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Leo Vincent Brothers
Bio by Mr. Daniel Waugh
St. Louis gangster Leo Vincent Brothers, convicted killer of Chicago Tribune legman Alfred "Jake" Lingle, has remained something of an enigma despite being convicted of one of the Windy City's most high-profile murders.
He was born Langford Vincent Brothers in Belleville, Illinois on April 14, 1901. His parents, Harvey Brothers and Rosa Langford, were married in Vanderburgh County, Indiana on February 14, 1899. Vincent had one older sister, Elsie. At the time of Vincent's birth, the family was living in a ramshackle apartment house at 735 East Main Street in Belleville while Harvey supported his burgeoning family by working as a barber. By 1910, Vincent's parents' marriage had disintegrated and Rosa had taken her two children across the river to live in St. Louis proper, at 3212 Park Avenue in the South Side neighborhood of Lafayette Park.
Brother's navy record.
(Photo courtesy of Dan Waugh)
Little else is known directly of Brothers' youth. Brothers had enlisted in the Navy during World War 1, but had never been sent overseas to see any battle. The 1920 census had the 19-year old Brothers living his mother at 5805 Theodosia Avenue in the West End of St. Louis. Perhaps tellingly, this part of St. Louis was known as a rough neighborhood and a home to many unsavory types; the district was known as "Hell's Half Acre". Brothers seems to have first felt the pull of the streets around this time. Playing on his middle initial, Brothers dubbed himself "Leo", and often used the alias of Bader.
Betty Cook, who was Brother's girlfriend at the time of his arrest in connection with the Lingle killing.
(Mario Gomes collection)
During the early 1920's, Brothers found his way into the lower rungs of the notorious Egan's Rats mob. Whatever crimes Leo committed during his criminal apprenticeship at the Maxwelton Club did not attract the attention of the police or media. After the Egan Gang hierarchy was imprisoned for mail robbery in November 1924, Leo Brothers drifted into the orbit of the South Side-based Cuckoo Gang. The tall, muscular Brothers found his specialty was labor-related strongarm work.
In January 1928, Brothers was arrested and charged with the armed robbery of the Arco Cafeteria at 409 North Broadway. Leo beat this rap, as he did with a June 1928 charge of throwing stink bombs at service cars in the parking garages of the Coronado and Chase hotels. He was also charged in March 1929 with stink-bombing a truck belonging to the Paris Dyeing & Cleaning Company. Brothers became known as the go-to guy when it came to union muscle tactics. Officially employed as an "organizer" in the mob-controlled United Service Car Driver's Association, Leo Brothers was the one who was called to rough up recalcitrant service car drivers or to stink bomb/dynamite their cars.
By the summer of 1929, Leo Brothers had been arrested by St. Louis a total of 54 times. Needless to say, he had never been convicted of anything.
St Louis gangster Leo Brothers.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Gas station/service car boss Gus Buselaki led a revolt of drivers away from the mob-run United SCD. One of those who made the switch was eighteen-year old service car driver John DeBlasi. In return, he was bombarded with threats on his life from both the Cuckoo Gang and the relatives of a 15-year old girl he was accused of raping earlier in the year. On the afternoon of August 2, 1929, Leo Brothers arrived at the service car garage at Third and Washington streets. After extracting his usual "dues" from the terrified drivers, Leo honed in on DeBlasi and told him his days were numbered. At 6:45 that very evening, DeBlasi and his friend, John Prosperito, pulled their car up in back of their apartment building at 5051 Delmar Boulevard. As they walked to the back door, a sedan quickly pulled up from the opposite direction. Leo Brothers jumped out, yelled "Hey cocksucker!", and shot John DeBlasi twice through the heart.
John Prosperito clearly identified Leo Brothers as DeBlasi's killer. Cuckoo Gang boss Herman Tipton suggested that Brothers blow town for a bit in order to give the heat a chance to die down. Within hours after the murder, Leo was on his way north to Chicago. Exactly how Brothers caught on with the Capone mob is unknown; he wasn't recruited personally by Al due to his being in a Pennsylvania prison at the time. What is known is that Leo Brothers would turn up in the winter of 1930 as the bouncer and eventually manager of the swanky Green Mill jazz club.
Brothers began his employment there around the time hard-partying actress Texas Guinan and her entourage booked the Green Mill for several weeks.
See GREEN MILL
Leo probably got his first real taste of Chicago excitement in the early morning hours of March 24, 1930 when Guinan's manager Harry Voiler his bodyguard, Arthur Reed entered the premises. The two got into an argument with Leon Sweitzer, the former owner of the Green Mill who had subletted the place to Guinan three months earlier. The dispute devolved into gunplay that left Sweitzer grazed by bullets. The Green Mill was forced to close for a few days, but when it reopened, Leo Brothers resumed his place as the joint's manager. Dubbed "Buster" by his new associates, Leo's salary was a handsome $100 a week. It seemed like the days of Brothers's grubby labor racketeering were long behind him. Little did Leo know that he was about to become nationally famous…for all the wrong reasons.
