Chapter 3 82 Days AWOL

A convict on the lam absolutely must have a set of iden-
tification papers. A Social Security card. A driver's
license. And—back in 1942, when I was loose—a draft
With such papers, a man usually can talk himself out
of a routine arrest. Without them, he is up against a trip
to a police station—with identification by fingerprinting—
for any trifling thing the cops may ask about.
I was living in a semi-Skid Row section of Chicago, los-
ing myself among thousands of men trying to be forgotten
for reasons of wife-trouble, personal disgrace, a permanent
knockout by booze, or just plain shiftlessness.
This jungle of men gave me a fine protective coloring,
but there were drawbacks. The cops might collar a man
—me, for instance—at any time for a few questions. The
FBI was looking for draft dodgers and the military au-
thorities for wartime deserters.
Also, I needed a car to get around, and passing a traffic
sign could mean a return ticket to Stateville unless I had a
driver's license.
I hit on the deal that a pickpocket could fix me up, and
37I knew where to find one. He was a skinny little guy, and
I had seen him get run out of a Monroe Street joint by a
saloonkeeper who hollered at him: "Get out of here, Slim,
and stay out. You've lifted your last wallet off my cus-
I watched for this character and saw him about a week
later as he waited for a streetcar. When I asked for a word
with him, he held his arms out from his sides and said:
"Okay, officer, give me the frisk. I'm clean. Haven't made
a touch in months."
It took a little talking to persuade him that I wasn't a
detective, and then we went into a little restaurant for
coffee. I told him a tale—one he obviously didn't swallow
—that I had walked out on my wife and that I needed
driver's license, Social Security and draft registration cards.
He wanted to know how much, and I offered $100, if
the cards fit me on age and general description. He wanted
$500 and we settled at $200. "Okay, meet me here
Friday at the same time," he said, and skittered out to
the street.
I met him that Friday and he had a set of cards that
came close to me on description. But I wasn't quite satis-
fied, and he aimed to please. Before we finished dickering
I had examined 18 sets—and finally I had myself a tailor-
made fit.
My name was Jackson. I was five feet six inches tall,
weighed 160, had gray eyes and wavy hair. I was 4-F in
the draft for physical reasons and I had a job in a war
plant. My new papers said so, and who was I to argue?
As more camouflage, I bought a round tin badge in a
novelty store. It said "Inspector" and looked like the iden-
tity discs issued to some war workers. I wore this thing
pinned to my shirt.
Cons in Stateville, the screws and some of my visitors
often asked me later how I dodged the law on the outside.
The truth is that I didn't dodge. I lived like hundreds of
other men, only they were working stiffs and I was a
I wore good enough clothes, but nothing gaudy. My
hat came down well on my forehead. I wore glasses, issued
38to roe in prison, and the old photographs of me in the paper
showed me without them. If that adds up to a disguise,
I'm Mary Margaret McBride in a cell.
My new papers made it easy for me to buy a cheap used
car. I drove around Chicago and out into the country
through the Forest Preserves. I saw movies, dozens of
them. I drank nothing more than a beer or two now and
then, but a few bartenders became friendly.
Coming out of the Tivoli Theater late one afternoon, I
had one of my biggest starts. Under the bright lights of
the marquee, I met two ex-cons from Stateville. They
whooped at me, shook my hand, clapped me on the back
and wanted me to go on a celebration.
I got away from there fast. They were good guys, but
one of them might take a pinch some day or get picked up
up for parole violating. It might be too much of a tempta-
tion for him to talk himself out of trouble by telling where
Roger Touhy was.
About six weeks passed and I never saw any of the guys
who went over the wall with me. The Owl was the only
one who knew where I lived. One evening he came calling.
With him were Stewart and Nelson, and that didn't sit well
with me. I didn't want those trouble makers to know where
I was.
"Thanksgiving is coming up, Rog, and we all ought to
be together," Banghart said. "We got two nice apartments
out near Broadway and Wilson. Come out and stay with
us, at least for the holiday."
It didn't sound too bad. Living like a hermit was getting
dreary. There wasn't much point in it any longer, now that
Stewart and Nelson knew my address. I packed up, went
with them and moved into one of the apartments with
Banghart and O'Conner.
