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home : community : features May 25, 2016

9/14/2012 6:00:00 AM
From the files of Tom Hollatz
Francesco Raffaele Nitto, also known as Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, was an Italian American gangster. One of Al Capone’s top henchmen, Nitti was in charge of all strong-arm and ‘muscle’ operations.Tom Hollatz file photograph 

Francesco Raffaele Nitto, also known as Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, was an Italian American gangster. One of Al Capone’s top henchmen, Nitti was in charge of all strong-arm and ‘muscle’ operations.

Tom Hollatz file photograph 

(Photograph was taken Oct. 31, 1967, and was used in an unknown newspaper Nov. 1, 1967, for a story titled “City wreckers to raze symbol of dark era”) “Wreckers this morning will begin to destroy something which has been haunting Chicago for more than 38 years. They will begin to tear down the site of the St. Valentines Day massacre.” Werner Storage was the exterior of the building at 2122 N. Clark St., the scene of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.Tom Hollatz file photograph 

(Photograph was taken Oct. 31, 1967, and was used in an unknown newspaper Nov. 1, 1967, for a story titled “City wreckers to raze symbol of dark era”) “Wreckers this morning will begin to destroy something which has been haunting Chicago for more than 38 years. They will begin to tear down the site of the St. Valentines Day massacre.” Werner Storage was the exterior of the building at 2122 N. Clark St., the scene of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.

Tom Hollatz file photograph 

Presented recently with the personal files of the late Tom Hollatz by his wife, Cassie, The Lakeland Times is proud to provide our readers with an inside look into the many topics Hollatz read and wrote about. We will continue to offer on a regular basis this column with information from Hollatz’s files.

This week we learn a little more about “Big” Al Capone and have the opportunity to read newspaper clippings from the 30s that describe a new method gangsters used for disposing of bodies.

Big Al fishes with the top Indian guide, 
Louis No. 1

by Tom Hollatz

Louis St. Germaine, known as “Louis No. 1,” was perhaps the finest fishing guide in the U.S. at one time. The young Chippewa Indian was abandoned by his parents at the age of 9 and from that humble start rose to walk in all circles. He was an excellent athlete playing at one time with the great Jim Thorpe. However, he shunned all athletic glory and left college returning to his beloved Lac du Flambeau in the heart of the Wisconsin Northwoods.

Louis became one of the best fishermen the North has ever produced. In order to survive as a youth, he learned how to catch fish and sell them to the various logging camps. His later customers included Big Crosby, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Ted Williams and top executives like McDonald’s chairman Fred Turner.

Billy St. Germaine recalled some fond moments about his late father.

“He played no favorites with whom he guided on fishing trips,” Billy said. “My dad fished with everyone from crooks to politicians. He knew Ralph and Al Capone. Al was a frequent visitor to Ralph’s home in nearby Mercer.

“One day he took the pair. The two mixed martinis in a minnow bucket in the boat. The lead from the walls of the pail corrupted that perfect elixir and both took sick. Louis, who did not drink booze, rushed both gangsters to the hospital where their stomachs were pumped.” 

Big Al and his Florida love affair

by Tom Hollatz

One of Al Capone’s favorite holiday spots was in the warmth of the Florida sun near Miami. It seemed he was always there – the perfect alibi – when events he had a black hand in, namely the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of seven, occurred. 

Shunned by the West Coast, Big Al now looked to Florida to keep his bones warm in the winter. He put out feelers to several resort communities – St. Petersburg, New Orleans, the Bahamas or Cuba. The radar back to Scarface was that if stepped foot in those warm spots he would be expelled or arrested.

It was during the last days of 1927 that Capone headed for Miami incognito. That first winter was spent in a furnished bungalow on the beach, which he rented for $2,500.

In addition to the beach bungalow, Capone retained a suite on the top floor of the nine-story Hotel Ponce de Leon in downtown Miami. It was used for business and pleasure. He became good friends with the lessee, the roly-poly Parker Henderson Jr., 24, whose late father had been mayor of Miami.

Meanwhile, the city council, current mayor John Newton Lummus Jr., and the Miami Daily News clamored with outrage that Capone should be tossed out of that peaceful haven. The conflict of interest was intriguing to say the least. The economy of southern Florida was crashing, not to mention the September 1926 hurricane which destroyed $100 million worth of property and left 50,000 people homeless.

