Roger never accepted his conviction for kidnapping John Factor.
After seven years in prison, he became a jail- house lawyer, pouring over his court transcripts, and as a result became something of an expert in the writ of habeas corpus.5 He wrote his own appeals to the governor but after a while they were returned unopened.
Of his frustration Touhy wrote, Denied without a hearing...denied without a hear¬ing... denied without a hearing....How could I get justice if no court would listen to me? I was nailed in a box and I had no hammer to batter my way out.
Then, in the latter part of August, 1942, Touhy decided to escape from prison for a somewhat pecu-liar reason.
I stayed awake until dawn in my cell, thinking. I was without hope. I was buried alive in prison andI would die there. I couldn’t see a light ahead any¬where. Nothing but darkness and loneliness and desperation. The world had forgotten me after eight years. I was a nothing. Well, there was one way I could focus public attention on my misery. I could escape. I would be caught of course but the break would show my terrible situation. What cockeyed thinking that was....my mental attitude was a mess, I later came to realize.
5. Not all of his time was spent in the prison law library. Prison officials sus¬pected Touhy was the boss of Stateville’s enormous Irish gang which ruled over the facility’s black market. Gambling belonged to the Italian gangs. In fact, on Touhy’s first month in prison he was disciplined for sanctioning and supervising the beating of another prisoner.
The inmate who came to him with the idea of escaping was Gene O’Connor, who had probably known Roger on the outside, since O’Connor had been the business agent of the Chicago Awning and Tent Makers Union—or at least he was until he was arrested for intimidation after firing a shot at a union member who opposed him in a race.
Now, O’Connor was serving a life sentence for a May 1932 robbery in which a Chicago policeman had been gunned down in cold blood.
Escaping for O’Connor was a way of life. In 1936 he escaped from Statesville after he found his way into the central electric room, pulled the main power switch and then scaled the walls to freedom. He was captured and escaped again a year later only to be caught within a week.
The time seemed ripe again for escape. The war had taken away the younger guards, leaving mostly older men, some coming out of retirement to resume duty. Since they were paid starvation wages, O’Connor had primed the escape by bribing the tower guards with items lifted from prison kitchen storehouses where Touhy worked. These foods were almost impossible to get during wartime rationing: 100 pound sacks of sugar, bags of coffee, slabs of bacon and quarter sides of beef all of which could be resold on the outside for big money. Adding to the plan’s credibility was the fact that E.H. Stubenfield, an old time political hack, was now warden. He had replaced the far better qualified Joseph Ragen, who had resigned in protest against political meddling inside the prison. As a result, the prison’s once tight security had gone lax.
The keys to the escape were guns. Two pistols were left at the base of the prison’s flagpole by the brother of another inmate, Eddie Darlak, who was in on the break. A trustee had brought two guns into the prison, carried inside wrapped in the American flag which he lowered each evening outside the prison walls.
On October 9, 1942, Roger stood at the prison bakery door with an enormous pair of scissors stolen from the tailor shop, hidden inside of his blue prison-issue shirt. Several minutes later, driver Jack Cito, a convict with mob connections,6 pulled the prison laundry truck up to the door and Roger leaped up onto the driver’s door and yanked Cito out on to the ground and screamed for the keys. When Cito moved too slowly, Touhy cut him with the scis-sors, yelling “Give me the Goddamn keys!”
Cito told Touhy the keys were in the ignition and Roger leaped into the truck and drove to the mechanic shop where the other escapees, O’Connor, Mclnerney, Darlak, Stewart and Nelson were waiting.
Touhy leaped out of the truck and O’Connor handed him a .45 caliber automatic. He rushed into the mechanic shop where he was confronted by a guard, Lieutenant Samuel Johnston, who asked
6. Jack Cito's first arrest came in distinguished company. Cito and legendary labor goon Maxie Eisen, on May 29, 1927, were arrested for carrying concealed weapons. Actually the two pistols were later found in a secret compartment of Cito’s car. But, since they didn’t have the guns on their persons the judge dropped the charges. Cito’s brother was an enforcer in the Capone organization.