No dice. On the second night, all seven of us were
drinking beer and playing cards when a rumble started.
Darlak wanted to move into the apartment where I was.
I said no; that it was crowded enough with three of us. I
insisted on a room by myself.
Nelson was a little drunk and got mean. I tried pacify-
ing him and Stewart, who was pretty soggy, jumped in. I
39gave him a slap in the mouth and left. I had the telephone
number of the flat, and I told Gene and The Owl: "I'll
keep in touch with you, but if you ever again tell those
other three bastards where I am, I'm through with all of
My next stop was a room with an old lady on Wood off
Madison, back near the Skid Row belt again. I had a line
on her because she had a son who did time in Stateville
and now was in the can in another state up north. She
didn't know me from the name on my Social Security card,
but she took me in when I mentioned the son.
"Terrible" Touhy still made headlines in the papers. An
armored car carrying a $20,000 candy company payroll
got robbed out in the suburbs, and they blamed me and
my gang of "escaped terrorists" for that one. In the next
edition there was a story saying I had bribed my way to
South America ten days earlier. I was reported seen all
over Chicago—at times, in two places simultaneously.
The FBI was making things tighter for me all the time.
I learned that when I went out to suburban Des Plaines one
evening to look at the house with swimming pool, where
I had lived with my wife and sons so many years ago.
I was feeling sloppy sentimental and I remembered that
I had an old friend, a square, in the village of Cumberland
nearby. I drove over there and rang his bell. He opened the
door, looked at me, winked and did an acting job that
would have won laurels on Broadway. "Yes, sir?" he said,
in the tone people have for door-to-door salesmen. "What
can I do for you?"
I looked past him into the living room. Two young
guys in bankers' gray suits and Arrow collars were sitting
there with briefcases beside their chairs. FBI agents, sure
as J. Edgar Hoover has jowls.
It was my cue, and I blabbered something about hear-
ing he was in the market for a good used car. My friend
said, "No, thank you," and shut the door in my face. I
got out to the street and around the corner to where my
car was parked.
The federals took a couple of minutes to get the polite
looks off their faces, and then took out after me. I was
40long gone, threading my car through alleys and side-
streets, but I had learned something. The FBI was every-
Another time I pulled into a filling station at North and
Damen Avenues for gas. A car was at the next pump and
the driver—a city cop in uniform and wearing a gun—
was standing beside it.
He came walking toward me, and I was sort of mes-
merized. He didn't reach for his gun, but I was willing to
give up. He leaned in the open window of my car. He
grinned and I flinched. Then came the goddamnedest one-
way conversation I ever heard:
"Hello, Mr. Touhy. I was wondering if I'd run into you.
I'd like to repay a big favor. When you were running beer,
back in '29, I was in an accident and laid up in the hos-
pital. Things were tough for my wife and kids, until you
put me on your payroll.
"Can I help you now? Need any money?"
I couldn't speak, but I managed to shake my head. He
reached out a big paw and shook my hand. The station
attendant finished filling my tank, and the policeman paid
him for me—which made the attendant almost as dum-
founded as I was. Quite a few Chicago cops collect easy;
but they usually pay under protest, I had learned years
It was all I could do to squeak out a "thanks" to my
benefactor. He told me to phone him any time I needed
anything, and gave me the number of his district station.
I drove away.
I sat in my room that night and wondered. If that
copper had arrested me, I wouldn't have given him a bit
of trouble. I didn't have a gun and I wouldn't have resisted.
Pinching me would have gotten him a promotion and the
award of hero cop of the year, probably. But he had
remembered a favor. And I hadn't even remembered the
guy, say nothing of the favor!
The time was getting close for capture. The friendly cop
and those FBI men in my friend's home in Cumberland
village proved that. I was covered too tight to stay on the
41streets for long. But what was the difference? Capture had
to be sometime.
I had made my big protest against false imprisonment.
My escape should get a lot of people wondering whether I
really might be innocent. No longer would I be a man
buried alive. After my capture, the newspapers would
print my side of the story. That was the silliest hope I ever
When the law moved in on me, I would come out with
my hands up. I would go back to prison, but I wouldn't
betray the people who had helped me and I wouldn't
squeal on the other six who went over the wall with me.
