A Chicago gangster
from the era of Prohibition
and earlier. Dion O'Banion was an Irish immigrant
. His family moved into the 'Little Hell' district of Chicago
when he was 4. He had a standard Irish
upbringing, doing time as an altar boy
and a choir singer
, but during the night, he and his buddies pickpocketed
, and mugged
. Both sides of this upbringing
would show later in his life.
O'Banion ('Deany', to everyone who knew him) was the originator of the 'gentleman gangster' image, often later done on the silver screen by James Cagney. He spoke proper English, was a devout, church-going Catholic, and lived a quiet, domestic life with his wife, Viola. He usually wore nice suits, in contrast to the gutter appearance of most gangsters of the time (but there was always room on him for at least three guns). He ran a local flower shop - it wasn't just a front, he appeared to truly love the job. He spent many hours coming up with massive new arrangements, showed them to his wife, and then supplied the corpses of enemy gangsters to go with the arrangement. He was estimated to be responsible for 25 murders.
O'Banion controlled the 42nd and 43rd wards of Chicago, which included the Gold Coast area of Chicago, where all the people who ran the town lived. By supplying them with illicit alcohol (beer or whiskey, usually), he gained enough influence to keep the police and judges off of his backs. With that influence, he could do anything he wanted. He manufactured beer from local breweries that he owned and operated, and hijacked imported Canadian whiskey from the Johnny Torrio gang. He was able to sell his wares with a 1000% markup, resulting in a $2 million profit at year's end. In the back of his flower shop, three men worked the phones constantly, filling orders.
The friction with the Johnny Torrio gang finally reached a head when O'Banion sold Torrio a good brewery for $500,000 dollars. This apparent peace offering was raided by the feds the next week - O'Banion knew of the raid and offloaded the brewery to Torrio so the Italian would take the loss. Torrio was not amused. But, as part of the Union Siciliane, he could do nothing until their leader, Mike Merlo, said he could. And Merlo was a commited dove - he believed that everyone could get along, making money hand over fist.
Mike Merlo died in early November, 1924. The Genna crime family, associates and peers of Johnny Torrio, ordered a massive bouquet from O'Banion for the funeral. Three gangsters came to pick up the flowers. One shook O'Banion's hand (his gun hand, immobilizing it) and the other two, infamous Italian hitmen Juano Scalise and Alberto Anselmi, shot him dead. They grabbed the bouquet and left.