“Ten Percent Tony"
"Tony Cermak was an example of the lowest type of machine politics that the corrupt political life of Chicago had yet produced. He was uncouth, gruff, insolent and inarticulate ... he could engage in no more intelligent discussion of the larger political issues of the day than he could of the Einstein theory of relativity. He appeared to take pride in his lack of polish."-Judge Lyle
Like Matt Kolb, Roger Touhy was a cautious man. He was not prone to mistakes or leaps injudgement, especially when it came to defying a man as dangerous as Al Capone. In fact, the only reason he would have entered a shooting war against Capone and his massive criminal organization was based on his absolute certainty that hewould win. That, and his little known agreement with Chicago's powerful mayor, Anton Cermak, made the bootlegger positive that he could pull Capone from his throne.
"Ten Percent" Tony Cermak, the mayor of Chicago, would lead the Touhys into a war with the Capone syndicate. Tony Cermak was, as Judge Lyle noted, "not a nice man." Instead he was an intim- idator and a bully with a violent temper, who would never walk away from a confrontation. He liked very few people and trusted no one. As his power grew, so did his paranoia. In the state house, as president of Cook County and later as mayor, Cermak used wiretaps, stolen mail, secret surveillance and informants to get intelligence on the weaknesses of his enemies.
Cermak was born on May 7, 1873 in a Bohemian village about fifty miles from Prague. The family immigrated to America in 1884, settling in a Chicago slum. In 1900, the Cermak family moved to Braidwood, in southern Illinois, where the elder Cermak worked as a coal miner. At age sixteen Tony returned to Chicago alone and saw his opportunity in the rough and tumble world of ethnic politics. He organized the Bohemian community into a powerful voting machine and before he was old enough to vote himself, Tony Cermak was a political power in the Windy City.
In addition to his unquenchable thirst for power, Cermak was also a greedy man who used his power and position to grow wealthy. While still a ward politician, he formed the United Societies, a high- sounding name for what was nothing more then a shakedown operation to collect money from the hundreds of pimps and saloon owners who worked along the notoriously wicked 22nd Street (which was later, oddly enough, renamed Cermak Road).
In 1902, at age twenty-six, Cermak went to the State Capitol as a member of the House of Representatives. He eventually worked his way up to Speaker of the House. This position allowed him, if he wished, to block every piece of banking reform legislation before the House. It was a position for which the state's bankers paid him richly. After three terms in the capitol, Cermak's net worth was more than one million dollars. By the time he became mayor of Chicago at age fifty-six, Tony Cermak, the nearly illiterate immigrant, boasted a net worth of seven million dollars, although he never had a job that paid him more then $12,000 a year.
In 1931, Cermak was the undisputed boss of the most powerful political machine in the country, and declared himself a candidate for Mayor of Chicago. The syndicate, sensing the federal government might step in to restore order to the streets of Chicago if the hopelessly corrupt "Big Bill" Thompson was re-elected, stood solidly behind Cermak's candidacy. Ten Percent Tony Cermak the syndicate figured, was one of them. They could live and prosper with Cermak at the helm. On election day, April 7, 1931, Cermak trounced Thompson by the largest margin ever recorded in a Chicago may- oral election. He promised the people of Chicago that he would rid their city of gangsters before the Century of Progress Exhibition opened at the World's Fair in the summer of 1933. But Cermak wouldn't rid Chicago of organized crime. Instead he would try to corral it, dominate it, and grow rich from it. All he had to do was give it another face, a plot the federal government had unknowingly aided by putting Capone in prison on a shaky tax charge. Capone's imprisonment left a void in Chicago's crime syndicate. Cermak intended to fill that void with Roger Touhy.
Touhy had told Saul Alinsky, a sociologist, writer and former member of the Joliet State Prison parole board, that in 1932 he entered a partnership with Cermak to run Chicago's underworld. The middle man in the deal was Teddy Newberry, a thug who at one time or another had been associated with every major gang in the city and acted as Cermak's bag man on the street.
In a meeting at the mayor's office, Cermak and Newberry urged Touhy to wage a war with Capone's mob. Roger was reluctant. A defensive position against the mob was one thing, but an all out war was entirely different. The syndicate could, Touhy pointed out, muster at least 500 gunmen in a few days. Cermak responded, 'You can have the entire police department."
Eventually, Roger agreed to go along, and Cermak sent word to his police commanders that the Touhys were to be cooperated with in the war against the syndicate.