I had telephoned Banghart a few times in their hideaway,
but that didn't seem smart. Some day the FBI might be
there, waiting for the phone to ring after catching or kill-
ing the others. They would trace my call and I would be
So I set up a meet with Banghart—a strange meet for
two of the most wanted men in America. It was St. Charles
Roman Catholic Church at 12th and Cypress, where I had
received my first communion.
Every Tuesday evening at six o'clock, the bell tolled in
the steeple at St. Charles. It was a call to confession for
people of the parish, an unusual custom for that day of the
week, I guess. I would be walking up the steps as the
bell started clanging.
In the church would be women with shawls over their
heads. People were too poor in that neighborhood for the
womenfolk to buy hats. They would be praying and going
to confession in order to take communion next day for
their dead or for sons, sweethearts or husbands in the war.
I had strayed away from religion a long, long time ago,
but the holiness of the place still got me.
I would sit in a vacant pew. Banghart would slip in be-
side me and we would whisper, exchanging word on wheth-
er any of us needed help. Then we would leave, separately.
If The Owl was more than five minutes late, I would
Banghart, O'Connor, Darlak, Mclnerney, Nelson and
42Stewart were getting along okay. They hadn't committed
any crimes, The Owl said. All of them were getting help
from relatives or friends. They were being discreet about
women and liquor. Sometimes they worked at odd jobs
for walking-around money.
"I don't think they'll ever catch us," The Owl said. But I
didn't agree. Pitch a needle into the biggest haystack in
the world, and it'll be found if enough people look for it
long enough, I told him.
The Christmas season came along and I spent hours
walking on State Street, looking in the windows. Christ-
mas is always a lonely business in prison, but it was worse
for me that year on the outside. I did manage to get a
message through to my wife and kids in Florida, with a
few gifts. I thought of visiting them, but that would be
nuts. Even if I got away with it, which was unlikely, the
tear of parting would be too much.
My old landlady had me in her living room on Christ-
mas Eve to look at her tree. It was scrawny, with the lights
flickering on and off, and she was sniffling about her son
in prison. I got out of there.
Almost everybody knows the gag about "lonely as a
whorehouse on Christmas Eve." Well, I lived it—in a
sidestreet saloon, that is, listening to the Christmas carols
on the radio and drinking beer for beer with a white-
haired bartender.
The next day I went to the Empire Room in the Palmer
House, got a table in a corner and ate a big dinner. I was
halfway through the meal before I began to realize that
the turkey didn't taste much better than it had at Stateville.
Freedom was beginning to pall on me, I guess.
When I got home that evening, there was a holiday-
wrapped package on my bureau. It was a necktie, a gift
from the landlady. I had put a box of candy under her
scrawny tree, and now she was paying off.
Every day I left my room early in the morning and took
my car out of a garage on Adams Street. I would drive
around or go to a movie or take long walks in the Forest
Preserves. In the late afternoon, I would be back, like a
43working man finishing his day. The tin "inspector" badge
on my shirt helped that fakery along.
And then I felt the roof creaking, as a hunted man gets
to sense. It was going to fall in on me unless I moved fast.
I came home on a Tuesday afternoon and started for
my room. The old lady heard me and called to me from
the living room. She had three or four guests in there,
having coffee and cake. I went in and she introduced me
by my phony name. "This man is a friend of my son," she
said. "I want him to have refreshments with us. He gave
me such a nice box of chocolates for Christmas."
The lights were bright. Across the room I saw a dried-
up looking guy peering at me. I knew he had me made.
He was almost drooling at the chops over his fat reward in
the near future. I went around the room, deadpan as
Buster Keaton, shaking hands. The character I suspected
had a moist, hot hand. Excitement? Anticipation? Greed
for reward? Anxiety to become a hero by stooling on
"Terrible" Touhy?
I got the hell out of there fast, after mumbling excuses.
In my room, I packed up and used a towel to wipe every
surface that might hold a fingerprint. The old lady—she
was probably 75—didn't deserve a harboring rap. Then
I back-doored the joint.
