Chicago’s front man in the Stardust, and it was a mob gold mine.
At first the outfit was excited at the prospect of having John Factor as its head man. He was, at least by mob standards, trustworthy. He was smart enough to know the outfit would kill him in a heart-beat if he tried anything creative.
The problem with Factor was that he, like Cornero, couldn’t get a liquor license. As Hank Messick wrote, “...much to the disgust of the Chicago boys. The Barber tried everything he could to get a license but there was no way it was going to happen. He finally bowed to reality and announced that he would lease to the Desert Inn Group....It took a western Appalachian to solve the matter.”
In a meeting held in mob lawyer Sidney Korshak’s Beverly Hills office, Meyer Lansky, Longy Zwillman, Doc Stacher (representing New York and New Jersey), Moe Dalitz and Morris Kleinman decided that Dalitz would lease the casino operation. Dalitz represented the Desert Inn. All involved agreed that Dalitz’s Desert Inn would pay $100,000 a month—a low figure for the second largest money maker in Las Vegas—to operate the casino part of the Stardust. Factor would, at least on paper, still own the building, the grounds and the hotel operation.
Dalitz, who was one of the founding members of the national crime syndicate, would run the day-to- day operation and Johnny Rosselli—Brian Foy’s old pal—would be off in the shadows, representing the true owners of the Stardust: Paul Ricca, Tony Accardo, Sam Giancana and Murray Humpreys.
Everybody was making money off the Stardust. Carl Thomas, the master of the Las Vegas skim, estimated that the Chicago mob was skimming $400,000 a month from the Stardust in the early sixties, and that was only for the one arm bandits. Blackjack, craps, keno, roulette and poker yielded a different skim.
It was more money then they had ever dreamed of and nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to pre¬vent them from taking it.
And then Roger Touhy was released from prison. The ringleaders of those who were making money hand-over-fist at the Stardust in the early sixties had all grown out of the old-time Chicago syndicate. Virtually all of them had been players in Capone’s mob and its war against the Touhy organization.
When Roger entered prison in 1934, there was some question as to whether the Chicago syndicate, then under Frank Nitti’s control, would make it into the next decade. The end of prohibition had taken away its beer money. Additionally, the Great Depression, which hit Chicago extremely hard, had hurt its traditional rackets like white slavery and prostitution. To top it off, the war with Touhy for control over labor unions had cost them dearly.
But when Touhy was defeated, Nitti did take control over most of Chicago’s labor unions and even joined the New York and New Jersey mob in an ill- fated move on the Hollywood entertainment locals. That collapsed in 1942, when federal indictments locked up virtually all of the leaders of the Chicago mob. The indictments even caused Frank Nitti to fire a bullet through his own brain. But by 1959 the mob was under the firm leadership of Paul Ricca— the man who had murdered Matt Kolb—and Tony Accardo, who was just a small-time hood when Touhy had been locked away.
For appearances anyway, the outfit’s official leader was Sam “Momo” Giancana, a merciless thug who had fought the Touhys as part of the 42 Gang under Rocco DeGrazio’s command back in 1932.
But Giancana was nothing more then a lightning rod to keep the government away from Accardo and Ricca. The fact was that Accardo was the boss. In fact, he remains to this day the most powerful, suc¬cessful and respected boss known by the Chicago syndicate, or probably any other criminal syndicate for that matter. He also had the distinction of being the mob leader with the longest-lived career. During his tenure, Accardo’s power was long-reaching and frightfully vast.
He was so respected and feared in the national mafia that in 1948 when he declared himself the arbitrator for any mob problems west of Chicago— in effect proclaiming all of that territory as his—no one in the syndicate argued.
He was the boss pure and simple. Unlike Torrio, Nitti or Ricca, Tony Accardo looked exactly like what he was—a mob thug who could and did dispatch men and women to their death over money or disre¬spect. He was a self-professed peasant. But he was a reserved man and a thinker, unlike Colosimo, Capone, Giancana and all those who came after Giancana.
