John "Papa Johnny" Torrio, born Giovanni Torrio (January 20, 1882 – April 16, 1957), also known as "The Fox", "Papa Johnny", "Don Torrio", "The Genius", "The Elder Statesman of the American Underworld", "The Lord of Chicago" and as "The Immune" was an Italian-American mobster, mafioso, crime lord, criminal mastermind, criminal overlord, organized crime boss, racketeer, extortionist, businessman, bootlegger, pimp, and Chicago Mafia boss who helped build the vast criminal empire known as the Chicago Outfit in 1910 that was later inherited by his legendary protégé, Al Capone. He put forth the idea of the National Crime Syndicate in 1930, and later became an unofficial adviser to the Luciano crime family (modern Genovese crime family). He was also an unofficial member of the Commission, the governing body of the American Mafia and the United States underworld.
During his regime of the Chicago Outfit, Torrio was the most powerful man in Chicago, and ruled the whole city with an iron fist, and was the most powerful and influential crime lord in America. He was also one of the richest and most powerful people in the world, with a net worth of a staggering $5 billion. Over the years, Torrio made billions of dollars, and single-handedly created several multi-billion dollar empire's. He had dozens of police, judges and politicians in his pocket. He even had mayor's, governor's, congressmen, federal agents, and senators working for him. Torrio was an incredibly rich and powerful man, and According to the FBI, the only mobsters that was wealthier and more powerful was Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello. In 1925, Torrio became America's second billionaire criminal just behind Lucky Luciano. Torrio had a net worth of a staggering $5 billion (which is equivalent to an estimated $72 Billion as of 2019). Torrio became a billionaire thru alcohol bootlegging, prostitution, and illegal gambling. However, he kept his incredible fortune very secretive and low-key. He later became known as "The Elder Statesman of the American Underworld" In the late 1940s, Torrio helped his longtime associates, Mafia bosses Meyer Lansky, Vito Genovese and Lucky Luciano build a massive heroin trafficking operation and they built it up to be a multi-billion dollar international heroin trafficking empire, Lansky was the financer and brains, Genovese was the operator and muscle, Torrio was the advisor and organizer, and Luciano was the creator and boss of the drug empire, and they imported and exported multi-ton shipments of heroin on a daily basis tranporting their heroin shipments using helicopters, planes, cargo planes, jets, submarines and ships. They imported more heroin into the United States than any drug trafficker in history of the world, it has been estimated by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that Luciano, Torrio and Lansky imported trillions of dollars worth of heroin into North America, and imported a staggering 50,000 tons of heroin into the United States in a 15-year span. Making it the largest and wealthiest drug empire of all time.
Born Giovanni Torrio, his birthplace is a topic of debate. He was born in southern Italy and possible sites of his birth are Naples, Amalfi (Campania), Orsara di Puglia (Apulia) and Irsina (Basilicata). After his father died when he was two years old, Torrio emigrated to New York City with his widowed mother. She remarried thereafter.
His first jobs were as a porter and bouncer in Manhattan. While a teenager, he joined a street gang and became their leader; he eventually managed to save enough money and opened a billiards parlor for the group, out of which grew illegal activities such as gambling and loan sharking. Torrio's business acumen caught the eye of Paolo Vaccarelli (a.k.a. Paul Kelly), the leader of the famous Five Points Gang. Jimmy "The Shiv" DeStefano, Danny "Big Wang" Glaister and Al Capone, who worked at Kelly's club, admired Torrio's quick mind and looked to him as their mentor. Torrio greatly admired Kelly, who knew much about organized crime culture; Kelly convinced the younger man to dress conservatively, stop swearing, and set up a front as a legitimate entrepreneur.
Torrio's gang ran legitimate businesses, but its main concern was the numbers game, supplemented by incomes from bookmaking, loan sharking, hijacking, prostitution, and opium trafficking. Capone and DeStefano were members of the Juniors, and soon joined the Five Points Gang. Torrio eventually hired Capone and DeStefano to bartend at the Harvard Inn, a bar in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn owned by Torrio's business associate, Francesco Ioele (a.k.a. Frankie Yale).
Move to Chicago
Torrio was the nephew of Victoria Moresco, the wife and business partner of "Big Jim" James Colosimo, who had become the owner of more than 300 brothels in Chicago. Colosimo invited Torrio to Chicago in order to deal with extortion demands from over a dozen members of the Black Hand gang. Torrio and one of his hit squads murdered all of the Black Hand gang members in Chicago and Torrio stayed on to run Colosimo's operations and to organize the criminal muscle needed to deal with threats to them.
In 1918, Yale contacted Torrio and requested that he take Capone to Chicago, as he was facing a murder investigation in New York. Capone went to Chicago and became a bouncer at one of Torrio's Chicago brothels and soon became manager of The Four Deuces, one of Torrio's operations.
While in Chicago, Torrio met Jean Forrenzo. Medical records indicate that Torrio had a child with Jean during this period. George Torrio was born in Washington, Iowa and his medical records show his name as George Miller. It is unknown how much contact Torrio had with his only child, Torrio allegedly disowned him for not wanting to join him as a gangster.
The Colosimo killing
In 1920 Prohibition went into effect, making all manufacture, purchase, or sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. Torrio immediately realized the immense profits bootlegging could bring and urged "Big Jim" Colosimo to enter the business. Colosimo, however, refused, fearing that expansion into other rackets would only draw more attention from the police and rival gangs. During this same period, Colosimo divorced Victoria, Torrio's aunt, and married Dale Winter, an actress and singer. Winter convinced Colosimo to settle down, dress more conservatively, and stay out of the news.
