Giovanni Torrio
Born Giovanni Torrio
January 20, 1882
Died 16 April 1957(1957-04-16) (aged 75)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Cause Heart attack
Charge(s) 1st degree murder
Conviction(s) Prohibition violation
Penalty 1 year
Spouse Anne Torrio
Parents Lobasko Torrio
Children 3

John "Papa Johnny" Torrio (January 20, 1882 – April 16, 1957), also known as "The Fox" and as "The Immune", was an Italian-American mobster who helped build the criminal empire known as the Chicago Outfit in the 1920s that was later inherited by his protégé, Al Capone.[1][2] He also put forth the idea of the National Crime Syndicate in the 1930s and later became an unofficial adviser to the Genovese crime family.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Torrio's birthplace is a topic of debate. He was born in southern Italy and possible sites of his birth are Naples[3] and Amalfi[4] (Campania), Orsara di Puglia[5] (Apulia) and Irsina (Basilicata).[6]

His father died when he was two years old, and his widowed mother emigrated with him to New York City.

His first jobs were as a porter and bouncer in Manhattan. While a teenager, he joined a street gang and became their leader; he eventually managed to save enough money and opened a billiards parlor for the group, out of which grew illegal activities such as gambling and loan sharking. Torrio's business acumen caught the eye of Paolo Vaccarelli (a.k.a. Paul Kelly), the leader of the famous Five Points Gang. Jimmy "The Shiv" DeStefano, Danny "Big Wang" Glaister and Al Capone, who worked at Kelly's club, admired Torrio's quick mind and looked to him as their mentor. Torrio greatly admired Kelly, who knew much about organized crime culture; Kelly convinced the younger man to dress conservatively, stop swearing, and set up a front as a legitimate entrepreneur. The lessons Torrio learned from Kelly stayed with him throughout his career; Torrio eventually earned the moniker of "The Fox" due to his cunning and diplomatic ways.

Torrio's gang ran legitimate businesses, but its main concern was the numbers game, supplemented by incomes from bookmaking, loan sharking, hijacking, prostitution, and opium trafficking. Capone and DeStefano were members of the Juniors, and soon joined the Five Points Gang. Torrio eventually hired Capone and DeStefano to bartend at the Harvard Inn, a bar in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn owned by Torrio's business associate, Francesco Ioele (a.k.a. Frankie Yale).

The Colosimo killing[edit | edit source]

In 1918, Yale contacted Torrio and requested that he should take Capone to Chicago as he was facing prison time. Capone needed to escape a murder investigation in New York and needed to tidy up his image[vague]. Capone went to Chicago and became a bouncer at one of Torrio's Chicago brothels and soon became manager of The Four Deuces. One year later, Prohibition went into effect, making all manufacture, purchase, or sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. Torrio immediately realized the immense profits bootlegging could bring and urged "Big Jim" Colosimo to enter the business, though Colosimo refused. In addition, Colosimo felt that expansion into other rackets would only draw more attention from the police and rival gangs. During this same period, Colosimo divorced Victoria, Torrio's aunt, and married Dale Winter, an actress and singer. Winter convinced Colosimo to settle down, dress more conservatively, and stay out of the news.

At this point, Torrio realized that Colosimo was a serious impediment to the mob's potential fortunes. With the approval of Colosimo's allies, the Genna brothers and Aiello, Torrio invited Yale to come to Chicago and kill Colosimo. The murder took place on May 11, 1920, in the main foyer of Colosimo's Cafe. No one was ever prosecuted. Torrio took over the deceased Colosimo's vast criminal kingdom and started to venture into bootlegging.

Rivalry with North Side Gang[edit | edit source]

As the 1920s progressed, Torrio and Capone presided over the expansion of the Chicago Outfit as it raked in millions from gambling, prostitution, and now bootlegging. The Outfit soon came to control the Loop (Chicago's downtown area), as well as much of the South Side. However, it was also intent on seizing the profitable Gold Coast territory, which drew the ire of the powerful North Side Gang led by Dion O'Banion.

The Outfit and the North Side Gang began a fragile alliance, but tension between O'Banion and the Gennas (who were Outfit allies) over territorial rights mounted. The Gennas wanted to kill O'Banion, but Torrio, not wanting all-out gang warfare, resisted the move. Finally, tensions boiled over when O'Banion cheated Torrio out of $500,000 in a brewery acquisition deal and caused Torrio's arrest. Out of patience, Torrio finally ordered O'Banion killed. On November 10, 1924, O'Banion was murdered in his North Side flower shop by Yale, John Scalise, and Albert Anselmi. O'Banion's murder sparked a bloody, brutal gangland war between the North Side Gang and the Outfit that eventually chased Torrio out of Chicago.