My hunch was right, too. A Chicago copper, John No-
lan, told me after my capture that a telephone stoolie had
called the police, left his name, and squealed that Roger
Touhy was hanging around Wood and Madison, where I
had been living. He wanted a reward, the stoolie said. But
I foxed him.
Leaving the old lady's house, I ran to my garage on
Adams, tossed my suitcase into my car and headed for St.
Charles Church. I dashed up the steps—almost falling on
the ice—and got inside. The bell stopped tolling just as I
pulled open the heavy doors.
Banghart was sitting in a pew. The candlelight flicker-
ing on his widow's peak, his big eyes and his beakish
nose, made him look more like an owl than usual. I got
next to him and whispered: "Basil, they got me made. I'm
in bad trouble. No place to go."
44"Never mind," Banghart said. "I got things all fixed
up. Come on."
We left the church and sat in my car. The Owl explained.
He and Darlak had a big apartment out on Kenmore
Avenue, near Lawrence Avenue. Everything was as quiet
and well behaved as an 82-year-old spinster with a dis-
placed cervical vertebra.
"Move in with us," he invited. "We don't have any
guns, liquor or women around the place. Any playing we
do, we get away from the neighborhood. O'Connor and
Mclnerney have an apartment a few blocks from us."
Nelson and Stewart, he went on, had broken away from
them. Probably left town, he said, and that news didn't
exactly make a weeping ruin out of me. Those two guys
were no assets to any of us.
We went out to the Kenmore flat and up the back stair-
way after I had parked about a block away. Darlak, always
a good enough mope, was there. But the joint felt creepy to
me, and I prowled around, uneasy as an alley tomcat at
midnight mating time, and peered out the windows.
I saw a man stop briefly and talk with another man. He
walked a half block and stopped to chat with a second
fellow. That was it! Men don't hold sidewalk conversations
with other men at night—with girls, yes, but not with
men. These men must be cops. I told Banghart and Dar-
lak that we ought to clear out of there.
The Owl laughed at me. "It's that kind of a neighbor-
hood," he said. "Dope addicts and peddlers. They meet on
the streets to make deals." I accepted that explanation and
decided to stay. It was the lousiest goddam decision I ever
made—aside from joining the break in the first place. This
is what happened . . .
I was sleeping like dead when a hoarse, bellowing voice
awakened me. I thought at first that Banghart or Darlak
had turned on the radio. It was that kind of voice.
Then the room lit up, brighter than the sunniest day
you ever saw, with a pure white light. It stung my eyes,
and I started to yell for somebody to turn it off. But the
light wasn't in the apartment. It was blasting through the
45The voice came on again. And now I knew what it was.
Somebody was talking over a loudspeaker from the street
outside. It was the voice of doom—the reveille bugle call-
ing us back to Stateville.
"Touhy! Banghart! Darlak!" the voice said, with an
ungodly tone that must have been heard a half mile away.
"Touhy! Banghart! Darlak!
"This is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You are
surrounded. You cannot escape. Come out with your hands
up—immediately. If you resist, you will be killed."
There was a minute or so of silence, while the spotlights
played against our windows. Then the voice resumed:
"You, Banghart, come out first. Hold your hands over
your head and walk backwards down the stairs."
The game was up. We all knew it. Banghart looked at
me, with those big owl eyes blinking. Then he opened the
door and, without a word, backed out through it. Darlak
followed him, and then I did. Half way down the stairs
there was a gun in my back, and then the handcuffs were
on. Just like old times, it was.
Our next stop was the FBI headquarters on the 19th
floor of the Bankers Building in downtown Chicago. They
questioned us separately, in pairs, and all three together.
We didn't chirp about anyone who had harbored us, of
course. And we soon got the pitch on how the law had
caught up with us.
Nelson had turned himself in to the FBI in St. Paul,
Minnesota, and Stewart had been picked up in a fleabag
hotel on State Street in Chicago. They had squealed on us.
During all the questioning in those early hours, nobody
asked about O'Connor and Mclnerney, I noticed. There was
an astounding lack of curiosity about them. I began to
scent, in a vague sort of way, the attar of embalming fluid.
