Touhy went out of his way to sully Agent Purvis, claiming that Purvis had handcuffed and beaten him while he was held at the Elkhorn jail and that the beatings resulted in broken bones etc. Touhy lied. His claim of being unable to stand for long periods of time as a result of the beatings landed him a desk job in Stateville prisons kitchen. Extensive tests conducted by the state of Illinois and paid for by the US Justice Department showed no broken bones in the places he claimed to have them. The state of Illinois then offered to provide an attorney for Touhy so he could sue the FBI for the beatings, Touhy, perhaps the most litigious prisoner Stateville had ever held, refused.
Roger Touhy was born in a lawless neighborhood called “the Valley.” It is gone and largely forgotten now, except by a scant few descendants of the tens of thousands of Irish immigrants who huddled there for a time, making that brutal slum the largest Irish ghetto west of New York.
Located in the heart of Chicago, the Valley was a flat stretch of land partial to winter floods that would fill the water with human waste from the nearby canals. In the summer it was insufferably humid. It was always a dreary place, full of ancient wooden warehouses, overcrowded with stinking ten-ements, stores with near-empty shelves, and saloons packed with men who had long since given up their dreams of a better life.
Roger Touhy was born there in 1898. He was the last of seven children in one of the thousands of working families jammed into the Valley. While he was still an infant, Roger’s mother was burned to death when the kitchen stove exploded. It was a remarkably common occurrence at the time, leaving his father, James, an Irish immigrant and a lowly but otherwise honest beat cop, to raise the family.
“My father,"Roger wrote, “was a Chicago police-man. An honest one. Otherwise, he would have had a hell of a lot less trouble getting the grocery and rent money.”
James Touhy eventually lost his four eldest sons to a local thug named Paddy “the Bear” Ryan. An enormous hulk of a man, Ryan led the notorious Valley Gang, which was organized in the middle 1860s. It inducted members as young as twelve years of age, and, at least in the beginning, gradu-ated them to the big leagues of crime at around age nineteen or twenty.
In 1870, its membership was mostly made up of the sons of policemen and lower level politicos whose city hall connections kept their sons out of serious trouble with the law. Using that clout, the gang was able to transform itself from a rag-tag group of street urchins who stole fruit off vendors’ wagons into a working criminal/political organization.
With time, the gang moved from its basement headquarters on 15th Street to its first official head-quarters, a popular saloon on the corner of 14th and Mulberry Streets. From there, the Valley Gang moved into armed robbery and big dollar larceny. But the gang remained a small-time local operation in most respects. Then, in about 1880, the Germans began to move into the Valley, followed by the Jews. The gang terrorized both groups, beating them into submission and coercing cash from their shop own-ers when extortion became the new money maker.
The gang continued to rule supremely over the Valley until the turn of the century when great masses of Irish, Germans and Jews moved out and were replaced by tens of thousands of southern Italians. Numerically superior and just as tough as the Irish they replaced, the southern Italians were less prone to intimidation than were the Germans and Jews. The Italians had their street gangs as well, some with membership in the hundreds.
Inevitably, street wars between the Irish and the Italians broke out frequently. As a result, the Maxwell Street police station had the highest num-ber of assault and attempted murder cases of any police precinct in the country, outside of Brooklyn. Again, what kept most of the Valley Gang members out of jail were their powerful political contacts, made even stronger by the gang’s willingness to rent itself out as polling booth enforcers. However, unlike the smaller street gangs from the Valley—the Beamers, the Plugs and the Buckets of Blood—who also rented out their services, the Valley boys were known for their penchant to switch sides in the mid-dle of a battle if the opposite side was paying more or if it appeared that they might win the election.
By 1910, the gang continued to grow in power in the Valley by having enough sense to allow a limit¬ed number of Jews and Germans into its ranks. The Valley Gang remained the largest and deadliest gang in the area and a whole new generation of Irish-American boys in Chicago grew to admire the gang and its leaders “in much the same way” one sociologist wrote, “that other boys looked up to, in a fanciful way, Robin Hood or Jesse James.”
By 1919, the Irish had surrendered their majori¬ty status in the Valley but managed to retain politi¬cal control, just as they did throughout most of Chicago as well. By that time, the gang transformed itself into a social and athletic club which, in both votes and money, stood solidly behind several dozen important politicos whose careers had been launched by the gang.
The first important leaders of the Valley Gang were Heinie Miller and Jimmy Farley. Both expert pickpockets and burglars who flourished in the 1900s. Miller and Farley, along with their lieu-tenants, “Tootsie” Bill Hughes and Bill Cooney (aka “the Fox”) were described by the police as “four of the smoothest thieves that ever worked the Maxwell Street district.”