Capone was a spark. He had money. He and his gangster friends spent money – and lots of it.

Capone requested and received a meeting with Miami police chief Leslie Quigg to lay his cards on the table. He asked do I stay or do I get out?

“You can stay as long as you behave yourself,” Chief Quigg said.

“I’ll stay as long as I’m treated like a human being,” Capone shot back.

At a press conference following that Miami meeting, Capone told assembled reporters “... Talk about that Chicago gang stuff is just bunk.”

Capone’s attention in Miami was divided between the bungalow and the Ponce de Leon, between the racetrack at Hialeah and the nightclubs. Golf and tennis also fascinated him. He was light on his feet and one source said he had the moves of a panther. He hated to lose. During a temper tantrum or two, Big Al smashed many a tennis racquet and golf club.

Al was looking for deeper Miami roots. Palm Island came into focus. Palm Island lies in Biscayne Bay about midway between the mainland and the beach. The house at 93 Palm Avenue was constructed in 1922 by Clarence M. Busch, the St. Louis brewer. When Capone inspected it, the home was owned by James Popham.

The home was two stories and a new-Spanish structure of white stucco with a flat gree-tiled roof, shaded by 12 royal palm trees. It stood in the center of a 300-foot plot and had 14 rooms and a long, wide glass-enclosed sun porch. There was a gatehouse containing three rooms spanning a graveled driveway. Mosaic patios and walks rimmed both buildings. The pier area on the north side could accommodate three or four good-sized boats. 

The price was $40,000.

Soon Miami architects and builders were kept busy making the estate to Capone’s specifications. Number one was to erect a wall of concrete blocks all around the estate. Heavy oaken portals were hung behind a spiked-iron entrance gate. The view was completely shut off to the interior.

The biggest swimming pool in the area, 60-by-40-feet, was also installed. It featured one of the first filter systems adaptable to both fresh and salt water. On the bay side a two-story bathhouse in the style of a Venetian loggia was added. A rock pool with lavish planted borders contained rare tropical fish.

Capone had a variety of boats. Two favorites were a Baby Gar speedboat named Sonny and Ralphie, and a 32-foot cabin cruiser, the Arrow. 

It was in Florida that the beginning of the end of Capone’s dominance was triggered. In the recent 1929 election, Herbert Hoover defeated Al Smith. Soon after Hoover’s win, he headed for a victory vacation at the Miami estate on Belle Isle of chain store magnate J.C. Penney. 

The stories surrounding that visit are filled with fact and fiction. Some of the cocktail mix includes sounds of revelry coming from Capones and disturbing Hoover’s sleep. There were also reports of shooting, shouting and females screaming all attributed to Capone’s casa.

Hoover didn’t like loosing sleep, according to the reports. He was also miffed when newsmen left him in a Miami hotel lobby and ran to the more popular Al Capone. It is said that a combination of those ingredients irked Hoover enough to launch an all-out attack to dethrone Capone.

Burn bodies of gang war’s victims, claim

Report Chicago feudists using furnace for crematory


unknown newspaper

CHICAGO — Reports that gangland has been driven to burning the bodies of its “ride” victims to defeat the new scientific methods of crime detection reached Deputy Commissioner John Stege today. Stege assigned a squad of detectives to investigate this startling development in Chicago’s gang wars. 

At least two of “Scarface” Al Capone’s gangsters have suddenly dropped out of the Chicago crime picture, a bag of human bones has been found in a forest preserve and information has been unearthed that the gangland “crematory” is in a basement furnace on the near northwest side. 

Bennett and Higgins

The two hoodlums who Stege believes met a fiery fate at the hands of their enemies are Benny Bennett, former New York gambler and protege of Capone, and George Higgins, who turned traitor to his northside allies and went over to take his place with “Scarface’s” southside gangsters. The investigation today was enlivened by reports that 12 other gangsters may have met the same fate. 

Information reaching detectives indicates that the new gang death procedure is as follows:

The gangster marked for death and cremation is forced into the orthodox curtained limousine and goes for the “ride” from which there is no return. Somewhere on a lonely road he is shot to death, his body wrapped in a robe and then taken to the makeshift “crematorium.”

There the body is burned and the bones sacked in burlap.

Sack of bones

The one sack found so far turned up in a northwest side forest preserve, an easy drive from the location of the death furnace. The sack was found in April but little attention was paid to it until reports filtered in about the new methods of covering up gang murders. The detectives assigned to the case believe the bones in this burlap sack are those of Bennett.

