"Big Jim" was the moniker of Giacomo Colosimo, an Italian immigrant from Calabria who first set foot in the streets of Chicago in the 1890's at the ripe and tender age of ten. In less than thirty years of hard work, he would achieve what so many others could only dream of: an empire of wealth based on the sexual prurience of his fellow Americans. It was kind of the same business model that Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt used, but one that depended on the outright enslavement of his service workers.
Like many thugs of the day, Colosimo led a double life of a swashbuckler during his early years, working an honest but boring day job as a Chicago municipal sanitation engineer and pimping whores, snatching purses, and busting up Black Hand-owned deadbeats by night. He became a favored spokesman for the traditionally Italian-staffed street sweepers of Chicago and organized several social and athletic clubs for their enjoyment. His above-average charisma, management skills, and stature were quickly noticed by the right people. Upon his promotion to foreman, Colosimo was picked up by two corrupt Chicago Democratic aldermen, "Hinky Dink" Kenna and "Bathhouse" John Coughlin. Colosimo quickly became a sturdy cog in the immigrant political machine, extending his after-hours community involvement to the duties of a Democratic precinct captain and legbreaker, where he collected "tribute" for the first ward city officials.
In 1902, Colosimo married Victoria Moresco, a Chicago brothel-keeper. You can guess where this is going. Within a couple of years, they opened a second whorehouse and soon gained control of several others. Big Jim was the mastermind behind a white slavery ring, where young, attractive girls would be enticed to the city with empty promises of good jobs and a better life. You can probably guess where this is going too. It turned out, of course, that the young women ended up imprisoned, raped, and abused. With their spirits broken and no other place to go, they were eventually sold to other brothel keepers as human chattel (average price per head: $400). This strategy proved to be highly successful, and within a few years Big Jim was in possession of over two hundred whorehouses, while rounding out the flesh trade with extortion, gambling, and other illegal hobbies.
It wasn't long, naturally, before fellow Chicago meat barons became jealous of Big Jim's unparalleled rise to power in the Windy City. After a group of representatives of his former employer, the Black Hand, quietly suggested to him that a continued stay in Chicago would be highly hazardous to his health, Big Jim went fucking apeshit. But instead of cowering underneath his desk with a revolver and a bottle of whiskey, he had a far more effective trump card to play: his own nephew, a Five Points alumnus from Brooklyn by the name of Johnny Torrio. Soon, after Torrio came to Chicago, the bullet-macerated bodies of Black Hand goons began to pop up all over town, and the extortionists got the message to back off.
With that major stressor out of the way (or at least on the back burner), renaissance man Big Jim turned his attention to the variegated world of Italian cuisine. In 1910, he opened the ironically-named "Colosimo's Cafe," a world-class restaurant with top chefs and entertainers. One of his precious few legitimate businesses, the restaurant let Big Jim gross an an estimated $50,000 a month.
By this time, as you can imagine, with hundreds of brothels, bars, casinos, and a gourmet restaurant under his heel, Big Jim had gotten fantastically wealthy, taking in an estimated $500,000 a year in personal income before income was even taxed -- this at a time when $100 a month was considered above-average pay. He was an adored fixture of the city, a celebrity who drew other rich and famous people like moths to a flame. As was characteristic in the day, nobody even pretended to care that he had built his entire fortune on a life of slavery, vice, and murder -- all of these were just petty details of his personal past. We also have Big Jim to thank for introducing the idea of the big pimp in American culture. His flamboyant outfits, consisting of expensive suits adorned with diamond studded cufflinks, rings, belt buckles, and necklaces made him a role model of all things unsubtle in the world of fashion.
Ironically, the event that would sound the death knell for Big Jim's empire was the very one that sparked so many other successful mobsters' rise to power. This, of course, was the Eighteenth Amendment, which made the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol a federal crime. By the late 1910's, Johnny Torrio, standing by his uncle all the time during his success, became frustrated at the lack of Big Jim's interest in expanding his illegal rackets to capitalize on the upcoming opportunity. That kind of apathy towards lucre is, I am sure, perfectly justifiable if you already make enough money to pay for diamond-studded clothing without even batting an eye. Nonetheless, Torrio felt pretty antsy. He believed the time had come for him to crawl his way to the top and start pulling in some cash of his own.
And he wasn't about to let some big, gaudy, mustachioed pimp stop him, even if he was his uncle. Torrio called for the help of a young man from New York named Al Capone who had been working at Big Jim's nightclub The Four Deuces as a bartender and bouncer. On May 11, 1920, one week after leaving the old whoremaster wife for nineteen-year old Dale Winter, Big Jim was called by Torrio, who asked him to take delivery of two truckloads of whiskey at the Cafe. Big Jim drove to the cafe, entered, and walked through the dining room and into his office. He asked his secretary and chef if anyone had called, and then walked outside. Waiting was Capone, with a gun in hand. He fired two shots, and Big Jim fell to the ground in a crumpled, highly dead heap.
The falling-out for Big Jim's burial at Oak Woods Cemetary, on the South Side of Chicago, was enormous. It included fifty-three pallbearers (some of them judges and U.S. Congressmen) and one thousand Democrats from Big Jim's First Ward. Most incredibly of all, however, was the condemnation from Chicago's Archbishop George Mundelein, who forbade Big Jim's burial in a Catholic cemetery. To quote: "any gangster who is looked upon as a 'public' sinner... is to be refused Christian burial." The church accused Big Jim of only one sin, that of divorcing his wife to marry Dale Winter. Which goes to show you that a man's honour of a vow before God takes full precedence before any other niggardly peccadilloes that involve the exploitation of his fellow man.