“This is for Deanie O’Banion, you dago bastard”
Born in Osara, Italy, Torrio arrived in New York in 1884, aged two. He joined the James Street Gang but, since he was just 1.76 m (5 ft 6 in) tall, this was as much for protection as for villainy. He became a bouncer at Nigger Mike’s on Pell Street. One of the roughest saloons in Manhattan, this was where Irving Berlin began as a singing waiter.
In 1904, using money from robberies he had committed, Torrio opened a large pub at James and Walker streets and turned the upstairs into a brothel. The following year he was a high roller in the Five Points Gang. In 1908 during a gang war he opened the Harvard Inn with Frankie Yale in Brooklyn. In 1909 he sold his share in the Harvard Inn and moved to Chicago at the behest of Diamond Jim Colosimo (search the article) where he became his right-hand man.
He solved Colosimo’s problem with the extortionist Black Hand Gang by shooting dead three members as they collected their money. In 1912 he married Anna Jacobs and created his headquarters at The Four Deuces, 2222 South Wabash Avenue, near Colosimo’s Café. It was a bar on the ground floor and a brothel on the first and second floors. In 1919, after he learned of an attempt to be made on his life, Torrio sent for Al Capone (search the article) to be his bodyguard. Torrio arranged for Colosimo’s murder and took over his empire. He spent the next five years fighting off rival gangs.
On 19 May 1924 Dion O’Banion set him up with the police on a bootlegging charge but Torrio had his revenge on 10 November 1924 by having three of his men murder O’Banion at his flower shop on North State Street. The killing set off a bloody warfare on the streets of Chicago and on 24 January 1925 an attempt was made on Torrio’s life by Bugs Moran, Vincent Drucci, “Hymie” Weiss and Frank Gusenberg. He was shot several times and Moran stood over him as he lay on the ground, a gun in his hand, “This is for DeanieO’Banion, you dago bastard.” When Moran pulled the trigger, the chamber was empty.
Schofield’s Flower Shop, 738 North State Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Monday 10 November 1924
Torrio lay near death for a week. Capone supplied an armed guard of 30 men outside Jackson Park Hospital to prevent another attempt. On 9 February 1925 Torrio was sentenced to nine months in prison for bootlegging.
On his release he handed over the empire to his trusty lieutenant, Capone. On 22 April 1936 Torrio was arrested for income tax evasion and sentenced to two an half years. He was paroled on 14 April 1941. He died of a heart attack on 16 April 1957.