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Dean Charles O'Banion
Dean O'Banion - Dean Charles O'Banion

Born July 8,1892, in Maroa, Illinois (150 miles South of Chicago).

Dean grew up in a loving family that lived in an old house a block west of route 51 in the north end of town. He was a childish prankster in school who teased his classmates. His classmates would nickname him "Brinigan". An old schoolmate named George Kincaid recalls Dean as "Always full of the devil and having fun."
Ralph Moore remembers Dean thusly; "A real daredevil who had to do everything best." Moore also remembered when Dean kicked his lunchpail out of his hands and laughed as it's contents spilled to the ground.
Friend George Waller remembers Dean breaking an arm after walking on high stilts, choosing ones higher than everyone elses. In later years Waller, who was President of the Maroa bank recalls a 1924 memorial day conversation in which Dean asked him if any Maroa resident was at a Chicago Hospital. He insisted on knowing, so that he could send flowers as a gesture to cheer them up.

Dean's mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died in 1901, when Dean was only nine years old. He had loved his mother very much, writing her letters daily and bringing her flowers. Because of her tubercolosis poor Dean could not have the normal loving contact a mother would normally have with her child.

In this shot, a serious Dean as a child is writing a letter to his bedridden mother.
( Screenshots from an excellent documentary by Irish production company Abú Media features Dean O'Banion's life.
It's called (Mobs Mhericea = "Irish Gangs In America")

Dean smiles as he writes and thinks of his mom.
( Screenshots from an excellent documentary by Irish production company Abú Media features Dean O'Banion's life.
It's called (Mobs Mhericea = "Irish Gangs In America")

After becoming successful in Chicago, Dean O'Banion purchased this stone for his mother. He often went to Maroa to visit and placed flowers on her grave. Her death date is erroneous. She had died in 1901.

Her death devastated Dean and his father.
His father Charles O'Banion, who had started out in Maroa as a barber at the Bolen barber shop, sold his house and gave up the Farmers insurance job he was in and moved his sons Dean and Floyd to Chicago. His daughter remained in Decatur with her Aunt. Ruth would later marry and move out to Kansas becoming Mrs. Ruth Stewart.

Letter written by Dean'O'Banion to his bedridden mother.

Dean's older brother Floyd also known as "Jock", ex-navy sailor that became a painter with his dad in Chicago. He once was so sick with the croup that he made the Illinois newspaper. He would die from a lobar pneumonia in 1913 and is buried in Mt. Carmel.

The Decatur newspaper published the names of the Maroa students who never missed a day or who never showed up late for school.
 Dean made the list ending for February 1901.

Dean found Chicago exciting. He grew up in little hell section of Chicago called Kilgubbin centered around Erie and Kinzie streets and mixed with other races.  
The boys at that time used to play "Bumper riding"
It was here that Dean got his limp by trying to get a free ride on a trolley car and getting his foot run over when it backed up after stopping. Dean was always tempting fate and had a certain twisted zest for life. This limp would have discouraged most, but not Dean his charm made up for any remarkable disability.

In 1908, 16 year old Dean gets a job at McGovern's Tavern mopping floors and slopping beer to the clients all the while singing to them. The patrons at McGovern's are mostly criminals who honed his art of safecracking. It is here that his associations lead him to a life of crime.

Where a young Dean O'Banion got his start as a waiter. McGovern's Liberty Inn circa 1940's and in 1995.
(Photo courtesy of Mr. Bill Helmer)

In 1909, Dean got caught stealing stamps and a bottle of perfume from a drugstore. He ended up 6 months in Bridewell reformatory for burglary.

In 1911, he received a three month sentence for carrying a concealed weapon.

O'Banion later became a labor slugger and participated in the circulation wars in which newspaper was pitted against rival newspaper for control of distribution around the city.
Although disabled in one leg, O'Banion was powerful and could beat the living daylights out of someone, as he did one time to Mike Carrozzo at the Friar's Inn in response to Carrozzo beating a woman.  

