I began work on this book while I still was an undergraduate student in the Criminal Justice Program at the University of New Haven in 1975. The book grew out of class assignment, given to us by Dr. Henry Lee. Dr. Lee assigned each of us in the class to investigate and write about a case of a miscarriage of American justice.
I had heard a few, vague facts about the Roger Touhy case from my father, who had heard about it from his father, who had known Roger Touhy. After some initial research, I placed a call to Betty Brennan, the widow of Touhy's ghost writer on his autobiography, The Stolen Years.
Betty was a wealth of insightful, important information and she encouraged me to follow up on the case, which I did, not realizing then that the investigation into the true facts behind the Roger Touhy case would take up almost twenty-six years of my life and propel me across the United States, from Washington to Las Vegas and Los Angeles to Miami and back again, in search of the truth. I interviewed several hundred people and pored over thousands of pages of documents that relate to the case.
After all of that, I am only certain of one thing; no one except Roger Touhy and John Factor really knows the full truth behind this case. I also know that the truth about what happened between these two professional criminals is to be found somewhere in the middle.
There are some aspects of the story which I am certain are true but can't prove. One of them is that Roger and Tommy Touhy more than probably knew Factor either before the fake kidnapping occurred, that they helped in some ways to plan the phony crime. I also doubt very much that Touhy’s underlings plotted the kidnapping with Factor without Touhy’s consent. The Touhy brothers were tough, street savvy criminals who ran a tight ship.
I also believe that Factor probably didn't completely understand that he would never be freed of the Mafia's iron-clad grasp on his life and that Sam Giancana was one of the wheelmen for Touhy's assassins on that frigid December night when the Capone mob killed Touhy. But why such a high ranking hood for such a low level murder?
Because to a degree Roger Touhy's murder was personal. His killers had been members of the old 42 Gang and had fought Touhy in Capone's name twenty-six years earlier. The same holds true for the mob bosses who ordered the killing. They had watched as Touhy's gunmen shot their way across the Windy City, murdering their childhood friends, cousins, business partners, and brothers.
I also want to take this opportunity to share my concerns about the secretive and powerful role of the United States Pardon Attorney, which, officially anyway, falls under the Office of the Attorney General of the United States.
In my quest for the truth about President Kennedy's very suspicious twelfth-hour pardon of John Factor, the Pardons Attorney's Office went out of its way to derail my research. Pardon records that I requested as part of this investigation were moved around the country making access difficult, sometimes impossible. On several occasions, records were hidden from me. I was lied to several times regarding the existence of some pardon records and members of my staff were questioned about my personal life.
Still, even with this interference, I uncovered a total of 500 pardons granted by Presidents Truman and Kennedy, which, at the least, can be considered highly questionable.
Originally I was convinced that John Factor's presidential pardon was granted as part of the federal government's tangled and illegal dealings with the Mafia during the Kennedy administration. Now, all these later and reconsidering the facts, I believe that Factor’s pardon by the White House was doled out without any knowledge of the pending deportation order from the Justice Department that the pardon would cancel. In other words the government’s left hand didn’t know what the government’s right hand was doing. Business as usual.
However, this is the stuff for another researcher and another writer for another book, but the indisputable fact remains that if details of the Factor pardon have not been released, the fault lies squarely with the U.S. Pardons Attorney's Office.
A final note word about Roger Touhy. It is important to point out to the reader that although Touhy suffered from a terrible miscarriage of justice the circumstances that led to his imprisonment and even his murder were of his own design. Roger Touhy was a criminal. True, he was charming, witty, insightful and passionate man, but he was a common criminal who held the law in contempt. We reap as we sow.
-John William Tuohy Washington D.C.
This is a book about greed, power, betrayal and persistence. It spans four decades and extends from Poland to London to New York and Chicago to Las Vegas and Hollywood to Los Angeles and involve immigrants, gangsters, newspapermen, dirty cops, crooked politicians, assassins and Presidents.
Prohibition ruled America in the 1920s. It produced a lawless decade and lawless citizens. In Chicago, Al Capone became not only the nation's leading bootlegger but a pioneer and kingpin in the union extortion racket, a golden source of easy money and power. At that same time, Roger Touhy emerged from the poverty-drenched Chicago Irish slum section known as "the Valley."