At this point, Torrio realized that Colosimo was a serious impediment to the mob's potential fortunes. With the approval of Colosimo's allies, the Genna brothers and Joe Aiello, Torrio invited Yale to come to Chicago and kill Colosimo. The murder took place on May 11, 1920, in the main foyer of Colosimo's Cafe. No one was ever prosecuted. Torrio took over the deceased Colosimo's multi-billion dollar criminal empire and Torrio made the empire far larger and wealthier. majority of Torrio's criminal organization's income came from alcohol bootlegging, extortion, loan sharking, prostitution and illegal gambling.
Rivalry with North Side Gang
As the 1920s progressed, Torrio and Capone presided over the expansion of the Chicago Outfit as it raked in tens of billions of dollars a year from gambling, prostitution, extortion, loan sharking and alcohol bootlegging. The Outfit soon came to control the Loop (Chicago's downtown area), as well as the South Side. However, it was also intent on seizing the profitable Gold Coast territory, which drew the ire of the Irish North Side Gang led by Dean O'Banion.
The Outfit and the North Side Gang began a fragile alliance, but tension between O'Banion and the Gennas (who were an Outfit crew and hit squad) over territorial rights mounted. The Gennas wanted to kill O'Banion and annihilate his whole gang, but Torrio, not wanting an all-out war, because he felt it would be bad for business, he resisted the move. Finally, tensions boiled over when O'Banion cheated Torrio out of $500,000 in a brewery acquisition deal and caused Torrio's arrest. Out of patience, Torrio finally ordered O'Banion killed. On November 10, 1924, O'Banion was murdered in his North Side flower shop by three of Torrio's deadliest hitmen Frankie Yale, John Scalise, and Albert Anselmi. O'Banion's murder sparked a brutal gangland war between the North Side Gang and the Chicago Outfit that eventually chased Torrio out of Chicago. The Outfit was far more powerful and dangerous then the North Side Gang, and even though the North Side Gang were vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the Outfit, they held their own against them for two years. After a two-year-long bloody and brutal war, the Outfit was obviously the sheer winner, and the Outfit virtually destroyed the North Side Gang, and murdered almost every single member.
On Saturday, January 24, 1925, in retaliation for the O'Banion assassination, North Siders Hymie Weiss, Vincent Drucci, and Bugs Moran attacked Torrio as he was returning to his apartment at 7106 South Clyde Avenue from a shopping trip with Anna, his wife. A hail of gunfire from Weiss and George Moran greeted Torrio's car, shattering its glass. Torrio was struck in the jaw, lungs, groin, legs, and abdomen. Moran attempted to deliver the coup de grâce into Torrio's skull, but ran out of ammunition. Drucci signaled that it was time to go, and the three North Siders left the scene. The severely wounded Torrio survived. In retaliation for the attempted Torrio assassination, Capone and several of his best hitmen machine-gunned Hymie Weiss down and also killed over 20 members of the North Side Gang, nearly destroying the whole gang, and pushing them all out of Chicago.
Rise of Al Capone
Torrio, having undergone emergency surgery, recovered slowly from the assassination attempt. Capone had dozens of hitmen guarding Torrio around the clock to make sure his beloved mentor was safe. Throughout this entire ordeal, Torrio, observing the gangland principle of "omertà" (total silence), never mentioned the names of his assailants. After his release from the hospital, Torrio served a year in jail for Prohibition violations. Throughout his reign as boss of the Chicago Mafia, Torrio was the most powerful crime lord in America. He had witnessed the massive increase in violence within organized crime. The near-death experience frightened him badly, and combined with his prison sentence and the increasing difficulty in his work, it persuaded Torrio to retire while he was still alive.
In late 1925 Torrio moved to Italy, where he no longer dealt directly in mob business, with his wife and mother. He gave total control of the Outfit to Capone, saying as he left "The whole empire, operations, power, money, the whole organization and all of Chicago is all yours, everything is yours Al. Me? I'm quitting'. It's Europe for me."
Torrio returned to the United States in 1928 as Benito Mussolini began putting pressure on the Mafia in Italy. He is credited with helping to organize a loose cartel of East Coast bootleggers, the Big Seven, in which a number of prominent gangsters, including Lucky Luciano, Abner Zwillman, Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky played a part. Torrio also supported creation of an international governing body that would prevent the sort of all-out turf wars between gangs that had broken out in Chicago and New York. His idea was well received, and he was given great respect, as he was considered an "elder statesman" in the world of organized crime. Once Luciano implemented the concept, the National Crime Syndicate was born.
Torrio engaged in a number of legitimate businesses, including a legal liquor distribution company and a bail bond operation co-owned by Dutch Schultz. Schultz' murder and the threat of an income tax prosecution for his role in the Big Seven, however, led him to plan to depart to Brazil. Before he could do so, however, he was arrested on charges of income tax evasion in 1936 as he went to pick up his passport. Torrio pled guilty to those charges in 1939 and served two years in prison.
His years after his release from prison were quiet, spent in Brooklyn, St. Petersburg, Florida and Cincinnati. Torrio largely occupied himself in real estate investments and appears to have met his promise to his wife Anna to refrain from any activities that would return him to the sort of notoriety he had before his 1939 conviction.
In 1957, Torrio had a heart attack in Brooklyn while sitting in a barber's chair waiting for a haircut, dying several hours later in a nearby hospital. The media did not learn about his death until three weeks after his burial. In his memoirs, the official Elmer Irey considered him "the biggest gangster in America" and "one of the most powerful crime lords in the world" and wrote as follows: "He was the smartest, and, I dare say, the greatest of all the gangsters. 'Greatest' referring to talent, not morals". Virgil W. Peterson of the Chicago Crime Commission stated that his "talents as an organizational genius and a criminal mastermind who single-handedly built various multi-billion dollar empires, and was widely respected and admired as a legend by the major mafia bosses in New York City and around the country".