Unlike the other bosses, Accardo knew his limi-tations. He consulted often with Ricca, Murray the Camel Humpreys and Short Pants Campagna because he recognized their intelligence and wisdom and liked to use it.
He admitted lacking the crafty thinking ability of Ricca, Nitti or Torrio and the flair and self depre-cating wit of Capone or Giancana. Despite his short-comings, it was Accardo who expanded the outfit’s activities into new rackets after the end of the pro-hibition era. It was Accardo who, recognizing the dangers of the white slave trade, streamlined the old prostitution racket during the war years into the new call girl service which was copied by New York families even though they laughed at the idea at first.
Two decades after prohibition was repealed Accardo introduced bootlegging to the dry states of Kansas and Oklahoma, flooding them with illegal whisky. He moved the outfit into slot and vending machines, counterfeiting cigarette and liquor tax stamps and expanding narcotics smuggling on a worldwide basis.
Watching someone as clever as Paul Ricca and as smart as Frank Nitti go to jail over the Bioff scan¬dal, Accardo pulled the organization away from labor racketeering and extortion. Under Accardo’s reign the Chicago mob exploded in growth and became increasingly wealthy.
The outfit grew because aside from the Kefauver committee, there wasn’t a focused attempt on the part of any law enforcement agency to break it up. The FBI was busy catching Cold War spies and denied that the Mafia or even organized crime exist-ed at all.
Under Accardo’s leadership, the gang set its flag in Des Moines, Iowa; downstate Illinois; Southern California; Kentucky; Las Vegas; Indiana; Arizona; St. Louis, Missouri; Mexico; Central and South America. Accardo’s long reign highlighted a golden era for the Chicago syndicate. But it also ushered in the near collapse of the outfit as well. In 1947, as Tony Accardo took the reigns of power from Paul Ricca, the outfit produced an estimated $300 million in business per year, with Accardo, Humpreys, Ricca and Giancana taking in an estimated forty to fifty million each per year.
Accardo pensioned off the older members of the mob and gave more authority to its younger sol-diers, mostly former 42 Gang members like Sam Giancana, the Battaglias and Marshal Ciafano.
The money poured in. Hundreds of thousands of dollars rolled in everyday from all points where Chicago ruled. The hoods who had survived the shootouts, gang wars, purges, cop shootings, nation-al exposes and the federal and state investigations now saw rewards for what they had so dilligently hustled for.
By 1959, the Chicago outfit was stealing millions of dollars from the Teamsters’ pension fund, which they had more or less turned into their own piggy bank. The outfit was pouring much of that money into Las Vegas casinos, including The Stardust which Jake the Barber fronted.
It was all so easy, and then Roger Touhy announced that he intended to pursue a $300,000,000 lawsuit against John Factor and all the others—Ricca, Humpreys, Accardo—who had helped railroad him to prison for twenty-five years.
The bosses, Ricca and Accardo, watched and worried. They thought they had buried Touhy alive in Statesville but Johnstone got him out. This proved to the syndicate that Touhy’s lawyer was no hack. When he sued, he meant business.
Worse yet, the word on the street was that Touhy was working with Ray Brennan, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Brennan was somebody to worry about. He knew what he was doing and he was honest. Brennan kept turning up asking the wrong questions about Teamster loans to the Stardust.
The way Ricca and Accardo saw it, there was only one answer. Roger Touhy had to die.
A few days before Roger was released from prison, retired Rabbi Harry Zinn walked the few blocks from his home to the rental apartment build-ing he owned, directly across the street from Roger’s sister’s house.
Zinn was there because one of his tenants said that she had seen a rough-looking man loitering in the building over the past several days and the Rabbi should come over and investigate. He walked around the property and then went down into the building’s basement to check the boilers. As he rounded a corner in the dark cellar, he spotted a rough-looking man, with a dark complexion, staring out of a basement window at Touhy’s sister’s house. Zinn noted the expensive fur-lined tan-colored win¬ter waist coat and knew it wasn’t a street bum who had come in out of the cold.
