In 1915 Roger Touhy graduated from the eighth grade as class valedictorian and, as did many boys his age at that time, went job hunting and tried to land a position as an international wireless radio operator. However, his youth (he was only thirteen) kept him out of that line. Instead, he worked as an office boy and stock room clerk. He later took another position as a cookie taster in a biscuit bakery.
He was a determined adolescent and in 1915, the year his father retired from the Chicago police force, Roger lied about his age and managed to land a position with Western Union for twelve dollars a week. Of his age Touhy said, "...it was easy to get by. My hair was gray at the sides of my head (maybe I worried as an infant) before I got out of knee pants and every day I would have a five o'clock shadow by lunch time." He became the manager of a little residential section branch office and considered himself "a real big dealer."
Western Union taught Touhy the Morse code which was easy enough since he already had experience. He was moved to a main office in midtown as an operator where he ran a book-making operation on the side. He even took the occasional bet from his father, of whom he said, "...[h]e liked to play the horses. He would bet fifty cents or one or two bucks on a race when he had the cash to spare. And now I was in a position to be his personal tout. The stable owners, trainers and jockey would send messages on the chances of their horses over the wires. I tipped off my father."
Touhy continues, "A really important thing happened to me-back then in 1915-was that a darkhaired Irish girl went to work for Western Union in the company branch office in Chicago's finest hotel- the Blackstone. She was fresh out of telegraph school. From the main office I sent the Blackstone's messages to her and received the ones she transmitted back. She sent better than she copied, but she wasn't good at either. I tried to help her."
Her name was Clara Morgan. She was just sixteen and six years later Touhy would marry her. Clara worked the four-to-midnight shift, and since Touhy worked the day shift he would drop by to see her and eventually to walk her home. They were normally accompanied by one of Clara's co-workers, Emily Ivins who years later would be an instrumental witness to Touhy's innocence on kidnapping charges.
Sometime in 1916, Touhy became involved with the Commercial Telegraphers Union (C.T.U.) of America which was trying to organize the Western Union and Postal Telegraph Company. According to Touhy, during one of his breaks, he walked into the men's smoking lounge and read one of the union pamphlets that had been scattered across the room by organizers. Someone reported him to the management who called him in for interrogation. They asked Touhy if he was a union member, if he was acquainted with any union members and would he be willing to provide their names. Touhy said he wasn't a member, he didn't know any members and if he did he wouldn't give out their names. "So," one of the managers asked, "you intend to take a union card?"
Touhy replied "maybe" and was fired on the spot.
I should have lied to that superintendent," he wrote. "Honesty was my downfall."
That evening an organizer for the C.T.U. came to Touhy's house and told him that he was already blacklisted within the telegraph industry. Touhy didn't believe him and applied for work with the Associated Press which needed telegraph operators. They refused to take his application. He describes the incident saying, "I could have been a bearded Bolshevik with a bomb under my coat."
So he became a union organizer, probably the only job he could find in the only business he knew anything about.
One of the first things Touhy did was to forge the names of ten Western Union employee-informants on union application membership cards and give them to one of the secretaries in the union's office who Touhy suspected of being a plant.
Among the names he provided to her was the Western Union employee who had turned him in to management for reading union literature. The next day all of the people named on the fake application cards were fired and the secretary was terminated.
It was at this point that Touhy would meet some of the legends of labor organizing.
'Their faces" Roger wrote, "were scar tissued from fighting hired strike breakers on picket lines. Their skulls were creased from bumping their heads on the tops of police paddy wagons. Their knuckles sometimes were driven halfway up to their wrists from past impacts."
One of the legends he met was Con Shea who was "an erudite character who delighted in using fancy words."
One evening over a beer he taught the young Touhy that "a divided septum is an occupational hazard of the profession of union organizing." Touhy said, "I nodded wisely not wanting to appear dumb. I learned later that he was talking about a busted nose."