Roger was the son of an honest Chicago cop and the youngest of the six Brothers, the so-called "Terrible Touhy’s" who ruled a small but widely-feared criminal empire on the city's outskirts. They refused to deal in prostitution or narcotics but did manufacture and distributed beer all across Chicago’s western suburbs north to Minnesota. They controlled dozens of unions and supported the labor bosses in their war against the Chicago syndicate through a series of lucrative robberies of the U.S. mail. The Touhy-Syndicate War of 1931-1933, according to the Chicago Tribune took the lives at least 90 hoodlums.
Touhy, an educated suburban gangster, evaded both the law and the many attempts on his life. However in 1933 he was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison for a crime he never committed: the kidnapping of international confidence man John "Jake the Barber" Factor.
Factor, the black sheep brother of the cosmetics king, Max Factor, was an illegal immigrant in America, who had fled England to avoid a long jail term for engineering one of the largest stock frauds in the history of the British Empire. In a desperate attempt to save himself from extradition, Factor, working with the Capone organization, had himself kidnapped and, with the connivance of some of Touhy's men, accused Roger Touhy of the crime. After two sensational trials, held in the shadow of the national outrage over the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Roger was convicted and sentenced to 99 in a state prison.
After serving eleven years behind bars and being denied a hearing for parole, Touhy and a band of convicts shot their way out of Stateville Penitentiary only to be recaptured in a sensational gun battle with the FBI. Hollywood made a film about it.
Sentenced to an additional ninety-nine years for abetting the escape, Touhy began the long and arduous process of re-opening his case before the federal bench. Finally, seventeen years later, thanks to the efforts of a rumpled private detective and an eccentric lawyer, Roger Touhy won his freedom. A federal judge determined that John Factor had engineered his own kidnapping to avoid extradition to England where he was wanted on a series of criminal charges.
Freed in 1959, Touhy intended to enter a multi- million-dollar lawsuit against the state of Illinois. After his release from jail he was gunned down on the doorstep of his sister's home. He had been free for twenty-eight days.
John Factor, Touhy's nemesis, was luckier. Over the years he manipulated the legal system through the use of his vast fortune. He managed to remain in the United States but continued to be a pawn for the Chicago mob. In 1955 he ran the incredibly successful Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, representing the mob and in 1962, just the day before his extradition was ordered, he received a full presidential pardon from John F. Kennedy. He was allowed to remain in the United States, safe from the British courts which had long pursued him.
“The man measured up to the legend."
Roger Touhy," wrote the Chicago Tribune, "is one of those rare cases in which the man measured up to the legend."
He was born in a lawless neighborhood called "the Valley." It is gone and largely forgotten now, except by a scant few descendants of the tens of thousands of Irish immigrants who huddled there for a time, making that brutal slum the largest Irish ghetto west of New York.
Located in the heart of Chicago, the Valley was a flat stretch of land partial to winter floods that would fill the water with human waste from the nearby canals. In the summer it was insufferably humid. It was always a dreary place, full of ancient wooden warehouses, overcrowded with stinking tenements, stores with near-empty shelves, and saloons packed with men who had long since given up their dreams of a better life.
Roger Touhy was born there in 1898. He was the last of seven children in one of the thousands of working families jammed into the Valley. While he was still an infant, Roger's mother was burned to death when the one room apartment she was living in at the time caught fire. Apparently she was living away from her husband James; an Irish immigrant beat cop and sharing the flat with her brother and another man. Alcohol seems to have played a role in the fire.
James Touhy raised the children but eventually lost his four eldest sons to a local thug named Paddy "the Bear" Ryan. An enormous hulk of a man, Ryan led the notorious Valley Gang, which was organized in the middle 1860s. It inducted members as young as twelve years of age, and, at least in the beginning, graduated them to the big leagues of crime at around age nineteen or twenty.
In 1870, its membership was mostly made up of the sons of policemen and lower level politicos whose city hall connections kept their sons out of serious trouble with the law. Using that clout, the gang was able to transform itself from a rag-tag group of street urchins who stole fruit off vendors' wagons into a working criminal/political organization.
