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Roger Touhy

Roger Touhy (born 1898- died Dec. 17, 1959) was an Irish-American mob boss and prohibition-era bootlegger from Chicago, Illinois. He is best remembered for having been framed for the 1933 faked kidnapping of gangster John "Jake the Barber" Factor, a brother of cosmetics manufacturer Max Factor, Sr. Despite numerous appeals and at least one court ruling freeing him, Touhy spent 26 years in prison. Touhy was released in November 1959. He was murdered by the Chicago Outfit less than a month later.


Early years

Roger Touhy was born in September 1898 in Chicago to Irish immigrant parents. His father, James A. Touhy, was a policeman on Chicago's Near West Side. James Touhy and his wife Mary were the parents of six sons and two daughters. When Roger was a small child, however, his mother died in a house fire.

Roger Touhy grew up to be 5'6" tall, with curly hair and a beak nose. He was highly intelligent. Unfortunately, James Touhy could not properly raise his sons by himself, and five of them would eventually turn to crime. James Touhy, Jr. was shot and killed by a policeman during an attempted robbery in 1917. John Touhy was killed ten years later by gunmen belonging to gangster Al Capone's Chicago Outfit. Joseph Touhy was shot dead by Capone gunmen in 1929. Tommy "The Terrible" Touhy became a major organized crime figure in Chicago and was named "Public Enemy Number One" in 1934. Only Edward Touhy managed to stay out of trouble by becoming a bartender.

The youngest of James Touhy's sons, Roger Touhy tried to remain on the right side of the law. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, not unusual for the time, and worked at various jobs including as a telegrapher, an oil field worker, and a union organizer. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Discharged from the Navy at the war's end, Touhy married Clara Morgan in Chicago in 1923. Determined to remain honest, he became first a cab driver, then an automobile salesman. His auto sales career was successful, and he made enough money to form a trucking company in Des Plaines with his brothers Tommy and Eddie.

Criminal involvement

With the onset of Prohibition, Touhy and his brothers began distributing illegal beer and liquor in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Touhy partnered with Matt Kolb, who was already supplying the Chicago Outfit with a third of its beer, as well as running highly profitable gambling and loan sharking operations north of Chicago. The two men established a brewery and cooperage, and produced a high quality beer. They soon were selling 1,000 barrels a week at $55 a barrel (for a profit of 92 percent).

In 1926, Touhy expanded into illegal gambling and installed slot machines in saloons throughout the northwest Chicago suburbs. By 1926, his slot machine operations alone grossed over $1 million a year ($11.9 million in 2007 dollars).

Rivalry with Capone

By 1929, Al Capone was ordering hundreds of barrels of beer a week from Roger Touhy. Envious of the stranglehold Touhy had on the northwest suburbs and unwilling to pay Touhy the high per-barrel cost of his quality beer, Capone wanted to take over Touhy's organization. That year, he sent "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn and Louis Campagna to Touhy's headquarters in Schiller Park. Touhy refused to be intimidated.

In 1931, Capone sent two more of his men, Frank Rio and Willie Heeney, to demand that Touhy once again hand over control of his operations. Touhy himself had no armed men among his gang members. Realizing that Capone would try to use force after his refusal, Touhy approached local law enforcement officers and others to ask for their support. He explained that he simply wanted to sell beer, while domination by the Capone gang would bring lawlessness, gambling and prostitution. Local leaders agreed to help him. Merchants refused to use Capone's gambling punchboards or buy his own low-quality beer. When Rio and Heeney met with Touhy, off-duty police and local farmers were lounging about in the building. This show of force unnerved Capone's gunmen, who reported that Touhy's gang must have had hundreds of armed men.

Capone continued to send men to talk to Touhy, but he also began to test Touhy's strength. Sporadic gun battles between Touhy's and Capone's men took place in rural Cook County over the next few years. When Touhy won the support of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, the increasingly frequent attempted hits began happening inside the city limits as well. It was during this time that Touhy gained his unlikely nickname, "Touhy the Terrible".

In October 1931, Capone ordered Matt Kolb killed. After that, open war broke out between the now-armed Touhy Gang and the Chicago Outfit.

On May 5, 1932, Touhy and three others held nearly a hundred people hostage at Teamsters headquarters in Chicago. Several Chicago-area union leaders had paid Touhy $75,000 in cash to help them rid their unions of the Capone mob's influence. After three hours, Touhy and his gunmen left— taking with them two union leaders who were part of Capone's operation. The men were released unharmed two days later, but a mob war between Touhy and Capone's associate Murray Humphreys also began.

In 1933, Capone had corrupt law enforcement officers arrest Touhy for the kidnapping of William A. Hamm, the brewery heir. In fact, the kidnapping had actually been committed by the Barker brothers, working with gangster Alvin Karpis. The FBI already had substantial evidence that the Barker-Karpis gang had kidnapped Hamm (who was freed unharmed four days later after payment of a $100,000 ransom), and nothing but hearsay linked Touhy to the crime. Nevertheless, Touhy and three others were indicted on kidnapping charges on August 12, 1933. They were found not guilty on November 28.

