Although its members’ personal lives were in transition, the Outfit’s business affairs proceeded uninterrupted. Bookmaking and jukebox operations continued to fill the gang’s treasury, and the Accardo regime even had a bootlegging resurgence, shipping booze to dry states such as Kansas and Curly’s adopted home of Oklahoma. But by far the most dramatic example of the gang’s expansionism was the move it made on bookmaking in southern Florida in the late 1940s.
Since the days of Al Capone’s Palm Island estate purchase, the Outfit had maintained a presence in the Sunshine State. Under the watchful eye of their racetrack boss, Johnny Patton, the gangsters controlled four of Florida’s premier dog tracks. With the local bookmakers subscribing to the Outfit’s Continental Wire Service, it was no secret to the Chicago gang which Miami bookies were the most successful. Towering over the competition was a Miami bookmaking consortium called the S & G syndicate (for “Stop and Go”), which supplied its services to hundreds of resort hotels. Observers placed S & G’s annual gross at an astounding $40 million, with the five partners taking home $2 million in profits. At this point, the Chicago bosses were only realizing approximately $100,000 in profit from each of their Florida dog track operations. It was only a matter of time before Joe Accardo charged his troops with the takeover of S & G.
The prime soldiers entrusted with the S & G coup were Johnny Patton and Harry “the Muscle” Russell. Like Patton, Russell was a Chicago native who, years earlier, had himself been muscled into a bookmaking partnership with Accardo (see chapter 8). Fronting for Patton was a former bookkeeper, William H. Johnston, from the owners’ barns at the gang’s Sportsman’s Park track in Illinois. In another elegant Outfit plan, the gang chose to enlist the Florida governor’s office to force the S & G partners to their knees. All they had to do was guarantee that their candidate prevailed in the 1948 gubernatorial contest. The man picked for the job, Fuller Warren, was a friend of Russell’s and a frequent visitor at the gang’s Miami Beach Kennel Club. Using Johnston as a conduit, the Outfit pumped $100,000 into Warren’s campaign, helping to ensure his eventual victory. All told, Johnston convinced friends to contribute $404,000 to the campaign, fully half of the budget. Within days of his 1949 inauguration, Warren appointed another Russell friend, William O. “Bing” Crosby, as his special investigator. Crosby was so close to “the boys” that he visited their Miami Beach Kennel Club four times per week. Given a list by Russell of the addresses of the S & G bookmaking facilities, Crosby directed Miami sheriff Kelly (who had been spotted by the FBI in conferences with Accardo, Humphreys, and Guzik) to begin raiding the dozens of establishments. Adding the coup de grace, Joe Accardo simultaneously cut off the wire service from the besieged S & G. When the bookmaking consortium tried to siphon the critical information from other Florida operations, Accardo scuttled the wire service to the entire state. S & G was now forced to suspend operations; when it reopened two weeks later, it had a new partner, Harry Russell.
For the sake of appearances, S 6v G noted in its books that Russell had merely bought into the partnership for $20,000. However, a congressional investigation located records showing that at the same time Russell entered into the conspiracy, S & G paid Joe Accardo, who now leased a ranch-style home on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, the coincidental sum of exactly $20,000 to purchase his yacht, the Clari-Jo. There was another curious coincidence: as soon as S &c G reopened with its new partners, Warren and Crosby abruptly halted their raids on the consortium, and William Johnston and his friends received a major share of Florida’s contracts for road-building materials. A 1949 Florida grand jury concluded the following about S 6v G’s bookmaking transactions: “There appeared to be little effort to curb them, although they were being carried out right under the eyes of the police.”
Although the vast profits accrued from the race wire were well-known, few in authority seemed interested, and even fewer desired to do anything about it. Most politicians were keenly aware of the upperworld and underworld alliance that had buttressed this fragile house of cards. For his part, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had accurately deduced that the collusion went so deep and was so vaporous that securing convictions would prove futile. And Hoover prided himself on always “getting his man.” Therefore, the boss remained focused on bank robbers and Communists. One pol naively believed he could walk the fine line between investigating gambling crime and sparing his fellow legislators (not to mention his president, Harry Truman). He also relished the bright national spotlight that would naturally fall on him, hopefully boosting his own White House aspirations. Although Estes Kefauver’s investigation would prove a short-term irritant to the Outfit, it would be years before its revelations produced any real effect on the fortunes of the Empire of Crime.
The Kefauver Hearings
In 1950, while the Outfit was sinking its teeth into the Florida bookmaking bonanza, forty-seven-year-old Estes Kefauver was the freshman U.S. senator from Tennessee. His physical and moral stature, seen as grave but honorable, gained him the accolade “Lincolnesque.” Kefauver came from a religious Southern Baptist family, the grandson of a Madisonville preacher. In 1939, after years as a practicing attorney, Kefauver was sent to Congress on a reform platform. During that contest, his political opponent in Tennessee, machine boss Ed Crump, called him a pet coon. The gibe only inspired Estes Kefauver to don a coonskin cap on the campaign trail. It became a favorite trademark.
Not long after his ascendancy to the Senate in 1949, Kefauver became intrigued with organized crime, a topic thus far assiduously avoided in any legislature. The new senator decided that when the time was right, he would introduce a bill aimed at penetrating the murky world of interstate gambling crime. He would not have long to wait. An organization of big-city mayors called the American Municipal Association held a 1949 conference on syndicated crime in Cleveland. One year later, Attorney General J. Howard McGrath held a national conference on organized crime in D.C, attended by district attorneys, mayors, and police. After Truman addressed the gathering’s opening session, the press coverage increased, leading to a public outcry. The nation began to believe itself a helpless victim of an evil conspiracy, and it demanded action. In January 1950, after calling the race wire “Public Enemy No. One,” Kefauver finally introduced Senate Resolution 202, which called for a Senate investigation into interstate gambling. Many observers perceived the motion as an attempt to bolster his national visibility. One of Kefauver’s best friends from Knoxville, Jack Doughty, called the proposal “the most opportunistic thing Kef ever did.” But the first-term senator was savvy enough to know that the inherent drama in such a proceeding could propel him into the national consciousness faster than any other of his freshman-class peers. For his part, Kefauver noted that his interest in organized crime had honest roots, dating back to days as a congressman assigned to examine judicial corruption. In that probe, Kefauver had worked closely with committee investigator Boris Kostelanetz, who later prosecuted the Outfit in the Hollywood extortion case.
The Senate membership was less than excited about Kefauver’s bill, delaying the impanelment of the committee until events forced its hand. Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, stalled on the bill out of fear that any investigation might threaten the nest egg created by the upperworld and underworld in his Las Vegas gambling mecca. Senate Majority Leader Scott Lucas of Illinois also feared the consequences of a full-blown investigation in his thoroughly corrupt state, the home of the Outfit. The debate was resolved on April 6, 1950, when two Missouri gangsters with Outfit connections, Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta, were killed in Kansas City’s First Ward Democratic Headquarters, the seat of power that had launched President Truman’s career. After the killings, Congress could no longer disregard Kefauver’s request for the nation’s first major investigation of organized crime. Republicans such as Forrest C. Donnell of Truman’s home state of Missouri now backed the initiative, hoping the probe would uncover the truth about Truman’s shadow world. With the Senate torn between the public’s call for action and its own members’ political skeletons, the entire subject was touchy, a point proven by the floor vote, which tied at 35-35, with Vice President Alben Barkley breaking the stalemate. The new committee, comprised of Democrat Kefauver, two other Democrats, and two Republicans, was given a $150,000 budget and was named the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Gambling. Although the Republicans hoped that Kefauver’s interest in gambling would enlarge into a full-fledged probe of Democratic corruption, Kefauver would steadfastly attempt to tiptoe around that political land mine. At every turn, however, Kefauver would come face-to-face with the very upperworld chicanery he hoped to avoid.