Touhy “Why are you here, what are you doing here?”
Roger didn’t answer but began snapping the prison telephone wires with his long scissors. As Johnston was about to club Touhy into submission, Basil Banghart came through the window with a pistol at ready and ordered Johnston to unlock a set of ladders. At that same moment, guard George Cotter arrived on the scene and was overpowered and beaten to the floor.
Placing the guards’ white hats on their heads, they pushed Cotter and Johnston outside and forced them to load the ladders on to the back of the truck and ordered them to sit on the ladders to keep them from falling off. Then Roger shouted, “Ok, go, go go!” at Stewart, who was behind the wheel, but the truck stalled.
Touhy leaped off the back of the vehicle, pulled Stewart out of the driver’s seat and tried to get the truck started but couldn’t. Deciding to jump start the truck, Roger looked over to the 300 inmates crowding around to watch the excitement. Roger yelled for the convicts to push the truck, which they did. The motor turned over with a roar.
They sped across the yard, driving to Tower Three in the northwest corner. At the base of the tower they forced guard Johnston to help them put the ladders together. When he refused, they beat him, tore his shirt off and took him up the ladder with them. Roger looked up into the tower and could see one of the guards who they had bribed7 standing to one side of the tower, at the end of the walkway. “He wasn’t holding a gun but he didn’t have far to reach for one, ” Touhy said.
7. After the escape, the Illinois Governor conducted his own investigation and personally fired the guard, sixty-two-year old-Herman Krause.
Roger fired a single shot which blew out the guardhouse window, striking the guard in the fore-head with flying glass and knocking him to the floor. When they were all inside the tower, Darlak8 took the guard’s car keys. Though it was against prison regulations, the car was parked at the base of the prison wall, just feet away from the tower.
Before leaving, the convicts took two high-pow-ered prison-issue rifles, a pistol and 115 to 120 rounds for each gun. They then walked calmly down the tower stairs, into Krause’s car, and roared away toward Chicago.
During the first three days after the escape, there were reports of them being spotted in all of the Chicago suburbs and most of the United States. However, by the second week news from the war in Europe had pushed them off of the front pages and they were, for the most part, forgotten about.
Through Roger’s contacts on the outside they were able to rent a large apartment in a run down tenement building not far from the Valley, where Roger had grown up. There, the escaped convicts lived quietly for two months. By early December, they began to quarrel, largely because Nelson and Mclnerney had begun drinking and talking about going out for women. Roger told them to stop drink-ing and to forget about women for at least another three months. Nelson didn’t like it; he threw a punch that started a brawl. The brawl brought the neighbors banging on the door. The next morning Roger moved out into his own place.
For the first few days, Roger sat around his small apartment “admiring the loneliness."His soli¬tude didn’t last long though, he eventually made contact with his brother, Eddie, who provided him with a bankroll of $2,500 and a plan to send him to Arizona.
8. Darlak was also armed with a homemade gasoline bomb that was to be used only in the event that they were cornered in a shootout.
Using the money Eddie had given him but refus-ing to leave Chicago, Roger took $200 of the money and was able to get a driver’s license, Social Security card and a military draft card (an absolute must in 1942). With these papers Touhy took on the identity of Robert Jackson who was exempt from military service because he worked in a war plant. Touhy even had a small metal badge that read “Inspector” which he wore on his lapel.
“I wore good clothes,” Roger said, “but nothing gaudy. My hat came down well on my forehead. I wore glasses issued to me in prison and the old pho-tographs of me in the paper showed me without them....”
He bought a used car and spent his days driving through the forest preserves or going to the movies.
Six weeks went by before he saw Basil Banghart, the only escapee who knew where Roger lived. Banghart began to visit regularly and on one visit he asked Roger to come over to the apartment. Since Roger was lonely and bored, he took him up on the offer on Thanksgiving and stayed the night. The next day all seven were playing cards and drinking when another fist fight broke out.