Smooth or not, they all went to jail in 1905 for extended stays and the leadership of the gang fell to “Red” Bolton. Bolton’s reign was cut short by his own stupidity. He robbed a store in the middle of the Valley, in the middle of the day, killing a cop in the process. No amount of political influence could help. Bolton was sent away to prison where he died of pneumonia in a few years.
With Bolton gone, the gang started to weaken compared to it’s previous power, although it had a brief resurgence during the first World War when Chicago was under a temporary alcohol prohibition and the gang went into the rum-running business.
Rum-running brought the gang a lot of money. For the first time, the Valley Boys drove Rolls Royces, wore silk shirts and managed to get out of murder charges by affording the most talented lawyers, including the legendary Clarence Darrow.
In the mid 1890s, when the gang was under the leadership of Paddy the Bear Ryan, the Valley Boys were transformed into labor goons for hire, with the Bear, acting as the salesman, boasting that his boys were the best bomb throwers and acid tossers in the business. The Valley Gang solidified that reputation during the building trades strike of 1900, which put some 60,000 laborers out of work for twenty-six weeks.
Operating under the street command of Walter “Runty” Quinlan, who would eventually lead the gang, the Valley boys terrorized strike breakers with unmerciful beatings and earned their reputa¬tion as pro-labor thugs in an age when the bosses and factory owners paid better.
Paddy the Bear ruled the Valley for years and it was the Bear who taught Tommy, Johnny, Joe and Eddie Touhy the finer points of the criminal life. Weighing in at least 450 pounds, the Bear waddled when he walked. But he was a solid figure full of fighting vigor and brutal vitality. He was also an ignorant man, blatant and profane, utterly fearless when given to one of his choking rages.
The Bear’s place was a dingy saloon at 14th Street and South Halstead. There was a sawdust floor “to soak up the blood” as Jack Lait said. A dirty, bent bar filled an entire wall. The rest of the room was packed with rickety tables and grimy wooden benches. On the drab smoke-stained walls hung pic¬tures of John L. Sullivan, Jake Kilrain and dozens of other Irish fighters whom the Bear admired.
The Bear, whose specialty was making police records disappear, worked seven days a week. With a dirty apron tied around his enormous waist he held court, ruling over his kingdom with an iron fist like an absolute dictator. The Bear was feared by the killers that surrounded him, so much so that throughout his long career none dared to question him or usurp his authority.
During the Bear’s leadership, no gang in all of Chicago was tougher or bolder. Every criminal in the Valley had to swear allegiance to Paddy the Bear or they didn’t work in the Valley.
It came to be that the Bear’s friend, Red Kruger, was sent to Joliet Penitentiary on a variety of charges. Soon afterward Runty Quinlan, the Bear’s second in command, started sleeping with Kruger’s wife.
This sordid romance threw the Bear into one of his rages. One day when the Runt stopped by Paddy’s saloon for a beer, the Bear came from around the bar and called him every name in the book. He punched the Runt to the floor, picked him up and punched him to the floor again and again and again. It was a terrible beating, even by Valley standards. When it was over, the Bear told the Runt that he would beat him senseless every time he saw him.
Runty Quinlan swore his revenge.
Several days after the beating, Paddy the Bear was summoned to the Des Plains police station to answer a charge for receiving stolen property. “He could have,” noted one cop, “found his way blind-folded.”
It was morning when the Bear started out for the police station. He waddled along Blue Island Avenue and stopped by Eddie Tancel’s place. Eddie was another Valley Gang graduate who operated a bar in the area. Once a professional fighter, Tancel—who was called “the Bulldog of Cicero”—had won almost all of his fights with his famous knockout punch. He retired to his Blue Island bar after he accidentally killed an up-and-coming fighter named Young Greenberg with his gloved fist. The police would eventually close down Tancel’s Blue Island saloon after it became the scene of one too many shooting murders.
After leaving Tancel’s place, the Bear crossed an alley just a half block from his saloon when Runty Quinlan sprang up from behind some trash cans and shot Paddy the Bear several times in his enor-mous belly. Paddy reeled out into the middle of the street, slumping down on the cobblestone and fell to the ground. Quinlan stood over the Bear and fired four more bullets into him.
Paddy the Bear was rushed to a hospital where a cop asked if he knew who had shot him. To which Paddy replied, “Of course I know who shot me, you idiot.” Then he paused and said, more to himself than to anyone present, “But I didn’t think that the little runt would have the nerve to do it.”