Harry Truman likewise knew that the urban-focused investigation was likely to hurt him and his urban-based Democratic Party much more than the farm-belt Republicans. When Kefauver announced that the hearings in Kansas City would commence on September 28, prior to the 1950 off-year elections, Truman called him disloyal and began mocking him as “Senator Cow Fever.” Even after the hearings ended, Truman continued to vent. “When the time came for a report to the United States Senate, the ’great crime investigator’ took his report, copyrighted it, and sold it as a book over his own name,” Truman bellowed. “Talk about ethics - well, he has none.”
The bulk of the committee’s background research was delegated to Rudolph Halley, a thirty-seven-year-old attorney from New York with previous experience as a congressional investigator. Halley’s public persona was that of an expressionless, monotone-voiced litigator, and a legendary workaholic. The monumental task of memorizing thousands of government reports forced Halley to endure eighteen-to-twenty-hour workdays preparing for the investigation. When hearings started, Halley was known to pull forty-eight-hour cramming sessions prior to questioning a witness. With no time left to educate the senators, it fell to Halley to conduct most of the grilling.
As Kefauver began to take his own crash course in organized crime, Virgil Peterson of the Chicago Crime Commission became his guru, guiding the senator’s research and agenda. When Peterson eventually gave formal testimony, it lasted two days and filled eighty-nine tightly spaced pages of transcription. Kefauver also sought out the expertise of Harry Anslinger of the Bureau of Narcotics and Boris Kostelanetz, the federal attorney who had kindled Kefauver’s interest during the earlier House probe. In time, Kefauver bought into the idea of a mysterious Mafia, which he called “a secret international government-within-a-government.”
And while Kefauver continued to memorize the hoodlum hierarchy, his president and vice president made a May 1950 trip to Chicago to address the National Democratic Party Conference, a three-day event held at Chicago Stadium. On the way to President Truman’s late-night address to the conventioneers, the president and vice president were feted with a torchlight parade by some of the luminaries Kefauver was reading about. The key organizers of the parade were two notorious committeemen from the infamous “bloody Twenty-fourth Ward,” Peter Fosco and Arthur X. Elrod. Fosco was an admitted close friend of Paul Ricca’s who would eventually lose his ward post when it was revealed that one of his underlings had played Joe Bulger’s courier for the moneys raised in the Hollywood extortion case paroles. He was also a dominant figure in the Building Laborers’ Union, where he manipulated the city’s labor force with the likes of Curly Humphreys and Sid Korshak. Arthur Elrod, who acted as chauffeur for Sid Korshak’s friend Vice President Barkley in the motorcade, had gained notoriety for, among other things, turning out absurd Democratic electoral pluralities in the precinct where he was captain. In 1944, his Twenty-fourth Ward used Outfit muscle to turn out the widest margin of victory of any ward in the entire country for the Roosevelt-Truman ticket: 29,533 for FDR to 2,204 for Dewey. In 1948, when Truman ran for president, Elrod’s precinct gave Truman a 300-1 victory. When Truman appeared at a party in Chicago after the election, Elrod presented him with the precinct tally sheet displaying the ludicrous totals. Truman jokingly asked Elrod, “Who was the one?” To which Elrod replied, “I don’t know, I’m still looking for him.”
When the first official “Kefauver Committee” hearings commenced in Miami, Outfit bosses made themselves scarce, hoping to avoid subpoenas. Joe took his family to Mexico, accompanied by Charles Fischetti, while Curly holed up in Oklahoma. A subpoena sent to Harry “the Muscle” Russell, the gang’s Florida representative, likewise received no response. Reporters covering the committee jokingly wrote about the bouts of “Kefauveritis” spreading across the land. Pressing ahead in Miami, the committee settled for whoever was available, a decision that brought it face-to-face with the hoods’ upperworld partners. Although Kefauver’s goal was to expose “Mafia”-type gambling, he was now forced to address official corruption. In south Florida, investigators learned that the sheriff of Dade County (Miami), Smiling Jimmy Sullivan, had been accepting bribes for years from the wire operators. Although Sullivan’s annual salary averaged $9,500, his assets purchased in five years were valued at more than $65,000. When Sullivan’s subsequent indictment was dismissed on a technicality, Governor Fuller Warren, whom Johnny Patton and the Outfit had done so much to elect, reinstated him as sheriff. The Miami Daily News called Warren’s act “lousy, stinking - and obvious.”
After Miami, the committee’s executive staff spent the summer of 1950 taking depositions in Washington, New York, and Missouri, home of President Truman. In Missouri, the committee walked on eggshells attempting to avoid the Truman-Pendergast controversy, choosing instead to focus on the Kansas City wire operation, which was tame in comparison to the machine corruption that had sponsored the president’s career. A possible subconscious tone may have been set by the fact that Rudolph Halley, the committee’s chief investigator, had been friends with Truman since 1941, when he had served as the then senator’s chief investigator on the Truman Committee, which had looked into the awarding of defense contracts. When the Kefauver Committee wound up its Missouri foray, it was roundly lambasted for its timidity by the local press.
While his advance investigative staff went to school in Chicago, Kefauver and his fellow senators brought Paul Ricca, Louis Campagna, and Charles Gioe to Washington to hear some preliminary testimony. Since these men were in regular contact with their parole officers, they were easier to subpoena than Accardo, Humphreys, and the others. The questions revolved around whom they associated with, what they did for a living, and what property they owned. The trio successfully parried with their inquisitors and revealed little or nothing of their gambling activities, except to say that they had legally won most of their savings at the track. Their responses set a new standard for vagueness, leaving the officials visibly frustrated.
September 19, 1950, should be memorialized in legal annals as the day the Outfit set jurisprudence on its ear, establishing a key precedent for all who would follow them into a congressional grilling. The setting was the Senate Office Building, where the Kefauver Committee gathered at 2:45 P.M. to take the long-sought subpoenaed testimony of Harry “the Muscle” Russell.
Soon after Russell’s requisite swearing in, dumbfounded senators and their counsels received a taste of what Chicagoans had been experiencing for years: the brilliance of Curly Humphreys. It is commonly accepted that Humphreys, acting as the gang’s legal adviser, instructed his pupils to hide behind the shield of the Fifth Amendment, much as he had done eleven years earlier in the bartenders’ union trial. Although the tactic was now used routinely in criminal courts, it had never been tested in Congress.
Unaccompanied by a lawyer, Russell braced for the first pertinent question. It came from chief counsel Halley, who wanted to know why Russell had not responded to the committee’s subpoena when it was in Florida. “I refuse to answer that question on the ground that the answer may incriminate me,” came Russell’s historic response.
“That is no excuse,” shot back an off-guard (and misinformed) Halley. “I advise you that you have no privilege that protects you from answering a question that might tend to incriminate you except under federal law.”
