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John D. Torrio
Early view of John Donato Torrio in 1903. In New York he was first known as the sporting saloonist.
Dabbled in promoting boxers and wrestlers.
Known as Johnny "The Fox" Torrio, Johnny "Papa", "The Immune", Frank Langley, Mr. McCarthy.
Donato Torrio, born in Irsina (Montepeloso), Italy, January 16,1882. At age of 2, his widowed mother immigrates him to America. John is added to Americanize his name. Johnny grows up in New York city slums. As a young boy he works as a porter at his new stepfather's grocery which is just a front for moonshine and beer drinkers. As a teenager, he hangs around with the young petty thieves. Many gangs made up New York at the turn of the century, gangs with names like the Whyos,the Dead Rabbits, Plug Uglies and (Paolo Vaccarelli also well known as Paul Kelly and his) Five pointers or Five points gang.The latter producing big mobsters like Lucky Luciano, Al Capone and Johnny Torrio. Johnny earns the respect of Paul Kelly when Kelly observes Johnny as he directs a small crew of petty thieves called the James street gang who bring him enough money to open a pool hall. In this pool hall other nefarious enterprises begin to sprout,things like gambling and loansharking. Kelly makes Torrio his Vice president of sorts for the Five Points Gang. His ties to other mob bigshots are strengthened by word of mouth on how shrewed,fair and honest Torrio is with his crew. Torrio has partners such as Frankie Yale in which they exchange favors for gang members. (Jobs, protection from police or other mobs). Torrio makes friends with many and stays in contact with most over the years such as Frankie Yale (Uale), Robert Vanella (Roxy) and Paul Vaccarelli (Kelly). Even though he has only three years of schooling under his belt he has a natural ability for making money. He dabbles in boxing, prostitution, gambling and booze.
John Torrio at left
John Torrio avidly dabbles in boxing promoting new young pugilists. He travels around the country and when in Chicago meets up with another boxing fan named James Colosimo. The two become friends. Colosimo is the bigshot in Chicago who found himself being harrassed by black handers who terrorized Colosimo for money ever since he made it to the big time. Colosimo was a street sweeper who dabbled in politics and prostitution and made his fortune. Victoria Moresco also is partner with big Jim in the prostitution business acting like a madam. In 1909, Torrio arrives from New York to take care of the Black hander problem in Chicago. Torrio gets rid of the black handers by hiring help and killing the black handers at a money drop off point suggested by the kilers. Big Jim is pleased and invites Johnny to stay on and run his prostitution dives in Burnham. Johnny turns most of his dives into classier places than Jim is accustomed to. He diecides to refurbish most of the bordellos from crab infested little rooms known as cribs to classy places of drink, gambling and sex giving competition to places like The once popular Everleigh club.
Victoria Moresco Big Jim Colosimo
Classy Whorehouse run by Torrio
Torrio does such a great job with Colosimo's dives that Colosimo makes him a Lieutenant and in charge of Big Jim's restaurant and cabaret called Colosimo's at 2126 South Wabash. Big Jim is also involved with another piece of business which will occupy all of his time and inevitably get him killed. Her name is Dale Winter a cbaret singer taken under Colosimo's wing. He is smitten by her and demands a divorce from Victoria Moresco. Torrio is now left to take care of business by himself balancing the whorehouses one in particular called the Four Deuces in which Torrio has his office at. It is situated at 2222 South Wabash ave. When he is at home Torrio plays the devoted respectable husband listening to opera records and humming all the arias by heart. He loves his wife immensely, but never divulges any of his business to her.
Dale Winter part of Colosimo's downfall
Four Deuces at 2222 S .Wabash
Close up of 2222 South Wabash.