The impromptu cremations, the detectives deduced, were decided on when ballistics experts began to dig billets from the “ride” victims bodies and weave a tell-tale chain of evidence against certain gangs. Satisfied that one gang was responsible, police began to apply pressure which resulted in slackened profits and considerable harassment from raids.

No body; no murder

“No body, no murder,” the gangsters found out by experience and “no murder, no pressure.” So came into being the gangland cremation.

Bennett, the gambler, was an especial friend of Capone and became rich through his favors. He disappeared Feb. 14, the first anniversary of the St. Valentine day massacre, after receiving a telephone call from George “Bugs” Moran, northside gang leader. He hasn’t been seen since.

Higgins, union racketeer and beer runner, disappeared two months ago soon after he deserted Moran and went over to the Capone interests. His turning traitor was considered by detectives as reason enough for the moranites to take him for a ride.

Gangsters in Chicago burn victims, claims

State attorneys hunting crematory for feudist dead

June 4, 1930

unknown newspaper

CHICAGO — A crematory for gangster dead – an ingenious and ghastly device for removing the evidence of wholesale murder – was hunted by state’s attorney’s men today while police puzzled over another and particularly brutal gangland assassination.

Pat Reche of the state’s attorney’s office, said he had reliable information a north side gang was cremating its murder victims, thus getting rid of the “corpus delicti.” The disappearance in recent weeks of William Higgins, St. Paul, Minn., racketeer, and Ben Bennett, New York whisky dealer, has given credence to the crematory report, Roche said. He pointed out further that within a week there have been two gang gun attacks in Chicago in which the victim after being shot down has been carried away in the automobile of the attackers.

Latest gang murder

The latest gang murder – the tenth in the Chicago area within three days – was discovered last night. The victim was Thomas Somnerio, 33, who was tried and acquitted of complicity in the election day (1928) slaying of Octavius Granady, negro lawyer. 

Somnerio’s body was found late last night in an alley. The body was cut and bruised, indicating torture. The wrists were wired. A welt around the neck indicated Somnerio had been garroted. 

Police are certain Somnerio’s murder was in reprisal for the “little massacre” of three Druggan associates at Fox Lake early Sunday... [missing text] ... of blood in the renewed gang war precipated six weeks ago with the slaying of Joe Blue, ex-convict and friends of Terry Druggan, one time beer baron.

Entered beer business

Blue, if the police theory is correct, came here from New York and entered the beer business, defying warnings of that group [of] Siciliana still identified as members of the Genna gang. Blue felt secure, police reasoned, with the backing of Terry Druggan and George Druggan brothers. 

But Blue was slain. This, in effect, was a defy to the Druggan followers. It led, police said, to the slaying last Saturday morning of Philip Gnolfo, a Genna man, and the wounding of two companions. The Genna group, as police reconstruct it, wasted no time in retaliation, for early Sunday three of the Druggan group were machine-gunned to death in the “little massacre” of Fox Lake. George Druggan himself was so severely wounded he may die.

Then last night, another death among the Sicilians – Somnerio.

Police uncover dynamite

The hunt for the gangster crematory led Roche and his state’s attorney’s aides last night to a west side garage. Opening the furnace door, expecting possibly to find human ashes, Roche found instead a box containing a hundred sticks of dynamite. The explosive was covered with ashes. Wrapped in a newspaper of May 26 date were fuses and detonator caps.

Ownership of the garage and of the hidden dynamite was still being investigated today.

The inquiry into gang activity of recent days, and the resultant police roundup of known hoodlums and bad men, revealed that several “big shots” in the city’s gang directory were mysteriously missing. Leo Mongoven, one of the listed “public enemies,” has not been seen in several days and, it is believed, he may have been slain and cremated. Yesterday he did not appear to answer a gun toting charge, and his $10,000 bond was ordered forfeited. A woman notified police that Mongoven was in the habit of calling her daily by telephone, but that the custom ended suddenly the day of his reported disappearance. 

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: Joe Thompson

Thanks for this. Great story.

Bing Crosby, not Big Crosby, I assume?

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Claassen

Thanks Cassie
very much for sharing these stories.my Wife was from Lac Du Flambeu.I always enjoy reading Toms Stories.

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