Then he died.
For the cops, the Bear’s last words were every-thing but a confession. Runty Quinlan was dragged in for questioning but was released due to lack of evidence.
Shortly after killing the Bear, Runty Quinlan went down state to Joliet State Prison on an unre-lated charge. He was released several years later during Prohibition and opened a saloon on 17th and Lommis Streets at the border of the Valley. The place soon became a favorite hang-out for the Klondike and Myles O’Donnell boys. Once, when police raided the joint, they found ten bulletproof vests, two machine guns and a dozen automatic pis-tols hidden behind the bar. “The Runt’s saloon,”said Jack Lait “was that kind of joint.”
Paddy the Bear had one son, known as “Paddy the Cub.” Paddy the Cub idolized his father who, for all his wicked ways, was an indulgent and doting parent. Young Paddy never forgot his father’s mur-der and for years nursed his hatred of Runty Quinlan. As a teenager he would see the Runt on his way to school, leaning against the doorway of his saloon, uneasily smiling down at him.
One day the Runt was lounging in a booth in his saloon with three Valley Gang graduates: Fur Sammons, Klondike and Myles O’Donnell. The group had been drinking for several hours and were mildly drunk when Paddy the Cub slipped up to the Runt, jammed a revolver in his left temple and whispered ‘This is for my father, you son-of-a-bitch.”
He shot the Runt through the back of the head. After the Runt fell to the floor, Paddy the Cub fired several more shots into the body and then slowly and calmly walked out the front door of the saloon.
• • •
In 1919, after the Bear was killed, Terry Druggan and Frankie Lake took over the Valley Gang. Druggan was a dwarf-like little man with a hair-trigger temper and a lisp. He was ambitious and found the Valley territory too restrictive for his high ambition. He soon extended his criminal reach far beyond its borders.
Over the years, Terry Druggan had gained a rep-utation as a fool and a clown. Despite this reputa¬tion Druggan proved to be a highly effective leader. He was a smooth operator and a highly intelligent hood, and by the third year of Prohibition he had made himself and most of his gang members rich beyond their wildest dreams. By 1924, Terry Druggan could truthfully boast that even the lowest member of his gang wore silk shirts and had a chauffeur for his new Rolls-Royce.
Druggan was smart enough to enter into several lucrative business agreements with Johnny Torrio. He was wise enough to pull the Valley Gang off the streets and remodel them after Johnny Torrio’s restructured version of “Big Jim” Colosimo’s outfit. With his alcohol millions, Druggan bought a mag-nificent home on Lake Zurich and a winter estate in Florida. He surrounded himself with yes-men and flunkies and parked twelve new cars in his garage. He had a swimming pool although he couldn’t swim, a tennis court although he didn’t play, and dairy cat-tle (which he admitted scared him), sheep and swine in his pastures. He owned a thoroughbred racing stable and raced his horses, draped in his family’s ancient Celtic color scheme, at Chicago’s tracks.
Once, when he was ruled off the turf at one track for fixing a race, Druggan pulled his gun on the offi-cials and promised to kill them all then and there if they didn’t change their ruling. They changed their ruling.
Frankie Lake grew up with Druggan in the Valley. He and Druggan were inseparable compan-ions, as well as business partners in everything. They even went to jail together.
In 1924, during the height of Prohibition, both Druggan and Lake were sentenced to a year in the Cook County jail by Judge James Wilkerson for con-tempt of court for refusing to answer questions regarding their business dealings. Lake appealed to the President of the United States for help. The President refused to intervene and the pair went to jail—sort of. After a $20,000 cash bribe to Sheriff Peter Hoffman, “for the usual considerations and conveniences” as Druggan put it, he and Lake were allowed to turn their cells into working offices. They came and went from the jail as they saw fit and were often seen in cafes late at night, retiring to their spa-cious apartments on ritzy Lake Shore Drive.
On those rare days when they actually stayed in the jail—waking up late and having breakfast in bed—their wives were regular visitors. In fact, on several occasions Druggan had his dentist brought in to fill a cavity. Later, when the story broke, a reporter asked Druggan to explain his absence from jail. The gangster explained, “Well you know, it’s awfully crowded in there.”He was right. In 1924 the Cook County jail, which had been built to house no more than 500 inmates, was home to over 1,500 men.
The same thing happened in 1933 when Druggan was supposed to be in Leavenworth Federal Prison for two and a half years on a tax eva¬sion charge. Once again he bought his way out of the jail and was living in the tiny town just outside the prison, in a three bedroom apartment with his girl¬friend Bernice Van De Hauten. She was a buxom blonde who moved down from Chicago to keep Terry company, much to his wife’s surprise. The story broke and Druggan was moved from Leavenworth to Atlanta, without his girlfriend this time.