The golden opportunity of prohibition on the horizon was to make many aspiring criminals into respectable gangsters.

Dean and Viola just got married.

O'Banion's marriage certificate with his buddy Ralph Moss as witness.
Ralph would change his middle initial to "C" in later years.
(Mario Gomes)

Right after Prohibition kicks in, O'Banion spots a liquor truck backing up. On a whim he jumps on the running board and beats the driver senseless with a fist full of rolled coins. Dean throws out the driver and makes off with his liquid gold. Dean makes off with his booty to his jewish friend gangster Samuel "Nails "Morton's garage where they split up the profits.
Meantime, O'Banion's heart has fell for a sweetheart named Viola Kaniff.
The two eventually get married. She has fallen for the the sweet side of O'Banion.
O'Banion always treated women with respect.

O'Banion is in awe of Morton's war hero achievements. O'Banion meets Morton's other florist friend named William Schofield and buys into the partnership of the flowershop after Morton is killed while riding a horse in Lincoln park.

O'Banion pals florist William Schofield and Jewish gangster/ WW1 hero Samuel "Nails" Morton.


O'Banion's gang make their best to get along with Torrio's mob. All in the name of profits. O'Banion helps Torrio with votes and vice versa. They share various interests in gambling houses and booze distrbution. O'Banion will not touch whorehouses with a ten foot pole. These are totally against his morals and basic principals.

One problem O'Banion does have is with the Terrible Gennas. The Genna gang has encroached many times on O'Banion gang turf and sell their rotgut homemade moonshine in their Northside territory. O'Banion brings this up with Torrio who passively says he will deal with it. Gennas continue to dance around O'Banion's dividing lines.
O'Banion is also owed a debt by one of the Gennas at one of Torrio and O'Banion's joint gambling house. The Genna asks that Torrio, as a favor, erase the debt owed  to him and O'Banion. It is in the tens of thousands. O'Banion is told of the planned debt erasure and becomes livid!! He calls Torrio and Genna demanding payment. O'Banion becomes more and more arrogant.  

A young and confident Dean O'Banion.
(Photo courtesy of Bill Helmer)

He constantly breaks peace treaties with the Southside chieftain Torrio. He is in constant quarrel with Torrio's allies the SouthWest sides' Terrible Gennas. He badmouths the Sicilians, and now in turn, encrouches on their territories and peddles his liquor there instead. The buyers prefer O'Banion's good liquor as opposed to the Genna's blind rendering hooch cooked in home stills.The sicilans have had enough of O'Banion, but Torrio manages to keep the peace. On O'Banion side is Michael Merlo, who is at the time the head of the Italian brotherhood known as the Unione Siciliana. Mike is repeatedly ask to give the go ahead on ending O'Banon's life. Merlo will not hear of it. He is a man of peace and honor and asks all concerned to come to some kind of peace agreement. O'Banion has plans of his own to get back at the Gennas and a non receptive Torrio.

 O'Banion states to Torrio that he is leaving the rackets and would love to sell his brewery called Siebens. Torrio jumps on this occasion and buys out O'Banion. Torrio has already been charged once with a Prohibition offence and the next time is jail time.Nonetheless Torrio wants this action so O'banion meets Torrio at the brewery and at that moment police arrive arresting everyone in sight. O'Banion pays for everybodies bail except Torrio's who is instead charged once again and this time given a prison sentence.Torrio knows he's been doublecrossed by O'Banion who had himself called the cops that arrived at the brewery. Torrios' blood is boiling, the Gennas blood is boiling as they learn that O'Banion may had stated "The Hell with them Sicilians". *

May 19, 1924. This prearranged prank on Torrio sealed O'Banion's doom.