Wars cost money. Before the shooting started Roger had to be positive that the cash he needed to support a street war was in place. Anton Cermak could help with that.
At 6:56 A.M., on December 6, 1932, Tommy Touhy led a gang of five masked men into the United States Post Office in the heart of Chicago's Loop. They overpowered the guard and stole $500,000 in securities and cash. The getaway was easy. Two hours earlier, Cermak called the police shift commander and ordered him to pull all of his men out of the area. A month later the Touhys, armed with machine guns, robbed a Minneapolis postal truck of $78,417 in bonds, cash, certificates and jewelry. Several days later they struck again, robbing a Colorado mail truck of $520,000 in cash.
During that time Cermak increased his raids on syndicate gambling dens. In one afternoon alone, Chicago police acting on Cermak's orders impounded 200 syndicate slot machines plus another 300 machines stored at Gottleib and Company warehouses. This was the same Gottleib that would later provide slots to mob-owned Las Vegas casinos. As soon as the police took the syndicate's machines, Touhy's men replaced them with their own one armed bandits. The moment a Mob handbook was closed Touhy's operators were moved in to fill the gap. As always, Cermak had an ulterior motive. The raids were a calculated move to cut the syndicate's cash flow in half so that they wouldn't have the funding to carry on a drawn out street war.
It didn't take the mob's leadership a long time to figure out they had been double-crossed by Cermak, who, along with Touhy, was now putting on the double squeeze. The quick solution for the syndicate was to kill Roger and Tommy Touhy. However killing them wouldn't prove easy, especially now that they were surrounded by a small army of enforcers including George "Baby Face" Nelson, a proven tough guy.
Still, the syndicate's bosses were determined to stop the flow of union treasuries to Touhy. To do that, they would have to send out a message; they had to throw a scare into the union bosses. It had to be loud and violent and it had to be someone close to Touhy.
Bill Rooney was just the right person.
William James Rooney was a labor goon who had done his first prison time back in 1907. In the years that followed Rooney would face dozens of arrests including one in 1910 for the suspected murder of Joseph Patrick Shea. Shea had been the business agent for the Chicago sheet metal workers' union, a local which Rooney was trying to muscle his way into. He was acquitted of the murder, even though he had shot Shea dead in the middle of the union hall in front of at least 150 witnesses. No one testified against him and Rooney was released to continue his takeover of the union. By 1928, he not only controlled the sheet metal workers', but the flat janitors' and the meat cutters' unions as well. Capone sent word that he wanted half of Rooney's labor empire. Rooney refused and Capone threatened his life. Unfazed, Rooney made his own threats and then started to move his operation and his family out to Des Plains to live under Touhy's protection.
On the night they killed him, Rooney was still moving his belongings from his home in Chicago to a rented house in Des Plains. His wife and two children had already driven to the country.
Rooney waited outside his home while his chauffeur sprinted down the street to retrieve his car from a rented garage about five minutes away. Draped in a heavy grey top coat and dress hat, Rooney paced back and forth on the lawn as a blue sedan pulled up to the curb. One of the men in the back seat, believed to be Paul Ricca, rolled down a window and said, "Hi Billy. "
When Rooney stepped up to the car and bent down to look inside, a shotgun appeared in the window and three blasts ripped into Rooney's head, chest and stomach. Remarkably, the blast didn't knock him down. Instead, Rooney grabbed the car as it sped away, but then slid slowly to his knees. He was dragged twenty-five feet before releasing his grip.
With Rooney dead, Red Barker and Murray Humpreys took over the sheet metal and the building service employees' union and looted its treasury.
Rooney's murder was one of the last bright moments for the syndicate. For the next two years, the Touhy-Cermak-Newberry combination pounded the mob mercilessly. In fact, within three days of Rooney's murder, the Touhys responded by killing Johnny Genaro, Capone's new acting chief of staff, and his driver, Joey Vince, by pulling up along the side of Genaro's car and drilling a dozen rounds of machine gun fire into both of them.
Genero died immediately but Vince managed to live until the cops arrived. A patrolman lifted the hood's head out of a pool of blood and whispered "Who shot you? Who did this?"
For a man full of bullet holes on the threshold of death, Vince was remarkably lucid. He sat upright for a second and said '1 can't describe the men. I was too confused at the moment it happened...and I would never tell you anyway, you piece of shit. "
Then he fell back into the gutter and died.