Touhy remembers, The time was getting close for capture. The Christmas season came along and I spent hours walking State Street looking in the windows...lonely as a whorehouse on Christmas eve...well I lived it...in a side street saloon, lis¬tening to the Christmas carols on the radio and drinking beer for beer with a white haired bar¬tender...the next day I went to the Empire Room in the Palmer House, got a table in a corner and ate a big dinner...freedom was beginning to pall on me, I guess.
Roger’s landlady had left him a Christmas gift in his room, so he stopped by her apartment to thank her. While he was there, one of her guests spotted him and Roger, with a convict’s sixth sense, knew he had been made. That night he moved back in with Banghart and the others.
The transition back to living with the others did-n’t go well. There was another fist fight and Nelson and Stewart left the apartment shortly after Touhy’s return. Nelson went to Minneapolis where his mother turned him in to the FBI just hours after he arrived. Within minutes after his arrest, Nelson told the agents everything he knew about the escapees and by nightfall, a small army of agents was slowly and carefully moving in around the gang’s apartments.
J. Edgar Hoover arrived on the scene to person-ally supervise the raid because he felt that Touhy had sullied the Bureau’s reputation when he escaped conviction from the Hamm kidnapping case built by Special Agent Purvis back in 1933. To Hoover, the FBI’s capture of Touhy would justify the Bureau’s original campaign to put him behind bars. Legally, Touhy and the others hadn’t done anything wrong. Incredibly there was no law in the state of Illinois against escaping from prison nor would there be one until 1949. Even if there were such a law, as a feder¬al agency, the FBI still had no grounds to enter the case. Hoover needed a reason to lock Touhy up so his brain trust created one. It was decided that Touhy and the others had violated the federal law which required all men of military age to notify their draft boards when they had changed addresses. The fact
that Roger was well over draft age and had already served his country and that the others as convicted felons weren’t required to register were only facts that clogged the theory.
The FBI’s Chicago office had the entire arrest procedure planned out days in advance of Hoover’s arrival. Agents and snipers already surrounded the building and undercover agents had rented several apartments in the building.
When O’Connor and Mclnerney came home, six agents, guns drawn, leaped out from behind a hall-way door.
“Put your hands up! We’re federal officers!”
O’Connor turned, and according to agents’ reports, fired his .45 caliber automatic twice, with the bullets ending up in the stair rail. Mclnerney never got to reach for his .38 caliber; the agents returned fire and pumped at least thirty-five shells into the two convicts.
Roger and Banghart arrived back at the apart-ment about an hour later. Recalling the incident Touhy wrote, “We went to the Kenmore flat and up the back stairway after I had parked the car a block away...the joint felt creepy to me, and I prowled around uneasy as an alley tomcat at midnight mat-ing time and peered out the windows.”
At zero hour, powerful search lights were turned on to the windows of Touhy’s apartment and then a loud speaker cracked the silence of the night with “Roger Touhy and the other escaped convicts! The building is surrounded. We are about to throw tear gas in the building. Surrender now and you will not be killed.”
Banghart wanted to shoot it out, but Roger negated this move. They debated over what to do for the next ten minutes before Banghart shouted out the window “We’re coming out!”
“Then come out backward with your hands high in the air! Banghart, you come out first.”
Banghart, wearing only his pants, appeared at the front door, his back to the agents. Roger, clad in fire-engine-red pajamas, followed him.
The agents leaped on each of them as they came out of the building and knocked them to the freezing cold pavement and handcuffed them.
A dozen agents rushed into the apartment and found five pistols, three sawed off shotguns, a .30.30 rifle and $13,523 in cash which they handed over to Tubbo Gilbert who was still the Chief Investigator for the States Attorney’s Office.
When Gilbert returned the cash to the prisoners at Stateville prison, he said that he had only been given $800 by the FBI.
After Touhy and Banghart were handcuffed, J. Edgar Hoover, surrounded by a dozen agents and a dozen more newspaper reporters, strolled up to Banghart and said “Well, Banghart, you’re a trapped rat.”
Banghart burst out into a huge smile. “You’re J. Edgar Hoover aren’t you?” he asked.
‘Yes,” Hoover beamed, “I am.”
Banghart nodded his head and said, ‘You’re a lot fatter in person than you are on the radio.”
