Joe and Jack, Part 2: “Guerrilla Warfare” and Green Mill Gigs

(If you haven’t read the earlier “Joe and Jack” chapters, start with Part 1 of this four-part story.)

The Joker Is Wild does not say when Joe Lewis saw Jack McGurn at the Green Mill for the first time. Several newspaper articles published between 1937 and 1941 suggest that the gangster was at the Green Mill when Lewis started performing there in November 1926. But these articles don’t directly quote Lewis, so their accuracy is uncertain.

The way those articles told the story, Lewis knew McGurn only as Vincent Gebardi. He believed that Gebardi was running the nightclub, where the young Italian American supposedly even had an office. Gebardi “seemed to be a nice enough fellow although his voice had a curious way of flattening when he was angry,” one journalist wrote. After a while, Lewis realized that Gebardi was the same person known as Jack McGurn.1

Newspapers didn’t begin reporting about Jack McGurn’s alleged involvement in mob killings until July 1927.2 During the months from November 1926 through July 1927, information about Gebardi’s alias might not have seemed too important. Even if Lewis did learn that Gebardi was also known as Jack McGurn, he may have simply thought—to quote one of Lewis’s comic catchphrases: So, what? At that time, Chicagoans didn’t know who McGurn was, unless they happened to remember him as a boxer.

Was McGurn affiliated with the North Side mob at this point in time? Lewis seemed to think so, according to The Joker Is Wild. Later on—after Lewis was attacked and got out of the hospital—the entertainer remarked, “I hear McGurn switched to the South Side.” That implies McGurn had been working earlier for the North Side gang.3 At another point in the book, Cohn wrote that McGurn “would one day turn on the North Side.” Again, the implication is that McGurn worked with the North Siders before joining up with Capone.4

Vincent Drucci

It doesn’t appear that Lewis ever said anything about Al Capone attending his shows at the Green Mill. But he did recall one of Capone’s enemies, Vincent “Schemer” Drucci, hanging out at the nightclub. The 27-year-old Drucci (whose birth name was Lodovico D’Ambrosio)5 had just taken over as the North Side mob’s boss, following the assassin of Hymie Weiss. Even in police mug shots, he seemed to have a youthful sense of swagger. He was nicknamed “Schemer” because he was “clever in the cultivation of influential alliances,” the Chicago Crime Commission noted.6

Vincent Drucci. Getty Images.

But according to lore, he often ruminated about outlandish plans when he got drunk,7 such as overthrowing the U.S. government by killing everyone in command, so he could become president.8 The World War I veteran “possessed a fiery temper,” according to Binder,9 though he was also something of a joker. On one occasion, when a Chicago cop searched Drucci for weapons as he exited from of a courtroom, the Schemer exclaimed, “Is this Russia?”10 The anonymous author of Bullets for Dead Hoods called Drucci a “safe-blower, warehouse burglar, jewel robber and pain in the neck of Capone.”11

According to The Joker Is Wild, Lewis “knew Drucci only as a pleasant, mild-mannered man who closed the Green Mill more nights than he didn’t. Joe was his favorite comedian. After the joint folded, they often went next door for ham and eggs, picked up the morning papers and walked to the hotel.” The book says Lewis and Drucci both had rooms at the Commonwealth Hotel, at the southeast corner of Diversey Parkway and Pine Grove Avenue, a rather long walk from the Green Mill. (The building at 2757 North Pine Grove Avenue is still standing—it’s now an apartment building.)

Commonwealth Hotel, circa 1924. Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, postcard A99720, Newberry Library.

Lewis and Drucci often rode the elevator together early in the morning, Schemer getting off the eighth floor and Lewis on the 10th.12 (Drucci also had an apartment at 3520 North Sheridan Road, half a mile north of the hotel, where he lived with his wife, Cecelia.13) “Some nights they would have dames but they never took them to the Commonwealth,” Cohn wrote, adding that the hotel’s manager, Vera Lauter,14 “would have broken their heads. She ran a respectable place.”15

The way McGurn biographer Jeffrey Gusfield told the story, McGurn was working for Capone throughout this whole time period. Although the Green Mill was operated by a rival mob, the truce between Capone’s mob and the North Side gang “must make McGurn feel more comfortable being north of Madison Street,” Gusfield wrote. “He is an indefatigable dancer and still an aficionado of good jazz musicians. He guards Capone whenever the boss visits the Sunset Café or the Friar’s Inn or any of the other popular venues. … No doubt McGurn is extremely cautious when he’s at the Green Mill, which is in North Side territory.”16

Gusfield was skeptical of the oft-told story about McGurn supposedly owning a piece of the Green Mill. “This turns out to be patently untrue,” Gusfield wrote. “Not only is McGurn not a partner, but it is more likely that Danny Cohen is a front man for the real owner, North Sider Ted Newberry, an associate of George Moran’s, Capone’s main competitor.”17

Gusfield based this conclusion partly on Tribune reporter James Doherty’s story about Newberry owning the Green Mill. As I pointed out in Chapter 34, there are some problems with that story, although the essence of it may well be true. Doherty said he met Newberry at the Green Mill in 1920, but other details in his tale suggest it’s more likely it happened around late 1926 or early 1927. If it’s true that Newberry controlled the Green Mill—and if it’s also true that McGurn spent many evenings there—that suggests the two mobsters, who were on opposite sides of the recent mob wars, had “a certain subtle alliance” during the truce, Gusfield wrote.18

Another possibility is that McGurn was secretly working with Capone. The North Side mobsters at the Green Mill, including Drucci, may have been unaware that they were hanging out with a Capone thug—possibly the very assassin who’d just killed their old boss, Hymie Weiss. Or was McGurn’s presence at the Green Mill part of the deal Capone worked out with them during the peace conference?

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Jack McGurn

A 1928 Daily News article accepted the theory that McGurn had some ownership in the Green Mill, stating it as fact: “The gunman was waxing prosperous. He had acquired an interest in the Green Mill Gardens.” But the article, apparently based on information from anonymous police and underworld sources, didn’t offer any specific evidence of this.19 For his part, Green Mill manager Danny Cohen insisted, “McGurn hasn’t a nickel in my place.” But he did confirm the gangster’s frequent presence at the Green Mill, adding: “McGurn is just a customer.”20

Danny Cohen. Chicago Evening American, November 9, 1927.

It’s hard to pin down much information about Daniel Cohen. Who was he, and what else was he involved with? In 1926, he was living at 526 West Surf Street in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood.21

It may just be coincidence, but a few North Side mobsters had lived on this fashionable street or nearby. Dean O’Banion had resided at 448 Surf,22 while the late Unione Siciliano boss Mike Merlo had been a short distance away on Diversey Parkway.23 When he stayed at the Commonwealth Hotel, Drucci was just a block away from Cohen. And several nightclubs that reputedly had mob connections operated in this vicinity, clustered near the junction of Diversey, Clark, and Broadway.24 (A famous Green Mill–connected murder case in 1921 also involved this neighborhood: 518 West Surf Street was where Cora Orthwein killed Herbert Ziegler after they’d argued at the nightclub.)

Although Cohen was often described as the Green Mill’s owner, corporation papers in the Illinois State Archives reveal that someone else was actually the New Green Mill Cafe Inc.’s president and primary owner. That was Leonard Boltz, who had $14,800 of the company’s $15,000 capital stock. Cohen owned only $100.25

Boltz, who was 25 when he formed New Green Mill Cafe Inc., had grown up on the city’s Northwest Side. He was living now in the West Side’s Austin neighborhood and would later reside in west suburban Oak Park. He’d pleaded guilty to burglary one time. The Daily News and prosecutors said he was a member of a beer-running and gambling gang on the Northwest Side led by Matt Kolb, along with Albert K. Winge, a police lieutenant known as “Chicago’s richest policeman”26 or the “millionaire copper.”27 The gang was known as the Cowboys. Kolb “had been a modest west side saloonkeeper until he acquired an interest in a few secreted breweries and went into the beer business on a large scale,” the Tribune reported.

A month after Boltz’s New Green Mill Cafe opened, his alleged mob colleague, Matt Kolb, gained some important clout. Kolb had previously worked for the ice company of Charles E. Graydon, who became the new Cook County sheriff in the final days of December 1926. Kolb allegedly used his influence with the lawman to force roadhouse proprietors to buy his beer and install his slot machines. “He had a few strong political connections, but it was not until he began using Graydon’s name that he was rated as a ‘big shot,’” the Tribune later reported.