*Often repeatedly mistaken by historians and true crime authors as being some sort of Irish speaking lucky charm character, Dean was in fact American born with only the Irish as part of his ancestry.
He was often written about his hate for Italians and Sicilians. This couldn't be further from the truth. O'Banion either liked you or not. He didn't get along the Gennas and disliked them, but had no problems with Italians. If he had one iota of hate towards Italians, then why would he have Vincent Drucci in his gang? He really didn't care about someones nationality as the Northside gang boss had employed various ethnicities. O'Banion was even known to understand and speak a few words of Italian himself. This was related by a truck driver named Mr. E. Barnett who knew and worked for O'Banion.

Dean O'Banion was king of the Northside Chicago in the early twenties. Politicians and police were in his back pocket.
(Mario Gomes collection)

Realizing the havoc he has created for Torrio, O'Banion decides to take the summer off and heads up with his new bride Viola to Louis Alterie's Colorado ranch. O'Banion enjoys the cowboy life. While there he also makes a deal to have some new fangled Thompson submachine guns sent to Chicago for his Northside gang.

Dean O'Banion (Front third from left) and his new bride Viola at a Louis Alterie (Front sixth from left) owned Colorado ranch.

Shortly before his assassination, Dean O'Banion and his father, along with their new brides visit Maroa on August 26,1924 .

John Torrio okays the Genna hit on O'Banion.

Torrio and the Gennas get lucky. Although an unhappy occaision, this one has a silver lining for them. Mike Merlo dies of cancer and an execution order is immediately placed on O'Banions' head by Torrio. Frank Yale is summoned immediately in from New York.The plan is for three to visit O'Banion shop. They are Jim Genna, along with Carmen Vacco and Pete Pizzo.They call to place a huge order of flowers worth thousands of dollars for Merlo's funeral and want to make sure O'Banion is on hand to greet them. O'Banion doesn't normally appear at the shop at this time of day according to his flower shop partner William Schofield.
For this huge order O'Banion makes an appearance the following morning. Unfortunately for him, Louis Alterie, his bodyguard is hung over and does not make it to the flower shop that morning.

O'Banion extends his hand in friendship to incoming customers.
( Screenshots from an excellent documentary by Irish production company Abú Media features Dean O'Banion's life.
It's called (Mobs Mhericea = "Irish Gangs In America")

On November 9,1924, James Genna, city sealer Carmen Vacco and Pete Pizzo enter the shop. They greet O'Banion. Seeing a Genna, O'Banion decides to momentarily put aside all quarrels out of respect for the deceased and also to make big business during this mega flower selling event. He and partner William Schofield make a literal killing when it comes to mob funerals. Pete Pizzo makes special note to case the joint to make sure no O'Banionites are in the back.

City sealer Carmen Vacco

Northside O'Banion bodguard and friend Louie "Two gun "Alterie
Cowboy gangster of the Northsiders, Alterie was known as O'Banion's sidekick and bodyguard. He would often carry up to three guns and would get into trouble by drinking moonshine at Cabarets. Alterie was once slapped in public by detective Stege. Ostracized by the remaining Northsiders, who were tired of Alterie's antics and mouthing off in public.  He had publically challenged O'Banion's killers to a shootout ala O.K. Corral. He left Chicago in 1925 to seek refuge on his ranch in Colorado and later returned to Chicago in the 30's, only to be eventually killed by the Southside mob. Was once shot by his brother.
Alterie was an interesting character certainly worth writing a book about.

A poem about friendship found above O'Banion's desk in Schofield's flower shop.

O'Banion is perplexed as to why they only purchase several hundred dollars of flowers and not thousands as they have stated in the phone call.They explain that three others of their mourning brethren will be showing up the next day for the rest of this order.
They leave Schofield's and on the next day, (10th of November) a blue Jewett car pulls up in front of Schofield's. Three men enter the flower shop.