When it became clear that Russell believed otherwise, the committee recessed, allowing the legal minds to reconnoiter. Kefauver recommended Russell bring a lawyer with him when he resumed his testimony in three days. When the testimony resumed on the twenty-second, Russell again arrived without an attorney, but with a firm resolve to cling to his rights. When Russell again claimed his rights, Kefauver intoned, “The chair rules that you have no right to decline to answer that question.” Russell answered that he believed the good senator was mistaken, prompting Kefauver to ask, “Who informed you of that?” The bookmaker claimed that he had studied the Constitution himself, although few believed him. Over and over, the committee ordered Russell to respond, at one point calling him selfish.
“What is selfish about wanting to protect your own rights?” Russell queried. At that point, Senator Alexander Wiley of Wisconsin fulminated, “You can lose your citizenship.” And before ending the proceeding, Kefauver threatened to charge Russell with contempt of Congress, but the witness still refused to fold. If the probers believed they had had their worst day, they were mistaken. The testimony by Russell was but a dismal preview of things to come.
Before Kefauver visited Chicago in October 1950, he made it known that one of his prime targets would be Sidney Korshak. In July, shortly after announcing his committee’s September trip to the Second City, Kefauver obtained Korshak’s tax records for 1947-49 from the secretary of the treasury. Committee investigators already on site in Chicago subpoenaed Korshak’s financial records for 1945-48. Korshak promptly complied with the request. The full-court press continued as former Chicago detective William Drury, who had dogged the Outfit in the 1946 James Ragen killing at the cost of his own job, was enlisted by a Miami newsman to monitor Korshak’s movements, the reports of which were shared with Kefauver’s investigators. The Drury surveillance operation ended abruptly on September 25, 1950, when Drury was shot to death in his garage. He had not only been focusing on Korshak, but had been scheduled to deliver explosive new evidence in the Ragen murder, a case that he had continued to investigate. When the Kefauver Committee touched down in Chicago, the prospects for a Korshak inquisition intensified.
Although Kefauver had steadfastly repeated that he was not going to investigate political corruption, the Outfit saw troubling warning signs that prompted them into damage-control mode. Most distressing was the committee’s interest in Korshak, and its staff’s exposure of Chicago police captain and chief investigator for the state’s attorney, Dan “Tubbo” Gilbert. The corrupt cop had amassed an astounding $300,000 nest egg, much of it by betting with Outfit-controlled bookies, and unbeknownst to the committee, running his own handbook on the side. When his executive- session testimony was leaked to the press, the local papers dubbed Gilbert “The World’s Richest Cop.” (In fact, Gilbert had made his real profit by investing his winnings in the stock market with brother-in-law Dan Rice, an investment banker.) Under intense questioning, Gilbert, who was running for Cook County sheriff at the time, admitted that he had in fact earned big winnings by gambling on baseball, football, prizefights, and even elections. He also admitted that he had placed his bets with the Outfit-connected bookie John McDonald.
The committee’s flabbergasted chief counsel asked Gilbert if his activity was legal. Gilbert answered haltingly, “Well, no, it is not legal, no.” After hearing from Gilbert, the committee interrogated his superior, Police Commissioner John C. Prendergast, the same man who had objected to Sergeant Drury’s “persecution” of Outfit members after the Ragen shooting. When Counsel Halley asked Prendergast rhetorically if any of Al Capone’s heirs still operated in Chicago, the commissioner answered with a straight face, “I have no personal knowledge. I have nothing in my reports to indicate they are.” Prendergast’s false display of naivete did nothing to repair Gilbert’s tarnished reputation. In the November election, Gilbert was defeated in his bid for sheriff by more than 370,000 votes, beaten by a last-minute Republican entry. In another mini-victory for the committee, police captain Thomas Harrison was exposed for accepting $32,000 in graft from gambling racketeer John J. Lynch. By the end of the month, Harrison was permanently relieved of duty. (Sharing the local newsprint this headline-filled month was news on October 20 of the death of the man who was arguably Chicago’s most corrupt mayor, Edward J. Kelly, who had run the city for fourteen years after the assassination of Anton Cermak in 1933. Kelly had openly allowed the Outfit to flourish after the capture of Capone. After Kelly’s passing, it was learned that he owned homes in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Palm Springs, California, with a combined value of over $686,799. It was believed to represent just a fraction of his fortune, which was never located.)
Like the rest of Chicago, Joe Accardo read the Gilbert disclosures, but viewed them with a different subtext, one appreciated only by the underworld: For years, Gilbert had worked as chief investigator for the Outfit-corrupted state’s attorney, Tom Courtney. During their reign, thousands of felony charges lodged against Outfit bosses and crews were reduced to misdemeanors.1 But more important, Gilbert was in charge of the police labor detail, a position of critical importance to the efficient running of the city. The bottom line was that the city’s business community depended on Courtney and Gilbert working closely with the Outfit as Curly Humphreys took over one union after another. Frank Loesch, when president of the Chicago Crime Commission, said, “Few labor crimes have been solved in Chicago because of the close association between labor gangsters and law enforcing agencies.” The entire scheme was facilitated by Courtney-Gilbert’s alliance with none other than the gang’s young labor lawyer, Sidney Roy Korshak. An associate of Gilbert’s recently said, “Gilbert worked both sides - labor and business - and he took to Sidney. Sidney learned at his knee.” With Korshak representing the Humphreys-controlled unions, Gilbert became a powerful voice in Chicago’s power structure. One Gilbert acquaintance recently recalled, “Dan Gilbert was the only guy in town who could stop a strike with a phone call.” A call to Sidney Korshak, to be exact.
Given Korshak’s key position at the junction of so many Outfit and Commission national endeavors, Joe Accardo decided to protect Korshak from a public grilling when the Kefauver Committee arrived in the Windy City to conduct formal hearings. Just like other Washington insiders, the Outfit was aware of Estes Kefauver’s vulnerabilities. When the Tennes-sean arrived in Chicago, the gang was poised to exploit these weaknesses for self-preservation.
Kefauver’s Little Problem
Prior to his marriage to the former Nancy Pigott in 1935, Estes Kefauver had a reputation as a stereotypical Southern ladies’ man, a landed-gentry Lochinvar. After his marriage, Kefauver cleaned up his act - at least in Tennessee. Charles Fontenay, who covered Kefauver for the Nashville Tennessean, wrote, “A lot of people knew of his propensity for women, but he was clean as a whistle in Tennessee.” However, in Washington, and wherever else his travels took him, Kefauver was known as a legendary drinker and womanizer. William “Fishbait” Miller, the longtime House “doorkeeper,” who supervised some 357 House employees, called him the “worst womanizer in the Senate.” On Kefauver’s premature death of a heart attack, Miller wrote, “He must have worn himself out chasing pretty legs.” The senator himself provided the fuel for the talk. When on tour in Europe, Kefauver caused a scandal after escorting a famous call girl to a society ball. On another occasion, he trysted with a woman in Paris who was not told of his wife in Tennessee. Afterward, Kefauver recommended his courtesan to a friend who was about to tour France.
On future campaign junkets, Kefauver would become infamous for dispatching his aides to procure women for him. New York Times columnist Russell Baker recalled one night with the candidate on the tour bus when Kefauver was feeling particularly randy. On arrival in a small town “in the middle of the night,” Baker overheard Kefauver telling one of his minions, “I gotta fuck!” Capitol Hill lobbyist Bobby Baker, who would become the first American to have a scandal named after him, wrote that Kefauver regularly put himself “up for sale.” According to Baker, “[Kefauver] didn’t particularly care whether he was paid in coin or in women.” The Outfit, well aware of Kefauver’s proclivities, utilized this knowledge to protect Sidney Korshak, and the secrets he held about the Outfit’s vast empire.