Kolb and his Cowboys worked as part of an alliance of North Side mobsters—Jack Zuta, Barney Bertsche, and George “Bugs” Moran—who extracted “enormous profits” from gambling spots.28 “All through the Morton Grove–Niles Center territory his men garnered profits from the slot machine racket, in connection with the local politicians there,” according to Bullets for Dead Hoods. “Every roadhouse, including the big ‘supers,’ had a gambling layout on the second floor, and Matt took his cut weekly.”29

The places where they took a cut of the profits included the Lighthouse in Morton Grove, owned by Green Mill manager Danny Cohen. Kolb “was the payoff man,” investigators later said. “His former employment by Graydon gave him a lever that he used in extracting money and he spread the world all over the northwest territory that he was ‘in’ and others had to ‘kick in.’”30

When Cook County investigators later obtained Zuta’s financial documents (after he was killed), they found many notations about someone identified as “M.K.” They said this was Matt Kolb. Zuta funneled large “dividends” to Kolb, who “distributed bribes to various county and city officials in the pay of the Zuta gang,” the Tribune reported. “This protection money … ran into large sums, ranging as high as $100,000 a month.”31

It’s not clear how active of a role Boltz took in running the New Green Mill Cafe. In the years after his ownership of the Green Mill, he occasionally popped up in news reports, allegedly connected in various ways with organized crime. Boltz would be indicted in 1929 for operating illegal slot machines for Kolb and Winge,32 but the charges were dismissed when the key witness decided not to testify.33 Kolb would be shot to death by assassins in 1931 at the Club Morton, a roadhouse he was running in Morton Grove, amid reports that “the Capone crowd had recently tried to muscle into this territory which for years had been controlled by Kolb and certain syndicate members,” according to the Tribune.34

In 1928, Boltz used six of his properties—valued at $192,500—to post bond for Benny Zion,35 a gangster accused of trying to kill people during primary election violence in the West Side’s “Bloody 20th Ward.”36 After Boltz helped him get out of jail, Zion was “taken for a ride” and shot to death, reportedly to prevent him from testifying.37

And several years later, as the Prohibition Era was ending, Boltz was accused of using strongarm tactics on behalf of gang-affiliated breweries. The Tribune noted that he was “fairly well known in gang circles on the west side,”38 and “one of the beer gangsters of the northwest side.”39 The Daily News reported that Boltz was a crony of George “Red” Barker,40 a West Side mobster known as “both a power and a menace” in teamsters’ unions, who was killed by machine gun in 1932.41

As 1927 began, Chicago’s gangland violence had subsided. “Beer trucks rumble across Chicago’s streets without fear of either of the police or of the hi-jackers of other gangs,” Herald and Examiner reporter Patricia Dougherty wrote in March. “Scarface Al Capone and his competitors for the first time in eighteen months go about openly with only a single bodyguard, instead of a score.” But she worried that this armistice might end at any moment. “Any night some minor gangster, full of his own bootleg liquor, may pull a gun on another ‘speaking out of turn’ and the old hatreds will flare up again,” she wrote.42

In mid-March, reporters spotted Al Capone vacationing in Hot Spring, Arkansas, gambling (and losing) in a casino and golfing with his North Side rival, Schemer Drucci.43 The fact that they were golfing together seemed to show that Chicago’s mob bosses were getting along. But a report later surfaced that Capone had survived an attempted assassination in Hot Springs; investigators believed that Drucci had schemed to kill Capone in reprisal for Hymie Weiss’s murder.44

William Hale Thompson. Wikimedia.

As the gangsters returned to Chicago, the city’s mayoral election was heating up. Former Republican mayor Big Bill Thompson was trying to oust the Democrat who’d ousted him four years earlier, William Emmet Dever. Capone and the North Side mobsters both threw their support behind Thompson, who’d promised voters: “When I’m elected, we will not only reopen places these people have closed, but we’ll open 10,000 new ones.” The meaning seemed obvious: If Big Bill returned to office, he would allow drinking and gambling establishments to flourish again.45

Two days before the polls opened, Drucci reportedly tried to help the Thompson campaign by ransacking the office of alderman Dorsey Crowe, one of the incumbent mayor’s chief supporters. That prompted the police chief to order a roundup of known gang leaders. He was hoping to prevent violence during the election.46

Joe Lewis recalled hearing about this order and deciding to warn Drucci. He saw Drucci walk into the Green Mill on the day before the election, as Lewis was performing an early show. Lewis hurried through his finale and didn’t come out for an encore. Sitting down at Drucci’s table, he remarked, “Nice sun tan, Schemer.”

“Imported from Hot Springs, Joey,” Drucci replied, according to The Joker Is Wild.

“Get back there fast, if you want to keep it,” Lewis whispered.

“Now I’ll give you a tip. Don’t cheat the second show,” Drucci said.

Standing up, Lewis offered another warning: “Stay off the streets.”

His advice irritated the mob boss. “You need a drink, kid,” he said, pouring a shot.

After Lewis drank up, he repeated: “Stay off the streets, Schemer.” The gangster glared at him and walked out of the place with his bodyguards.47

One detail in this story lends it credence: Drucci had indeed been in Hot Springs around this time. But there’s something amiss with the final part of the anecdote. According to The Joker Is Wild, Drucci stepped out of the Green Mill and “glared down North Clark Street.” Obviously, Cohn made an error here—the Green Mill is on Broadway, not Clark Street. The book then claims that Drucci was arrested after walking two blocks from the Green Mill. That is not what happened.48

In fact, police officers arrested Drucci near the Commonwealth Hotel—almost three miles from the Green Mill—on April 4, 1927.49 When the cops searched him, they found a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, along with more than $1,000 in cash.

They drove Drucci and his two companions downtown, taking them to the detectives’ bureau and then heading to the courthouse. Inside the police car, Drucci scuffled with officer Daniel Healy. The way Healy told the story, Drucci had tried to take his gun, shouting, “I’ll fix you!” Healy shot Drucci four times, killing him. The Schemer’s short reign as the North Side boss came to an abrupt end. Reporting on his death, the Associated Press called him a “dapper young gangster.”

Drucci’s widow said the cop who shot him should be charged with murder, but a coroner’s jury ruled that it was a justifiable homicide. “I felt I had to kill him or he would kill me,” Healy testified at the inquest.50 Lewis attended the gangster’s funeral, where soldiers fired their guns in a salute to the fallen veteran, as Drucci’s widow screamed in sorrow.51 Afterward, Lewis rode in a car with a police captain he’d befriended, Joseph Goldberg. “Don’t feel sorry for him,” Goldberg advised.

“They didn’t have to kill him,” Lewis said. After a long pause, the police captain remarked, “Dapper guy, wasn’t he?” And then he told Lewis a story suggesting that Drucci had been responsible for the recent murder of Unione Siciliano president Sam Amatuna. “Neat man, Vincent Drucci,” he said.52

In 1936, the Chicago Daily Tribune published this map showing the city’s gang boundaries as they had been in the mid-1920s.

In the meantime, Chicagoans had voted to put Bill Thompson back in office. Within two months after he became mayor, gambling suddenly seemed to be everywhere—slot machines, roulette wheels, dog tracks—thanks in part to Thompson’s promise to make Chicago a “wide-open city” once again. There was also a gambling boom in the suburbs surrounding the city.

Capone’s mob ruled over gambling south of Madison Street, while a coalition of rival gangsters controlled the games north of that street. But the two mob armies soon started skirmishing over gambling, and it looked like they would soon be at war again.

This was the fraught situation during Joe Lewis’s final months at the Green Mill. Lewis himself was getting a cut of gambling profits—an aspect of his story that’s been overlooked.

Following the police killing of Schemer Drucci, the North Side gang’s new leader was 33-year-old George Moran. A Minnesotan of French heritage whose real name was Adelard Cunin, he’d begun his criminal career as a teenager in St. Paul before making his way to Chicago.53 He was known as “Big George” or “Bugs,” a nickname he earned with his intense stare and his occasionally homicidal temper.54

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George “Bugs” Moran

Although Moran was now considered the North Side’s top boss, investigators later determined that the gambling business in northern Chicago and Cook County was actually dominated by mobsters Jack Zuta and Barney Bertsche.55

Jack Zuta in 1931. DN-0094650, Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection, Chicago History Museum.