With the end of Prohibition, the Druggan and Lake Gang, as the Valley Gang was then called, was completely absorbed by the Chicago syndicate oper-ations and for all practical purposes ceased to exist.
Sometime around 1915 “Terrible Tommy” O’Connor brought Tommy Touhy, and his brothers, Johnny, Eddie and Joe into the fold of organized crime.
The Birth of Vegas and the Death of Tony “The Hat”Tony Accardo, Chicago’s new underworld boss, telephoned Johnny Rosselli, his man on the west coast, and told him he wanted him back in Chicago for a meeting at Meo’s Restaurant with Murray Humpreys and Paul Ricca.
Always the hustler, Rosselli knew that the boss¬es were worried because they were losing what little presence they had in Las Vegas. As the self-declared power west of New York they felt, as a matter of mob pride, that they should have a major presence on the strip.
Rosselli filled them in on the situation at the Stardust. It was aimed at being, as he dubbed it, a “grind joint,” a paradise for the low rollers, located right at the heart of the strip. If they wanted it, the bosses would have to pour a couple of hundred thou¬sand dollars into the place to get it completed, but otherwise it was theirs. But first they had to deal with Tony Cornero, aka “Tony the Hat.”
Las Vegas wasn’t built by gangsters alone, and no matter how often it is written, Ben Siegel didn’t build the first casino there, either. If any one hoodlum could take credit for inventing Las Vegas, it was Tony Cornero.
While it lasted, Cornero had an amazing life. He was born Anthony Cornero Stralla in an Italian vil-lage near the Swiss border in 1895. The Cornero family had owned a large farm there but his father lost it in a card game. More bad luck came when young Tony Cornero accidentally set fire to the fam-ily harvest, breaking them financially and forcing them to immigrate to San Francisco in the early 1920s.
At age sixteen, Tony pleaded guilty to robbery and did ten months in reform school. He moved to southern California and racked up another ten arrests in ten years which included three for boot-legging and three for attempted murder.
He was ambitious, but as late as 1922, Cornero was still driving a cab. Eventually he decided to branch off into the rum-running business. Starting with a string of small boats he smuggled high-priced whisky over the Canadian border and sold it to the better clubs in Los Angeles. At the same time, Cornero ran rum from Mexico to Los Angeles, his freighters easily avoiding the understaffed Coast Guard. Next, Tony purchased a merchant ship, the SS Lily, which he stocked with 4,000 cases of the best booze money could buy and ran the illicit alco-hol into Los Angeles under cover of moonlight.
In 1931, Cornero decided to switch his effort to gambling. He and his brothers moved to Las Vegas and opened one of the town’s first major casinos, the Green Meadows, which was known for its staff of attractive and friendly waitresses.
The Meadows turned a small, but healthy profit, and soon Cornero was investing his returns into other casinos in the state, mostly in Las Vegas. The money started to pour in and before long New York’s Luciano, Lansky, and Frank Costello sent their rep-resentatives and demanded a cut of Cornero’s action. Cornero who had always operated on the fringe of the national syndicate, refused to pay. Instead he had built up his own organization and was strong enough to turn the syndicate bosses down.
The syndicate, which had a small but powerful presence on the West Coast, prepared for war and started by burning Cornero’s Green Meadows casino to the ground. Realizing he could never win the fight, Cornero sold out his interest in Nevada and returned to Los Angeles.
In 1938 Cornero bought several large ships and refurbished them into luxury casinos at a cost of more than $300,000. He anchored the ships three miles off the coast of Santa Monica and had gam-blers shuttled from shore by way of motorboats. Cornero’s lead ship, the Rex, had a crew of 350 wait-ers, waitresses, cooks, a full orchestra, and an entourage of enforcers. The first class dining room served superb French cuisine and on most nights some 2,000 patrons flooded onto the ship to gamble, dance and drink the night away. Tony was hauling in an estimated $300,000 a night after expenses, and the money would have continued to pour in had he not become the center of a reform movement in Los Angeles County.
State Attorney General Earl Warren ordered a raid on the Rex and several other of Cornero’s off- coast ships. Cornero and the California government fought a series of battles, with Tony’s lawyers argu-ing that his ships were operating in international waters, and the California government taking the indefensible stance that it didn’t care where they were, they were still illegal.
