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On September 25, 1925, Spike O’Donnell flattened as Frankie McErlane sped by bullets spraying wildly over the corner of 63rd and Western. O’Donnell walked away from the shooting unharmed and unaware he had survived the first Chicago gang shooting involving a Thompson submachine gun.
A month later, after practicing with the novel weapon. McErlane returned. This time, he successfully wounded O’Donnell brother and a new deadly era in gang warfare had begun.
The Thompson submachine gun weighed 8 1/2 pounds and could fire up to a thousand 45 caliber pistol cartridges per minute.
At close range, It could pierce quarter-inch steel armor plate or cut a man in half. Since the Thompson was a totally new type of weapon, no existing gun statutes regulated it – and anyone could buy one by mail or from a sporting goods store.
In 1925, the average Thompson retailed for 175 USD.
Northwestern University law school alumnus, National Rifle Association member and owner of Sports Inc., Peter Von Frantzius specialized in arming the city’s criminals. As the Thompson gained in popularity, Von Frantzius became the area’s chief supplier.
Al Capone was fascinated by the distructive power of McErlane’s “Tommy Gun” and acquired Thompsons for his own men.
Capone’s purchases were always legal; crooked judges issued gun permits for Capone and his mobsters. Several members of the gang, including Capone, carried actual Cook County Deputy badges, complete with the right to bear arms!
(1992 Max Allan Collins & George Hagenauer)