Zuta, 39, was a Russian Jewish immigrant who’d been a junk dealer on the West Side before allegedly becoming a pimp as well as an accountant for Capone, and then switching allegiance to Capone’s North Side foes.56 The Daily News called him the “brains” of the Aiello gang,57 “a canny little racketeer, who does the heavy thinking and runs the brothel department for Aiello and Moran.”58

Barney Bertsche in 1916. DN-0065711 and DN-0065712, Chicago Daily News Collection, Chicago History Museum.

Christian P. “Barney” Bertsche, a 61-year-old German American born in Pittsburgh,59 had been in and out of prison many times. Most famously, he’d run the “clairvoyants trust,” protecting fortune-tellers from prosecution for swindling.60 In 1916, he’d written a series of articles for the Daily News about his criminal career, which he said was finished. “The game does not pay,” he wrote. “It gets you in the end. You can’t beat the world. And the rule of the world is that you must be honest.”61

Now, the Daily News reported that Bertsche was “coming out of semiretirement to be the guiding genius of the north side mob.”62 And the International News Service’s anonymous mob source said: “Barney Bertsche, for many years a ruler in Chicago underworld affairs, but out of the picture for the last four years, came back in control.”63

Chicago Daily Tribune, March 11, 1928.

It’s unknown if the Green Mill offered its patrons any gambling at this time. Investigators later found mob documents revealing a gambling operation at 4822 North Broadway, just north of the Uptown Theatre. The same building housed the Uptown Village, a Chinese restaurant owned by Harry Chan Chin Wai,64 which featured nightly dancing without charging any cover.65

The North Side mob was getting a cut of profits from gambling at this location, which was run by Bill Johnson,66 a partner of gambling resort owner Julius “Lovin’ Putty” Anixter.67 Thirteen years later, Johnson would be found guilty of tax evasion, after prosecutors alleged that he’d made $3,490,000 from gambling businesses in four years while reporting only $700,000 in income. The Tribune said he was “the creator and overlord of a vast gambling empire so efficiently organized that his employés could not cheat him even out of a dime.”68

While Joe Lewis was performing at the Green Mill, the nightclub’s manager, Danny Cohen, gave him a 20 percent cut of the gambling profits from Cohen’s other business, the Lighthouse in Morton Grove, according to a June 1927 report in the Daily News. This was Cohen’s way of giving Lewis some compensation for his popularity with the Green Mill’s patrons.69

Lewis himself had reportedly gambled “since he was able to earn a nickel.” Later in his career, he joked about this costly habit. “I gotta get paid well. How else would the bookies live?” he said one time.70 On another occasion, when he was performing at a venue without any games, he remarked: “Imagine me, working at a place where there’s no gambling. Why, at the end of the week I’ll get all my salary. I guess I’ll have to throw it away on food and annuities and things like that.”71

The simmering mob feud over gambling put Lewis’s share of the Lighthouse’s profits at risk. The Lighthouse was one of several high-class roadhouses featuring gambling on a stretch of Dempster Street.72 The Tribune described Morton Grove—which had a thousand residents at that time—as the busiest spot for roadhouses within a region known as “Rural Bohemia” that stretched across Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

These suburbs were “the locale of numerous gang killings, robberies, bombings, fires, and criminal assaults,” the Tribune wrote. “From a humble origin of isolated village saloons it developed, under the impetus of prohibition, to a territory spotted with 500 roadhouses of various sorts, from the low ceilinged, dimly lit tavern to the garish casino and expensive dining and drinking ‘club.’ It has been a source of trouble to every state’s attorney and sheriff of the era, as rival gangs shot it out on the prairies or in the roadhouses and every form of gambling from slot machines to roulette flourished.”73 Along Dempster in Morton Grove, “Roulette and dice are the favorite games and most of the players come attired in evening dress,” the Daily News reported

As Bertsche and Moran asserted control over gambling in the northwest suburbs, they left their business cards at the Lighthouse and a neighboring roadhouse, the Dells. Sam Hare, the owner of the Dells (and former owner of the Lighthouse), went downtown to talk with the mobsters.

Chicago Daily Tribune, May 19, 1927.

First, he visited Moran at his fourth-floor space—ostensibly the North Side Realty Corporation’s office—in the Garrick Theater Building on Randolph Street. Moran was there with Frank Foster,74 a.k.a. Frankie Frost, who was described as an “expert rifleman who uses a pistol for his rough work for the Moran gang.”75 Hare “told them how he stood politically. Then they talked about dynamitings and holdups,” the Daily News reported.

They sent Hare to see Bertsche at his office just around the corner—the West Town Improvement Association’s office in the Unity Building at 127 North Dearborn Street—where Bertsche bluntly told Hare how much money he’d need to turn over from his gambling proceeds. “Forty percent,” he said.

Hare said that was too much. He’d invested a lot of his own money in the roadhouse. What was the mob doing to earn a 40 percent cut? Bertsche told him: “Our representative will be out tonight; treat him courteously.”76

Early on the morning of June 13, five armed men showed up at the Dells. They bound and gagged Hare, before blowing up the roadhouse’s safe and making off with $15,000.77

Chicago Daily Tribune, June 13, 1927.

“Among the gangsters it is said that the Capone gang … was responsible for the robbery, importing a Detroit mob of toughs who actually did the work,” the Daily News reported. “They point to the fact that the bandits waited until the place was empty of patrons and took only the funds belonging to the gambling outfit.” But it’s hard not to wonder if the North Side mobsters, who’d just threatened Hare, were actually responsible. Was this their way of warning the Morton Grove roadhouse owners that they’d better hand over that 40 percent?

Bertsche urged his fellow North Side mobsters not to respond with more violence. “We can’t have war and make money,” he said. “The way things are organized, a lot of old-timers are being put to work. If everybody will stay in his own territory there should be better times ahead.”78

The heist prompted the Cook County sheriff to clamp down the lid on gambling, including games at the Lighthouse. 79 The Tribune described it as a “slow down” order for the whole county.80 (This happened in spite of the fact that Sheriff Graydon was allegedly protecting the North Side mob’s gambling operations.) Daily News reporters noticed that all gambling seemed to be at a standstill in suburban Cook County, except for Capone-controlled Cicero. Meanwhile, about half of Chicago’s gambling joints were closed. For the time being, anyway.

Chicago Daily News, June 21, 1927.

The situation annoyed Joe Lewis, who’d lost a stream of revenue because of the crackdown. According to the Daily News, Lewis “bemoaned the dispute in gangland which threatens to wreck a lucrative gambling racket as it did the beer business.”

Lewis told the newspaper that a conflict between Bertsche and Capone was scaring the politicians who’d allowed these gambling joints to open. The politicians didn’t want to get caught “out in the middle” if the hoodlums went back to war, Lewis said.81

June was when “things came to a head” between the North Side and South Side mobsters, according to the former bootlegger quoted by the International News Service.

“There was one meeting in a Loop hotel where there might have been bloodshed and the opening of the war had not cooler counsel prevailed,” he said. After that, “The old gangland system of crosses and double-crosses began. Capone men began to tip off the police to North Side joints. The North Side men retaliated by disclosing Capone places.”82

Meanwhile, Joe Lewis continued presiding as the Green Mill’s master of ceremonies. “I was packing ’em in at McGurn’s Green Mill on the north side of Chicago,” he recalled in an interview.83 That might seem like an exaggeration if you look through newspapers from 1926 and 1927 for evidence of Lewis’s popularity. After he opened in November 1926, it doesn’t appear that the Tribune or Daily News said anything about his performances there. But that might just show how little interest the newspapers had in covering cabaret entertainment. No Green Mill advertisements appeared in those papers, either. Perhaps the Green Mill saw little need for such marketing. A few ads did run in Variety, promoting the Green Mill’s regular musical ensemble, Sol Wagner and His Orchestra.84 One Variety ad hyped Joe Lewis as “Chicago’s Sensation!” who was “Putting life into night life at the Green Mill.”85

The American reported later that Lewis “had attracted a great following in Chicago’s cabaret land.”86 The International Feature Service observed: “He became so popular that the electric sign—‘Joe Lewis’—drew the crowds after him like a magnet, as he switched jobs from one cafe to another. He could ‘join up’ with a roadhouse or night club that had been a failure and make it a ‘wow’ in one night.”87 And Variety, the national entertainment newspaper, declared that Lewis was Chicago’s most popular cabaret performer.88

According to Gusfield’s book, Lewis was “a big hit in 1927, especially with the Jewish population on the North Side, who laugh at his use of Yiddish slang.” Gusfield heard a story from a grandson of someone who attended one of these shows: Ralph Jacobs, who’d sold life insurance to Lewis, went to the Green Mill with his wife, Elsie. McGurn ogled Elsie, making a rude, suggestive remark. As Jacobs and McGurn got into an argument, Cohen jumped in and pulled McGurn away, “talking in his ear, telling him that Jacobs is a stand-up guy and reminding him that this kind of behavior is bad for business,” Gusfield wrote. McGurn apologized.89 Cohen’s comments suggest that McGurn was more than just an unruly customer. If McGurn really did have an ownership stake or a role in running the Green Mill, this is just the sort of thing Cohen might have told him.

