Chicago’s Many Early Mob Bosses

[Published in the Chicago Tribune on June 9th.]

In his otherwise-interesting Chicago Flashback on Big Jim Colosimo (“Before Capone, there was Big Jim Colosimo,” May 31), Ron Grossman states that Colosimo was Chicago’s “first” mob boss.

The error is a typical one when it comes to the history of organized crime in Chicago. Grossman and others trace the Chicago mob’s beginnings to Colosimo and Al Capone in the 1920s. But the city of Chicago existed long before 1920, and so did a myriad of other mob bosses.

There was Michael Cassius McDonald, the gambling kingpin of the 1880s. There was Mont Tennes, another gambling boss who moved on to wire services. There was Ike Bloom, the “king of the brothels” in Chicago’s infamous red light district. There was Mike “The Pike” Heitler, another brothel king who worked with the Guzik brothers, Harry and Jake. Indeed, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik would turn out to be one of the most important mobsters in the history of local organized crime. Jake’s vast knowledge of Chicago corruption greatly aided the Brooklyn-born Capone.

Is it possible writers are stuck in this time warp simply because of the power of the movies? Capone and the cinema were birthed simultaneously. Perhaps it’s time to shake off long-perpetuated media images.

— Bill Dal Cerro, Senior Analyst,Italic Institute of America, Chicago Office 

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