Sensing Zinn’s presence the man spun around, glared at the old rabbi and said, “What are you doing here?”
Zinn asked, “Who are you?”
The stranger was flushed. “I’m just checking on my kid, my son, he’s running around with some broad in this neighborhood.”
Even as he spoke, the stranger was walking toward Zinn and then suddenly brushed past him, almost knocking the old man over as he ran up the stairs to the front door of the building with Zinn in pursuit. By the time Zinn made it to the street, the stranger had disappeared. If the hit men had learned anything from watching Ethel’s house, it was that killing Roger Touhy wouldn’t be easy. The old bootlegger had taken precautions. He refused to leave home unless he had one of his two “watch-dogs,” as he called them, with him, and both of those watchdogs were cops.
Ethel’s son, Mike, was a twenty-three-year-old policeman and part-time law student who traveled around town with his uncle when time allowed.
The other problem was the other cop—Walter J. Miller—then sixty-two years old. Back in 1932, Tubbo Gilbert assigned Miller to guard Factor for three months after Jake appeared on the streets of LaSalle.
So if they were going to kill Touhy, they would probably have to kill one of the two cops with him, the old one would be easier, but if they had to kill the young one, well so be it. But still, even for the Chicago outfit, cop killing was more or less a forbid-den act. Touhy’s suit threatened the whole casino operation and his death warranted bringing down the risk of killing a cop.
Roger never feared for his life; that wasn’t why he had the two men travel with him. “If I have Mike and Walter with me,” he told Ray Brennan, “they won’t be able to pin a phoney parole violation on me. They’ll never hit me. They’ll try to frame me for a parole violation probably, but they’ll never hit me.”
• • •
December 1959 would be Roger’s first Christmas as a free man in twenty-five years and he was upbeat despite the reality facing him. His health was gone and so was his money. His two sons had matured without a father. He was virtually a stranger to them and his wife of almost four decades was in fragile health.
The state parole board refused to lift the gag order placed on him after he told the board that he wanted to go on the record and reply to the charges that Factor was making against him in the press. The Board told him he would have to wait for at least another year before they would lift the gag. But they also told Touhy that they didn’t care what he said about Factor. The gag order wasn’t about protecting Factor, it was about protecting the State of Illinois from looking stupid and corrupt for toss-ing innocent men in jail.
Despite his failing health and depleted bank account, Roger began to prepare to face John Factor in court. This was no easy chore. Factor had grown rich, very rich, over the years. Apart from his inter-ests in the Stardust, he had considerable holdings in real estate, commercial insurance and stocks, and with that kind of war chest behind him, Factor could afford the best legal talent in the world. To prove it, Factor was suing Touhy and Ray Brennan, his col-laborator, for libel over The Stolen Years, the book Roger had written about his life, claiming that it injured his reputation as a civic leader and philanthropist.
Roger had used his spare time while in prison to write his life story. After a first draft, he decided that he would need a professional writer’s help and called in Ray Brennan. Brennan was the archetype of the tough-edged, hard-drinking, newsman with a heart as big as the city he loved so much. A mid- western Irishman, he got his first big break in 1933 when Arthur Brisbane, the most influential editor in the Hearst newspaper empire, went to the Cook County jail to interview A1 Capone. Capone told Brisbane that if he were released, he would help find the Lindbergh baby.
Brisbane sat on the story and the next morning Capone spotted Brennan walking through the jail and said, “Hey kid, you want a good story?” Brennan took Capone’s story and ran with it. The Hearst organization followed with Brisbane’s story a day later and Brennan was the new star crime reporter in Chicago. A while later, when John Dillinger escaped from the Crown Point jail, Brennan called the jail just to check with the warden.
“So how’s your star prisoner doing?” Brennan asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” came the jailers reply, “’cause that slippery son of bitch just escaped.”
Brennan kept all of the jail’s lines tied up and grabbed the year’s best exclusive story.