In mid-July, newspapers reported that McGurn was a suspect in the killing of racketeer Dominic Cinderella, who’d been tortured, strangled, sewn up inside a burlap bag, and thrown into the Calumet River.

Chicago Daily News, August 10, 1927.

This seems to be the first time McGurn was ever publicly named as a murder suspect, but the Tribune and Daily News stories didn’t include his actual name, Vincent Gebardi. Did Joe Lewis see these stories? And did he realize this was the same man he knew from the Green Mill?90 That’s unclear, but McGurn’s busy life as a henchman may have started attracting some attention that summer among the people who knew him at the Green Mill.

On August 10, the Daily News added another detail about McGurn, identifying him for the first time as a “henchman of ‘Scarface Al’ Capone.” The authorities didn’t have enough evidence to charge McGurn in the Cinderella killing, so he was released. But the Daily News noted that detectives wanted to question McGurn about “the two score killings incident to Capone’s battle for monopoly of the beer, vice and gambling industries in Cook county.”91 The police apparently suspected McGurn had been a Capone henchman for some time (just as Gusfield asserted in his McGurn biography).

But according to Chicago Gang Wars in Pictures: X Marks the Spot, this was right around the time when McGurn switched sides, giving up his allegiance to the North Siders and joining Capone. “Capone was king and the unattached ‘hoods’ were flocking to his standards,” the book says. “Others were deserting less powerful leaders and were casting their fortunes with him. One of these, at this time, was Jack McGurn, who had found himself temperamentally incapable of association with such men as Moran, Pete and Frank Gusenberg, Leo Mongoven, Barney Bertsche, Teddy Newberry and most of the others. King Capone admired Mr. McGurn and saw great possibilities in him.”92 For its part, the Daily News once reported that McGurn “transferred his allegiance to the Capone syndicate” after a “quarrel” in the North Side mob, but it didn’t say when this happened.93

McGurn may have targeted Mr. Cinderella because the part-time bartender was allied with the Aiellos, another gang in the North Side alliance. Even though the North Side’s top boss, Bugs Moran, wasn’t actively at war with Capone in 1927, the Aiello gang certainly seemed like it was. Giuseppe “Joe” Aiello (who lived at 2553 West Lunt Avenue in the West Ridge neighborhood94) was bitter about losing a competition with Capone to gain control of the Unione Siciliano. Aiello repeatedly tried to assassinate Capone, using hit men from out of town. Between May and September of 1927, McGurn reportedly killed at least three of these would-be killers before they got near Capone. McGurn was also believed to be one of the Capone gunmen who fired more than 200 bullets from machine guns into the Aiello & Company Bakery at 473 West Division Street, wounding Joe’s brother Antonio.95

One of the more mysterious crimes that year involved the Frolics, the Capone-controlled nightclub where Joe Lewis had been the star attraction. Two of the cabaret’s owners and a chauffeur were kidnapped.96 After six days, the men were released, amid rumors that ransoms of $100,000 to $200,000 had been paid.97 A man suspected in the kidnapping, former Capone pal Frank Hitchcock, was later found with two bullet holes in his head near a roadhouse he’d operated in south suburban Burnham.98 It was said that he was killed because he’d tried to operate “on his own.”99

All of this was happening as Chicago’s mobs were supposedly at peace. “The peace arranged by the chieftains, while it seems to have settled the major points of disputes over territory among the gang leaders, did not and probably could not prevent many conflicts arising among their followers and especially with independent operators,” John Landesco wrote about this time period in his 1929 report Organized Crime in Chicago. “Consequently, the present period of peace might be more accurately described as one of guerrilla warfare. Killings still continue, but they are either reprisals against individual intruders into the territory of a syndicate or they represent some shifting of power in underworld organization.”100

The Chicago police managed to arrest McGurn a few times for carrying concealed weapons in 1927, without much consequence.101 In August, they used McGurn in an experiment.

Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1927.

Chief of detectives William E. O’Connor proposed a plan to conduct psychiatric tests on “known gangsters,” aiming to have them locked up in “a padded cell” rather than sending them to prison. McGurn was the first defendant subjected to Dr. William J. Hickson’s testing. “I’m all right, there is nothing wrong with my mind,” he protested.

“I think you are a good subject for the test,” O’Connor told him. “If Dr. Hickson finds that you are of low-grade mentality, we will delay the charge of carrying concealed weapons until after you pass through the psychopathic hospital.”102

“I think all gunmen are insane,” police superintendent Michael Hughes commented. “If this can be proved we’ll put the bad men away in a sanitarium instead of releasing them upon habeas corpus writs to again terrorize innocent citizens.”103

A United Press article predicted that the mental tests would be popular among gangsters “for three very attractive reasons. They are the feminine assistants in the city psychopathic laboratory.” Lorna Keller was the assistant who tested McGurn. “She knows her stuff,” McGurn said afterward. “She asked me a lot of dizzy questions like ‘How far is up?’ and if I wasn’t crazy when I went in, I was pretty near when I came out.”

For her part, Keller said, “Punishing people has never stopped crime and never will. A man who goes out to kill is very probably unbalanced mentally. The most charitable thing to do is to segregate these unfortunates.” After she noticed McGurn trying to “crib” answers to the mind questions from papers on her desk, Keller said some criminals might be “crazy like a fox.”104 The Tribune reported that the test showed McGurn had a mild form of dementia praecox, an old term for what is now called schizophrenia.105

In July, Joe Lewis and the rest of the Green Mills entertainers—including Sol Wagner’s band—moved up to the Lighthouse in Morton Grove. The Green Mill itself disappeared from Variety’s cabaret listings for a while. Perhaps the venue taking a summer vacation of sorts.106 Were the gambling games up and running again at the Lighthouse? And was Lewis receiving his share of the gambling money again? That’s unknown. After Chicago police reportedly clamped down on gambling joints in the city, places soon began reopening. “Gambling is rampant in all districts,” the Daily News reported on July 25.107

In mid-August, Variety reported that Lewis was going to New York.108 Lewis announced his return to Chicago a month later, taking out an ad in Variety on September 14: “After making ‘WHOOPEE’ on my vacation at Atlantic City I am back home and ready to make more ‘WHOOPEE’ at the Green Mill, Chicago,” he said.109

On October 19, Variety published its first full review of the Green Mill since the place had reopened a year earlier. “The Mill is now the representative night club of the far north side, partly because it is called the Green Mill and mostly because Joe Lewis heads the floor show,” the newspaper commented. Variety praised the work Danny Cohen had done to revive the old Green Mill, noting that he’d “established a cosy, yet classy, night club, more modern than the old Green Mill, which was verily a beer garden.”

The critic said Sol Wagner’s 10-piece band was “a good-sounding combo, suitable for a safe, and has its scalding moments.” While the review praised the Green Mill’s cast of entertainers— “cute soubret” Babe Kane, blues singer Vivian West, “prima” Leatrice Woods, hoofer Jay Mills, and nine “good looking” girls in the chorus—it saved its highest acclaim for Lewis, calling him “the best floor m.c. in Chicago and one of the best individual cafe draws ever known to the local field.”

Variety continued: “Joe’s audiences remember his best numbers and yell for them on repeat trips. Half of his performance is usually by request. He is an extreme ad libbist, audience spotter and an effective story teller, dialect and otherwise.” The article noted that Lewis performed with a sidekick—or a “stooge,” to use vaudeville lingo. “He works with a stooge, but won’t release the lad’s name. The stooge is strictly dead pan, but takes enough socking to rate initials at least.”

