In 1924, the factory town of Cicero, Illinois, was a corrupt city-state run by mob boss John "Papa Johnny" Torrio. There was liquor and gambling. The cops were on the take. Elections were rigged. The Chicago Tribune even gave the place a nickname: "the Free Kingdom of Torrio." Naturally, then, Cicero was the kind of lawless zone where sudden flashes of violence were common. But only one incident was brazen and brutal enough to give birth to a legend: the murder of a 28-year-old thief named Joe Howard.
According to best-selling author and former Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Eig, the sequence of events was quick and final. It was 6 p.m. when Howard walked into Heinie Jacobs' saloon. Howard sat at the cigar bar and greeted a mystery man coming through the door: "Hello, Al." Suddenly, the mystery man "pulled a gun, put the muzzle to Howard's cheek, and pressed," Eig writes. "He pulled the trigger. Blood, bones, and tooth particles exploded across Hymie Jacobs's bar." The gunman was Papa Johnny Torrio's second in command, Al Capone.
This Tuesday, Eig will appear at Books & Books to read from his new book, Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster.
Tue., June 8, 8 p.m., 2010