Genna was killed by the third policeman William Sweeney, but Anselmi and Scalise managed to escape.

One of the most dramatic attacks in the war was the move on Al Capone on September 20 1926. Capone was in his headquarters at the Hawthorne Inn in Cicero when a cavalcade of 8 limousines pulled up and poured submachine gun fire into the hotel. The first car fired blank rounds in order to clear away by-standers and flush out the enemy gangsters who were lulled into a false sense of security when they noticed the guns were shooting blanks. But the next 7 cars poured over 1000 genuine rounds into the hotel, killing Capone's bodyguard Louis Barko. Apart from Barko, the only other injury was to an innocent woman who had a shard of broken glass lodged in her eye, and as a kind gesture, Capone paid her medical bills.

However, the attack left Al terrified. Soon afterwards, he called for a peace conference with Weiss, but was so afraid of another shoot-out that he sent the new Unione Siciliana president Tony Lombardo to negotiate for him. Weiss new that Al Anselmi and John Scalise had left the Genna's and were now working for Capone. He told Lombardo that he would end the war if Capone handed the two hit men over to him. Lombardo rang Capone who said "I wouldn't do that to a yellow dog." The sit-down ended and Weiss' fate was sealed. Weiss' headquarters were at Schofield's Flower Shop on North State Street, next door to a rooming house. Capone set up a sniper in a room next door, and another in a hotel room at number 1 West Superior Street. Both snipers had a clear line of site to the sidewalk outside Schofield's. On October 11 1926, Weiss emerged from his car at 4pm when the snipers opened fire. Gangster Patrick Murray stepped out of the car with Weiss and was hit 7 times by the machine gunners. Also with Weiss were lawyer W.W. O'Brien (hit 3 times in the arm, side and abdomen), Private Investigator Benjamin Jacobs (hit once in the foot) and Weiss' chauffeur/bodyguard Sam Peller (hit once in the abdomen). The injured O'Brien, Jacobs and Peller ran to a doctor's surgery 8 buildings away. Paramedics found a dead Patrick Murray and a wounded but breathing Hymie Weiss. They rushed him to Henrotin hospital but he died in the ambulance. In his final moments, he refused to give any information about who might have shot him. The hospital turned his personal effects over to the police who found a list of names in his pocket. Further probing revealed that all of the people on the list were jurors in the trial of Joe Saltis, leader of a gang allied to the Northsiders. Weiss was also carrying almost $6,000 in cash and checks. To this day, the inscription on the cornerstone of the Holy Name Cathedral (opposite Schofield's) is chipped from bullets fired by Weiss' killers.


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