Johnny "The Fox" Torrio: The Father of Modern American Gangsterdom

Oct 14, 2009 - by Allan May - 0 Comments

Johnny "The Fox" Torrio

Johnny "The Fox" Torrio

A mentor to Al Capone, a confidante of Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello, Torrio even managed to win the begrudging respect of law enforcement.

by Allan May

Some people think that Johnny "The Fox" Torrio retired from organized crime after he turned his crime empire over to a young Al Capone in 1925. Far from it. Many crime historians believe that Torrio’s most significant contributions to organized crime came years later, an opinion shared by Torrio’s contemporaries on the other side of the law. Virgil W. Peterson of the Chicago Crime Commission called Torrio, "an organizational genius." Elmer Irey, the famous head of the Treasury Department’s Intelligence Unit, called Torrio, "the father of modern American gangsterdom." Irey claimed, "He was the smartest and, I dare say, the best of all the hoodlums. And when I say best I am referring of course to talent. Not morals."

The events leading to Torrio’s exodus from Chicago began on May 19, 1924 when North Side Gang leader Dion O’Banion, somewhat of a fox himself, delivered Torrio into the hands of federal authorities. O’Banion, Torrio and Capone jointly owned the Sieben Brewery. When O’Banion was tipped off to an upcoming federal raid on the brewery he went to Torrio and Capone with a concocted story about retiring and heading west. He sold his share to the two and made plans to meet Torrio at the brewery the night of the raid.

When the federal raiders appeared, Torrio realized O’Banion had doublecrossed him. He also realized that because this was his second federal offense that he faced certain prison time if convicted. Torrio seethed in anger and plotted O’Banion’s death. On Nov. 10, 1924, O’Banion was gunned down in his own flower shop.

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