Framed for Factor kidnapping

While awaiting release after the Hamm kidnapping trial, Touhy was arrested again on December 4, 1933 — this time for the kidnapping of John "Jake the Barber" Factor, brother of cosmetics mogul Max Factor, Sr.

The Factor kidnapping was a frame-up. Factor and Al Capone had arranged to fake the kidnapping and produce evidence implicating Touhy in order to eliminate him, so as to assume control over his organization. The plan was risky: Factor himself was a known mobster, and was on the run from British authorities who were seeking him on mail fraud charges. Capone had also already contrived to have Touhy indicted on the Hamm kidnapping, and Touhy was under close police watch at the time of the Factor kidnapping. Nevertheless, on June 30, 1933, Factor was abducted by four men on a Chicago street corner. Factor later claimed at trial that he was tortured during his imprisonment, and that the kidnappers took pictures of themselves which showed him in their clutches. Factor's wife paid a $75,000 ransom, and Factor was freed on July 12. During Touhy's trial for the kidnapping of William Hamm, Touhy was put in a secret police lineup and positively identified as one of the kidnappers by Factor.

Roger Touhy and three of his top aides went on trial for the John Factor kidnapping on January 15, 1934. Several eyewitnesses proved remarkably unreliable during the trial, and later evidence showed that many prosecution witnesses perjured themselves in the attempt to convict Touhy. At least one juror refused to report for duty midway through the trial, while another juror admitted he had perjured himself during voir dire. A mistrial was declared on February 2.

A second trial began on February 13, 1934. Once more, witnesses for the prosecution perjured themselves on a massive scale. Despite unreliable testimony from Factor himself, the jury convicted Touhy and his three associates on February 22. Touhy was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center.


Touhy immediately filed an appeal. Over the next eight years, he spent most of his bootlegger's fortune on legal fees.

On October 9, 1942, Touhy and six other men escaped from Stateville prison. After a month, Touhy and the others were discovered living in a Chicago boarding house. Touhy and three others surrendered peacefully. The remaining two escapees tried to fight their way out and were killed. Touhy re-entered Stateville on December 31, 1942, and was sentenced to an additional 199 years in prison for the escape.

In 1944, 20th Century Fox released a semi-biographical and highly fictionalized film based on Touhy's life, title Roger Touhy, Gangster. Touhy successfully sued the studio for defamation of character (after six years, he won a judgment of $15,000), but Fox was able to distribute the film overseas without legal repercussions.[20]

On August 9, 1954, a federal district court ruled that Touhy should be freed. The court found that Factor's kidnapping had been a hoax and Touhy's conviction secured with perjured testimony; moreover, the court ruled that both the state's lead investigator (an active-duty Chicago police captain) and the state's attorney both knew of the perjured evidence but kept these facts from the defense. Touhy was freed; however, less than 50 hours later, he was back in prison. A federal court of appeals ruled that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because Touhy had not yet exhausted all state court appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the appellate court's ruling in February 1955.

On July 31, 1957, Republican Governor William Stratton commuted Touhy's original 99 year sentence to 72 years, and reduced his 199-year sentence for escaping to three years. Touhy subsequently won parole for the kidnapping. Under the terms of the parole, he had to serve six more months for the kidnapping and the full three-year sentence for the escape. Under these terms, which he accepted, Touhy would have been eligible for release in April 1961.

Touhy's autobiography, The Stolen Years, was published in the fall of 1959. John Factor sued Touhy for libel for the statements published in the book.


On November 13, 1959, Touhy was granted parole for his escape. He left Stateville on November 24, 1959 – 25 years and nine months to the day after his incarceration. Ironically, two days later, a federal judge refused to throw out his 1933 conviction despite convincing evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and perjury.


On December 16, 1959, 22 days after his release from prison, Roger Touhy and his bodyguard were gunned down by mob hit men. Touhy and his bodyguard were entering the home of Touhy's sister, Ethel Alesia, at 125 N. Lotus Avenue at about 10:30 p.m. Touhy and Walter Miller, a retired Chicago police detective, were climbing the steps to the home when two men appeared from the shadows behind them. Touhy and Miller turned, and Miller showed them his police badge and told the men he was a police officer. The two men then pulled shotguns from beneath their overcoats, and fired five shots. Touhy was struck twice, once in each leg above the knee. Miller was struck three times, but managed to draw his revolver and fire three shots at the departing gunmen. While being rushed to a hospital, Touhy told a newsman, "I've been expecting it. The bastards never forget!" Miller was taken to Loretto Hospital, where he eventually recovered. Touhy was taken to St. Anne's Hospital, where he lived for an hour before dying of shock and loss of blood. ironically he is buried in the same cemetery as his rival Al Capone-Mount Carmel Cemetery. Hillside, Cook County Illinois.

Roger Touhy's killers were never identified. One historian has suggested that Murray "The Camel" Humphreys was behind the assassination, having never forgiven Touhy for humiliating him in 1931 or for comments made about him in Touhy's recently released autobiography.

Others believe the killers to have been Sam Giancana, {killed 1975} Marshall Caifano {died 2003} or Sam Battaglia, {died 1973} all former members of the 42 Gang which had fought Touhy on the back roads of northwestern Cook County in 1931-1933.