Showdown in Chicago
Finally, in October 1950, months after his investigative team had arrived, Kefauver and his senior staff descended on Chicago. Kefauver took a room in the Palmer House, while the rest of the staff and investigators stayed at the hotel that was also home to Curly Humphreys (as well as the Outfit’s former meeting place), the Morrison. Perhaps not coincidentally, the committee’s chief counsel, Rudolph Halley, complained that the staff’s phones were tapped. But the staff never learned of the Outfit’s planned setup of the chairman. In 1976, reporters Sy Hersh and Jeff Gerth began to unravel the inside story of Kefauver and Korshak in a four-part profile of the well-connected lawyer in the New York Times. A close friend and business associate of Korshak’s told the writers how Korshak and the Outfit had blackmailed the ever-randy Kefauver. The informant told the reporters that he had seen compromising photos of the senator taken in a suite at the luxurious Drake Hotel. Recent interviews have shed more light on the incident.
According to the new telling, Kefauver was enticed to the Drake (on whose board sat Outfit-connected Anthony Ponterelli), where two young women from the Outfit’s Chez Paree nightclub entertained him. “The Outfit had a guy at the Drake, a vice cop who moonlighted as the hotel’s head of security,” a friend of the Korshak family recently divulged.2 “Korshak got the girls; the security guard set up an infrared camera and delivered the prints to Korshak.” The source added that a private meeting was arranged between Kefauver and Korshak. In the brief encounter, Korshak, who had been pre-interviewed on October 26 by Committee investigator George Robinson,3 flung the incriminating photos on Kefauver’s desk. “Now, how far do you want to go with this?” Korshak asked. Kefauver never called Korshak to testify before the committee, despite his being the first of eight hundred witnesses subpoenaed.
On the committee’s October junket to Chicago, the only Outfit boss questioned under oath was Johnny Rosselli, who turned on the charm, admitting he was a small-time bootlegger in the twenties, but insisting that he had cleaned up his life. He spoke of his strikebreaking work for the Hollywood moguls, and how he was now a legitimate film producer. As Ricca had done one month earlier, Rosselli admitted to meeting many gangsters, including Capone, but said he had no business with them. A frustrated Kefauver told Rosselli, “You look like a man who would like to be helpful, but I don’t think you are telling us as much about it as you could tell us.” To which Rosselli replied, “I wish I could.”
Before the Christmas break, the committee heard testimony from the Outfit’s racetrack chieftain, Johnny Patton. Like Russell, Patton had been dodging the committee’s subpoena in Florida, only to finally be tracked down in Chicago. Counsel Halley inquired as to why Patton had refused to come to the door when his wife had been informed that the Senate investigator Downey Rice was waiting to serve him. “I told my wife to pay no attention to him,” Patton answered. “I thought it was Jack Rice, our publicity man, always calling me up for a touch. That is why I ducked that.”
“Mr. Patton, that is the best one I have heard yet,” said Halley.
“Well, it is a good one,” agreed Patton.
After an hour of denials of any criminal associations, Kefauver called an end to the circus, saying, “All right, Mr. Patton. We will see you again sometime.” To which Patton responded, “I hope not.”
Returning to Washington, the committee called no other Outfit notables until Al Capone’s brothers, John and Ralph, were brought to Washington on December 20, for another round of perfunctory testimony.
Curly’s Marionettes Take the Fifth
During the Christmas holidays, the committee’s subpoena finally caught up with Joe Accardo. In January 1951, the man who, unbeknownst to the senators, was the secret boss of the Chicago Outfit testified in Washington. Accompanied by his lawyer, George F. Callaghan, the middle-aged Accardo quietly gave the same response to almost all the questions posed to him: “I refuse to answer.” He let Callaghan explain that the Fifth Amendment’s shield against self-incrimination was the basis for Accardo’s lack of cooperation. In all, Accardo took the Fifth 140 times, only answering a handful of benign inquiries. Callaghan had to explain to dismayed senators that his client had every right to refuse to answer. Senator Charles Tobey of New Hampshire, a righteous member whom Kefauver called “the committee’s lightning rod,” and whom legendary New York UPI reporter Harold Conrad called “about as well-equipped to be investigating gangsters as Shirley Temple,” was particularly frayed by the encounter and interrupted the interrogation to address Kefauver: “I [have] sat here with feelings of rising disgust, and listened to a man come before this committee, and through his answers or refusal to answer, insult this committee and its counsel; and I think it is a new low in the conduct of witnesses before this committee, and we have had some tough ones . . . And so, with a feeling of disgust in my heart toward the witness” attitude and that of his counsel, I move you, sir, that he be cited for contempt.’
Tobey, who regularly toted a Bible into the hearings, inveighed so forcefully at times that he often launched into God-fearing diatribes against the witnesses and, on one occasion, brought himself to tears. Railing against one corrupt police official, Tobey intoned, “Why don’t you resign and get out and put somebody in there that can handle it somebody who has some guts . . . It is revealing and disgusting that a man like you can continue in office! I simply cannot sit here and listen to this type of what I call political vermin!”
Before dismissing Accardo, Tobey led the senators in a unanimous vote for a contempt citation. As will be seen, the charge would wind its way through the courts before its precedent-setting resolution. The Outfit’s bold legal maneuver would trigger a landslide of similar encounters, not only in this investigation, but in many congressional tribunals that would follow. Two weeks after Accardo’s presentation, Joey Aiuppa, the fast-rising Outfit slot-machine manufacturer from Cicero, reprised the performance, refusing to answer all questions. Aiuppa quickly tired of giving the same response; eventually, he sat mute.
“Let the record show that the witness just sits there mute, chewing gum, saying nothing,” a frustrated Halley said before excusing the gangster. Like his boss, Aiuppa was also cited for contempt.
Later that month, the committee arrived in New Orleans, where television station WNOE acquired permission to televise the hearings, preempting its entire commercial schedule. The gambit was such a success that subsequent hearings were televised in New York, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Also attempting to cash in on the drama was a company called Movietone News, which produced hour-long edits of the New York testimony and leased them to theaters across the nation. Kefauver, who initially coveted the attention afforded by the telecasts, eventually found the cameras’ presence to be a drawback, as the committee members began to play to the audience, careful not to become too bogged down in detail that might bore the viewer. Chairman Kefauver tried to cancel the arrangement, but it was too late, commitments having been made to broadcasters. The viewing public was captivated by the event, with some 20-30 million viewers (twice the audience for the 1950 World Series) tuning in regularly. “It is the best thing we have had since television came in,” said one New York viewer. Kefauver biographer Charles L. Fontenay described the reaction of the home audience: “Housework was neglected and movie theaters and stores were nearly deserted as the number of home television sets turned on rose from the normal less than 2 percent to more than 25 percent in the morning and from the normal less than 12 percent to more than 30 percent in the afternoon.”
As expected, the broadcasts made Kefauver a household name overnight, distinguishing him as the first politician to create a national image using the new medium. During those initial New Orleans broadcasts, the committee attempted to probe the gambling empire of local boss Carlos Marcello, a syndicate chief known to be in regular contact with the Outfit. Once again the committee was hit with a tidal wave of responses that began with “I refuse to answer.” In all, Marcello demurred 152 times. When the committee returned to Washington, they heard from one malaprop-prone gang member who lightened the proceedings when he garbled his Fifth Amendment plea by saying his answers might “discriminate against me.”