Shea should have known about broken noses. He, along with "Big Frenchy" Mader, "Big Tim" Murphy and "Dapper" Dan McCarthy (a professional gunner later employed by Johnny Torrio) all but created the great Chicago Building Trades War of 1922. During the war-and it was a war by all definitions-Shea and the others worked both sides of the fence, for labor and for management, bombing both sides equally. The war ended when Big Frenchy Mader walked into the union hall with a machine gun and declared himself President and owner of the Building Trades Council. At that point there were so few people left that no one opposed him. Six years later, Shea's co-terrorist, Big Tim Murphy was gunned down during the violent Republican pineapple primary of 1928, so-called because of the throwing of bombs. By 1929, Shea, who had been a bomber for the Teamsters since he was sixteen, was now an old man taking any job he could find.Roger soon tired of organizing; the hours were long, the pay was low and often the work was brutal and dangerous. Except for a still-blossoming romance with Clara Morgan, Roger had nothing to hold him in Chicago, and, like thousands of young men before him, he headed out west to make his fortun
Does MPHS have photographs: Newspaper photos
Address in Mount Prospect: River Road in Des Plaines
Birth Date: 1898
Death Date: December 16, 1959
Spouse: Clara Touhy
Children: Roger Jr., Thomas
Interesting information on life, career, accomplishments
Roger Touhy was reputed to be boss of the organized crime syndicate in the Chicago area during prohibition. Although most of the information on him is sensationalistic and it is hard to tell how much is real and what is myth. Supposedly, Al Capone ran the underworld in most of Chicago and much of the southern suburbs while the northwestern suburbs were reportedly under the control of Touhy the Terrible. Toughy was the youngest son of a family with eight children. His father was a police officer and his mother died when Touhy was ten years old when there was an explosion in the family’s kitchen. He operated a car dealership in Chicago for a number of years, but decided to go into bootlegging to make more money. He reportedly bought into a distribution business with a man named Matt Kolb, who was later gunned down in a Morton Grove speakeasy. Touhy started out selling beer to road houses and saloons in the small towns north and northwest of Chicago. Supposedly, he brought in over $1million in beer sales in the 1920s. He was said to have gained public support, or at least a blind eye, by donating generously to different organizations, schools and social clubs. He lived in Oak Park, but after his first child was born he moved onto a farm in Des Plaines near the Maryville Academy. According to legend, he later extended his bootlegging to this farm but could not conceal the waste products or the smell of his operations. To take care of this problem, he invited his neighbors to go on a three week trip to Europe. While they were away, he had an engineering company come in and construct an underground drainage system that would carry all the waste from his land, under their property and empty it into a creek that led into the Des Plaines River. He was eventually arrested and out into prison. He was convicted of kidnapping a man named John (Jake the Barber) Factor, who was a friend of Al Capone and was wanted in England on fraud charges. Touhy denied the charges and claimed that he was framed by Al Capone’s gang. In 1942, after being in prison for nine years, he broke out, although he was recaptured shortly. He was eventually released on parole after serving almost 26 years in the Stateville Penitentiary. Twenty two days after he was released he was gunned down while standing on his sister’s front porch. While much of the story about Touhy may be mostly sensationalism, there are reasons to believe that there was sale of alcohol in the northwest suburbs. Many of the towns had strong immigrant populations and much of prohibition was a thinly veiled anti-immigrant policy, which was strongly resented by older, established immigrant communities who had little or no interest in abiding by it. Areas like Mount Prospect were also still largely agricultural with little law enforcement and what there was, was usually local.
Opting for an early out with the Navy Reserve, Roger was back in Chicago by 1919, living with his father in suburban Franklin Park and dating Clara Morgan, having kept in touch with her through long letters from Colorado and later from Boston. There was talk of marriage, but Roger set off for the west again, landing in Drummund, Oklahoma where the oil business was in full boom and fortunes were being made overnight.
"I didn't know any more about the oil business then a mink knows about sex hygiene, but I could learn....The Sinclair Oil people, in a moment of laxity hired me as a scout. The experience I had in that line was confined to watching silent western movies in which army scouts killed Indians,"says Tuohy.
Actually the position he filled was as a driver to the world famous geologist Dick Raymond who had been brought in to determine which wildcat wells were producing the most oil and from that, decide which land was worth leasing. "There was nothing," he wrote "against my buying leases that Raymond recommended."
Learning everything he could about the oil business from Raymond, Roger took $1,000 out of his savings and purchased a 150-acre site that Drummond recommended. Within a month, he resold the lease for a 200 percent profit. He repeated the process twenty times in one year. Of that time Touhy said, "[I] never lost on any of them...the money was good, but I was a guy who liked the city. And my mind was on the girl at the telegraph key in the Blackstone Hotel."
