13 GEORGE ‘BUGSY’ MORAN
George ‘Bugsy’ Moran had his detractors but the company he kept, his adopted name, his impish smile and playful demeanour secured him popularity. He qualified as an honorary Irishman. Moran had a reputation for being witty and telling amusing stories about the horse thieving and safecracking he did when young. He also had the ability to remember names. But as a mobster, an inclination not to forget is not always an advantage. George ‘Bugsy’ Moran was groomed by Dean O’Banion, his Irish American mentor. Only a protracted look at the photographs of Moran reveal his French roots. Many will make the mistake that his appearance is connected to Irish antecedence. His father, Jules Adelard Cunin, was a French immigrant, a blacksmith, a mason and well-read. A granddaughter described the Cunin home as looking like a library. Diana Gobiel, the mother of Bugsy, was Canadian. Another look at the photographs of Moran, especially the one where he wears a leather jacket, and it is easy to recall the rural brutes created by Georges Simenon. The son was named Adelard after his father but acquired an extra name. Adelard Leo Cunin was born August 21st 1893. The family lived in St Paul, Minnesota. The boy attended Creighton private school. His parents chose a school run by the Christian Brothers and restricted to Catholics. The education of Adelard Leo would have been superior to that of most Chicago gangsters. Most students attended Creighton school until they were 21 years old. Bugsy left when he was eighteen.
Three years after leaving school, Bugsy swapped St Paul, Minnesota for Chicago, Illinois. Different accounts make alternative claims about where he was arrested and what crimes he committed where. What is certain is that before he became a bootlegger he was arrested at least three times. Dean O’Banion, Hymie Weiss, Stanley ‘Schemer’ Drucci and Moran were all members of the Hellions gang, These four people later established the bootlegging business that supplied booze to the affluent wards northeast of downtown Chicago. The larger than life O’Banion was number one. Bugsy had to wait for O’Banion, Weiss and Drucci to be killed before he became the leader. Moran was loyal to O’Banion and there is little evidence that Moran had leadership ambitions. Despite the sometimes provocative attacks made on Capone and Torrio by O’Banion and his followers the hierarchy on the south side remained intact. Capone stepped up to become leader. Torrio was able to contribute as a remote consultant after he left Chicago. O’Banion and Weiss had been killed by either Capone and Torrio or mobsters that could be deemed as south side allies. Drucci was killed in a gun battle with a policeman.
Moran has been accused of having a too light management style and letting his business drift. Gang members and brothers Frank and Peter Gusenberg had been audacious armed robbers prior to prohibition. Audacious they remained, and Moran perhaps should have maintained more discipline over his men. Bugsy, though, was not a Luddite. Before 1927 had ended, Moran had reformed his business to include interests in the dry cleaning labour union, dog racetracks and, more significant, prostitution or vice. Earning money from prostitution had been taboo for O’Banion. New alliances were also formed. Jack Zuta had owned brothels throughout the 1920s. Moran, Zuta and the Aiello gang formed a gambling syndicate that emerged, to quote the reliable John J Binder from Al Capone’s Beer Wars, ‘as a broader, aggressively anti-Capone mob on the north and west sides’. Zuta had experience and was regarded as having strategic skills.
Moran arrived late for a delivery of booze on St Valentine’s Day in 1929. Whilst walking, Moran saw what he thought were policemen entering the warehouse on North Clark Street where his men waited. Inside the warehouse, seven men were slaughtered. Moran lived a block away from where the massacre happened. Those who live near workplaces often struggle to be punctual. Their shorter journeys make it more difficult to recover delays and lost time. If the reason for his late arrival is not clear, Moran retreated and survived the attack. The Atlantic City conference at the President Hotel in 1929 that followed the massacre has generated different accounts and attracted revisionists. Moran was either there but reluctant to attend, was not there because he could not be bothered making an appearance or he was not even invited.