“Murray went nuts when he heard how the ’spaghetti benders’ almost screwed up what he had worked so hard on,” recalls Humphreys’ then mistress, later wife, Jeanne Stacy. “He had to type it out on index cards so they got it right. Then he worried if they could even read.” Humphreys had little time to chafe over the performance of his inferiors, as the committee finally succeeded in serving a subpoena on him in the spring of 1951. It seemed fitting that his testimony would come near the end of the hearings, a worthy climax that did not disappoint those in attendance in the Capitol in Washington.
Curly and the Stooges
On the morning of May 28, 1951, the Kefauver Committee sat on its raised dais, but it was Curly Humphreys, in rare form, who held court. Although Humphreys’ initial intention was to not answer any questions at all, he soon found he could not pass up the opportunity to match wits with his interrogators. Resorting to the Fifth only on occasion, the master negotiator, who appeared without counsel, preferred to verbally joust with his inquisitors.
After instructing the committee to send photographers out of the room, which they did, Curly politely requested that he be allowed to make an opening statement. For the first five minutes, the committee tried to change the subject, but Curly would hear none of it. “I would still like to get my statement into the record at this time . . . I have requested to make my statement when I first came into the room.” Then he advised, “It will save you time.” Like so many people before, the committee relented under Curly’s articulate purposefulness. Finally granted his demand, Humphreys politely responded, “Thank you.” He then quoted the Fifth Amendment to his questioners, again ending with “Thank you.” Curly then had a longer written statement placed in the record, elaborating on his privilege under the Constitution. At that point, one of the committee counsels unwisely challenged Humphreys on his understanding of the amendment.
“You understand that if we ask you questions, the answers of which will not tend to incriminate you, that you have to answer, and that the only questions you can refuse to answer are the ones which will tend to incriminate you?”
Curly cut him off. “Would you mind telling me your name, sir?”
Kefauver interjected, “This is Mr. Richard Moser, chief counsel for the committee.”
“Oh, I am sorry. I just like to know who I am talking to.” Humphreys then added, “Well, I don’t understand it that way.” Curly next turned self-effacing, saying, “Well, I’m not a lawyer here, and I would like to help this committee if I possibly could, but I don’t feel like I am amongst friends, just to be plainspoken.”
Senator Charles Tobey of New Hampshire naively believed he could cajole Humphreys by resorting to the “good cop” tactic: “Don’t you think, as a good citizen, that you ought to tell us all you know about the sordid characters of the underworld?” Curly deflected him with, “Do you doubt whether I am a good citizen or not?” After teasing the senators by answering their questions about his childhood, Curly started pleading the Fifth when asked about his business dealings. At this point Kefauver interjected, “You do understand in regard to all of these that you are directed to answer by the committee, and you still decline for the reasons you stated?”
Humphreys: “Yes, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much.”
In one of many droll exchanges, Humphreys refused to tell Senator Tobey whether he’d flown in from Chicago with Rocco Fischetti. Humphreys would only admit that he had arrived on the ten-o’clock Capitol Airlines flight from Chicago. A surprised Tobey said, “I was on that flight too.”
Humphreys: “You were? Well, we had a distinguished guest on it then, didn’t we?”
Tobey: “I can say that goes both ways. However, if I had seen you there, maybe we could have settled this all before we got in town.”
Humphreys: “Well, if I had seen you, Senator, I think I would have tried to get off.”
In another verbal joust, Humphreys denied having anything to do with the 1931 Fitchie kidnapping, explaining that the Milk Wagon Drivers’ Union boss had framed him in a fit of vengeance. “His revenge was caused by my being in the milk business,” Humphreys said, “and that was one way of getting me out of the milk business.” The probers were dubious, however, that the genteel man who now appeared before them was ever in the milk business. Tobey attempted to trip Humphreys up, asking, “Which side of a cow do you sit on to milk?” To which an unfazed Humphreys quipped back, “Well, I don’t know if I have ever gotten that low yet.”
When Senator Lester Hunt of Wyoming started asking about Curly’s wife and daughter, Humphreys let him know he would have none of it:
Humphreys: “I don’t see where that has anything to do with this hearing.”
Hunt: “All you have to do is to say you refuse to answer.”
Humphreys: “Let’s start right now. I refuse.”
Hunt: “Do you want to tell me what year your daughter is in high school?”
Humphreys: “I will refuse to answer that, so long as you have suggested that.”
Hunt: “What is your daughter’s first name?”
Humphreys: “I don’t see where my daughter has anything to do with this hearing.”
Hunt: “It is not for you to pass on the type of questions I ask at all. If you don’t care to answer, just say so.”
Humphreys: “Would you like to have people asking questions about your family?”4
Hunt: “You are not questioning the senator; the senator is questioning you. You are the one who is the witness.”
Humphreys: “I realize that, but I still resent the line of questioning, Senator.”
Hunt: “You are going to be cited for contempt; I can tell you that.”
Humphreys: “I am sorry to hear that, sir.”
But the Welshman was not really worried, so certain was he of his interpretation of the Constitution. The set-to concluded with Curly’s asking Hunt, “Then you are under the impression that I am a criminal, is that it?” At this point, a frustrated Hunt threw Humphreys’ legal masterpiece back in his face: “I would refuse to answer the question because it might incriminate me. I have no further questions.” When Kefauver moved to stop the questioning, Humphreys made another demand. He wanted the committee to send a copy of its interim report to whichever court was to hear his contempt citation. This request reminded Kefauver of a similar request by Rocco Fischetti just moments before. It then dawned on Chairman Kefauver that Curly had been coaching the other witnesses. Curly readily admitted his tutelage of the gang. Unable to resist a bit of swagger, he added, “And you know, the longer you fellows work, the more we understand what our rights are.” Having totally disoriented the august body, Curly took his leave, but not before reminding them to forward their report to the courts. With that, Humphreys stood up and smiled courteously, saying, “Thank you very much.”
While Curly Humphreys’ testimony provided comic relief during the public hearings, the secret executive sessions were enlivened by the appearance of the Outfit’s feisty courier-spy, Virginia Hill. Just hours before her public testimony on March 15, 1951, the committee wisely chose to pre-interview the scorpion-tongued vixen behind closed doors during their New York road trip. According to Kefauver aide Ernie Mittler, Senator Tobey refused to drop the topic of Hill’s enormous surfeit of money. Like most other witnesses, Hill had been appropriately vague about her business with the Outfit, but when she had had enough of Tobey’s line of questioning, she knew exactly how to stop it dead in its tracks.
“But why would [Joe Epstein] give you all that money?” Tobey asked for the umpteenth time.
“You really want to know?” Hill teased.
“Yes,” Tobey said. “I want to know why.”
“Then I’ll tell you why. Because I’m the best cocksucker in town.”5
As UPI correspondent Harold Conrad described the scene: “Tobey all but swallowed his Bible.” After the private tete-a-tete, Hill exited the chamber and headed for the open hearing room, where she was met by a horde of flash-camera-toting reporters shoving microphones in her face. The ever unquotable Hill yelled, “Get your fucking cameras out of my face, you cheap fucking bastards! Get out of my fucking way! Don’t I have fucking police protection? I hope the fucking atomic bomb falls on every one of you!”