He returned to Chicago with $25,000, a respectable fortune in 1920, "and,"he liked to point out, "it had taken me less than a year to earn it."
Roger Touhy, armed with a machine gun, walked into a meeting at the Teamsters Headquarters in Chicago. With him was his top enforcer, Willie Sharkey, and two other men. Each of them carried a machine gun and a pistol as they herded the union officials and lined them up against the wall. As more members entered the building for a special emergency meeting, they too were lined up against the wall until there were over one hundred members held hostage.
After two hours, Roger stood before the crowd and spoke.
"Listen up you mugs, we've come here today to clean the dago syndicate out of the Teamsters Union."
A cheer went up across the room from the membership. Roger looked over the faces in the hall and spotted a half dozen of Murray Humpreys' enforcers including Artie Barrett whom Touhy had known from the Valley. "We thought you were a right guy" he said to Barrett. 'What are you doing hanging around these rats for?"
'Well, hell, I gotta eat Rog, " Barrett said.
He let Barrett leave but pulled two of the syndicate's union leaders named Goldberg and Sass into an office and told them to call Murray Humpreys and tell him to come to the building as soon as he could. When they said they couldn't remember the number, Roger said, 'Well, get together and think it up or we'll give it to you right outside the door. None of you other mugs have to be afraid, we're after Klondike O'Donnell, Camel Humpreys and Jack White and we won't hurt anybody else."
Out of ignorance or fear Goldberg and Sass didn't place the call.
Roger rounded up his men and left the building at 11:30 in the morning, three full hours after they had arrived, taking Goldberg and Sass with him. His last words to the membership were, 'These two are going to get theirs. " Once again the membership exploded in cheers.
Sass and Goldberg were released two days later. They were not harmed or abused. "Actually," said Goldberg, "they treated us well. The food was excellent. The conversation was good."
Leading Capone's assault was George "Red" Barker, a west side Irishman and former bookkeeper. Working under Barker as his assistant was the up and coming Murray Humpreys, a Welshman who had strong-armed his way into at least twenty-six Teamster locals by then. When the decade of the 1930s opened, George Red Barker was, as one Chicago cop put it, "riding on top of the world." Barker all but controlled the Chicago Teamsters and was reported to be earning $200,000 a year as a result.
Before he took to a life of crime, Barker had been an honest bookkeeper. He was literate, devouring every union newsletter and newspaper he could find from anywhere in the country, and paid for information on locals as well. Barker would get a copy of the financials and study them. If the union had potential, Barker recommended the takeover to Ralph Capone and Frank Nitti who talked it over with A1 Capone. If Capone agreed-and he almost always did-Barker and his boys would go after the union.
In early 1931, Capone urged Barker to go after the coal teamsters.
Barker approached James "Lefty" Lynch, a semi- honest thug who owned the Coal Teamsters Local 704, which delivered fuel to the entire downtown district where every office building depended upon the local for fuel to warm its buildings against the brutal Chicago winters. Barker told Lynch that Capone expected him to turn over half of the control of his union as well as his seat on the prestigious and important Joint Teamsters Council. In exchange, Barker offered Lynch protection. On the up side, Barker told Lynch, Capone intended to double the union's membership and as a result Lynch's income would double as well.
Lynch sat through Barker's speech and then threw him out of his office. It was his union and he wasn't going to give it up to Capone or anyone else.
Later in the month, Lynch went to his summer home on Brown Lake outside Burlington, Wisconsin. His family was preparing a barbecue and the members were seated around a long picnic table when Danny Stanton and Klondike O'Donnell, two of the meanest Capone hoods in Chicago, drove into the yard. They climbed out of the car slowly. They were in no hurry. There were no cops or witnesses around for miles. They were armed with shotguns, pistols and rifles. Stanton walked over to Lynch and said, 'The Big Fellow back in Chicago sends this message: you just retired from Local 704. From this moment on, you stay away from the union hall. You stay away from the office. You stay away from the Joint Council. You understand?"
Lynch nodded his head and Klondike added, 'Well just so's you don't forget what was said...." and pulled out his pistol and shot Lynch through both of his legs while his wife and children looked on in horror. Lynch fell to the ground, groaning in agony. Stanton bent over Lynch to make sure he was alive and said 'You got balls; I'll give you that." He stood up and turned to Lynch's daughter and said "get him to a doctor and he'll be alright."
