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Born in 1892 and crippled in a childhood accident, Dion O’Banion started as a singer, pick-pocket and jackroller in the Chicago Northside’s Little Hell neighborhood. By 1920, he led a gang of burglars, safecrackers and robbers and was allegedly responsible for killing more than 25 people. When Proibition came in, O’Banion became a bootlegger and ruled the Northeast side of Chicago.
His chief lieutenants were George “Bugs” Moran, Hymie Weiss, Louis Alterie, Vincent “Schemer” Drucci and Samuel “Nails” Morton. Weiss was the first Chicago mobster to take a hijacker on a one-way ride, while Moran invented the drive-by shooting.
O’Banion initially went along with Johnny Torrio’s division of Chicago into gang districts but he became angry when he was not promptly paid for the mobsters he had loaned Al Capone during the 1924 Cicero election. When Torrio gave O’Banion part of the Cicero beer trade, O’Banion responded by underselling the Torrio saloons. In retaliation, the Genna gang flooded the Northside with cheap whiskey. O’Banion then sold Torrio his interest in the Sieben brewery which was subsequently raided and confiscated.
Torrio put out a contract on O’Banion but the Irish mobster was protected by Mike Merlo, chief of the Unione Siciliana, which supplied alcohol to bootleggers. On November the 8th, 1924, Merlo died and was replaced by O’Banion’s enemy, Angelo Genna.
On Torrio’s orders, three men entered O’Banion florist shop, supposedly to pick up flowers for Merlo’s funeral. Instead, they grabbed O’Banion and shot him six times, killing him instantly, and starting the worst gang war in American History.
(1992 Max Allan Collins & George Hagenauer)