After a couple of hours of evasive public testimony by Hill, Kefauver announced that he had sealed Hill’s earlier private session, and that, in addition, no questions about what she had said could be asked of the committee. Soon after her dismissal, Hill caught a plane and went into globe-hopping exile, evading the clutches of Elmer Irey’s IRS, which had named her for massive tax evasion. During her fifteen-year odyssey, Hill continued to receive a cash pension from Epstein and the Outfit, which was said to total over $250,000.
The Legacy of the Kefauver Committee
After hearing eight hundred witnesses in fifteen cities, traveling more than fifty-two thousand miles and transcribing more than 11,500 pages of testimony, at a combined cost of $315,000, the Kefauver Committee hearings came to an end. And with eleven months of grueling investigation behind him, Kefauver stepped down, anxious to spend time with his children, who had layered their television with fingerprints attempting to “touch Daddy.” At the time, the chairman said, “I can’t go on. I have got to get some time to get home.” Senator Herbert O’Conor assumed the chairmanship, his chief assignment being the drafting of proposed legislation. Rudolph Halley had the onerous task of writing the committee’s final report, a monumental chore that ultimately resulted in his hospitalization for exhaustion.
For all his efforts to ensnare “the Mafia” and avoid upperworld corruption, Kefauver learned more about the latter than he desired. Kefauver knew that the Hollywood parole scandal, which he called an “abomination,” said more about the Truman administration than it did about the Mafia, but he shuddered at the thought of learning the truth of the matter. Kefauver likewise had to face that Florida’s Governor Warren and Sheriff Sullivan were happy to let the Outfit flourish in their state. In Illinois, Police Commissioner Prendergast, and Captains Gilbert and Harrison were “mobbed up,” not to mention sundry state’s attorneys and legislators. Upperworld crime appeared to eclipse the underworld variety. And Kefauver’s field investigators turned up the proof regularly:
• In Saratoga Springs, New York, Detective Walter Ahearn pretended not to be aware of the profligate bookmaking facilities in that gangster haven. “I never tried to find out certain things,” Ahearn testified. Kefauver later learned that Ahearn earned extra cash by moonlighting as the bookie’s vigorish courier, hauling the gilt from their handbooks and plush casinos to the bank. Saratoga’s police chief, Paddy Rox, also testified that he had no knowledge of illegal gambling in his district. In New York City, it was learned that former mayor William O’Dwyer had received a $10,000 bribe from a firemen’s union, had paid a visit to the apartment of Commission boss Frank Costello, and had refused to prosecute hitman-boss Albert Anastasia.
• In Miami, Lieutenant Phil Short was asked why he had not investigated the S & G bookies. He answered, “I’ve been an officer for better than twenty years, and I know what hot potatoes were.” Also in Florida, Tampa sheriff Hugh Culbreath candidly admitted to running a handbook operation out of his office.
• In Philadelphia, the local gang’s bagman admitted to paying out $152,000 per month in “ice” (graft) to the city’s police department.
• As he had in Truman’s Missouri, Kefauver also sidestepped the touchy subject of Louisiana corruption, which was intimately linked to the committee’s stated interest, gambling. Kefauver investigator Claude Follmer filed a report that spelled out how in the 1930s the mob had “made arrangements” with the governor’s office to allow New York’s Frank Costello to set up syndicated gambling in the Bayou State. Follmer’s report added that a U.S. congressman and a U.S. senator were also the recipients of Costello payoffs. Two years after the hearings, Aaron Kohn, head of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, released a damning report on Big Easy mayor deLesseps “Chep” Morrison. According to Kohn, Morrison’s initial 1946 campaign was financed largely by Carlos Marcello. In return, Marcello was allowed the city’s bookmaking franchise, which necessitated the use of the Outfit/CommissionAv’estern Union race wire. At the same time, New Orleans sheriff John Grosch stashed $150,000 in an attic strongbox according to his divorced wife’s testimony. The money, said Grosch’s ex, had been delivered to the home by well-known known local underworld figures. Jefferson Parish sheriff Frank “King” Clancy was found to have allowed gambling to flourish in the open. (When Clancy tried to change his ways after the hearings, a local newspaperman wrote: “Clancy is making a spectacle of himself by enforcing the law.”)
• Calling for Mayor Morrison’s resignation, Kohn gave voice to the topic too sensitive for the politically ambitious Kefauver: “Finding corruption in New Orleans was like making a virgin gold find when the nuggets were lying on the top of the ground.” But Kefauver was keenly aware of Morrison’s role as a powerful Southern Democrat, and as a likely delegate to the party’s upcoming national convention, where presidential aspirant Estes Kefauver would need all the friends he could get.
Upperworld criminals in politics and big business were fully aware that they had dodged a bullet. As an added bonus, the Kefauver Committee’s hearings riveted the public’s attention to the underworld, and away from the upperworld. Mafia was now a household word.6
The legacy of the Kefauver Committee is decidedly mixed. On one hand, none of the committee’s nineteen legislative recommendations were enacted, in part stalled by the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Nevada senator Pat McCarran, widely perceived as an upperworld ally of gangs just now descending on Las Vegas. It was no secret that McCarran feared any legislation that might impact his home state’s cash cow, legalized gambling. In addition, the country’s infant television industry made urgent pleas to members of the committee, imploring them to drop most of their contempt citations. Many of the witnesses had objected to being forced to testify on national television, and it was feared that the gangsters might win massive civil judgments against the fledgling corporations if their cases were heard in the highest court.
On the other hand, the public reaction to the inquest initiated the formation of more than seventy local anticrime commissions. If nothing else, Kefauver gave the nation its first glimpse into the shadow economy of the underworld, and just a hint of its alter ego in the upperworld. The committee conservatively estimated that the annual illegal gambling take was $15-$20 billion. When Kefauver learned of those figures he asked: “This fifteen billion dollars is about two billion dollars more than the appropriation for our military establishment the last year, is it not?” It would take another decade before the interest generated by Kefauver’s probe translated into meaningful legislation, such as the Wire Act of 1960, which abolished the race wire once and for all, and the outlawing of interstate shipment of slot machines. But by then, of course, the Outfit had moved on to other lucrative opportunities.
In a 1951 interview for Collier’s magazine, Rudolph Halley openly admitted the committee’s failures with regard to penetrating the Outfit: “We knew that Chicago was the crime capital of America, the home of a nationwide crime organization. Yet we never translated our findings into live testimony as we did in other cities . . . We linked [the Outfit] to Florida through income-tax records, and we exposed the Guzik-Accardo invasion of the numbers rackets. But we never smashed behind that awfully thick wall that shields the Capone mob. We just skirted the edges.”
Halley lamented that he might have been more successful “if there had been two years” time instead of just eleven months, and if there had been a staff of two hundred investigators instead of just a dozen.’
For a time, Kefauver, a new folk hero, was the front-runner for the 1952 Democratic presidential nomination. With his coonskin cap on frequent display, he entered sixteen primaries, fourteen of which he won. But backroom party hacks, worried about his private indiscretions and his “disloyalty” to fellow party members caught up in his probe, held more power than the primary voters. Not only were many of his party embarrassed by his revelations, some, such as Chicago’s Senator Scott Lucas, the majority leader and Truman spokesman, saw their careers destroyed. Lucas, who lost his seat to Everett M. Dirksen, openly blamed Kefauver for his defeat, due to his committee’s revelations regarding police corruption in Chicago. Florida’s Governor Fuller Warren, implicated by Kefauver’s bookmaking probe in the Sunshine State, worked tirelessly against Kefauver in the Florida primary.
