36 EDDIE O’HARE
The invention of the mechanical rabbit brought good times to dog racing. Aficionados called it the electric bunny. Left to their own instincts the greyhounds had struggled to keep in lane. Not all of them made their way to the finishing line. Flies were a frequent distraction for the dogs. At some tracks monkeys had been put on the backs of the greyhounds but the initiative failed almost immediately. The invention of the mechanical rabbit belonged to Owen Smith. He was also commissioner of the International Greyhound Racing Association but he needed financial help to market the device. Eddie O’Hare agreed to be a partner and took half rights in the patent. Owen Smith died in 1927, and O’Hare persuaded the widow to sell exclusive rights to the mechanical rabbit. The relatives of widow Smith alleged that O’Hare bought the rights for a pittance. O’Hare opened the Madison Kennel Club near St Louis and found enough greyhounds to run eight races every night except Sunday.
Eddie O’Hare was born in 1893. He had three children. These were Edward, later known as ‘Butch’, and Patricia and Marilyn. Eddie the father lived in St Louis until 1927 and earned a living as a lawyer. How or whether he qualified as a lawyer is unclear. He is supposed to have not attended law school. Somehow he passed the bar exam. O’Hare has been described as big, tough and loudmouthed. His quick wit and generosity in the bars helped him collect friends and contacts. He acquired the nicknames E J, Fast Eddie and Easy Eddie. A conviction for syphoning whiskey from a Jack Daniels warehouse in St Louis brought O’Hare to the dock in court. He stood alongside Cincinnati bootlegger George Remus and twelve others. Remus was sentenced to prison for two years, and something similar happened to the dozen others. Fast Eddie avoided conviction and returned to his law practice. Because of what happened later between Al Capone and O’Hare, some have speculated that O’Hare was acquitted because he was already working as an undercover agent.
Whatever was happening between O’Hare and federal agents it did not stop the St Louis cops closing down the Madison Kennel Club. This local difficulty, and perhaps pressure from St Louis gangs, persuaded O’Hare to move to Chicago. The Hawthorne Kennel Club was located in Cicero and owned by Al Capone. O’Hare had the edge because he owned the electric bunny but, rather than put a dangerous rival out of business, he approached Al Capone and invited him to be a partner. O’Hare retained a 51% share and Capone, Jack Guzik and Burnham mayor Johnny Patton split the 49%. With the aid of the electric bunny the business at the dog track boomed. The profits were in excess of $1000 a year. Gambling was illegal not just in Chicago but also in Illinois. The cops would make raids and close down the track. ‘Easy Eddie’ O’Hare would argue in court that the punters were not gambling but investing in the development of superior greyhounds. The track would open the next day and stay open until the next time. O’Hare, Capone and partners opened dog tracks in Boston, Miami and Tampa. Operating the various racetracks meant that ‘Fast Eddie’ O’Hare had to stay away from home for long periods. He kept company with several mistresses and made no attempt to hide their existence from his wife. The couple divorced in 1927. He attempted to be an attentive father. He made each of his children chew every mouthful of food 25 times, and failure was punished. Convinced that his only son, ‘Butch’ O’Hare, was not quite butch enough, father Eddie enrolled son ‘Butch’ in the Western Military Academy in Illinois. ‘Butch’ was only an average student but he lasted the course. ‘Butch’ wanted to be a pilot. His father had been a commercial pilot when young. The father contacted his numerous political connections and secured a place for ‘Butch’ at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
In the process of negotiating with contacts for favours, Eddie O’Hare secured an introduction with Frank Wilson, the revenue investigator charged with prosecuting Al Capone. At some point O’Hare agreed to be an informant for Wilson and against Capone. The belief of most folk is that O’Hare was willing to risk his life because he would have done anything to have his son enrolled in the Naval academy. Two other motives have been suggested and they are mentioned by author Jonathan Eig in Get Capone. Neither convince. Those that believe in motive one argue that O’Hare was worried about the risk of crossing Capone and facing perilous consequences. This ignores the reputation of Capone as a reliable business partner. Motive two depends on the suspicion that betrayal gave O’Hare the opportunity to put Capone in jail and claim full share of the dog track profits. This underestimates what would have been the reaction of Capone if he had been double crossed. Frank Wilson described O’Hare as ‘one of the best undercover men that I have ever known.’ Perhaps O’Hare betrayed Capone because it was in his nature and he was good at it. O’Hare told Wilson that the men of Capone wired money by Western Union to Miami where the cash was picked up by Parker Henderson Jr. The names of two of the bookmakers that worked for Capone were also given by O’Hare to Wilson. These names were Leslie Shumway and Frank Ries. The name of the latter was important because Ries was the head cashier of the Ship gambling saloon in Cicero. The Ship was previously known as the Hawthorne Smoke Shop. Also alleged is that O’Hare revealed that there was a planned assassination attempt to kill Wilson and four other investigators. Until hard evidence of this plan emerges it should be treated as rumour. Capone would have been wary of assassinating officials. O’Hare did, though, advise Wilson that Capone had bribed the jury at his trial for income tax evasion. This information was passed to Judge Wilkerson who, as happens in the movie The Untouchables, switched juries at the beginning of the trial. The movie was wrong to imply that Wilkerson only agreed because Ness knew the judge was taking graft. Wilkerson might have been anything but scrupulous in applying the rule of law in the trial of Capone but he did not take bribes.
