25 FRANKIE YALE
The broken friendship between Al Capone and Frankie Yale and the fatal consequence belong in a movie. Two men were important to Al Capone and the progress he made in the bootlegging business. There were compromises but Capone and Johnny Torrio had mutual respect until the end. Torrio smoothed out some of the rough edges of Capone. The relationship with Frankie Yale was different. Yale was born in 1893. The place of his birth was Longobucco, one of the larger towns in Calabria, the southernmost region of Italy. The child was christened Francisco Loele but in America he became known as Frankie Yale. Sometimes Yale was spelt as Uale. To the people he killed, the name would have made little difference. The capital he invested in his gambling and bootlegging operations he acquired through protection rackets. Because he weakened some companies, this strengthened the rivals. Alliances were formed. If Yale was more than a mindless thug, he was not ashamed of the thuggery in his character. Despite his successful business he was willing to accept murder contracts. Yale referred to himself as ‘The Undertaker’. His price was not cheap. He was paid $10,000 for killing Big Jim Colosimo. Most think that Torrio and Capone commissioned the killing. Some of us wonder. Torrio benefited more than anyone but he had the skill to manage Colosimo in other ways. There is no evidence to support the claim that Capone assisted Yale in this killing. A witness to the killing provided a description that matched Frankie Yale. The same witness later refused to testify. At no point did he provide a description that matched Al Capone.
As a young man, Capone had the choice of various role models. These included Ralph and Frank in his family and the toughs he met on the streets of New York. How he used his fists was important to the survival of Al Capone. The violent temperament that always existed in Capone was nourished in the way it is for many young working class men. Its importance to illicit business was confirmed by brutal Frankie Yale. The use of violence, insults, expletives and belittling was how he maintained authority. An argument between brothers Angelo and Frankie led to violence and injured Angelo being taken to hospital. Yale could also be generous. In Mr Capone, the author Robert J Schoenberg quotes two instances. Yale replaced the cash stolen from a robbed delicatessen owner. A fish peddler lost his pushcart. Yale gave him $200 to buy a horse and said, ‘Get yourself a horse, you’re too old to walk.’
Yale opened the Harvard Inn in 1917. The name of his Coney Island saloon was a sly reference to the adopted American name of Frankie Yale. The Harvard Inn is usually described by writers as a roughhouse dive. The name reveals the self-awareness one would expect from a man willing to describe himself as ‘The Undertaker’. Yale was either pretension free or loaded with the stuff. When they met in 1917, Capone was 18 years old and Yale six years older. The two young men would have different destinies but both experienced rapid advancement in their early twenties. The date that Capone left New York and Frankie Yale is not precise but an arrest in New York City confirms that Capone was there for part of 1919. Capone claimed in 1926 that he had been in Chicago for seven years. The exit from New York by Capone was preceded by a bar fight between Capone and Irishman and White Hand gang member Arthur Finnegan. The response and beating from Capone put Finnegan into hospital. Finnegan had taunted Capone about Irish girls that married Italians. Finnegan might have said something about the Irish wife of Capone. Senior White Hand man, Wild Bill Lovett, wanted vengeance and promised he would kill Capone. Wanting to avoid potential escalation into a gang war, Yale arranged for Capone to move to Chicago and link with Johnny Torrio.
Torrio, Capone and Yale were connected by their criminality and economic progress in New York. Also important were the shared Italian backgrounds. Business links existed between Torrio and Irish Chicago gangster O’Banion but the difference in ethnicity encouraged suspicion. The pragmatic nature of Torrio was perhaps interpreted as weakness by the Irishman. The President of the Unione Siciliana, Mike Merlo, also preached against the use of violence. Friction became genuine conflict after the Genna gang encroached onto O’Banion territory. Mike Merlo died and was replaced by Angelo Genna, nicknamed ‘Bloody’. The appointment of Angelo to the Chicago Unione Siciliana was approved by the national head of the Unione Siciliana, Frankie Yale. His senior role in the Unione demonstrates the economic importance of his Brooklyn enterprises and the geographical limits of the Unione Siciliana. The Chicago and New York branches dominated the organisation.