Later the next day, Warden Joseph Ragen came to the Cook County criminal courts building to col-lect his prisoners. When Touhy, who had chains around his waist, ankles and wrists saw him he said, “Well Warden, looks like I got you your old job back.” Ragen nodded and smiled at the irony ‘Yes, Touhy, it looks like you did.”
A parade of eight cars filled with four heavily armed States Attorney’s detectives drove the prisoners back to Stateville. Each was sent to solitary con-finement where they survived on bread and water with a full meal every third day.
Roger was taken out of solitary several days later and brought before a judge who told him, to his amazement, that his sentence was now 199 years because under a little known Illinois law, anyone who abets the escape of a state prisoner receives the same sentence as the prisoner they helped escape. The state of Illinois had decided that Touhy should take on Eddie Darlak’s sentence of 100 years.
Roger was the first person to be given this sen-tence under that law. State authorities had had enough of Banghart and his death-defying escapes. He was becoming a convict legend. A week after he was returned to Stateville, Banghart was hauled out of solitary confinement and shipped off to the island prison at Alcatraz. It was a stroke of bad luck for Banghart, because although he could fly a plane and drive a car better and faster than most mere mortals, he had never learned to swim.
Several months after Touhy’s return to prison, 20th-Century Fox began production of Roger Touhy, Last of the Gangsters which was released in 1948 as Roger Touhy—Gangster.
The syndicate couldn’t get the movie done quick-ly enough. Touhy’s escape was a godsend. He had dug his own hole and through their enormous influ-ence in the film industry, they were going to provide the celluloid coffin for him.
The film’s producer would be Bryan Foy, and like some people associated with the film industry then, he was a man with a past. From a creative stand-point, he was a logical choice because he specialized in gritty realistic film noir, but he wasn’t, as he so often said, “married to the higher concept of film as art.” Foy would and did shoot whatever would turn a dollar from PT 109 to Women’s Prison.
Foy’s actual standing was somewhere in between important films and “B” films. In fact, by 1935 Foy had produced so many “B” films that he was known as the king of “B” pictures. He often joked that he made the same film 100 times using different loca-tions and different actors. Still, almost every one of Foy’s low-budget movies were box-office money makers.
Foy is still considered one of the most prolific film producers in Hollywood’s history. He had helped to bring the industry into the sound age while he was at Warner Brothers, then nothing more then a collection of buildings and second-hand film equipment. Foy produced the first all talkie for Warners in 1928, Lights of New York and became popular for turning out program films.
A Chicagoan, Bryan Foy was the eldest son of vaudeville comedian Eddie Foy whose seven chil¬dren became the traveling stage act “The Seven Little Foys.” Bryan moved to Los Angeles in 1922 and grew up with the film industry, eventually becoming a film producer, sometimes producing as many as thirty films a year
Like anyone else who grew up in show business at the time, Foy learned early on that it was to his best advantage to rub shoulders with the hoods who dominated the industry and night clubs across the country. As a result, Foy’s Beverly Hills houseguests would often include Chicago’s political boss Ed Kelly or Allen Smiley, a shadowy L.A. figure whose fingers were in a dozen different pies. As an FBI informant working inside Hollywood reported to Washington, “Foy has a reputation within the industry for hiring ex-convicts or hoodlums who come out to Hollywood in search of work.”
“Brynie,” said a friend, “was always close to people who lived on the edge of right and wrong.”
Interestingly, John Factor and Foy had been friends for years and Factor had once been a house- guest at Foy’s estate. There he met a young actor named Ronald Reagan, whose films Foy produced at Warners. Over the years, Foy’s younger brother Eddie Jr. was featured in three of Reagan’s movies. “I soon learned,” Reagan wrote, “that I could go in to Brynie and tell him that I had been laid off, but couldn’t take it at the moment because of all my expenses. He would pick up the phone, call a couple of henchmen and actually get the picture going on four or five days notice—just to put me back on salary.”
Foy left Warner Brothers after a dispute with Jack Warner. After his stint with Warner he was named president of Eagle-Lion Studios, a British- based film production company. One of Foy’s first acts as boss was to hire Johnny Rosselli—Chicago’s west coast contact—as a producer. This happened as Rosselli was released from Atlanta federal prison where he had served only two years of a six-year sentence.