When the Republicans assembled in Chicago, two weeks before the Democrats, they made official corruption their major issue. The 1952 Democratic National Convention, also held in the Outfit’s Chicago, became the scene of bitter behind-the-scenes party bloodletting.7 When Truman arrived at the convention, he lobbied hard to wrest the nomination from Kefauver and deliver it to Illinois’ governor, Adlai Stevenson, who, like Truman before him, had absolutely no desire for the candidacy. The president sent one of his aides to order candidate Averell Harriman to withdraw and toss his votes to Stevenson, which the subservient Harriman did. “Had I not come to Chicago when I did,” Truman later wrote, “the squirrel-headed coonskin cap man . . . who has no sense of honor would have been the nominee.”
“Nobody’s on the Legit.” -Al Capone
For all his publicized concern about gambling, it became known after the hearings that Kefauver himself not only attended the races at tracks like Laurel, Pimlico, and Hot Springs, but also wagered on their outcome. In a private meeting during the hearings with Commission partner Meyer Lansky, the New York boss asked the chairman, “What’s so bad about gambling? You like it yourself. I know you’ve gambled a lot.” Kefauver replied, “That’s right, but I don’t want you people to control it.” Nobody’s fool, Lansky penetrated Kefauver’s righteous veneer and so informed his biographer years later: “I was convinced that he meant ’you Jews and Italians,’ and that infuriated me.”
There were more troubling dimensions to the Kefauver story. Although the Tennessee crusader was constantly broke, perhaps due to gambling, the local press learned that he had deposited $25,000 into his Chattanooga bank account on January 3,1951 - at the height of the committee’s hearings. The source of the windfall was never learned. Locals also found the timing of Kefauver’s committee resignation to be suspect; just weeks before the chairman’s departure, a Knoxville numbers boss and Kefauver campaign contributor named Herbert Brody was arrested. Although it was revealed that Brody had contributed $100 to Kefauver’s 1948 campaign, insiders whispered that he had actually chipped in $5,000.
In his autobiography, Bobby Baker, the infamous Washington influence peddler, described how he had delivered a briefcase stuffed with $25,000 in cash to a Kefauver aide in 1960. The money had originated with a Texas group hoping to acquire an NFL franchise, but who were opposed by Washington Redskins team owner George Marshall. After the money changed hands, Kefauver’s committee conveniently found that Marshall had been operating an illegal monopoly with his Washington Redskins Television Network, which televised their games throughout the South. That same year, the Dallas Cowboy franchise was awarded to a group headed by Texas oilman Clint Murchison, Jr.
After his death in 1963 at age sixty, it was learned that Kefauver had owned stock valued at $300,000 in drug companies that he had been charged with regulating in the Senate. His chief counsel and close friend from Tennessee, attorney Bernard Fensterwald, Jr., said at the time, “My God! What if a hostile newspaper had gotten ahold of that?”
In the year after the Kefauver Committee disbanded, the forty-six “contempt of Congress” citations it had issued were heard in court, with only three being upheld. In overturning one such charge, Judge Martin of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Humphreys and the Outfit had in fact outwitted the combined wisdom of the Senate’s gaggle of attorneys. “The committee threatened prosecution for contempt if [the witness] refused to answer, for perjury if he lied, and for gambling activities if he told the truth,” the court concluded. Judge Martin added that “to place a person not even on trial for a specified crime in such a predicament is not only not a manifestation of fair play, but it is in direct violation of the Fifth Amendment to our national Constitution.” And despite Halley’s constant promises that his questions could not implicate witnesses in a federal crime, the court believed otherwise. In the case of Joey Aiuppa’s citation, Judge Martin wrote in his opinion:
The motive of the committee and its examiners in calling Aiuppa as a witness was largely to connect him, by his own admission, with the operations of nefarious organizations engaged in criminal activities on a national scale . . . It is evident that most of the information sought to be elicited from Aiuppa concerning his activities was already in the hands of the committee . . . The courts of the United States could not emulate the committee’s example and maintain even a semblance of fair and dispassionate conduct of trials in criminal cases.
In the years since the Kefauver hearings, the public has been treated to the sight of countless gangsters, as well as unfairly persecuted leftists, repeating for various congressional tribunals the mantra introduced by Curly Humphreys and the Outfit. After his legal triumph, Curly took a much deserved vacation at Owney Madden’s gangster spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There soon appeared over the fireplace in Curly’s Oklahoma home a new wooden plaque he had carved while on vacation. The inscription read, “I Refuse to Answer on the Grounds That it Might Incriminate Me.” It was his self-bestowed award for his invaluable gift to future congressional witnesses.
The Outfit’s long history of financial success owed much to its awareness that every scam it conceived had a built-in, finite life span. Nonetheless, if the gang was fortunate, an operation might be milked for years before the G would crack down or the upperworld would appropriate it for itself. Thus when Western Union, under pressure after the Kefauver investigation, began clipping its wires to suspicious distributors such as the Outfit’s Continental Press, Accardo and his minions took it in stride. After all, by this time, Chicago’s empire of crime was awash in profits, and the nation’s newest immigrants were nothing if not the definition of survivors. In addition, closing down Continental would be only a temporary halt in the gang’s bet-taking franchise, as the resourceful rogues would eventually oversee a massive sports betting operation that included everything but racing; with the growth of gamblers’ interests in professional sports teams such as baseball, football, and basketball (not to mention boxing and college sports), there would be few tears shed over the loss of the ponies. In a few years, after being forced to relinquish their handbook invention over to the upperworld, who labeled their version “offtrack betting,” the Outfit’s bookmaking network merely adapted to the new situation.
While Accardo and his buddies enjoyed the good life, starry-eyed, Outfit-connected Chicagoans continued to bring new ideas to the table, hoping to mimic the success of Mooney Giancana, who had “made his bones” with the bosses when he’d brought them the numbers and the jukebox rackets, which continued to bring treasure to the confederation. One of the more inventive, if distasteful, scams concocted during this period involved duping the city’s entire population for almost two years, while the hoods netted a quick couple million. When the deception was revealed, Windy City citizens were sickened, literally. In January 1952, federal inspectors revealed that since 1950, millions of unknowing Chicagoans, as well as tourists, had been ingesting horse and mule meat when they thought they were eating hamburger.
Months earlier, Governor Adlai Stevenson had begun hearing rumors that the Outfit had been selling millions of servings of “horseburgers” in the Chicago area, arguably the meatpacking capital of the world. An initial investigation by the state’s superintendent of foods and dairies, Charles Wray, was fruitless, with Wray declaring that he was unable to prove the allegations. A subsequent inquiry by the federal government’s director of the Office of Price Stabilization (OPS), Michael Howlett, reached a much different conclusion: For the last two years, Illinoisans who had ordered Black Angus were instead ingesting Black Beauty.
The allure of the new racket was obvious: Florsemeat could be purchased wholesale for ten cents a pound, whereas ground beef was fetching four times that price. Gang-controlled processing plants were producing a blend of 40 percent horseflesh and 60 percent ground beef. The malicious mixture was then doctored with “dynamite,” a chemical that gave the meat a red tint and also disguised any rotten portions. Finally, the concoction was sold to restaurants for eighty cents per pound. If the hoods’ consciences needed assuaging, they could rationalize that Europeans, and especially those from southern Italy, had eaten horsemeat continually for ages.8“It’s all in your mind,” admitted one UPI reporter covering the story. “Horsemeat is as clean as beef or pork.” Although the surfacing of the operation led to allegations that the horsemeat was spoiled, these contentions were not corroborated by any statistical surge in intestinal maladies. Apparently, no one even detected a difference in taste.