2222 South Wabash Ave. Four Deuces cafe as it looks today.
(Photo courtesy of Mr. Joe Walters)
In late 1920, Torrio summons New York for help in assisting in his multi-tasked affairs. His old partner Frankie Yale later sends him a young tough who needs some polish to his character and a place to hide from murder charges hanging over his head and retribution from rival gangs. The young tough sent is Alphonse Capone. Much speculation has made as to exactly what year Al Capone makes his appearance in Chicago. Most history books put it at 1919, but in reality Al comes to Chicago late 1920 to early 1921. This is revealed in prison documents by Al Capone himself in an interview with doctors upon his arrival at the Atlanta penitentiary in 1932. Many have put Capone as being involved with Colosimo's murder yet no proof of Capone being at the funeral has turned up.
Al Capone makes his official Chicago debut in the newspapers Jan 21,1921, as Al Brown in a raid on a gambling dive in Burnham. On August 31,1922, Capone was drunkenly waiving a gun after a fender bender. He is identified as Alfred Caponi.
A young Al Capone
Prohibition had kicked in Jan 17,1920, on the same day Al Capone celebrates his 21st birthday. A year later Capone is hired as a bouncer and roper (brings in customers to the bordello) at the Four Deuces. He calls out to the passer by "Hey fella we got some nice girls upstairs".This bordello is probably where Al acquires his syphillis. Torrio forsees lots of profit to be made with the illegal alcohol trade.He implores his boss Big Jim Colosimo to partake in the profits before it's too late. Big Jim refuses. He states that he is happy enough with his proceeds from prostitution and the restaurant. He lets business slip as he falls more in love with Dale Winter. He needs only enough booze to run his restaurant and forbids Torrio to participate in bootlegging, warning him of the federal offenses associated with it. Torrio sets out a plan to satisfy himself and Victoria Moresco who is now dogged with a divorce from Colosimo. (Colosimo still goes ahead and marries Dale Winter on April 17,1920 in Indiana). Torrio puts out a contract on Colosimo and hires Frankie Yale as the hitman. The two meet in New York a couple of weeks before Colosimo is killed.
April 27,1920. Vanella, Torrio and Yale meet up as they do ever so often.
This documented one is a couple of weeks before Big Jim Colosimo is executed.
May 11,1920, Colosimo goes to his restaurant after receiving a phone call. He is awaiting a shipment of booze to arrive. At about 2:00 in the afternoon Colosimo was waiting in the vestibule when a .38 was placed behind his ear and fired. Colosimo was dead.
Frankie Yale was stopped on a train, but later released. Johnny Torrio brought on the crocodile tears and claimed innocence. Victoria was questioned, but later released.The murder was never solved.
scene of Colosimo's murder ( from X - Marks the spot)
July 3,1921, Robert Vanella, his bride Sadie and his best man John Donato Torrio.
Torrio and Vanella had along history together.
(The estate of John D. Torrio via the Slockbower/Caputo executor) See Torrio personal items
Mario Gomes Collection
Having grown up together John Torrio is very close to Robert 'Roxie' Vanella. He is his best man at his wedding.
Vanella did prison time for murder in Montana and worked for a short time in Chicago for Torrio. They survived a shooting police altercation there and remain best of friends until Vanella's death in 1928. Vanella had owned with his family an undertaking establishment. He took care of Al Capone's father's funeral in 1920. Johnny is said to have put in a word that sent a teenage Al Capone to go work with Frankie Yale at the Harvard Inn on Coney Island. Frankie Yale will then later return the favor and send Al to work for Torrio.
Respect for Gabriel Capone was such that Frankie Yale had sent a huge floral coumn and Torrio's best pal, Robert Vanella, took charge of the funeral arrangements for the Capone family. Torrio and Yale both knew and respected Al Capone's father. He had been a champion for the Italian way of life in the Brooklyn community.
(The Standard Union, November 17,1920).
Torrio will take time to savor his riches by occaisionally leaving Capone in charge and taking trips. Here in 1922, he is accompanied by his wife and Tribune reporter Alfred 'Jake' Lingle (and his wife). Both couples went to Cuba. Lingle was on his honeymoon.