Foy liked Rosselli. They were both tough talking, street smart and savvy. Foy thought Rosselli was a handsome man, always dapper, who appreciated fine restaurants and chic Hollywood parties and like Foy was a devoted and knowledgeable fan of the film business. Sure, Rosselli was a tough gangster. Foy knew that of course, but it was a side of his friend that he had never seen displayed.
Foy remained close to Rosselli throughout most of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Rosselli spent weekends at Foy’s house and whenever he could, Foy put him on the books in one no-show position after another. “They were like the Rover boys,” Foy’s niece said. “They went everywhere together.”
Despite Foy’s financial success at Eagle-Lion studios, his brash confrontational style irritated the studio brass so when Foy’s three-year contract expired in 1950 he was released. He bounced back to Warner Brothers but couldn’t take Rosselli with him since the studio had barred him from the lot. But Foy and Rosselli stayed in close contact. In fact, Foy introduced Rosselli to one of his favorite contract players at Warner, Bill Campbell, who lived in the same neighborhood as Rosselli. In turn Bill Campbell introduced Rosselli to his young wife, actress Judy Campbell, who would later have affairs with Rosselli’s boss, Sam Giancana, Frank Sinatra and President John F. Kennedy among many others.
When Foy’s wife Vivian was suffering with can¬cer in 1949, Rosselli all but moved into the house. Foy’s daughter, Madeline Foy O’Donnell recalled that, “Brynie happened to be out of the house for a while, and I guess the kids were somewhere else in the house, but Johnny was sitting with Vivian when she died. He closed her eyes.”
Eventually Foy and Rosselli had a falling out when in 1954, Foy crossed one of Rosselli’s brothers in a business deal. Rosselli confronted Foy but he refused to back down causing Rosselli to slug the producer, knocking him to the ground. It would be ten years before the two men would talk to each other again.
There was another mob connection to the film as well.
One of the law firms representing 20th-Century Fox was owned by Sidney Korshak, an alleged asso-ciate of the underworld. Korshak’s brother was a partner with Tony Accardo in a casino run out of a storefront on Rush Street in Chicago. It was one of the most profitable casinos in the country. Korshak’s firm had also represented George Browne, Willie Bioff, Paul Ricca, Tony Accardo and a slew of other Chicago- and L.A.- based hoods over the years.
The film script about Touhy’s escape was written in less than thirty days. It was written while Touhy was still at large, so the writers centered the plot of the film on the escape and not its aftermath. Foy said that the script was still being written when Touhy was recaptured. Fox purchased the concept and ordered it rewritten by Crane Wilbur and Jerry Cady, both veteran Hollywood writers and directors.
Afterward, Fox sent the executive producer, Lee Marcus, and the director, Robert Florey to Chicago in January of 1943 just a few days after the capture to photograph actual locations for the scenes.
Years later, when questioned about the rush to get the film made, Fox executives associated with the film said they wanted to capitalize on the head-lines. Fox wanted the picture rushed through pro-duction before the public forgot about Touhy.
Robert Florey recalls, The shooting at 1254-56 Leland Avenue had taken place just a few days before and the place was a mess. For a week at Joliet the warden allowed us to shoot many scenes and places inside and in the courtyard using trustees as doubles and producing the escape scene in long shots. The Mayor and the Chief of Police helped him in every way and he was allowed to interview Touhy and the others.
The film was completed in a remarkable thirty-three days back on the sound stages.
For the most part, the script refrained from using any real names except for the syndicate’s ene¬mies, Roger Touhy and Basil Banghart, and yet Fox was threatened by a lawsuit from Jake the Barber.
Then, to Hollywood’s surprise, Roger Touhy sued Fox Studios and its distributors on the grounds that the film defamed him. Suit or no suit, the film pre-viewed at Stateville prison on July 12, 1943. Over one thousand state officials watched in the prison’s main yard.