With time, the gang moved from its basement headquarters on 15th Street to its first official headquarters, a popular saloon on the corner of 14th and Mulberry Streets. From there, the Valley Gang moved into armed robbery and big dollar larceny. But the gang remained a small-time local operation in most respects. Then, in about 1880, the Germans began to move into the Valley, followed by the Jews. The gang terrorized both groups, beating them into submission and coercing cash from their shop owners when extortion became the new money maker.
The gang continued to rule supremely over the Valley until the turn of the century when great masses of Irish, Germans and Jews moved out and were replaced by tens of thousands of southern Italians. Numerically superior and just as tough as the Irish they replaced, the southern Italians were less prone to intimidation than were the Germans and Jews. The Italians had their street gangs as well, some with membership in the hundreds.
Inevitably, street wars between the Irish and the Italians broke out frequently. As a result, the Maxwell Street police station had the highest number of assault and attempted murder cases of any police precinct in the country, outside of Brooklyn. Again, what kept most of the Valley Gang members out of jail were their powerful political contacts, made even stronger by the gang's willingness to rent itself out as polling booth enforcers. However, unlike the smaller street gangs from the Valley-the Beamers, the Plugs and the Buckets of Blood-who also rented out their services, the Valley boys were known for their penchant to switch sides in the middle of a battle if the opposite side was paying more or if it appeared that they might win the election.
By 1910, the gang continued to grow in power in the Valley by having enough sense to allow a limited number of Jews and Germans into its ranks. The Valley Gang remained the largest and deadliest gang in the area and a whole new generation of Irish-American boys in Chicago grew to admire the gang and its leaders "in much the same way" one sociologist wrote, "that other boys looked up to, in a fanciful way, Robin Hood or Jesse James."
By 1919, the Irish had surrendered their majority status in the Valley but managed to retain political control, just as they did throughout most of Chicago as well. By that time, the gang transformed itself into a social and athletic club which, in both votes and money, stood solidly behind several dozen important politicos whose careers had been launched by the gang.
The first important leaders of the Valley Gang were Heinie Miller and Jimmy Farley. Both expert pickpockets and burglars who flourished in the 1900s. Miller and Farley, along with their lieutenants, "Tootsie" Bill Hughes and Bill Cooney (aka "the Fox") were described by the police as "four of the smoothest thieves that ever worked the Maxwell Street district."
Smooth or not, they all went to jail in 1905 for extended stays and the leadership of the gang fell to "Red" Bolton. Bolton's reign was cut short by his own stupidity. He robbed a store in the middle of the Valley, in the middle of the day, killing a cop in the process. No amount of political influence could help. Bolton was sent away to prison where he died of pneumonia in a few years.
With Bolton gone, the gang started to weaken compared to it's previous power, although it had a brief resurgence during the First World War when Chicago was under a temporary alcohol prohibition and the gang went into the rum-running business.
Rum-running brought the gang a lot of money. For the first time, the Valley Boys drove Rolls Royce’s, wore silk shirts and managed to get out of murder charges by affording the most talented lawyers, including the legendary Clarence Darrow.
In the mid-1890s, when the gang was under the leadership of Paddy the Bear Ryan, the Valley Boys were transformed into labor goons for hire, with the Bear, acting as the salesman, boasting that his boys were the best bomb throwers and acid tossers in the business. The Valley Gang solidified that reputation during the building trade’s strike of 1900, which put some 60,000 laborers out of work for twenty-six weeks.
Operating under the street command of Walter "Runty" Quinlan, who would eventually lead the gang, the Valley boys terrorized strike breakers with unmerciful beatings and earned their reputation as pro-labor thugs in an age when the bosses and factory owners paid better.
Paddy the Bear ruled the Valley for years and it was the Bear who taught Tommy, Johnny, Joe and Eddie Touhy the finer points of the criminal life. Weighing in at least 450 pounds, the Bear waddled when he walked. But he was a solid figure full of fighting vigor and brutal vitality. He was also an ignorant man, blatant and profane, utterly fearless when given to one of his choking rages.