Back and forth it went, until Cornero decided to fight back after raiders had smashed almost half a million dollars worth of gambling equipment on one of his ships,. When the law men came to raid his ships, Cornero ordered his men to repel the attack-ers with water hoses. A sea battle went on for nine hours and the lawmen finally gave up. But Cornero was beaten and he knew it; he closed his offshore operations.
Tony tried to open a few gambling houses inside Los Angeles, but Micky Cohen, the ruling bookie and drug dealer in the town, shut him down. When Cornero refused to back down, Cohen had his boys bomb Cornero’s Beverly Hills estate. Fearing for his life, Cornero took his fortune and moved back to Las Vegas.
After several years in Vegas, Cornero undertook his dream to build the largest gambling casino-hotel in the world, the Stardust. To finance the construc-tion of the Stardust Tony had borrowed $6,000,000 from the mob. As the casino neared completion Cornero couldn’t account for half of the borrowed cash. The word on the street was that the bosses back east were whining that it had been a mistake to give him the money in the first place, because Tony the Hat was no businessman, just a dice jock¬ey with high ambitions.
The truth is that the syndicate had probably set Tony up to fail from the very beginning. He never would have gotten a license to run the place because he had a long criminal record and an even longer list of powerful political enemies made across the state. And he had his enemies in the underworld as well. His endless arguments with the New York syndi¬cates over the size of the Stardust—five hundred rooms—were legendary.
Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello were both pos-itive that Las Vegas would never be able to attract enough gamblers to fill all of those rooms and the Stardust would cause a glut on the market, reduc¬ing prices for all the other casino rooms.
Cornero knew about the license problem, of course, but it didn’t concern him. He believed he could get a license anyway. A few hundred grand went a long way in Nevada in the 1950s. But the word was that Moe Dalitz had already taken care of that and there was absolutely no way that Tony Cornero was going to get a gaming license in Nevada or anywhere else.
So, as the opening day drew closer, Cornero entered talks with Dalitz about leasing the place to the Dalitz operation. Dalitz was interested, but the terms that Cornero wanted were steep: a half a mil-lion a month. So Dalitz bided his time because he knew Cornero was broke and would have to come crawling back to him, and when he did they’d han¬dle him.
As fate would have it, Tony not only helped build the Vegas that we know today but fittingly he died there, too. He dropped dead while gambling at the Desert Inn, with Moe Dalitz, the Godfather of Sin City, looking on with his fat arm draped around the waist of his slim and much younger wife.
Cornero had gone to the Desert Inn for a last chance meeting with Dalitz to beg the mob’s favorite front man for financing to help him complete con-struction on his casino—the forever troubled Stardust. The place was scheduled to open in just two weeks, on July 13, 1955, and Cornero didn’t have the cash to pay the staff or supply the house tables. He was in over his head—Dalitz and every¬body else knew it
Cornero and Dalitz met for several long hours in a conference that went nowhere. Cornero wanted the mob’s money and the mob wanted Cornero’s casino. Neither party had any intention of giving anything to the other. During a break in the meet-ing, Cornero went out to the floor of the Desert Inn and gambled at the craps table and quickly fell into the hole for $10,000. Then a waitress came and handed him a tab for twenty-five dollars for the food and drinks he had. Cornero went ballistic. He was a guest of Moe Dalitz. The waitress didn’t care; she wanted the money. Dalitz stood by and watched as Tony Cornero suffered through the ultimate insult to a big timer in Vegas.
Cornero screamed, ranted and raved and then grabbed his chest and fell forward on the table, des-perately clutching his heart through his shirt, the dice still wrapped in his hands.
For decades the story circulated in the under-world that Cornero didn’t die of a heart attack, that his drink had been poisoned. If he had been poi-soned, the truth went with him to the grave. An autopsy was never performed. His body was shipped off to Los Angeles for a quick funeral where an organist from the Desert Inn knocked out a rendi-tion of his favorite song, “The Wabash Cannonball Express” and eight hours after he hit the cold floor of the Desert Inn, Tony the Hat was eight feet under the ground.
Tony went out like the gambler he was. Of the estimated $25 million he had earned in his career as a gambler, Tony Cornero had less than $800 in his pockets when he died.
Nobody checked the contents of the drink he had been sipping before he dropped dead. No one cared enough to ask any serious questions. The important
thing was that Tony Cornero was dead. Jake the Barber Factor, a Chicago favorite, was moved into position as the Stardust’s new owner of record, and everybody in mobdom was happy.
Well, everybody except Tony Cornero.
A few weeks after Tony’s death, Jake the Barber announced that he had just purchased the Stardust.