Few organized criminal networks in the United States have ever enjoyed the colorful history and awesome power as the one that developed in the City of Chicago. Since at least the 1910s, “The Windy City” sprouted a criminal underworld that would eventually rival all others. The city’s reputation became such that to this very day when many people think of Chicago, the first thing that comes to mind is the notorious “Scarface” Al Capone, Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, the bloody St. Valentines Day Massacre, gangland warfare, and the “Roaring Twenties” Prohibition Era.
Unfortunately, for many years, that harsh assessment of the city was not very far off the mark.
*Special thanks to Dushan (Toodoped) Dzonov for his assistance with this project. * The chart created by Button Guys at the bottom of this article names 736 racketeers; 155 “made” members of the Family and another 581 “associates” known to be active from 1950-1970, and includes 242 accompanying photos.*
The “Roaring Twenties”
What eventually became known, simply, as “The Outfit” started out in the early 1920s as a sprawling multi-ethnic hodgepodge of loosely formed criminal gangs comprised of young fledgling hoodlums and racketeers, bootleggers, leg-breakers, labor union goons, gamblers, contract killers and other anti-social characters that formed Chicago’s overall criminal underworld.
They started out as rival gangs competing for control over Chicago’s lucrative turf and vast criminal pie. During Prohibition, the city became notorious for hundreds and hundreds of gangland murders and daily street warfare.
But by the end of Prohibition in 1933, whoever hadn’t already been bumped off eventually either fell by the wayside or joined up to form one massive and streamlined criminal syndicate under the notorious “Scarface” Al Capone, blending these former criminal competitors into a monolithic criminal giant. And any lingering hoodlum malcontents who didn’t fall into line were quickly killed off, one by one.
By the time the gunsmoke cleared, the “Chicago Syndicate” had been born. And sitting at the very summit of power was Chicago’s Cosa Nostra…better known as the Italian Mafia.