By the spring of 1933 the impossible was happening: the mouse was eating the lion. The Touhys were beating the syndicate.
Tony Cermak and Teddy Newberry, probably acting on Touhy's advice, decided that the quickest way to end the gang war was to kill the Capone outfit's new leader, Frank Nitti. After that they figured all the other hoods would fall into line and the two-year-old war would be ended.
Nitti became boss of the Chicago mob through attrition. In the winter of 1931 the federal government started its crackdown on Capone and his operation. On the freezing morning of February 28, 1931, seventy-five heavily armed United States Marshals rounded up and deported more than 125 Capone hoods who had entered the country illegally. There were no long and costly trials, appeals or delays. The gangsters were handcuffed, shoved into an airplane, flown to New York and then shipped back to Europe.
The federal government's lethal use of deportation as a weapon against organized crime had begun. A few days later, on March 13, 1931 a grand jury indicted Capone for tax evasion. Over the next twenty-four months the Treasury Department
would effectively close down Capone's syndicate by locking away the organization's top leadership. On November 7, 1931, Al's brother Ralph Capone would go to prison because of a tax conviction. Jake Guzak, Mops Volpe, Murray Humpreys and even Capone's financier, Louis Lipschultz, were eventually indicted and convicted on tax charges along with their boss.
The next in line was Frank Nitti.
Francisco Raffele Nitto, or Frank Nitti as he preferred, was a frail, pensive little man with ulcers and a nervous twitch. He was born outside Palermo, but avoided discussing his Sicilian background, preferring to have himself called "Italian."
Unlike Capone, Nitti was fairly well educated, having trained as a chemist before arriving in Chicago by way of New York. He worked as a barber for a while in the immense Italian community but quickly turned to fencing stolen gems brought to him by his life long friend Louis Greenberg. It was Greenberg who had introduced Nitti to Capone.
The newspaper called Nitti 'The Enforcer, " but for those who knew the real story, the name was comical. As far as anyone knows, Nitti never killed anyone. Instead, he made his way up through the mob's ranks because he was smart, pushy and cunning. While it was true that he would easily order a beating or an execution by the goon squads he controlled, syndicate leaders rightly considered Nitti a nervous, high-strung individual, better suited, as Paul Ricca once said, "to be the barber-fence he had been."
At mid-morning on the day Cermak decided to have Frank Nitti killed, His Honor summoned two members of his special squad to his office, Harry Miller and Henry Lang. Miller, who had once been
dismissed from the police force for trafficking narcotics, was the youngest of the notorious Miller brothers who headed the Valley Gang. Lang had been a bag man for former Mayor Big Bill Thompson and taught Miller the little bit he needed to know about being a crook when he came on the force by "special political appointment" back in 1927. Now, both men were detective sergeants on Cermak's 'Special Squad," a group of tough cops with questionable backgrounds, brought together to carry out Cermak's every whim.
At 10:00 in the morning on December 20, 1932, Cermak called Miller and Lang to his office. When they arrived, Teddy Newberry was already there sitting on the mayor's desk smoking one of his small cigars. Newberry handed them a slip of paper with Frank Nitti's name and office address on it and told them that it was time for Nitti to die. Miller and Lang were commissioned for the task. He said that once Nitti was dead he would pay them $15,000 each. That was good money for a pair of cops who were supposed to be making less than one hundred dollars a week.
Lang and Miller drove to Nitti's office at the La Salle-Wacker building and flagged down a passing squad car. "We might need some help inside," they told the driver, a rookie cop named Chris Callahan. Then the three men entered the massive office building and took the elevator to the fifth floor, room 554, where Nitti kept a cramped, three-room office. When they entered the room they found Nitti, his bodyguard and several others gathered around a desk. Lang ordered them to turn and face the wall with their hands raised over their heads. Lang then grabbed Nitti by the wrists and ordered Callahan to search him.
"When I bent down to grab Nitti's ankles/' Callahan said, 'Lang fired five shots into Nitti. I leaped back. Nitti staggered toward the door and then he stopped and looked at Lang, and he said 'What's this for?' and Lang shot him again. Then Lang walked to an anteroom, alone, and fired a single shot. When he came back out, he was shot through the hand."
Nitti had been shot in the neck, leg and groin. He was taken to Bridewell Hospital, where his father- in-law, Dr. Gaetano Ronga, was called to care for him. After several hours Dr. Ronga emerged from the operating room to announce that Frank Nitti would probably die before the night was over.
Nitti lived and, while it was true that the shooting had panicked what was left of Capone's leadership, it was now only a matter of days before they reorganized and struck back.