Whatever happened in the President Hotel the gang of Moran did not behave as if it was a spent force. On April 21st 1930, three Capone gangsters were shot down in what has been referred to as the Easter massacre. In two retaliatory attacks from Capone, and led by Machine Jack McGurn, three more men were murdered and two injured. The Fox Lake Massacre occurred at the Manning Hotel in Lake County, Illinois and on June 1st 1930. The Manning Hotel had changed from the booze supplied by Moran to that by the Druggan-Lake gang. Moran was already living in Lake County. An eight man team attacked the hotel. Five of the men carried pistols, two used submachine guns and one had a shotgun. Three men were murdered. George Druggan and a female friend were both injured. There is debate but majority opinion assumes the attack was made by Moran men.
If Moran, aided by Joe Aiello and Jack Zuta, was capable of force, the alliance of Moran with Zuta and Joe Aiello persuaded some of the more conservative members of the Moran gang to transfer to Capone. There might have already been growing weariness, and responding negatively to the arrival of Zuta and Aiello was nothing more than self-justification. The claim that the Moran old-timers switched to Capone because they had an aversion to prostitution is not convincing. Capone was also running brothels. Perhaps some of the men that left Moran also resisted joining Capone. Tired and weary, and possibly financially secure, these men decided it was time to quit the rackets. The decision by Jack Zuta to kill corrupt reporter Jake Lingle was intended to weaken Capone by exposing the links between downtown corrupt officials and Capone. Jake Lingle was killed on June 9th 1930. Zuta also had the killer of Lingle use a pistol bought by Ted Newberry, someone that had been anti-Capone but had baulked at the idea of killing a newspaperman. Newberry refused to perform the assassination of Lingle. The killing created indignant reaction in the press and amongst authorities. It strengthened the will of the authorities as Zuta had intended. The outrage, though, was not merely directed at Capone, and the police soon discovered that Jack Zuta had organised the killing of Jake Lingle. Apart from increased pressure from the police, the Moran gang lost its important, but no longer quite as highly revered, strategist. The first attempt on the life of Zuta occurred July 1st 1930, on State Street and inside the Loop. Newberry had now switched sides and he agreed to take part in the Zuta killing. Zuta responded to the attempt on his life by retreating to a resort in Wisconsin. It took the Capone gang and Ted Newberry a month to find Zuta. He was murdered on August 1st 1930. A golf bag was found near the scene of the crime.
The alliance between Moran and the Aiello gang cracked. Moran might have realised that he was no longer the main rival to Capone. Moran had somehow landed in the middle of a long standing and bitter Italian internecine feud between Capone and Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Aiello. A threatened and reduced Moran decided that life would be healthier if he operated outside Chicago. He vacated his buildings on the north side and came to an agreement with Capone that involved accepting an annual subsidy to Moran from Capone. No placatory offers were made to ‘Joe’ Aiello. He was killed on October 23rd 1930. The coroner took 59 bullets from the body of Aiello. The Capone subsidy agreed for Moran has been estimated as $25,000 a year. Today this would be worth over $400,000 a year. Capone paid this sum to a man that on two occasions had fired bullets against him. Receiving such an amount, most men would have relaxed and found an innocent hobby. Somehow, though, without bootlegging, Moran declined although the deterioration in his fortunes did take time. The likelihood is that the subsidy ceased when Capone was sentenced to prison.
Moran was arrested in 1946 and convicted of robbing $10,000 from a bank messenger. This has been dismissed by some as the work of a small-time hoodlum. It does represent a fall from grace but $10,000 in 1946 was a significant haul. John Dillinger robbed $300,000 in his career but that was from twenty-four banks. Moran was sentenced to serve twenty years in prison. He must have behaved himself inside jail because he was paroled ten years later. Immediately on release he was arrested for an earlier bank raid and sentenced to ten years at Leavenworth prison. He was suffering from lung cancer and died inside Leavenworth in 1957. Bugsy Moran was married twice. His first wife divorced him and was either uncomfortable with his criminal activity or the behavioural consequences of that activity. His son John George Moran died two years later. He was 39 years old. The short life of the son has attracted little interest. After he switched sides, Ted Newberry, the man reluctant to kill Jake Lingle, was put in charge of the business that Moran had handed over to Capone. The corpse of Ted Newberry was found at the side of a road in Indiana on January 8th 1933. The corpse was dressed, and he wore around his waist a belt that had a diamond studded buckle. The belt was a gift from Al Capone.
Note – the colour photo above features underrated and underused actor Ralph Meeker as Bugsy Moran.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Long After This is now available here.