At the next meeting of the Joint Council, Red Barker and Murray Humpreys appeared at the door with a dozen heavily armed Capone men.
Barker, carrying a baseball bat, stood in the center of the room and asked "Which one is Lefty Lynch's chair?" Somebody pointed to a large leather chair in the middle of the room and Barker sat there. He looked around the room and announced that he was now running the Coal Teamsters Chauffeurs and Helpers Union Local 704 and that everything would remain just the way Lynch had left it. The only difference was that the entire treasury was turned over to Capone except for $1,000 which was left to cover administrative payrolls.
After that, Barker went to the fuel dealers in the district and informed them that they were only hiring union members and that they were giving all of their drivers a massive pay raise or else Capone would see to it that not a lump of coal was delivered downtown.
The dealers had no choice but to agree and passed the cost along to the real estate developers who consequently raised the price of office space in the area. Capone kept Lynch on the payroll to avoid a revolt in the ranks. However, Lynch never appeared at another union function.
As a reward, Capone gave Barker control over the ushers' union with orders to exploit it to its full potential. Barker sent word to every theater owner in the city that they were to use his ushers for every political and sporting event, indoor or outdoor. He
said they would have to pay for "crowd control," a service only his union could provide, at a rate of $10 per usher.
Movie theaters avoided the hike by paying off Barker in cash. Five dollars per usher was less expensive for them. Within weeks Barker was being paid off by every strip show, opera, ballet, symphony, prize fight and ball game held in the city. He was collecting a fortune until one prize fight promoter named Walter George decided to hold out.
Barker waited until the promoter had sold out the entire Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue for a major prize fight. Then, just before the fight was to begin, a half dozen cabs pulled up to the coliseum and let out building inspectors, fire marshals, electrical inspectors, plumbing inspectors and health inspectors, all led by Red Barker. Within minutes after entering the building the inspectors declared that the water was unhealthy to drink and ordered it turned off. The hot dog, beer and soda concessions were shut down by the fire marshal and the electrical inspector said the wiring was faulty and ordered the stadium lights shut off. During the delay, the crowd became violent. George turned to Barker and said "All right, how much you bastard?"
Barker answered that his price was up to $20 per usher and that the minimum number of ushers needed for the night was 120. Barker was paid and the fight went on.The Touhys gunned down Red Barker. It was a damaging blow to the syndicate. Willie Sharkey, Roger's most reliable killer, had rented an apartment overlooking Barker's office and waited there patiently, perched in a window, with a water-cooled, tripod set machine gun. Sharkey killed Barker by firing thirty-six bullets into him in a matter of seconds as he walked down the street.
"It was a war, chiefly, between the Irish and the Italians. I'm Irish and I'd come into my office in the morning after another shoot-out and I would say to my co-worker, who was Italian, 'Well that's one to my side' and the next day he would come and say 'well, it's leveled Jim, we chalked one up on our side last night.' It was awful really, they were all such young men."-James Doherty, crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune
Joe Touhy, Roger's older brother, died, in June of 1929. Eyewitnesses said that Joe and his crew were breaking up a speakeasy that the Capones had opened in Schiller Park. When a waiter reached for something under the bar, Joe Touhy's own man, a hood named Paul Pagen, fired off a warning burst from his machine gun, accidentally killing Touhy.
Johnny Touhy, the third eldest brother, didn't call it an accident. He killed Pagen in revenge for Joe's murder and was sentenced to prison for ten years to life. However he was released in four years, his brothers having purchased his freedom with bribes. "And that's what money," wrote the Chicago Tribune of John's release, "well spent in Chicago will do. "
A few months after his parole was granted, Johnny was arrested again for attempted murder of a Capone goon. He was sent back to StatevillePrison where he died of consumption in a barren hospital room.
Capone sent Jimmy Fawcett and Murray "the Camel" Humpreys out to Des Plains to talk to Roger. The probable reason for sending Fawcett and Humpreys to see Touhy was, in all likelihood, to try one last time to get him to fall into line before the real shooting started. Sending Fawcett, an old hand Capone gunman, was a smart move. Touhy had known Fawcett for years, the two of them living along the edges of Chicago unionism for several years. Humpreys may have been new to Touhy. The Camel, Touhy said, did all the talking. Humpreys got things off to a bad start. He said Touhy was "putting [his] nose where it don't belong and that means trouble."