William Crutchfield, O'Banion's porter who saw the killers walk in.
On November 10,1924, he was doing his daily job of sweeping the floor when shots were suddenly fired. One of his employers had been killed. Crutchfield had seen who had entered the shop before the fatal shots had been fired. After detectives had finished processing the scene, he was given the go ahead to mop up Dean O'Banion's blood from the floor.
His description of the killers given to police and reporters that appeared in the Chicago Tribune was not taken too seriously. Being an African American in 1924, and terrified beyond belief, he probably made up his descriptions to show the real killers ( who were probably following the story in the newspapers immediately after the killing) that he did not give an accurate description of them. This probably saved his life. Gangsters back then wouldn't think twice of killing an African American. You can be sure Crutchfield gave the real description of the killers to the Northsiders, who probably persuaded him for the information. Crutchfield was hidden away by the Northsiders after O'Banion's murder. O'Banion had treated Crutchfield so well during his employment at the flower shop that in return, he showed up and paid his respects to O'Banion at the funeral. Crutchfield, now a witness, feared for his life for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

 He served in the military between August and December 1918, as a Private for the 16th Company, 157th Depot Brigade. He was born on August 18, 1896.
 Months later, he left the employment at Schofield's flower shop and went to work for the Pullman company as a railroad porter. He lived a quiet unassuming life until his death on August 16,1959. He is buried in  Burr Oak cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

William Crutchfield in attendance near Dean O'Banion's casket.

**** According to most history books Yale and the killer twins John Scalise and Alberto Anselmi enter O'Banion's flower shop to pick up a the rest of the order for Merlo's funeral. A variation of killers are suspected has having had a hand in O'Banion's murder. Most likely the three men at the shop for the visit that day seem to all point to either the one man being (Frankie Uale, Giovanni Scalise or Alberto Anselmi) with Angelo Genna and Salvatore Ammatuna. This makes more sense because of the latter two (Genna and Ammatuna) being hunted and gunned down in retaliation by the Northsiders the next year following the O'Banion murder. Ammatuna was shot exactly on the first O'Banion death anniversary.

**** Anselmi and Scalise may have also had some part with the killing or the planning from the Genna headquarters or Ammatuna's Bluebird Cafe. Scalise was either in the shop or waiting in the running automobile outside the flower shop. The reasoning of including Anselmi and Scalise is to explain why Hymie Weiss wanted their bodies delivered to him by Capone during a failed peace talk.

Ballistics expert Calvin Goddard's document of murders and weapons used.

O'Banion first suspects. Scalise, Giunta and Uale.

Angelo Genna gunned down behind the wheel during an automobile chase by the Northsiders.

Salvatore Ammatuna shot in the barber's chair by Vincent Drucci. He was shot on Dean O'Banion's death anniversary (the10th), but died a couple of days later.

O'Banion greets the three men with a handshake. One of the men holds O'Banion's hand in a tight grip while the other let's him have it with a .38. He is shot in the chest, throat and both cheeks at point blank range, So close that the gun powder burns the skin on O'Banion's face. The killers get away in their blue Jewett automobile. Frankie Yale is stopped on a train with his friend Sam Pollaccia enroute to New York. He says he was in town for Merlo's funeral. He is released.
Angelo Genna, John Scalise and Salvatore Ammatuna are at the scene when O'Banion is shot and killed point blank in his shop. The Northsiders will keep Ammatuna and Angelo Genna on the top of their hit list.

Rival gangsters grab hold of O'Banion and end his short life.
( Screenshots from an excellent documentary by Irish production company Abú Media features Dean O'Banion's life.
It's called (Mobs Mhericea = "Irish Gangs In America")

Outside Schofield's right after O'Banion was hit
(X Marks the Spot)

X marks the spot where O'Banion fell.

A artist's conception of the O'Banion murder handshake.

Dean O'Banion is killed by three visitors Nov.10,1924

Dean O'Banion slaying in Chicago Tribune Nov.11,1924
 (Mario Gomes collection).

Back page photos of this edition.