An FBI man confirmed it for me.
"We killed O'Connor and Mclnerney," he said. "They
opened fire and we had to shoot them."
The news of the death of O'Connor, particularly, shook
me up. Mclnerney never had meant much to me, except
for wondering why his parents hung the first name of St.
Clair on him.
46All I said was that I hoped Gene would have that
wheelbarrow and rope with him, wherever he was. The
FBI kids looked at me blankly—a habit of theirs.
That was it. The big escape was all done. The date was
December 29th. We had been free for 82 days. Two of us
were dead and, although we weren't aware of it yet, the
other five were in a hell of a fix.
The FBI and the Chicago police yammered at us for
most of two days. They tried to get us to rat on people who
had helped us, but we dummied up. As for blaming the
$20,000 candy-company payroll job on me, that was
strictly police guff. I had had nothing to do with any rob-
beries or other crimes, and there was no evidence of any
kind against any of us.
The time had come to go home; home to prison. I
glanced toward a doorway in the FBI suite and there stood
a man I knew well. He was Joseph E. Ragen, one of the
most widely known prison wardens in America. He was
my boss, and a stern disciplinarian. There was an ironical
story behind my association, as a convict, with Ragen, the
Back in 1941, Ragen had resigned as warden of State-
ville because of a political upheaval in Illinois. My escape,
with Banghart and our five companions, had created the
most whopping prison scandal of its kind in Illinois pen-
itentiary history. The politicans had gone whining to
Ragen, begging him to return and take charge.
He had agreed, but only after being guaranteed abso-
lute freedom from politics. My escape had made him, in
effect, the most independent state prison warden in the
United States. I looked at him as we met again and said:
"Well, Warden, I see I got your job back for you."
The warden looked a bit startled, then chuckled and
said: "Yes, Touhy, you did." They tell me Warden Ragen
told that story hundreds of times in the years that followed.
We rode back to Stateville in style, with a bigger police
escort than they give to the St. Patrick's Day parade. I
spent New Year's Eve getting dressed back into prison,
but I didn't feel too unhappy about it. I had made my big
47protest as an innocent man. What had it cost me personal-
ly? Not too much, I thought.
Illinois law, strangely enough, provided no prosecution
or penalty at that time for inmates who broke out of
prison. That sounds cockeyed, I know, but it wasn't a
crime then to escape from custody, provided you didn't
kill or hurt somebody in doing so. It wasn't until 1949
that the Illinois General Assembly passed a law making it
a felony to bust dut of a jail or a penitentiary.
All I could lose, personally, I thought at the time I went
over the wall, was time off earned for good behavior. And
that was a damnably insignificant item against 99 years.
It was much more important, I had convinced myself, to
make a big public protest against false imprisonment.
A Chicago lawyer, Joseph Harrington, came to see me a
few days after I was back in Stateville. My family had re-
tained him. I asked him if I was correct in believing they
couldn't prosecute me for escaping. Oh, yes, he said, I was
right. Absolutely right. But hiding away in the pubic bushes
of the law was a little angle that I had overlooked.
There was a clause saying that a person who aids or
abets another in escaping can be prosecuted and, if found
guilty, be sentenced to the same number of years which
the escapee had been serving. It is an archaic law, and
judges time and again had called it unfair and barbaric.
"In your case," Harrington said, "I have a hunch they're
going to try to pin Darlak's 199 years on you."
I recalled, as Harrington spoke, that Captain Daniel A.
"Tubbo" Gilbert—often called "the world's richest cop"—
had been lurking around after the FBI had picked me up
in Chicago. Gilbert had been a central figure in my being
sent to prison.
It would be a terrible injustice to hook me with Darlak's
time, of course. I hadn't aided or abetted anybody to es-
cape. Darlak's brother had smuggled the guns and the
whole caper had been planned for months before I talked
myself—with Gene O'Connor's persuasion—into going
But I strongly suspected that Gilbert would be delighted
if the law saddled me with Darlak's 199 years. Tubbo had
48helped send me to prison for the Factor sham in the
first place, as Judge Barnes later ruled. To bury me in
prison forever might be Gilbert's idea of personal triumph.