Yale marketed his own brand products in his saloons. Yale also had a CV that qualified him for the murder of O’Banion. Credit for commissioning the killing has been attributed to Torrio and Capone. But it is also possible that Angelo Genna recruited the killers Frankie Yale, John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. Serious conflict existed between O’Banion and the Gennas. Whoever commissioned the killing there were no objections from Torrio and Capone. The slaying happened in the flower shop owned by O’Banion. As with the murder of Colosimo, the attack was made on territory that the victim regarded as his business headquarters. This feature alone demonstrates the assassination expertise and audacity of Yale. The murder of O’Banion occurred in November 1924. After the response from Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran and the assassination attempt on his life in 1925, Johnny Torrio recovered by taking his wife on a holiday in Italy. Responsibility for the bootlegging business in Chicago was handed over to Capone, and Torrio relocated to New York. The relationship between Capone and Brooklyn mentor Yale continued to be close. Business guaranteed a working partnership. Yale delivered imported whiskey for Capone to sell in his Chicago speakeasies. There was also respect. Yale provided a bullet proof car and bodyguard for the mother of Capone when she visited New York. Al Capone and his men assisted Frankie Yale in the 1925 Boxing Day attack on Richard ‘Peg Leg’ Lonergan and his men at the Adonis Club in Brooklyn.
Tensions, though, were present between the two men in 1928. The three elements in the hostility appear to have consisted of Yale undermining the businesses of Capone, disagreement over who should head the Chicago Unione Siciliana and betrayal. The supply of imported alcohol from Yale became less reliable. Loads were hijacked before they reached Capone. The suspicion in Chicago was that Yale was hijacking his own liquor, indulging in a double cross that had been tried by other gangs. Capone sent an undercover spy, James Amato, to Brooklyn. James Amato confirmed the suspicions of Capone but he was killed a month after being assigned to Yale. The killing of Angelo Genna had left a vacancy at the head of the Unione Siciliana. Capone was not Sicilian but he understood the importance of the Unione Siciliana to business. He pushed for Tony Lombardo to be the head of the Chicago Unione Siciliana. Lombardo introduced economic reforms that reduced the tribute paid to Yale from the Chicago rackets. Yale did not oppose Capone on the appointment of Lombardo but Joe Aiello visited Yale in New York. The single-minded and ambitious Aiello promised Yale that if he became the Unione Chicago head he would restore the previous tribute. Capone was informed that Aiello was given aid and comfort by Yale. There have also been references to Yale attempting to intrude into the operations of the Hawthorne Kennel Club in Cicero and disputes about dog track revenues. These references, though, are anything but universal.
But antagonism did exist and it had consequences. On the first day of July in 1928 the life of Frankie Yale ended. He was driving a new Lincoln car through midtown Manhattan. The car had a bulletproof body but normal windows. A black Nash sedan that carried Illinois licence plates chased the Lincoln and came alongside. The body of Yale was riddled with 100 machine gun .45 calibre bullets. The Lincoln veered off the road and crashed into the stoop of a brownstone building at 923 44th Street. Frankie ‘The Undertaker’ Yale died when he was 35 years old. Sharp practices by Yale and his support for Joe Aiello, an enemy of Capone, had ended badly and predictably.
On December 14th 1929 a hit and run driver was chased by Chicago policeman Charles Skelly. The driver shot and killed the policeman but crashed his own car against a telegraph pole. The police found the car. The registration documents inside led the police to the address of Fred Dane. There the police found Mrs Dane, $319,850 in stolen negotiable bonds, a stack of weapons that included two tommy guns and laundered shirts with the initials ‘FRB’. The police identified the shirts as belonging to Fred R Burke, a man they believed participated in the St Valentine’s Day massacre. The weapons were sent to the not long created Northwestern Crime Laboratory. Tests in the laboratory established that the bullets taken from the site of the St Valentine’s Day massacre killings were fired from the tommy guns discovered in the Dane household. The New York police forwarded to Chicago the bullets they had found in the riddled body of Frankie Yale. The Northwestern Crime Laboratory confirmed that those bullets had also been fired from the machine guns found at the home of Mrs Dane. Fred Burke was located and arrested the following April. The Michigan authorities, though, wanted Burke to be prosecuted for killing one of their policemen. They refused to hand him over to their counterparts in Illinois. Burke was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in the Michigan State Penitentiary. The link between the bullets and guns used in the St Valentine’s Day massacre and the killing of Frankie Yale has been used by writers to connect Al Capone to the two crimes. More of that, though, later.
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 BORIS JOHNSON PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES is now available here.