Assassination attempt[edit | edit source]

On Saturday, January 24, 1925, in retaliation for the O'Banion assassination, North Siders Hymie Weiss, Vincent Drucci, and Bugs Moran attacked Torrio as he was returning to his apartment at 7106 South Clyde Avenue from a shopping trip with Anna, his wife. A hail of gunfire from Weiss and Moran greeted Torrio's car, shattering its glass. Torrio was struck in the jaw, lungs, groin, legs, and abdomen. Moran attempted to deliver the coup de grâce into Torrio's skull, but ran out of ammunition. Drucci signalled that it was time to go, and the three North Siders left the scene. The severely wounded Torrio managed to survive.

The gang war between the North Side Gang and the Chicago Outfit continued for several more years. The Northsiders, along with Capone, decimated the Genna family and sent the rest of the surviving brothers fleeing. The Northsiders also continued a turf war with Capone – a war that cost both sides friends and buildings. This war continued until the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Capone's final attempt to kill Moran. The massacre failed and Moran survived. It also turned the government's full attention to Capone and eventually led to his being sent away to prison for tax evasion.

Retirement[edit | edit source]

Torrio, having undergone emergency surgery, recovered slowly from the assassination attempt. Capone had men guarding Torrio around the clock to make sure his beloved mentor was safe. Throughout this entire ordeal, Torrio, observing the gangland principle of "omertà" (total silence) never mentioned the names of his assailants. After his release from the hospital, Torrio served a year in jail for Prohibition violations. Throughout his reign as boss of the Chicago mob, Torrio had witnessed the massive increase in violence within organized crime. The near-death experience frightened him badly, and combined with his prison sentence and the increasing difficulty in his work, it persuaded Torrio to retire while he was still alive. In late 1925 Torrio moved away to Italy with his wife and mother, where he no longer dealt directly in mob business. He gave total control of the Outfit to Capone, saying as he left "It's all yours Al. Me? I'm quitting'. It's Europe for me."

Later years[edit | edit source]

In the 1930s, Torrio returned to the United States to testify in Capone's trial. At that time, he suggested to top New York City-based crime lords such as Lucky Luciano that they create one crime syndicate encompassing all the smaller gangs that were constantly at each other's throats. He presented this idea in New York to Luciano, as well as Lepke Buchalter, Longy Zwillman, Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky at a four-star Park Avenue hotel. (This conference and its attendees were later disclosed by Abe Reles.) His idea was well received, and he was given great respect, as he was considered an "elder statesman" in the world of organized crime. Once Luciano implemented the concept, the National Crime Syndicate was born.

Death[edit | edit source]

In 1957, Torrio had a heart attack in Brooklyn while sitting in a barber's chair waiting for a haircut, dying several hours later in the hospital.[7][2] The media did not learn about his death until three weeks after his burial.[8] The official Elmer Irey wrote about him in his memoirs as follows: «He was the smartest and, I dare say, the best of all the hoodlums. 'Best' referring to talent, not morals».[9]

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

Johnny Torrio has been portrayed several times in television and motion pictures:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "John Torrio Pleads Guilty". Associated Press. April 12, 1939.,1877925&dq=johnny+torrio&hl=en. Retrieved 2012-08-06. "Johnny (the Immune) Torrio, deciding he wasn't immune to relentless government prosecution, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court ..." 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Johnny Torrio, Ex-Public Enemy 1, Dies. Made Al Capone Boss of the Underworld". New York Times. May 8, 1957. Retrieved 2012-08-06. "The man who put Al Capone into business died unnoticed in a Brooklyn hospital three weeks ago, it was learned yesterday. ..." 
  3. Nate Hendley, Al Capone: Chicago's King of Crime, p.9
  4. Antonio Nicaso, Il piccolo Gatsby, p.75
  5. Curt Johnson, R. Craig Sautter, Wicked city Chicago: from Kenna to Capone, p.98
  6. Sten Nordland. "Al Capone, Johnny Torrio and Virginia". Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  7. "Torrio Dies. Gave Capone Racket Start". Associated Press. May 8, 1957.,3048501&dq=johnny+torrio&hl=en. Retrieved 2012-08-06. "Johnny Torrio, first of the bigtime bootleggers, died after a heart attack in a Brooklyn barber's chair April 16. So obscure had he become that his death went ..." 
  8. Jay Robert Nash, The Great Pictorial History of World Crime, Volume 1, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, p.503
  9. Robert G. Folsom, The Money Trail, Potomac Books, 2010, p.231

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • McPhaul, Jack. Johnny Torrio: First of the Gang Lords. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1970.
  • Russo, Gus. The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld In the Shaping of Modern America. ISBN 1-58234-279-2

External links[edit | edit source]

Business positions
Preceded by
Jim Colosimo
Chicago Outfit Boss
Succeeded by
Al Capone

Template:American Mafia

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