Brennan had sat through the Hamm and Factor kidnapping trials, fascinated by the characters involved. Later he would write several stories about the case which brought him to Touhy’s eye. What intrigued Touhy about Brennan was his relentless pursuit of the classified testimony that Tubbo Gilbert had given to the Kefauver committee when it arrived in Chicago in 1950. That year, Gilbert— who was still the central power behind the States Attorney’s Office—was a candidate for Cook County Sheriff. He began his campaign despite the fact that most Chicago crime reporters considered him a full- fledged member of the syndicate—one who answered directly to Murray Humpreys.
Fascinated with Gilbert, Brennan wrote: Gilbert’s name came up during the hearings and he was requested, as opposed to ordered, to testify before the committee, which he did but from behind closed doors, a most unusual thing and the tran-script was later impounded.
Since it was just before the election and Kefauver was a good Democrat he agreed to the terms that Tubbo Gilbert had set up.
Gilbert was questioned for two hours behind closed doors. When it was over Estes Kefauver gave a briefing that left more questions than answers.
Brennan tried everything he could to find out what Gilbert had told the Committee, but was unsuccessful and had more or less given up and retired to his favorite watering hole for a drink “when inspiration struck.” He flew to Washington, posed as a member of the committee’s staff, went to the stenographer’s office saying that he had dropped by to pick up a copy of “some guy named Gilbert’s testimony.”
Remarkably, they handed him a bound copy of Gilbert’s secret testimony. Gilbert’s statements before the committee were riveting. He admitted to gambling in mob-run joints while enforcing the city’s no gambling laws. He also admitted winning more than $7,000 in 1948, by wagering on football, baseball, prize fights and elections. His wealth was estimated to be in the millions12—an amazing sav-ings accomplishment for a civil servant who never earned more than $40,000 in one year.
Gilbert admitted to the committee that it was true that his personal records were missing from the police department and that he was a frequent guest of gangster Owney Madden in Hot Springs. The most shocking admission was that while he was in charge of the States Attorney’s Office, justice was doled out on a “cash and carry basis.”
The Kefauver committee secretly concluded that Tubbo Gilbert’s administration when he was Chicago’s top cop, “was neglect of official duty and shocking indifference to violations of the law.”
He would later deny this figure, instead estimating his own worth at "just over $300,000."
The Sun Times printed the testimony that Brennan dug up and Cook County voters turned out in record numbers for an off-year election to vote against Tubbo Gilbert. His opponent won by a remarkable 400,000 votes. A few days later, Gilbert retired from office and announced that he would take a position as chief of security at Arlington and Washington race tracks where his brother Maurice was a lieutenant.
The Gilbert story continued to unravel when Brennan discovered that though Maurice Gilbert was drawing a salary from the track, he had officially been out on sick leave from the Chicago police department since 1948. After that, Gilbert packed up his millions and moved to California where he said he planned to open a detec-tive agency in Los Angeles. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles he suffered a heart attack and went into semi-retirement.
Tubbo Gilbert never held a grudge against Brennan for bringing him down. In fact, in one of Tubbo Gilbert’s last tirades against the Chicago press, he jabbed his finger into a reporter’s chest and barked, “All of you are a pack of rats. The only one of youse who has any class at all is Ray Brennan...and he’s a rat too.” Brennan understood the back-handed compliment.
President Harry Truman, however, did hold a grudge.
He threw a fit over the Democratic party’s loss in Illinois, and he held Brennan responsible. As a result Brennan was indicted for posing as a fed¬eral official and, if convicted, he could have been sentenced to six years for stealing the transcript. The Justice Department brought him before sever¬al federal hearings, actually handcuffing him once, before it dropped the case with the ruling that his actions had “no criminal intent as we generally understand it.”
Roger Touhy had followed this entire story from jail. After the case against Brennan was dropped Touhy wrote to him and asked him if he wanted to help write his life story. This brought about the $3,000,000 libel suit from Jake the Barber.