See Jake Lingle
State's Attorney John A. Swanson, State's investigator Pat Roche and Leo Brothers after his arrest.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Arrested in December 1930, Leo Vincent Brothers went on trial for Jake Lingle's murder on March 16, 1931. His key lawyer was Louis Piquett (who would gain national prominence while defending bank robber John Dillinger four years later). Eyewitnesses described a man nearly six feet tall, well-built and young "like a college senior", and wearing a gray suit and straw skimmer over light brown or blonde hair, as being at the scene of the crime. This blonde man was said to be walking quickly towards Lingle moments before the fatal shot was fired in the tunnel. Witnesses were evenly divided as to whether Brothers was this blond man, who doubled back the way he came and dashed out of the tunnel after the shooting. The defense called Patrolman Anthony Ruthy to identify Frank Foster as the man he chased. Ruthy's testimony devolved into hallucinogenic ramblings that proved worthless to Brothers and Piquett. On April 2nd, Leo was found guilty of murder; he received a minimum sentence of fourteen years. Upon hearing his penalty, Brothers confidently proclaimed that he "could do that standing on my head."
Photo left, the apt Brothers was staying when arrested.
Photo right, Brothers comforting his mother during his hearing.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Modern consensus has it that Leo Vincent Brothers was offered up to the state and Chicago Tribune by Al Capone as a "sacrifice" to protect the real killer, Frank Foster. Despite this, there remains no actual proof that Brothers was set up, or that Capone was the one who set him up. Leo's real role in the Lingle case may never be known with certainty.
Court photo showing Brothers at far right, and to the left of him, his white haired famous lawyer Louis Piquett, who would later come to prominence defending John Hubert Dillinger.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Released from Joliet Prison in June 1939, Leo Brothers was immediately extradited back to St. Louis to stand trial for the John DeBlasi murder of 1929. After posting a $10,000 bond, Brothers began to work on putting the skids to the murder case. Even before Leo's release, his gangster pals had gotten to main witness John Prosperito. Although he had boasted to friends that he just might "explode on the stand", Prosperito meekly declared to a newspaper reporter, "I won't testify. I didn't see anything." When Brothers's trial came around in December 1940, he won an acquittal in short order.
Northsider Frankie Foster, who undoubtedly obtained the Lingle murder gun from Peter Von Frantzius.
(Mario Gomes collection)
In the ensuing decade, Leo Brothers became the "supervisor of operations" for the Ace Service Company, which supplied gasoline and oil for the Ace Cab Company. Both business were well-known to be run by the local mob. St. Louis gangster Joseph Costello served as the point man for the Ace companies. Brothers himself acted as a muscleman/enforcer for the employees and any rival cab companies who would not play by the rules. Leo prospered in his new endeavors, gaining a new house in suburban Baden Station (present-day Bellefontaine Neighbors) and all the other trappings of a successful gangster. Brothers also had discreet ownership of a tavern in downtown St. Louis at Ninth and St. Charles streets. Every now and again, Brothers and his pals were hauled in for routine questioning about one misdeed or another. One notable instance was when Leo was grilled by St. Louis County sheriffs about the June 1941 murder of racetrack Charles "Cutie" Bailey.
Brothers listening intently to the verdict during his trial for the murder of Jake Lingle.
(Mario Gomes collection)
In 1946, Leo had gradually taken himself out of the action end of the business. In this year, he had taken the new title of "secretary/treasurer." After gaining this position, Brothers began to get sloppy. He was noted as doing more boozing and gambling than was prudent. Leo had also gotten unnecessarily violent with some of Ace's drivers (and had beat one of his girlfriends in a crowded restaurant). Such incidents brought unwanted heat to all the wrong places. It would have been made potentially fatal if he was gambling with Ace's profits; if so, that may explain what happened next.
Around midnight on September 18, 1950, Brothers was drinking at his home at 24 Green Acres in Baden Station. He was unaware that at least one gunman was stalking around the back of his home. After grabbing a fresh beer from his refrigerator, Leo passed through the dining room on his way to the living room. As he did, the triggerman opened fire with a .38 through the rear screen door. One bullet entered the right side of Leo's neck, another hit his right arm, and a third grazed his left arm. The gunman fled without doing any further damage. Although bleeding profusely, Leo managed to stumble to a neighbor's house. When questioned by a local constable, Brothers claimed that "several Negroes" had tried to stick him up. When it was pointed out that he still had cash and a diamond ring on his person, Leo snapped, "You figure it out for yourself!"
Although seriously wounded, Leo Vincent Brothers survived this attempt on his life and announced he was "quitting the (St. Louis) County." The 49-year old gangster moved with his wife Vera into a suite at the Roosevelt Hotel in St. Louis City. It was here that he would die three months later, on December 23, 1950, of heart disease. After a modest ceremony on the day after Christmas, Jake Lingle's convicted killer was laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery in Kirkwood, Missouri.