Chicago Remains to Be Seen

The Genna Brothers

While Johnny Torrio, Al Capone and their Chicago Outfit controlled Chicago's south side, and Dean O'Banion's North Side Gang ran things on the Gold Coast, the West Side turf belonged to the six Genna brothers -- Angelo, Tony, Mike, Pete, Sam and Vincenzo (Jim). Born in Sicily, they came to America and quickly established their reputation as a vicious, brutal gang and became known as the "Terrible Gennas."

When Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920, the Genna brothers obtained a federal license to legally manufacture industrial alcohol, which they would later re-distill and sell as illegal drinking alcohol. The Gennas soon controlled the Little Italy area of Chicago, west of downtown.

Jim Genna was the oldest and the leader of the gang. Pete started as a saloonkeeper on the West Side and was the master of operations in the business. Sam was the gang's business manager and political fixer, while Angelo and Mike supplied the muscle and the firepower. Tony was a self-styled aristocrat, working as an architect and living at the posh Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue. He publicly disdained the criminal activities of his brothers, although when needed, he also helped out in the family business.

Since large distilleries were difficult to keep hidden from the police, and because a single raid could have a major impact on profits, the Gennas came up with a plan. As the demand for their product grew, the Gennas placed small alcohol stills in hundreds of tenement households throughout Little Italy. The Gennas would pay each household $15 a day -- about three times the average earnings for an unskilled laborer at the time -- in exchange for keeping 50 gallons of corn sugar alcohol “cooking” in their home.

The home stills produced alcohol at a cost of 50 to 75 cents a gallon. The Gennas then sold it for $6 a gallon, making a profit of $150,000 each month.

In spite of regular occurrances of stills blowing up, burning down buildings and killing residents of the households, the Gennas' scheme was a financial success. But their trouble started when the Gennas started marketing their product outside their territory.

By 1923, the Gennas were supplying most of the alcohol sold by Torrio and Capone, in addition to their own West Side customers. But when the Gennas started selling their product in O'Banion's North Side territory -- and for a lower price -- O'Banion took notice. When O'Banion started to hijack the Gennas' delivery trucks, the Gennas decided to get rid of him. On Nov. 10, 1924, three men entered O'Banion's flower shop and shot him to death. Though the murder was never solved and no one was arrested for the crime, one of the gunmen was reportedly Mike Genna, and the other two were members of Capone's Outfit. O'Banion's death sparked a brutal five-year gang war between the North Side Gang and the Chicago Outfit that culminated in the killing of seven North Side gang members in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929.

But the Gennas were long gone by that time. After the death of O'Banion, his North Side Gang took off after the Gennas. On May 25, 1925, Angelo Genna -- known as "Bloody Angelo" -- was shot to death while driving his car, probably by members of the North Side Gang. A few weeks later, on June 13, Mike Genna -- known as "Mike the Devil" -- died in a shoot-out with police following a high-speed chase through the streets of the South Side. On July 8, 1925, Tony Genna -- known as "Tony the Gentleman" -- was shot to death on a street corner on the West Side.

Angelo Genna's funeral was a typical mob send-off. At the funeral home, his body was laid out in a $6,000 bronze coffin, surrounded by $75,000 worth of flowers. Capone sent an eight-foot-tall display of lillies. After the funeral, 31 limousines lead the procession of 300 vehicles from the West Side to Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside. Mike Genna's funeral the following month was quick and quiet, with none of the pageantry or grandeur of his brother's send-off. Since two police officers were also killed in the shoot-out with Genna, police put the word out that they would be watching the funeral, and would arrest any gangster in attendance. Tony Genna's funeral was also modest, with only two floral displays -- one from a relative, and the other from his surviving brothers. But none of the brothers attend his services.

After the violent deaths of three of their brothers in less than two months, the three surviving Genna brothers -- Pete, Sam and Jim -- quit the rackets and moved back to Sicily. Pete, Sam and Jim eventually returned to the Chicago area, and Jim briefly considered getting back into the old family business. In May 1930, while riding in a car with four former Genna gang members in their old West Side turf, another car pulled up along side and the occupants opened fire. One passenger in the Genna car was killed, two were injured, and Jim Genna gave up his idea of trying to reclaim his territory.

Jim Genna died in 1931 from the effects of heart disease. Pete died in 1948, and Sam died in 1951, both at the age of 67. All six brothers are buried in the Genna family mausoleum at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside.

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