Possible suggested O'Banion killers; Albert Anselmi, John Scalise, Frankie Yale and Joseph Giunta.
(Otis Miller and Mario Gomes collection)

The probable killers. Mike Genna, Angelo Genna, Salvatore Ammatuna and Giovanni Scalise.
(Mario Gomes collection)

Upon hearing the news of O'Banion's death, Hymie Weiss crumples to the floor of his bathroom sobbing uncontrollably. He has lost his best friend, boss and mentor. Louis Alterie loses it and makes crazy statements during the funeral. He is prepared to have a shoot out in the street with O'Banion's killers.
George Moran chastizes Alterie and tells him to quietly leave town.

O'Banion's wife Viola O'Banion is totally devastated.

O'Banion's funeral was one of the biggest gangland funerals ever held in Chicago. It was so extravagant that the archdiocese took great offence to it.
Dean was refused a church held service by the same people whom he held in high esteem.
Holy Name Cathedral had been a big part of his life and probably one of his biggest joys was seeing the church everyday through Schofield's shop window.

On November 14,1924 the hearse leaves Sbarbaro's Funeral chapel followed by cars carrying flowers en masse and made it's way to Mount Carmel Cemetary.

At the crowded cemetary, Father Patrick Malloy of St. Thomas of Canterbury church recites prayers for for the kind person he knew in O'Banion. Father Malloy stated that "One good turn deserves another" this in reference to O'Banion's helping needy and poor families on the Northside. After O'Banion is laid to rest, the Northsiders go on the hunt for everyone implicated in O'Banion's murder. First stop get Torrio!

Dean C. O'Banion lying dead in the Cook County morgue.
Cook County morgue photo from taken from "In the Morgue"
(Mario Gomes collection)

Doctor Joseph Springer
The coroner who performed the autopsy on Dean O'Banion.
Springer also had performed the autopsies on Big Jim Colosimo, Earl 'Hymie' Weiss and Patrick 'Paddy' Murray.

$10,000 was the total bill for O'Banion's funeral. This did not include flowers.
Frankie Yale, hoped to have a more lavish funeral than the massive one witnessed at O'Banion's wake.

O'Banion's funeral was so massive that there were hundreds of people on the rooftops for that event.

The newpaper employees all sent their last respects to Dean O'Banion via this wreath. O'Banion had once himself been a newspaper slugger.

O'Banion's casket arrives at Mt. Carmel. It is carried by his pals.

(1) Vincent Drucci  (2) Louis Alterie (3) Frank Gusenberg (4) Dan McCarthy (5) George Moran (6) Matt Foley (7) Viola O'Banion (8) Rev. Patrick Malloy
(9) Earl Weiss (10) Julius Kaufman (11) William Schofield

Closeup of a very distraught Earl Weiss at the foot of O'Banion's casket. When he got the news that his best friend was killed he immediately sunk to the ground in the bathroom with his hands over his face sobbing uncontrollably. He had stated that his whole world was now gone. Overcome by grief he was unable to help carry the casket.

Viola O'Banion stopped for speeding in 1929. After O'Banion's death Viola lived the devil may care life for a while. She remarried a couple of times but  truth was she missed her Deanie.
(Mario Gomes collection)

O'Banion's tall obelisk. The Original on had huge angel wings which the Archdiocese forced O'Banion's widow to have taken down and replaced with this more modest one.
(Mario Gomes).

Dean O'Banion's headstone in Mt. Carmel.
(Mario Gomes).

Circa mid 1950's. and what's left of Schofield's Flower shop where Dean O'Banion was murdered . Note the only other building left standing beside is where a gun nest was situated  at the second floor  window to kill Hymie Weiss and Patrick Murray. All the other businesses, such as the phonograph company at the left, and rooming houses on the right were all knocked down. Today all these are gone and are now a parking lot.

in 1960, three of Dean O'Banion's old school pals reunite and reminisce about their kind happy go lucky friend.
Left to right are; Ralph Moore, George Kincaid and George Waller.
(Decatur Herald and Review photo).

For further more indepth reading on the life of Dean O'Banion please pick up the excellent book called "Guns and Roses The untold story of Dean O'Banion".

Special thanks to author Rose Keefe for info and photos supplied.

First Posted November 2009