On November 8 1939 the once undercover agent left his office at Sportsman’s Park in Cicero and climbed into his car, a Lincoln Zephyr coupe. As O’Hare was driving through the southwest side of Chicago another car approached and pulled alongside. Two shotgun blasts from the second car hit the neck and head of O’Hare. The car that O’Hare was driving twisted out of control, crossed a trolley track and crashed into a lamp post. Eddie O’Hare died at the age of forty-six. The killers continued eastbound on Ogden Avenue and disappeared. No one was ever arrested for the murder of Eddie O’Hare. Capone remains the main suspect for the killing. Eig in Get Capone reveals that the psychiatrists that dealt with the syphilis induced dementia of Capone admitted that the bootlegger had serious grievances. These, though, were directed at his defence lawyers, Judge Wilkerson and the press owned by William Randolph Hearst. Capone believed that his own lawyers were incompetent and that Judge Wilkerson twisted the law to prevent a fair hearing in court. Capone also felt that the Hearst newspapers had over several years indulged in character assassination. But, according to the psychiatrists, Capone never mentioned O’Hare. Whatever had passed between the two partners had been forgotten long before O’Hare was assassinated, an act of vengeance that occurred a week before a much reduced Capone was released from prison. In 1942, Annette Caravetta, the former secretary of Eddie O’Hare, married Frank Nitti, the successor to Capone. If Capone had commanded that O’Hare should be killed, that order would have required sanction from Nitti. How people meet and decide to marry is its own mystery. But it is not likely that Nitti would have welcomed a woman that had been a loyal employee to a man he had helped target as an enemy that needed killing. Throughout his adult life and career Eddie O’Hare had walked the line between legitimate business and criminal activity. He was in a position to inform against many criminals and probably did. Anyone of them could have discovered that O’Hare was a double agent and been tempted by vengeance.
The son ‘Butch’ O’Hare realised his dream and became a pilot. On February 20 1942, a Japanese bomber command crossed the Pacific Ocean on its way to attack the North American carrier USS Lexington. Six Grumman F4 ‘Wildcats’ took off to intercept the Japanese bombers. One of the six ‘Wildcats’ was piloted by young ‘Butch’ O’Hare. His plane was the first to reach the Japanese bomber command. In the O’Hare plane the guns of the wing man jammed. O’Hare alone had to confront nine Japanese bombers. O’Hare did what he could. He piloted his plane so that it ducked, darted and dived. He fired off enough shots to bring down five of the bombers and damage a sixth. Just as O’Hare ran out of ammunition the other US planes arrived. Because of the efforts of O’Hare, the other US planes were able to destroy what was left of the Japanese bomber command. The USS Lexington carrier was saved. ‘Butch’ O’Hare was awarded the Medal of Honor. President Roosevelt described the accomplishment and bravery of O’Hare as ‘one of the most daring, if not the single most daring action in the history of aviation’. Less than two years later after he had become a war hero, O’Hare was shot down over the South Pacific and killed. ‘Butch’ was thirty-eight-years old when he died. In 1948 and four years after the war against Japan had ended, the main airport in Chicago was renamed the O’Hare International Airport. The name has remained, and anyone from outside the USA that arrives in Chicago will land at the O’Hare International Airport. Few of those arrivals will query the name. Today the most frequent question googled about the airport is how long does it take to get through the customs. The locals remember him, though.
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.