Jacob Arvey, Cook County Chairman and a “close personal friend” of Jake the Barber and Tubbo Gilbert, had a front row seat. Roger Touhy, who refused to attend, sat in his darkened cell where he could hear the echo from the film’s dialogue which he believed ridiculed him.
No one had ever seen anything like this film before. It was the pioneer of the quasi-documentary technique that two years later would become the trademark of semi-factual exposes. The mise-en- scene of the film was groundbreaking. The escape scene was shot entirely in long-shot. This technique made the film look more like a newsreel than the feature films that people were used to. Finally, the film concludes with an on-camera speech by Statesville Warden Joseph Ragan.
Illinois state officials loved every second of the film. On the other hand, when the FBI saw it, they hated it. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover objected to the film before he saw it. Upon seeing it, Hoover objected to several scenes in which local police were given cred¬it for FBI work. He was also generally displeased with being mentioned in the film at all. Hoover wanted the public to forget Touhy. The Hamm trial was still an ugly stench. In fact, when Hoover allowed the official story of the FBI—The FBI Story and later The FBI Nobody Knows—to be written, there was no mention of the Hamm case or Roger Touhy. Despite the fact that the FBI took credit for the capture, the agency demanded that a disclaimer be included to alert the public that the portrayal of agents in a movie did not constitute an endorsement of the film and should not be construed as a seal of approval. At that point, Fox considered shelving the picture. More than a year later they finally released it. By that time the escape was all but forgotten. Even after waiting a year to release the film, the studio did so with caution. The producer’s press book came complete with a statement that read, “We wouldn’t be justified in making a picture about Touhy except that he is representative of the era and happily, a passing of it.”
Foy said that his inspiration for the film was not the sudden flush of money that came out of cash- strapped Fox, but rather that “it was the dragnet for him [Touhy]; it was the most expensive in the histo-ry of the city and when the FBI made it a nation¬wide manhunt it became the most expansive man¬hunt in history for an escaped prisoner, and with nothing but bad news coming from the war front in those days it [the escape] was like a return to the old days of a decade before.”
The Hays Office (Hollywood’s self-censorship organization) demanded and received a cut in the film. They wanted one entire reel cut on the grounds of extreme violence. They felt it was “bad for the general public,” said Florey.
Preston Foster, fresh off of a string of profitable films, portrayed Roger Touhy not as a hero or a vil-lain, but as a cardboard character who lacked any appeal in any manner. Preston’s version of Touhy is as a petty, mean, calculating little man. The film portrayed him as a “two-bit ugly little punk robbed of any sympathy,” as one reviewer put it.
When the film flopped at theaters under the title Roger Touhy—Gangster!, it was renamed Roger Touhy, Last of the Gangsters, which was actually the first title Foy had given to the film before production started. But the film failed at the box office for more than just its title. It failed for the same reason Touhy’s escape from Statesville failed: it failed to rally the people to his cause.
The film attempted to define Roger Touhy as an astrology buff who began the day of his prison break by reading a Scorpio horoscope, “A new door opens for you, the future is assured.”
“I won’t let them forget me,” he says, assuring one and all of his Napoleonic complex.
On August 4, 1943, Roger Touhy managed to get a temporary restriction on showing the film which, he argued, portrayed him “as a vicious violator and gangster.” But on August 7, 1943 Fox Studios man-aged to have the ban lifted. Oddly enough Touhy never made a public mention of the film or his trou-bles with Hollywood nor did he note it in his autobi-ography The Stolen Years.
In 1948, Touhy won an out of court settlement with Fox and its distributors. Touhy accepted a set-tlement of $10,000 for defamation of character and an agreement by Fox to destroy the film. Within a week, Touhy’s lawyers had his $10,000 and Fox
started to redistribute the film overseas.
• • •
Domestic security and patriotism were front and center in wartime Chicago and in the nation. All efforts by the citizenry were devoted to success in defeating the enemy. As a result, the gangster figure all but vanished from the silver screen between 1941 and 1946. It was replaced by spy and war sto¬ries featuring Nazi or Japanese villains. The failure of the film reflected a larger cultural shift that left the old-time gangster as a relic for the history books.