During the swindle, millions of pounds of the meaty concoction were served to the public. One of the equine suppliers later admitted to selling one hundred thousand pounds of horseflesh per week to the plotters. Another supplier sold fifty-five thousand pounds in thirteen days, and one small wholesaler was found to have bankrolled $250,000 in four months. And since the “blended” product sold at a cheaper price, otherwise honest meatpackers had adopted the practice in order to compete with their less scrupulous competitors. Eventually, more than twenty-five large wholesalers had joined the racket, and many of the city’s best restaurants, such as the swank Blackhawk on Randolph Street, had fallen prey to the fraud. The local wags had a field day, utilizing an assortment of peptic puns as they invented new names for the fare on local menus: “chili con filly,” “colt cuts,” and “porterhorse steaks,” all followed by a “pony of brandy.”
The initial arrests naturally involved the underworld masterminds. In Louis Campagna’s Berwyn suburb, Meyer Ditlove, who managed a horse-slaughtering plant, was arrested for bribing a state food inspector to not inspect his meat shipments; in Lake Zurich, authorities nabbed Joe Siciliano, the owner of the Lake County Packing Company, who expressed shock over his arrest, exclaiming, “Gee, you’d think I ground up Man o’ War!” But as the investigation proceeded, it became apparent that the horseburger episode was just one more proof of Al Capone’s contention that “nobody’s on the legit.” The gangsters had once again exploited a culture that was, with a few exceptions, corrupt from top to bottom. The feds eventually learned why state food inspector Charles Wray had failed to unravel the deception: He had been paid $3,500 by Joe Siciliano to look the other way while the gang “loaded” the ground-beef stocks. Wray was fired and indicted, and more than a dozen other state inspectors were likewise relieved of duty, with some admitting to having taken $450 per month to allowr the horsemeat to flow. Both Chicago’s chief food inspector and its health commissioner, who had held the post for almost thirty years, were forced to resign. The commissioner was soon indicted, but the charge was eventually dismissed.
Surveying the growing list of civil servants and politicians of both parties caught up in the scandal, The Nation’s Carey McWilliams wrote that it was “silly” to blame the scandal on the underworld alone. After the revelation that some 4.5 million pounds of horsemeat had been eaten in Chicago in twenty-four months, a number of the city’s most famous restaurants were forced to close, some permanently. Grocery stores reported that sales of hamburger dropped 50 percent, and a flurry of ads began appearing in the local media in an effort to reassure consumers. One business owner, Chris Carson, gave away more than one hundred thousand hamburgers “writh all the trimmings” to help restore customer confidence in his product.
The public’s reaction to Kefauver’s “Mafia” and the loss of the horseburger racket appear to have marked a turning point in the Outfit’s business plan. Combined with the 1950 passage of the Johnson Act, which outlawed slot machines in every state but Nevada, the charged atmosphere convinced the Outfit bosses to reconnoiter. After years of bootlegging, bookmaking, and labor racketeering, the hoods decided they had amassed a bankroll sufficient to fulfill the ultimate immigrant dream: investing in legitimate upperworld businesses. Throughout the early fifties, the gang acquired countless Chicago-area companies. In addition to massive real estate tracts, car dealerships, food processing and distribution plants, restaurants and liquor stores, the gang purchased eight local hotels, according to the Chicago Daily News. An article from the period in the Chicago Tribune noted, “The millions rolling in from the rackets touched [Joe] Accardo with gold. He acquired stocks, bonds, hotels, restaurants, auto agencies, liquor firms, appliance companies, and a sprawling stone house in River Forest, where even the plumbing was gold-plated.” Writing in The Nation in 1952, Carey McWilliams concluded: “The gambling racket is dead. The mob is now infiltrating into big business - all business - and all the political power it can muster will be used to put official ’muscle’ into operation against legitimate merchants and manufacturers.”
But the gambling racket was far from dead; only the illicit variety was temporarily drying up. As chance would have it, a new, and legal, gambling venture was now available to any individual or consortium with deep enough pockets to meet the prohibitive start-up costs. It became apparent to the newest Second City entrepreneurs that the legitimate commercial venture with the greatest profit potential was the embryonic casino industry, sanctioned only in Nevada and in the nation’s offshore playground, Cuba. The concept was a no-brainer from the start. Since casino gambling was legally structured to give “the house” the advantage at the tables, owners had no need to fix games to make a profit. (The house’s built-in advantage ranged from 1 percent for blackjack to 5.2 percent for roulette to a staggering 20 percent for keno. The numbers seem small until they are multiplied by the billions wagered yearly.) It soon became a gangster truism that the only gamblers who win are the ones who own the tables. In addition, with the vast amounts of clean cash wafting through the count room, the gangs would have an ideal setup in which to launder income from less savory enterprises; not to mention what could be stolen, or “skimmed,” from the uncounted stacks of cash.
The upperworld typically waxed euphemistic when describing its participation in one of the oldest of vices. For the sake of appearances, gambling was now to be called gaming, and in the 1950s the Outfit, as content with the hollow distinction as anyone, jumped headfirst into the gaming industry.
1. When investigators pressed Gilbert about the paucity of gangster arrests, Gilbert replied that he had arrested Roger Touhy for the Jake Factor kidnapping. At this time, of course, Touhy was still wrongfully imprisoned, and the Humphreys-Courtney concocted sham had not yet been exposed.
2. The security guard’s name is known to the author, but attempts to locate him have been unsuccessful.
3. When speaking with Robinson, Korshak calmly stated that he believed his targeting by Kefauver was due in large part to a recent expose of Korshak by Lester Velie in Collier’s magazine. Korshak explained that Velie had not only exaggerated the facts, but often invented them. But according to Sidney, there was a reason for the Velie attack: Velie had held a twenty-year grudge against Korshak since their college days at the University of Wisconsin, where Korshak, a boxing champion, had punched Velie (whose real name was Levy) in the nose.
4. Humphreys was particularly sensitive about this issue, since his daughter, Llewella, suffered from mental instability and had spent three years in a sanitarium in Kansas, setting Humphreys back some $36,000. Years later, the FBI’s hidden microphone picked up Humphreys talking about the Kefauver incident: “When you get into something, like when he starts out, you know, about my daughter “Is your daughter nuts?” - I could have up and powdered the guy.”
5. The author spoke with one of Hill’s many Chicago lovers who recalled, “I once told her that she played a prick like Harry James played a trumpet. She laughed and said, “That’s funny. Spread the word.” She was quite proud of her abilities.”
6. In his seminal 1968 book on the power elite, The Rich and the Super Rich, Ferdinand Lundberg reached sober conclusions on the Kefauver episode: “Senator Estes Kefauver found representatives of the vulpine Chicago Mafia ensconced in the Illinois legislature, which has been rocked by one scandal of the standard variety after the other off and on for seventy-five or more years. What he didn’t bring out was that the Mafians were clearly superior types to many non-Mafians.”
7. Ironically, Kefauver selected as his Chicago organizer attorney A. Bradley Eben, who had been the Outfit’s lead lawyer in the Hollywood extortion trial.
8. During the 2001 European mad-cow-disease scare, French restaurants openly sold meals featuring horsemeat as a substitute for beef.