To understand the case of Dan Gilbert vs Roger Touhy,
it is necessary to go back a lot of years. I had known him
for a long time, back to the days when my truck drivers
were running beer through his Chicago district.
Chapter 4
My Father was a Cop
My father was a Chicago policeman. An honest one.
Otherwise, he would have had a hell of a lot less
trouble getting up the grocery and rent money. And I might
have managed to get farther in school than to squeak
through the eighth grade.
I was born in 1898, although the prison records say '97,
in a house at 822 South Robie Street, not far from one of
the places where I hid out while on the lam in 1942.
There were seven of us kids, two girls and five boys.
We lived in an area of working people, big families and
low incomes. My father's pay as a policeman wasn't enough
to keep the wolf off the front porch but, at least, he never
made it in to eat the potatoes and meat—when we had
meat, that is—off the table.
Some of Chicago's most notorious gangsters came out
of that part of the city. So did business leaders, college
professors, clergymen and a couple of mayors. I was doing
all right myself until the big Factor frameup came along.
My mother died when I was ten. She was fatally
burned when a kitchen stove exploded. After that, my
50 father, my two sisters and I moved to Downers Grove, a
suburb. The older boys stayed in Chicago, living with rela-
tives and friends. I graduated from the_£L._Joseph Roman
Catholic Parochial School i^TJowners Grove" when I was
thirteen. U"
It was a good enough boyhood. I played baseball and
raised the usual amount of the devil and got teased because
my hair was curly. If I had anything to gripe about, I
didn't realize it, because other boys didn't have any more
than I did, generally speaking.
I often thought in prison of the priest in charge of the
school, a Father Goodwin. My family couldn't afford to
pay tuition for me, so I was a sort of handyman around
the school and the church. I mowed the lawns, served mass
as an altar boy, tended the furnace, ran errands and did a
little janitor work. It was fun.
Once or twice a week, Father Goodwin rented a horse
and buggy from a livery and went calling on his parishion-
ers. I was his driver. At whatever house we stopped, there
would be refreshments—apple pies, lemonade, thick sand-
wiches, salads, pickles, ice cream. Father waved the food
away, but I ate fit to bust a gut.
In the church there was a big oil painting, a copy of The
Last Supper. Father Goodwin explained it to me, saying
that a man called Judas had betrayed Jesus Christ for
thirty pieces of silver. A thing like that can have a re-
markable influence on a kid.
I began thinking of Judas as a stool pigeon, a word I
knew, as did all youngsters. While sweeping up the church
and dusting the pews, I would stop and look for a long
time at the painting. I picked out the face of a man I
figured was Judas, and I would stand there hating him.
I thought of cutting the face of the man I concluded to
be Judas out of the picture, but that would have ruined
the painting and Father Goodwin would have been un-
happy. So I just went on despising Judas—something which
I never told the "bug doctors," which is what psychologists
and psychiatrists are called in prison.
My contempt for informers grew on me as the years
passed. When I later got into the labor union movement, I
51 despised the company finks. After a few years in prison, I
got to distrust everybody around me, except for a few
convicts. Too many inmates are stoolies; the bug doctors
can call my attitude antisocial if they want to.
My feeling about informers can be summed up by an
anecdote which seems very, very apt to me. Funny, too.
I once knew a confidence man called Yiddles Miller. He
spoke with a Weber and Fields Dutch accent, but he was
a shrewd operator. Con men are, I learned in prison, the
elite of all lawbreakers, in the opinion of other felons. They
never tattle on each other.
Well, Yiddles and another bunco expert, Gus London,
were sharing a twin-bed hotel room in Pittsburgh. Each
of them folded his pants across the back of the chair near
his single bed. E£ch fell asleep, but in the middle of the
night Yiddles, a light sleeper, was awakened by a prowler
in the room. London slept on, snoring a bit.
The thief took London's pants from a chair at the bed
nearest the door. He then moved toward the second chair.
Yiddles, feigning sleep, stirred and pretended to be awaken-
ing. The burglar left, taking only London's pants, with $3,-
000 in the pockets. Yiddles got out of bed, double-locked
the door, propped the back of a chair under the doorknob
for added security and went back to sleep.
