The Chicago Outfit: The History And Legacy Of The Organized Crime Syndicate Led By Al Capone
“This American system of ours … call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you like, gives to each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.” – Al Capone
Sprightly swing music spills across the dimly lit club. The grayish curtains of cigarette smoke part every once in a while to reveal a sparkling stage and tables upon tables of patrons, some incurably inebriated and others high on the fast-paced nightlife. Fabulous flappers in shimmery cocktail dresses and stylish feather headbands throw their hands up and stomp their feet to the addictive beat on the dance floor. Smartly dressed men, their hair neatly parted and slicked back, toss fistfuls of dice onto the plush green baize of the craps tables. Some hover over roulette wheels, staring intently at the spinning flashes of silver, while others finger their playing cards as they sip on tumblers of whiskey, eyeing both the river and the tower of tokens next to them.
Frisky tunes, chic fashion, and American gambling are nostalgic, rose-tinted images most choose to project when visualizing the Roaring Twenties, but the other side of the coin brought an uninviting, much harsher reality that most would prefer to sweep under the rug. The first real estate bubble was on the brink of bursting, and progress was evident, but painfully slow, which gave way to yet another era of violent riots, lynchings, and other forms of oppression imposed on minorities.
Then, of course, there were mobsters. Remove the silk three-piece suits, burnished Tommy guns, and obscene stacks of cash from the equation, and one would be left with limp, bullet-ridden bodies either slumped over their steering wheels or sprawled out like broken rag dolls on the floors of public establishments, the walls painted with blood spatters and shattered glass littered about. These, they say, are the lucky ones, for their corpses, though laid out as a public message, provide the deceased’s loved ones with some form of closure. Over the decades, dozens involved in this deadly game disappeared altogether, never again to see the light of day.
In the midst of it all, the Chicago Outfit, one of the longest-running criminal organizations in the land of the free, was perhaps the most notorious of them all. The baleful brotherhood bore a terrifying brand defined by cutthroat competitiveness, sadistic torture tactics, and excessive bloodshed, among scores of other despicable acts. Worse yet, they seemed to be untouchable. Aside from Scarface himself, there was the vindictive and eerily competent Louis “Little New York” Campagna, a vicious assassin suspected of unloading 59 bullets into a traitorous associate. Then there was Anthony “the Ant” Spilotro, the inspiration for Nicky Santoro, Joe Pesci’s character in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, who, despite his petite stature, was a barbaric, cruel man with an explosive temper and no capacity for remorse.
Needless to say, the Chicago Outfit was, at its height, a formidable force to be reckoned with, one that authorities and rival gangs alike wisely steered clear of. But as the old adage goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and like a house of cards, its carefully structured hierarchy and the complexity of its operations were most impressive, but one loosely positioned card was all it took to trigger its collapse. Time and time again, Outfit leaders and their minions bent over backwards in a way only contortionists could be proud of to plug the holes rapidly sprouting up, but ultimately it wouldn’t be enough.
The Chicago Outfit: The History and Legacy of the Organized Crime Syndicate Led by Al Capone profiles how the group rose in the criminal underworld, and all the controversies that ensued.