Torrio quickly expanded his business to include bootlegging raking in millions with his organizational flair. Capone became second in command. In 1924, after O'Banion doublecrosses Torrio in a brewery deal, Torrio will finally okay the Genna hit on O'Banion. Normally a man of peace, Torrio is now consumed with anger towards O'Banion who purposely called the police to have Torrio arrested. Torrio now faces prison time and a record for violating the federal law of Prohibition.
After the O'Banion hit, Torrio suddenly feels very threatened. At the funeral, the O'Banion gang members stare at Torrio and Capone with icy cold death stares knowing full well Torrio gave the go ahead for their mentor's demise.They incessantly stalk Torrio until January 24,1925. That day in front of Torrio's appartment at 7016 S. Clyde ave. while Torrio is returning from a shopping trip with his wife, he is attacked by Hymie Weiss and George "Bugs" Moran. Vincent Drucci is driving the hit car. Bugs and Hymie let loose with a volley of shots from a .45 auto and a .12 gauge shotgun. One bullet strikes Torrio's auto shattering the glass.Another hits his Chauffeur in the legs. Torrio is hit in the arm as he stumbles over the packages he has acquired from shopping. His wife Anna Theodosia Jacob Torrio sees this happening and is totally horrified. Neighbors can't understand why anyone would want to hurt poor Mr. Langley (alias). The next round of slugs tears into Torrio's jaw.
Torrio Hit scene
The next shots find their way in his lung and abdomen. Bugs Moran presses his .45 to Torrio's temple for the final blow. Click! Click! he is out of ammo. He struggles to put and clip in the colt when Drucci signals with the horn that it's time to split! The killers get into their car and disapper in the darkness.Torrio is gurgling blood. Anna screams to her mother upstairs to call the police.The ambulance arrives as Torrio signals them to cauterize the wounds. He is in fear that the killers had rubbed the tips of their bullets with garlic. (A common belief was that this would induce lead poisoning when in fact, all it would do is cause a garlic scented bullet).
Torrio misteps while leaving court
Torrio slowly recovers refusing to name his assailants to the police. Al Capone has guards around the clock for Johnny and vows to kill the Northsiders. After full recovery from his injury and serving a year in jail (for breaking prohibition laws) He makes a wise descision. Torrio has the brains, but cannot stomach the violence of Chicago gangland. In November of 1925, while on a trip to Cuba, then Florida with his wife Anna, Al Capone and his wife Mae, John Torrio hands over all of the Chicago operations to Al Capone on a silver platter. He decides to retire alive with his savings, wife and mother over to the safety of travelling Italy, France, Belgium, England, Hawaii and Florida. Torrio loves Hawaii so much that he will live at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel from 1926 to 1928.
1925 Torrio after leaving hospital.
His scarf hides the gun shot scars on his neck put there by the Northsiders.
What me worry? Ha!
Living a quiet existence he later was called in 1931 for testimony in the Al Capone trial. In 1936, he got into trouble while dabbling in illicit liquor in which the taxes were omitted. On April,12,1939, he was indicted along with his brother in law named William Slockbower. (Husband of his half sister Grace Caputo).
William Slockbower married Torrio's half sister Grace Caputo.
Torrio got two years for evading $86,000 in income taxes and William Slockbower got a year suspended sentence and was placed on probation for a year. After his sentence, Torrio came in and out of retirement to oversee certain aspects of organized crime. His opinion and judgement was respected by many gangsters he was considered and elder statesman in crime like Meyer Lansky. He was also considered one of the architects of modern organized crime. He lived his later years in his beloved New York city where he dies on April 16,1957, from a heart attack in a barber's chair. He actually dies a few hours later in an oxygen tent. The press finds out about his death three weeks after his entombment.
Torrio Mausoleum Greenwood Cemetary New York.
(Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr)
Inside view of John D. Torrio's mausoleum.
(Photo courtesy of Ginny Michaels)
My special heartfelt thank-you to Concetta Terlizzi from Orsara di Apulia for her hard work in uncovering what the D in John's name meant. Grazie!
First Posted June 2003