Snoopy would have approved: it was indeed a dark and stormy night when Officer Dan Herion first received the call to the scene of a crime. Deep winter, 1959, on the frozen streets of Chicago, dispatch sent Herion and his partner to reports of shots fired on a nearby street. Little did he know that the man he would find bleeding out on a front porch was one of the most famous gangsters the Windy City had ever known.
We’ve been privileged here on Crime Capsule to meet some of the brave men and women of law enforcement, the officers, detectives, and marshals such as Joe Petrosino and Bass Reeves who routinely run towards danger and harm rather than away from it. We’ve been privileged as well to have some of those officers tell their own stories about cracking cases, such as Cloyd Steiger taking on Seattle’s lost serial killer—which is why it’s such an honor to have Officer Dan Herion tell this story, in his gripping account of the saga, Touhy v. Capone: The Chicago Outfit’s Biggest Frame.
Told in a frank, uncompromising style that would befit an investigative report just as much as a work of local history, Touhy v. Capone begins at the beginning, with the birth of Roger Touhy in 1898 to a large Irish family whose fortunes ebbed and flowed with the tide. Though many of his elder brothers ended up on the wrong side of the law, Touhy, at first, sought to live above-board, and pursue an education and a family rather than a life of crime.
The Era of Classic Mobsters
Touhy came of age in the era of classic mobsters, though, with John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Bugsy Moran household names not just in the Midwest, but across the country. As we’ve explored before, for some renegade souls bootlegging under Prohibition was simply too lucrative not to pursue, and despite his honest beginnings Touhy quickly found a niche in the Chicago markets, selling illegal beer under the guise of a legal (1% alcohol) brew.
Business boomed, and before too long, the larger outfits in the area—the Capone gang in particular, which was consolidating power—wanted to take over some of his turf. Touhy wasn’t keen on the idea, stocking his office with heavies, refusing to allow brothels and gambling dens, and alerting area businesses of the elements seeking to move in so that they could organize their own resistance.
You can guess how that went down.
When Herion encountered Touhy it was decades after these events, but the detail he offers reads like it was in yesterday’s Tribune. As Capone and his cronies sought to strong-arm Touhy again and again, and each time he refused their offers, it wasn’t long before blood began to spill. Though a gangland-style slaying wasn’t off the table, Capone and his gang found a more creative way to take their competitor out of the picture: in an elaborate scheme, they framed him for a kidnapping that he never committed—of John Factor, swindler extraordinaire and the half-brother of beauty magnate Max Factor—and succeeded in sending him to jail on bogus charges for twenty-five years.
Had not Herion met Touhy that fateful night we might never have known the full story, but his bloodhound’s nose for a story dug out the details of the crimes, the case, the trial, the jail sentence, and the appeals, all the way up to his last hours—why Touhy was shot on that porch, and who was responsible. With crooked cops, jailbreaks, perjured testimony, and trumped-up charges—and even names familiar to Crime Capsule readers such as Alvin Karpis, master of the getaway—it reads like a Hollywood film script, a movie just waiting to be made.
Thankfully, when the studios come calling, we know just who to call.