'Mr. Capone" the Camel hissed, 'is upset at the Touhys and that isn't good." Capone wanted Touhy to stop offering protection to the Teamster Union bosses.
Afterward Roger went to Cicero with him and Fawcett and talked over the problems with Frank Nitti. There are several versions of what happened next, but the end result of each version is the same.
When the Camel was done with his threats, Touhy put a pistol into his mouth and told him never to show his face in Des Plains again. Humpreys offered to buy back his life with his new car but Touhy let them go. After the pair had left, Fawcett returned and offered "to kill Humpreys on the way back into Chicago and for an extra few grand, Rog, I'll knock off that son of a bitch Nitti too."
Years later, Touhy told the story, or at least a cleaned up version of it, in his memoir. When the book hit the streets, an infuriated and humiliated Murray Humpreys denied that it ever happened.
After the war with Capone started, the gang leaped in size to about fifty men who worked for Touhy on a regular basis, according to Jim Wagner, one of the first men to work with Touhy when he moved out to Des Plains.
George Wilke, who was also known as George Fogarty, had been one of Touhy's minor partners in the beer business for three years but left it, 'because living in the country gave me enough sinus troubles to have to move to Florida."
Walter Murray, forty-two, was a truck driver and laborer in the organization. Murray wore false upper teeth, yet all of the lower teeth were missing except for the two front ones. Like most of the men who worked for Touhy, Murray was from the Valley and had a wife and four children and no criminal record.
Jimmy Clarence Wagner, forty, worked as Touhy's bookkeeper, although he and his brother John ran a small painting business out of Elmwood Park. Married in 1918 and with a ten-year-old son, James Jr., the family lived in Chicago until 1926 before finally moving out to Des Plains. Wagner had enlisted in the army during the first war and served as a sergeant in the artillery corps. After his discharge from the service he worked for Edison Kees as a flooring salesman until 1920 when he became involved with the city employees' annuity fund as a clerk for three years. He then went to work for his brother-in-law Leonard Thompson who knew Matt Kolb. Kolb introduced him to Touhy, who in 1930 hired him as a truck driver at $50.00 a week. Soon he was promoted to collector. He never used "muscle," never carried a gun and always had friendly dealings with his customers.
Willie Ford was a collector who lived in Des Plains for four years, leaving in 1929 and then returning after the shooting war with the DeGrazios had started. His brother, Jerry Ford, was a truck driver living on 4th Street in Des Plains. Willie Ford later became Touhy's chief enforcer and strong-arm man. Ford's roommate was Arthur Reese, a gang regular and enforcer. Other enforcers included Jim Ryan who was, at least on paper, the foreman in charge of the drivers and lived on Grand Avenue in River Forrest. His brother, Clifford Ryan, lived across the street from the Des Plains elementary school. Working under Ryan were enforcers John (Shaner) Crawford and Joseph (Sonny) Kerwin. John "Red" Ryan, one of Paddy the Bear's sons, had worked for the Shelton gang for a while and was a member of the gang along with Martin O'Leary and Old Harv Baily who were associated with the Touhy gang on a regular basis. Roy Marshalk said Wagner "was not a collector or a driver. He always rode with Touhy everywhere." Like everyone else, Ford was reluctant to discuss the dangerous Marshalk who was actually, after Tommy Touhy, the gang's chief of staff and high executioner.
Most of the bodyguards were former Cook County Highway patrolmen like Buck Henrichsen who also worked as a laborer and was known as a "muscle man." Henrichsen brought in his younger brother called "Buck Jr." and a second highway patrolman, Mike Miller, who acted as Tommy Touhy's personal bodyguard. Other bodyguards included August John La Mar and Louis Finko, two very dangerous men, as well as Roger's childhood friend Willie Sharkey and for a brief period, Gus Schafer who in 1930 was new to the area.
In 1933, Touhy's bodyguard Willie Sharkey said, 'We always carried guns on beer runs to protect ourselves and friends from the syndicate, after 1930 we seldom left the north side and the vicinity of Des Plains and very seldom went into Chicago or else we would have been placed on the spot. But we left town right after any of the newspapers pinned us with a crime. Tommy (Touhy) took care of that."