With Joe Lewis at the helm, the Green Mill was “doing real business.” The “only opposition” it faced nearby was Rainbo Gardens, but Variety concluded that “there’s enough on the north side for both places.”110

According to the International Feature Service, various nightclub owners were vying to lure Joe Lewis away from the Green Mill: “the first faint sparks began to fly and there was a suggestion of trouble. The cafe men began to fight for his services and threats were made.”111

Sometime that fall, Joe Lewis received an offer from a nightclub called the Rendezvous Café (sometimes called the New Rendezvous). He’d make $1,000 a week if he moved his show to the Rendezvous—a considerable raise from the $650 he was making at the Green Mill.112 As it happened, the Rendezvous was just a couple of blocks from the Commonwealth Hotel, where Lewis was already staying, according to The Joker Is Wild. 113

The Rendezvous was the latest incarnation of a cabaret that had existed for years at the northeast corner of Diversey Parkway and Broadway. In the days before Prohibition, it had been Rienzi Gardens, sitting alongside the Rienzi Hotel on Diversey, which was reportedly frequented by Hymie Weiss and Schemer Drucci.114 In the early 1920s, the cabaret was the Prima Gardens115 before becoming Aladdin Gardens.116 Former Green Mill Gardens manager Henry Horn reopened it as the Rendezvous circa 1923.

By 1924, George Liederman was running the Rendezvous and Al Capone was “a frequent visitor,” the Tribune later reported. Liederman would end up as a defense witness in Capone’s trial for tax evasion, where he recalled making Scarface’s acquaintance at the Rendezvous. Liederman, who also owned the City Hall Square Hotel in the Loop and ran a bookmaking operation, said he handled Capone’s wagers on horse races. “Sometimes $500, sometimes $1,000; maybe he would bet on two or three horses the same race,” Liederman testified (while admitting he kept no records of these bets). “… Maybe ten bets a day, maybe only one. … He lost $14,000 or $15,000 with me in 1924 and about $10,000 in 1925.” But Liederman denied that any gambling took place inside the Rendezvous. And he rejected a suggestion by prosecutors that Frankie Pope, a mobster in the gambling business, had any connection with the Rendezvous.

When Liederman testified at Capone’s trial, he caused a stir by wearing what appeared to be a diamond-studded gold belt buckle—just like the ones Capone had handed out to his loyal associates. But in spite of his ties to Capone, Liederman said he’d been partners with Capone’s enemy, Bugs Moran, in a gambling joint called the Diversey Parkway Club, also located at Diversey and Broadway.117

In 1925, Liederman booked the popular comedic singing duo Van and Schenck, whose hit songs included “Ain’t We Got Fun,”118 at the Rendezvous. Variety said the nightclub seemed to be destined for big success. “The Rendezvous, with George Liederman at the helm, is expected to be the strongest factor of all where the biggest names are concerned,” the entertainment newspaper commented in 1926. “The salary he paid to Van and Schenck last year put him on top of all the others. Liederman is the gamest gambler of them all. Though he lost money on Van and Scheck last year, he is willing to try them again. It is also known that he offered big prices for Sophie Tucker and Ted Lewis. They don’t come any too big for George, who seems willing to spend liberally for the biggest ‘names’ in the country.” Variety predicted that the Rendezvous would inspire competition from other Chicago nightclubs, making them eager to book big-name entertainers, too. And that would lift up the quality of the city’s entire nightlife scene.119

But by the fall of 1927, Liederman no longer appeared to be running the Rendezvous. It was now being managed by John Fogarty, who was described in Cohn’s book as “a leathery, six-foot tough who packed a gun every day in the expectancy of using it.”120 Fogarty was leasing the nightclub from the Rienzi Company, which owned the property, and he’d assigned his interest in the lease to the Rendezvous Cafe and Restaurant Company.121

The American identified another Rendezvous owner as Frank Korte,122 a beer distributor who later became a mob-installed vice president of the Chicago Moving Picture Operators Union123—and who made news one time when he found three sticks of dynamite on the seat of his car.124 Perhaps Korte was involved somehow with the Rendezvous, but federal authorities didn’t include him on a list of the owners.

The actual owners included Henry Finkelstein,125 a gambler, “alky” peddler, and “dive-keeper”126 reputedly involved in kidnapping, who was said to be a pal of Schemer Drucci127 and North Side gambling czar Jack Zuta.128 Cook County investigators later found documents showing that Zuta was collecting a percentage of gambling profits from the Rendezvous.129 Finkelstein had been with Drucci on April 4, 1927, when cops arrested Drucci outside the Commonwealth Hotel—and he’d been in the front seat of the police car when Officer Healy shot and killed Drucci in the back seat.130 (He was probably not the same Harry Finkelstein who’d performed at the Green Mill under the stage name Harry Vernon, “The Dancing Tenor.”)

According to The Joker Is Wild, the Rendezvous had been doing good business “until Joe started jamming the Green Mill.” This feels like hyperbole. Was Joe Lewis really drawing such huge crowds at the Green Mill that another nightclub, three miles away, would suffer a loss of business? In a big city like Chicago, with many venues featuring live entertainment, that seems exaggerated. “Business fell off until no alternative remained: he had to get Lewis or get out,” Cohn wrote in The Joker Is Wild. That also seems like an absurdity; it’s hard to imagine that hiring Lewis would be the one and only possible path to success for a Chicago nightclub. And yet, it’s true that publications including Variety described Lewis as an entertainer with a remarkable ability to draw large audiences.

According to The Joker Is Wild, Fogarty realized that he would cause trouble if he hired Lewis away from the Green Mill, but he was willing to risk it.131 Roy Mack, the producer who’d hired Joe Lewis for his earlier stint at the South Side’s Frolics club, also believed it was dangerous to hire Lewis. Fogarty hired Mack in October to produce a show at the Rendezvous. “When I was planning the program, he asked for Joe Lewis as comedian,” Mack wrote. “I told him that the Green Mill would not permit Lewis to jump to an opposition cafe.”

He recalled Fogarty saying, “Offer him $1,000 a week.”

“I will have nothing to do with it,” Mack answered.

“Well, I will hire him by myself,” Fogarty said. “Figure him into the show.”132

Why was Mack afraid of hiring Lewis? And in what sense was the Green Mill “an opposition cafe”? The Green Mill and the Rendezvous were both in the North Side mob’s territory, and both places were connected with that gang. Was this an intramural dispute between two of the North Side mob’s joints? A simple feud between two nightclubs competing for an entertainer? Or were people afraid of messing around with the Green Mill because Jack McGurn, who’d recently been revealed in the newspapers as a Capone henchman, was a regular there—possibly a part-owner? And if that’s what was happening, why were the North Side mobsters tolerating McGurn’s presence in the midst of their turf? Perhaps they were just observing the terms of that citywide mob truce. But it’s hard to make sense of the peculiar situation that was unfolding.

Was Joe Lewis’s loss of gambling revenue from Green Mill manager Danny Cohen’s roadhouse in Morton Grove a factor in why he decided to leave the Green Mill? According to The Joker Is Wild, the Rendezvous offered Lewis a cut of its gambling money and the venue’s cover charge, on top of that $1,000 salary.133

Lewis told Danny Cohen he planned to leave the Green Mill when his contract ran out at the end of the month (presumably, October). According to The Joker Is Wild, Cohen’s jaw hardened as he said: “You ungrateful punk. You were a two-bit comic on the Levee when I picked you up and gave you a break. Who made you a master of ceremonies? Who upped you to six hundred and fifty a week? I made you—and this is how you pay me back.”

Lewis said he’d give Cohen another three weeks, but Cohen said, “You’re giving me nothing. You’re through right now.”

The next day, Jack McGurn was waiting outside the Commonwealth Hotel as Lewis came out. The gangster gave the entertainer an amiable greeting: “Hiya, Joe.” As they walked together along Diversey, McGurn asked, “What’s the beef with Danny?”

“No beef,” Lewis said. “My contract’s up … I’m not renewin’.”

“We’re renewing.”


“Now, Joe, you know I got a piece of the joint.”

“But not of me,” Lewis said. “I start at the Rendezvous November 2nd.”

“You’ll never live to open,” McGurn said. According to Cohn’s book, he never raised his “gentle voice” above a whisper.

“I’ll reserve a table for you,” Lewis said, grinning as he walked off.134

Lewis told his friend in the Chicago Police Department, captain Joseph Goldberg, what was going on. “Lewis told me that he was about to sign a new contract as an entertainer at the Rendezvous café, with a salary of $1,000 a week,” Goldberg told an assistant state’s attorney, according to the Tribune. “At the time he was getting $600 a week from the Green Mill cabaret, he said. Lewis mentioned Jack McGurn, who has quite a reputation as a strong-arm man, as one who had threatened him if he made a change. The way Lewis put it was that McGurn had an interest in the Green Mill and was going to take him for a ride if he went to the other café.”135 (Goldberg was speaking in November when he reportedly said that these events had happened in August. But Mack recalled them happening in October, which seems to match up with Lewis’s recollections.)