In the morning London awakened, demanded to know
whether his pants had walked away with his $3,000, and
was told by Yiddles: "A burglar came in and stole your
trousers." London was indignant, demanding to know why
Yiddles hadn't awakened him, summoned the hotel house
officer, or called the police.
Yiddles propped himself up on an elbow, stared in as-
tonishment at his comrade in larceny and demanded:
"What do you think I am, a stool pigeon?"
London thought over the questionable ethics involved,
agreed that Yiddles was right, and apologized for having
suggested calling in the law.
Whatever the moral, or immoral, angles of the story
may be, I always have despised stoolies, and I always will.
The only thing worse is a perjurer. I have had more than
my share of troubles from both.
52 When I got out of the eighth grade, it was hunt-a-job
for me. Only rich kids went to high school back then, and
I didn't qualify. I had a little edge on other youngsters,
because my hobby was ham radio, or wireless as it was
called. I had built my own set at home, and I knew the
International code.
I tried for a job as a wireless operator, but there wasn't
a chance at my age. Too young for responsibility, I was
told. So I ran my feet down halfway to my ankles as an
office and stockroom boy for a few months and then hooked
on with Western Union. They made me manager of a little
residential section branch office. A real big dealer, I was.
Salary: $12 a week.
I lied about my age to get the job, but 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.
Western Union gave me a chance to learn the Morse code
which wasn't too difficult because I already knew the In-
ternational. They moved me to the main office downtown
and I was an operator.
My father went into retirement about that time, and he
liked to play the horses. He would bet fifty cents, or one
or two bucks on a race, and only one race a day, when he
had the cash to spare. And now I was in a position to be
his personal tout.
The stable owners, trainers and jockeys would send
messages on the chances of their horses over the wires. I
tipped off my father. He had nine winners, mostly long
shots, in a row. He would have broken half the bookies in
Chicago if he had started with ten bucks and parlayed it.
But no, he never risked more than two.
But the really important thing that happened to me—
back then in 1915—was that a dark-haired Irish girl
went to work for Western Union in the company's branch
office in Chicago's finest hotel, the Blackstone.
She was sixteen, and fresh out of telegraph school.
From the main office, I sent the Blackstone's messages to
her and received the ones she transmitted. She sent better
53 than she copied, but she wasn't so good at either. I tried
to help her.
Since she worked from four p.m. to midnight, I could
drop in and see her evenings after my day shift ended. The
first time I called only to help her with telegraphy. After
that I courted her by the Western Union's wires between
the main office and the Blackstone. And in person, too.
I'd take her home now and then when she finished work
at midnight, but she always had a chaperon. Another
pretty girl, Emily Ivins, was night telephone operator at the
hotel and she made certain that everything was proper on
those late-at-night-ride-home dates.
Miss Ivins, incidentally, was to be an important witness
in trying, many years later, to keep me out of prison on
the Jake the Barber hoax. She was to tell the truth, but it
wasn't good enough against the screen of lies behind
which Factor and his friends stood grinning.
I would have been a telegrapher for the rest of my life
but, odd as it sounds, I was too damn honest. The Com-
mercial Telegraphers Union of America was trying to or-
ganize Western Union and the Postal Telegraph Company.
I didn't know anything about unionization and I wasn't
interested, but I knew some of the operators in the office
had joined.
Every hour, the operators got a ten-minute "short," or
relief, and we would go into the men's lounge for a smoke.
One of the CTU boys scattered organization pamphlets
around the room. I picked up one and, like a dummy, read
it right out in the open. A company fink saw me and
within an hour I was on the pad in the superintendent's
office. He had a lot of questions to ask.
Did I belong to ther union? No. Did I know any men who
did belong? Yes, I did. Would I give him their names?
No, I would not. Did I have any plans for joining the
union? "Well," I said, "if I decide the union is a good
thing, 1 probably will take out a card."
Whammo! I was fired and out on the street. A company
guard escorted me to the door and told me never to come
back. Now, I'm not rapping Western Union after all these
years. Every employer fought the unions then, and the