Goldberg’s statement is significant, because it confirms that Lewis was being threatened by McGurn—and that Lewis believed McGurn was the Green Mill’s part-owner. These weren’t just stories Lewis told later on, after he was attacked. He’d been talking about it beforehand.

This story also contradicts one of the narratives sometimes told about the Lewis-McGurn saga. When authors John Kobler and Gus Russo told the story in their books, they claimed that Danny Cohen offered McGurn a 25 percent share of the Green Mill’s ownership as a form of payment for intimidating Joe Lewis. As Kobler put it, “All he had to do was persuade the star attraction, a young comic named Joe E. Lewis, to renew his contract.”136 But the way Lewis told the story—to Captain Goldberg as well as Art Cohn—McGurn already had an interest in the place. In Russo’s book The Outfit, he claimed that McGurn “was given a 25 per cent interest in … the Green Mile [sic] for settling the club’s dispute with comedian Joe E. Lewis.”137 This makes little sense, considering that dispute never got settled.

According to The Joker Is Wild, Lewis received threatening phone calls as he prepared to open at the Rendezvous. “You can’t win, Joe,” one caller said. “What’s the use fighting?” Lewis didn’t recognize the voice. Fogarty, the Rendezvous manager, hired a bodyguard, “Big Sam,” to protect Lewis.

During the weeks before Lewis was scheduled to make his Rendezvous debut, Goldberg took him on a hunting trip to Dubuque, Iowa. As they were sitting around a campfire one night, the police captain urged Lewis not to “buck the Outfit” by performing at the Rendezvous. Lewis insisted that he was going to open his show on November 2. Goldberg replied, “They made you. They can break you.”

“I’m not a hoodlum!” Lewis exclaimed, according to The Joker Is Wild. “I’m an entertainer.”

“You’re a piece of property,” Goldberg said. “Their property. A valuable piece. You can fill a night club … or empty one across the street.”138

Goldberg said he’d heard that McGurn’s “real burn” against Lewis had to do with a woman named Gloria, whom Lewis and McGurn had both romanced. Lewis said his relationship with the woman was over.

“McGurn is playing games,” Lewis said.

“McGurn doesn’t play games,” Goldberg said. “Jack has to go through with it. He declared himself.”

“So have I,” Lewis said.139

On October 26, Variety announced that Joe Lewis was leaving the Green Mill. Starting on November 2, he would begin headlining a new show at the Rendezvous, featuring Charley Straight’s band (who’d been regulars a few years earlier at Green Mill Gardens).140

Curiously, the October 27 Chicago Daily News reported that “Joe Lewis, funny man of various night clubs in Chicago, is taking a temporary leave of cabarets.” But the newspaper didn’t say where he’d been performing—there was no mention of the Green Mill—and it didn’t say he was moving to the Rendezvous. Instead, it said he was joining the cast of Paul Ash’s Surprises of 1927 revue at the Oriental Theatre, a Balaban & Katz movie palace.141 Perhaps this was just a temporary gig Lewis took during the interim between his cabaret shows.

Chicago Daily News, October 27, 1927.

Variety reported that the Oriental was suffering from the doldrums at the box office, partly because it had “an unusually bad stage show” to complement its movies. “The bust bill was badly in need of remedy in mid-week, so Joe Lewis, local cafe name with a large following, was ushered in,” the newspaper reported. “Business picked up from this point on, but not sufficient to give the house a good week.”142

One of Balaban & Katz’s owners, A.J. Balaban, went to the Oriental on October 27, and was so impressed by the show that he wrote a letter to Joe Lewis. He praised Lewis for entertaining the crowd with “clean, wholesome material,” contrasting Lewis with other entertainers who resorted to “smut” in order to “put themselves over.” (In later years, Lewis would be famous for telling dirty jokes.)

Katz continued: “I have every reason to feel that you are working along the right lines, and as a result therefrom I predict a bright, successful future for you. You are a clever young man with a world of personality, and judging from the comments that I overheard from those who sat around me I had every reason to feel that I was not the only one who enjoyed your offering to its fullest extent.” Katz clearly did not write this letter simply to share his thoughts with Lewis. It was also intended for the public’s eyes, appearing in Variety on November 2. But by that time, Lewis’s stint at the Oriental was over.143

On October 30, the Chicago Herald and Examiner predicted that Lewis’s debut at the Rendezvous would be one of the year’s big cabaret events. The newspaper noted that the Rendezvous, “long one of the city’s best known night clubs,” had been refurbished, with new paint on the outside, as well as drapes and checkerboard inside. But Lewis was the main attraction. The Herald and Examiner said he was “probably the best known and liked of Chicago cafe entertainers and certainly the biggest from the box office or cover charge standpoint.” It praised his unmatched skills as a clever “ad libbist,” storyteller, and “dialect entertainer.” His improvisations always added a new element to each performance. “His constant freshness is perhaps his strongest point,” the newspaper commented.144

A large audience turned out to see Lewis at the Rendezvous on November 2. “A crowd was fighting to get in and, inside, not an inch of standing room remained,” Cohn wrote. “The word had gotten around.” Every table was filled, except for one near the stage, which had been reserved for Jack McGurn. Goldberg and some plainclothes police officers stood guard. Lewis armed himself with a .22-caliber revolver. 145

“A waiter dropped a platter of glasses on opening night, and I dropped to the floor,” Lewis remembered in an interview. “I figured McGurn had showed up.”146 But the show went on, without any trouble. “Joe was … in fine fettle,” Mack recalled. “Everything went well.” For his part, Mack didn’t know anything about the threats Lewis had been getting.147

Fogarty escorted Lewis to and from his hotel over the next several nights, but nothing unusual happened.

What were Jack McGurn and Al Capone doing in early November, as Lewis settled into his new gig at the Rendezvous? The Daily News later reported a dramatic scene involving the mobsters at a downtown office building. The newspaper’s story was vague about precisely when this happened, but it said it was just hours before police superintendent Michael Hughes ordered a clampdown on gambling. And according to the Tribune, that order came down on the night of November 7.148

Chicago Daily Tribune, November 8, 1927.

So, if these reports were correct about the timing of events, a gangster face-off took place on the same day when Lewis was performing his final shows at the Rendezvous before he was attacked. The timing may be coincidental, but it’s worth considering whether the assault on Lewis had something to do with that week’s escalating tensions in gangland.

Shortly before noon, Capone strode into the North Side mob’s offices on the fifth floor at 127 North Dearborn Street, with a phalanx of 10 menacing associates—including McGurn—walking behind him, the Daily News reported. Billy Skidmore was the only North Side mob boss present in the office at the time. A saloonkeeper-turned-junk dealer who was known as a police fixer and a bondsman for pickpockets, Skidmore also ran a cigar store in the same building on Dearborn.149

“Listen, Billy, we know for sure that this Aiello mob is out gunning for me and Lombardo,” Capone reportedly told him, referring to his associate Tony Lombardo, who was the president of Unione Siciliano. “Now, how do you stack up? I want to see you, Barney and Jack Zuta together. Bring Moran along, too. This Aiello mob has tried several plants on us. The town isn’t big enough to hold both of us. Either you quit playing ball with the Aiellos—or—”

Skidmore insisted that the Aiellos were a different gang, operating separately from Moran, Bertsche, Zuta, and himself. But Capone said he needed the North Side mob leaders to assure him that they wouldn’t do anything to help Aiello, including any moral or financial support. After listening to Skidmore pleading innocence, Capone departed, looking unconvinced.

A few hours later, the Chicago Police Department began its clampdown on the city’s hundreds of gambling joints. The Daily News seemed to hint that this order had something to do with the Capone-Skidmore confrontation. Did the police get word about this meeting, and decide it was time to take action?150

City officials said they were shutting down gambling under pressure from local merchants, who said people couldn’t afford to spend as much in their stores because they were losing so much money gambling. The business owners pleaded with Mayor Thompson to pause gambling as the holiday shopping season approached, telling him that “empty pockets make for a dreary Christmas.”151

A leading politician at City Hall anonymously told the Tribune it was “just a temporary lull until the outsiders get into the syndicate, and then the town will open up again.” As he explained, the recent boom in gambling had created a situation where the Chicago area simply had too many games of chance. “There were more gambling joints than players, and some of them will either have to ante up more or get out of business,” he said.152

Fogarty was walking Lewis to his hotel a little before 5 a.m. when a black limousine pulled up on Diversey Parkway. (According to The Joker Is Wild, this happened on November 9. But Lewis was actually attacked on November 8—not on November 9, as the book said—so this incident apparently happened earlier that morning.) McGurn stepped out of the limo, with a man on either side of him. The three men all had their hands in their pockets. “You and I always got along together,” McGurn told Lewis, with “a note of conciliation” in his voice, according to The Joker Is Wild.

“Who said we didn’t?” Lewis replied.

“We miss you, Joe. The old Mill’s a morgue without you.”

“You’ll get another act.”

Staring at Lewis, McGurn said: “You made your point, Joe. You said you’d open—and you did. It’s time to come back now.”

“Not a chance, Jack.”

After hesitating a moment, McGurn smiled and shook Lewis’s hand, saying, “No hard feelings, Joe.” He also shook Fogarty’s hand—and he told the two men standing with him to shake Lewis’s and Fogarty’s hands, too. As the trio got back into the limousine, McGurn offered a parting remark, referring to the woman the two of them had supposedly romanced: “I almost forgot, Joe. Gloria says hello.”

Fogarty tried to persuade Lewis to stay at his hotel that night, but Lewis insisted on going to his own room in the Commonwealth—room 1040.153 Fogarty said he’d talk in the morning with North Side boss Bugs Moran, presumably to get protection for Lewis.

After performing a show and getting back to his hotel in the early morning, Lewis typically slept until 1 p.m.154 In The Joker Is Wild, Lewis was awakened by the telephone ringing in his room at 9:15 a.m. On the other end of the line, a man with a heavy Italian accent warned him: “Don’ open da door.” Lewis asked, “Who is this?” The caller replied, “Don’ open da door—fa nobody,” and hung up. Lewis couldn’t fall back asleep after that.155



1 Robert Sell, “Sketches From Life: He Had to Learn to Talk Again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 1937, 57; George Ross, NEA Service Columnist, “In New York,” (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) Public Opinion, May 15, 1939, 10; Danton Walker, “Broadway,” Tampa Tribune, June 7, 1939, 4; Bob Musel, United Press, “Big Town Medley,” Suffolk (VA) News-Herald, September 17, 1941, 4.

2 “Seize One, Hunt 3, in Cinderella Murder,” Chicago Daily News, July 19, 1927, 1.

3 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 29.

4 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 5.

5 “Vincent Drucci,” Find a Grave, accessed January 21, 2024,; Cook County, Illinois, U.S., Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922,

6 Binder, Al Capone’s Beer Wars, 89.

7 “Vincent Drucci,” Wikipedia, accessed January 20, 2024,

8 Mario Gomes, “Vincent ‘The Schemer’ Drucci,” MyAlCaponeMuseum, accessed January 20, 2024,;

9 Binder, Al Capone’s Beer Wars, 89.

10 “Drucci to Be Searched Every Time He’s Seen,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 29, 1925, 14.

11 Anonymous (John Corbett, ed.), Bullets for Dead Hoods: An Encyclopedia of Chicago Mobsters, c. 1933 (Chicago: Soberscove Press, 2020), 70.

12 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 11.

13 John Herrick, “Kill Drucci in Drive on Ballot Thugs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 5, 1927, 1, 4.

14 1923 Chicago city directory, 1832,

15 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 11.

16 Gusfield, Deadly Valentines, 128, 127.

17 Gusfield, Deadly Valentines, 127–128.

18 Gusfield, Deadly Valentines, 128.

19 “Gangland Fears M’Gurn Reprisal,” Chicago Daily News, April 19, 1928, 4.

20 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 24.

21 New Green Mill Cafe Inc. corporation papers, Secretary of State (Corporations Division): Dissolved Domestic Corporation Charters, 103/112, Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

22 “O’Banion Is Slain in His Shop,” Chicago Daily News, November 10, 1924, 1, 3.

23 Binder, Al Capone’s Beer Wars, 149.

24 Bullets for Dead Hoods, map.

25 New Green Mill Cafe Inc. corporation papers, Secretary of State (Corporations Division): Dissolved Domestic Corporation Charters, 103/112, Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

26 “Meet Leonard Boltz, ‘Labor Consultant,’” Chicago Daily News, August 17, 1957, 20.

27 “‘Lest We Forget,’ the Roll Is Called Again on Gangland,” Chicago Daily News, June 18, 1930, 1, 4.

28 “Zuta’s Records Reveal Kalb as Gaming Partner,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 25, 1930, 9.

29 Bullets for Dead Hoods, 112.

30 “Zuta’s Records Reveal Kalb as Gaming Partner.”

31 “Seize New Zuta Strong Box,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 20, 1930, 1, 2.

32 “Indict Dr. Reid, 6 Captains, in Gambling Ring,” Chicago Daily News, May 1, 1929, 1, 3.

33 “State Gives Up Slot Case; 19 on Trial Freed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 1, 1929, 3.

34 “Kill Matt Kolb, Northwest Side Gambling Czar,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 18, 1931, 1.

35 “Realty Is Dear on Gang Bonds, Cheap for Taxes,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 3, 1928, 4.

36 “Judge Eller Is in Line to Rule Vote Quiz Jury,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 24, 1928, 9.

37 “Kaplan Tries to Pay Zion’s Funeral; Spurned,” Chicago Daily News, August 1, 1928, 3.

38 “Chicagoans Get Charters for 12 New Breweries,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 18, 1932, 3.

39 “Act to Balk Beer Rackets,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 3, 1933, 1, 10.

40 “Rivalry of Gangs Seen Behind Raid on Vault as Clew Is Uncovered,” Chicago Daily News, December 14, 1933, 1, 3.

41 Bullets for Dead Hoods, 27–28.

42 Dougherty, “Girl Reporter Gives a Startling Account of Chicago Booze Ring.”

43 Eig, Get Capone, 90–91. Cited source: “Capone Broke; Lady Luck Gets His $1,500,000,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, March 13, 1927.

44 John Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago (Chicago: Illinois Association for Criminal Justice, 1929), 929,

45 Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan, Big Bill of Chicago (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953; Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2005), 244.

46 Rose Keefe, The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story: A Biography (Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2005), 211.

47 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 11.

48 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 11–12.

49 “Drucci Slain by Policeman,” Chicago Daily News, April 4, 1927, Final Sport, 1.

50 Keefe, Man Who Got Away, 211–214; John Herrick, “Kill Drucci in Drive on Ballot Thugs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 5, 1927, 1, 4; Associated Press, “Dapper Chicago Gangster Killed in Police Auto,” Rockford Morning Star, April 5, 1927, 1.

51 “Drucci Buried With Gangland Pomp,” Chicago Daily News, April 8, 1927, 1, 3.

52 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 12.

53 Keefe, Man Who Got Away, 8, 11–12, 14.

54 Keefe, Man Who Got Away, 2nd photo page following page 176.

55 “Reveal Names in Zuta Box,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1930, 1, 2.

56 “John U. ‘Jack’ Zuta,” Chicago Crime Commission, June 2016,

57 “‘Lest We Forget,’ the Roll Is Called Again on Gangland,” Chicago Daily News, June 18, 1930, 1, 4.

58 “Zuta Missing as Case Comes Before Court,” Chicago Daily News, July 5, 1930, 1, 4.

59 C.P. “Barney” Bertsche, “Bertsche Sees No Profit in Evil Life,” Chicago Daily News, January 5, 1916, 1, 5.

60 C.P. “Barney” Bertsche, “‘Spilling the Beans’ for Chicago Crooks,” Chicago Daily News, January 15, 1916, 7; Bullets for Dead Hoods, 33–34.

61 Bertsche, “Bertsche Sees No Profit…”

62 “Beer Mobs Seize Gambling Rule,” Chicago Daily News, June 20, 1927, 1, 3.

63 International News Service, “More Slayings Due in Chicago Gangster War,” Lancaster (PA) Daily Intelligencer, December 2, 1927. A version of the same article is credited to Francis F. Healy in Bayonne (NJ) Times, December 2, 1927, 5.

64 Al Chase, “Alfred Decker House May Make Way for Hotel,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 4, 1926, 18.

65 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, March 11, 1928, N2.

66 Associated Press, “Zuta Dead Is Proving Most Powerful Menace,” (Cambridge, OH) Daily Jeffersonian, August 18, 1930, 1, 5.

67 “Gambler Slain, Robbed of $4,700 By His Kidnapers,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 1, 1928, 16.

68 “Johnson and 5 Others Found Guilty,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 12, 1940, 1.

69 “Gang Feud Clamps Lid on Roadhouses,” Chicago Daily News, June 21, 1927, pp. 1, 3.

70 Virginia Irwin, “Broadway Loves Joe and He Loves Horses,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 8, 1946, part 9 (Everyday Magazine), 1.

71 Clarissa Start, “Man Who Got Custody of Bookmakers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 1948, (Everyday Magazine), 3F.

72 Grady Foster, “Morton Grove Before the Baby Boom: Life and Times at the Lincoln Tavern,” Along the Graydent blog, January 13, 2015,

73 “Violence Stains Rural Bohemia’s 10 Year History,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 26, 1935, 3.

74 “Beer Mobs Seize Gambling Rule,” Chicago Daily News, June 20, 1927, 1, 3.

75 “Here’s Another Tip to Officials: They Missed These Hoodlums in Raids,” Chicago Daily News, February 10, 1930, 1; “‘Lest We Forget,’ the Roll Is Called Again on Gangland,” Chicago Daily News, June 18, 1930, 1, 4.

76 “Beer Mobs Seize Gambling Rule.”

77 “Gang Holds Up the Dells, Gets $15,000 in Cash,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 13, 1927, 1.

78 “Beer Mobs Seize Gambling Rule.”

79 “Gang Feud Clamps Lid on Roadhouses,” Chicago Daily News, June 21, 1927, 1, 3.

80 “Dog-Race Fans Fleeced for Big Sums,” Chicago Daily News, June 24, 1927, 1, 3.

81 “Gang Feud Clamps Lid on Roadhouses.”

82 “More Slayings Due in Chicago Gangster War.”

83 Allan Keller, “Comedian Enjoys Making Them Laugh, But Gangsters Almost ‘Froze’ His Smile,” Evansville (IN) Press, June 11, 1937, 27.

84 Advertisement, Variety, November 24, 1926, 56,

85 Advertisement, Variety, December 29, 1926, 155,

86 “Stab Cabaret Star.”

87 “How Science Saved…”

88 “Night Club Reviews: Rendezvous,” Variety, January 11, 1928, 55,

89 Gusfield, Deadly Valentines, 129.

90 “Seize One, Hunt 3, in Cinderella Murder,” Chicago Daily News, July 19, 1927, 1; “Charge Friend With Murder of Cinderello,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 20, 1927, 10; “Torture Murder Charge Is Filed Against Suspect,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 3, 1927, 5.

91 “Capone Aid Is Freed in Cinderella Killing,” Chicago Daily News, August 10, 1927, 3.

92 Chicago Gang Wars in Pictures, 38.

93 “M’Gurn Slain, Police Say,” Chicago Daily News, July 17, 1933, 1.

94 “West Ridge,” Chicago Neighborhood Walks, May 12, 2016,’Joe’%20Aiello,side%20of%20Chicago%20in%201927.

95 Keefe, Man Who Got Away, 216–217; “Gangland Fears M’Gurn Reprisal,” Chicago Daily News, April 19, 1928, 4; “Aiello & Co. Bakery,” Chicago Crime Scenes Project, August 9, 2009,

96 “2 Missing Owners of Frolics Hunted,” Chicago Daily News, April 16, 1927, 5.

97 “Free Frolics Men; Hint Big Ransom,” Chicago Daily News, April 18, 1927, 4.

98 Associated Press, “Gangster Slain by Partners in Big Ransom Plot,” Rockford Morning Star, July 28, 1927, 1, 2.

99 Chicago Gang Wars in Pictures, 57.

100 John Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 929,

101 Gusfield, Deadly Valentines, 117–121, 125–127.

102 “Cops Pick First Gangster for Mentality Test,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 17, 1927, 3.

103 International News Service, “Gangster to Be Given a Sanity Exam,” Clinton (IL) Daily Journal and Public, August 18, 1927, 1.

104 United Press, “Crooks Don’t Mind Mental Tests at All,” Daily Illinois State Journal, August 20, 1927, 1, 13.

105 “Experts Begin Sanity Tests in New Crime War,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 18, 1927, 9.

106 “Cabaret Bills: Chicago,” Variety, July 6, 1927, 50,; July 27, 1927, 62,

107 “Gamblers Thrive Under New Plan,” Chicago Daily News, July 25, 1927, 1, 4.

108 “Chicago,” Variety, August 17, 1927, 59,

109 Advertisement, Variety, September 14, 1927, 57,

110 “Night Club Reviews: Green Mill (Chicago),” Variety, October 19, 1927, 58,

111 “How Science Saved…”

112 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 3.

113 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 4.

114 Chicago Gang Wars in Pictures, 24.

115 Advertisement, Chicago Eagle, December 18, 1920, 7.

116 Advertisement, Chicago Daily Tribune, August 13, 1922, part 7, 2.

117 Philip Kinsley, “Capone Plea: Lost $200,000,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 15, 1931, 1, 8; United Press, “Capone Defense May Close Today,” (Brooklyn, NY) Standard Union, October 15, 1931, 1, 20.

118 “Van and Schenck,” Wikipedia, accessed June 20, 2024,

119 “Chicago by Night,” Variety, October 6, 1926, 32,

120 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 4.

121 U.S. v. Rendezvous Cafe, Equity Case 7834, 1928, Equity Case Files, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, National Archives, Chicago.

122 “Stabbing of Actor in Hotel Room Still Deep Mystery,” Chicago Evening American, Nov. 9, 1927, 2.

123 Orville Dwyer, “Call Dynamite Target in Movie Union-Gang Quiz,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1943, 2; James Doherty, “Parole Scandal Reveals Capone Gang’s Crime Empire,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 13, 1948, 1, 28.

124 “Finds Three Dynamite Sticks on His Auto Seat,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 22, 11934, 2.

125 “U.S. Snaps Padlock on Rendezvous Cafe,” Chicago Daily News, March 13, 1928, 1.

126 “‘Lest We Forget,’ the Roll Is Called Again on Gangland,” Chicago Daily News, June 18, 1930, 1, 4.

127 “Here’s Another Tip to Officials: They Missed These Hoodlums in Raids,” Chicago Daily News, February 10, 1930, 1.

128 “Seize New Zuta Strong Box,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 20, 1930, 1, 2.

129 “Reveal Names in Zuta Box,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 16, 1930, 1, 2.

130 Keefe, Man Who Got Away, 211–214; John Herrick, “Kill Drucci in Drive on Ballot Thugs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 5, 1927, 1, 4

131 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 4.

132 Mack, “Night the Mob ‘Got’ Joe E. Lewis.”

133 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 3.

134 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 3–4.

135 “Cabaret Man’s Fears Told as Stabbing Clew,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Novembe3r 9, 1927.

136 Kobler, Capone, 144.

137 Gus Russo, The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America (New York: Bloomsbury, 2001), 124n1.

138 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 7.

139 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 8.

140 “Rendezvous’ New Band,” Variety, October 26, 1927, 55,

141 “Movie Megaphonings,” Chicago Daily News, October 27, 1927, 28; advertisement, Chicago Daily News, October 27, 1927, 29.

142 “Chicago Remains in Doldrums,” Variety, November 2, 1927, 8,

143 Advertisement, Variety, November 2, 1927, 21,

144 “Joe Lewis Coming to Rendezvous,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, October 30, 1927, part 4, 15.

145 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 8–9.

146 Ed Sullivan “Little Old New York,” (New York) Daily News, March 2, 1947, 29.

147 Mack, “Night the Mob ‘Got’ Joe E. Lewis.”

148 “Gambling Lid Closed Tight All Over City,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 8, 1927, 1.

149 “‘Lest We Forget,’ the Roll Is Called Again on Gangland,” Chicago Daily News, June 18, 1930, 1, 4.

150 “Gaming Racket Wonders Who’s to Be Who Now,” Chicago Daily Tribune, November 9, 1927, 9.

151 “Renew Gambling Under New Deal,” Chicago Daily News, December 22, 1927, 3.

152 “Gambling Lid Closed Tight All Over City.”

153 “Stab Cabaret Star.”

154 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 9–11.

155 Cohn, Joker Is Wild, 13.