The Bear's place was a dingy saloon at 14th Street and South Halstead. There was a sawdust floor "to soak up the blood" as Jack Lait said. A dirty, bent bar filled an entire wall. The rest of the room was packed with rickety tables and grimy wooden benches. On the drab smoke-stained walls hung pictures of John L. Sullivan, Jake Kilrain and dozens of other Irish fighters whom the Bear admired.
The Bear, whose specialty was making police records disappear, worked seven days a week. With a dirty apron tied around his enormous waist he held court, ruling over his kingdom with an iron fist like an absolute dictator. The Bear was feared by the killers that surrounded him, so much so that throughout his long career none dared to question him or usurp his authority.
During the Bear's leadership, no gang in all of Chicago was tougher or bolder. Every criminal in the Valley had to swear allegiance to Paddy the Bear or they didn't work in the Valley.
It came to be that the Bear's friend, Red Kruger, was sent to Joliet Penitentiary on a variety of charges. Soon afterward Runty Quinlan, the Bear's second in command, started sleeping with Kruger's wife.
This sordid romance threw the Bear into one of his rages. One day when the Runt stopped by Paddy's saloon for a beer, the Bear came from around the bar and called him every name in the book. He punched the Runt to the floor, picked him up and punched him to the floor again and again and again. It was a terrible beating, even by Valley standards. When it was over, the Bear told the Runt that he would beat him senseless every time he saw him. Runty Quinlan swore his revenge.
Several days after the beating, Paddy the Bear was summoned to the Des Plaines police station to answer a charge for receiving stolen property. "He could have," noted one cop, "found his way blindfolded."
It was morning when the Bear started out for the police station. He waddled along Blue Island Avenue and stopped by Eddie Tancel's place. Eddie was another Valley Gang graduate who operated a bar in the area. Once a professional fighter, Tancel-who was called "the Bulldog of Cicero"-had won almost all of his fights with his famous knockout punch. He retired to his Blue Island bar after he accidentally killed an up-and-coming fighter named Young Greenberg with his gloved fist. The police would eventually close down Tancel's Blue Island saloon after it became the scene of one too many shooting murders.
After leaving Tancel's place, the Bear crossed an alley just a half block from his saloon when Runty Quinlan sprang up from behind some trash cans
and shot Paddy the Bear several times in his enormous belly. Paddy reeled out into the middle of the street, slumping down on the cobblestone and fell to the ground. Quinlan stood over the Bear and fired four more bullets into him.
Paddy the Bear was rushed to a hospital where a cop asked if he knew who had shot him. To which Paddy replied, "Of course I know who shot me, you idiot." Then he paused and said, more to himself than to anyone present, "But I didn't think that the little runt would have the nerve to do it." Then he died.
For the cops, the Bear's last words were everything but a confession. Runty Quinlan was dragged in for questioning but was released due to lack of evidence.
Shortly after killing the Bear, Runty Quinlan went down state to Joliet State Prison on an unrelated charge. He was released several years later during Prohibition and opened a saloon on 17th and Lommis Streets at the border of the Valley. The place soon became a favorite hang-out for the Klondike and Myles O'Donnell boys. Once, when police raided the joint, they found ten bulletproof vests, two machine guns and a dozen automatic pistols hidden behind the bar. "The Runt's saloon,"said Jack Lait "was that kind of joint."
Paddy the Bear had one son, known as "Paddy the Cub." Paddy the Cub idolized his father who, for all his wicked ways, was an indulgent and doting parent. Young Paddy never forgot his father's murder and for years nursed his hatred of Runty Quinlan. As a teenager he would see the Runt on his way to school, leaning against the doorway of his saloon, uneasily smiling down at him.
One day the Runt was lounging in a booth in his saloon with three Valley Gang graduates: Fur Sammons, Klondike and Myles O'Donnell. The group had been drinking for several hours and were mildly drunk when Paddy the Cub slipped up to the Runt, jammed a revolver in his left temple and whispered 'This is for my father, you son-of-a-bitch." He shot the Runt through the back of the head. After the Runt fell to the floor, Paddy the Cub fired several more shots into the body and then slowly and calmly walked out the front door of the saloon.
In 1919, after the Bear was killed, Terry Druggan and Frankie Lake took over the Valley Gang. Druggan was a dwarf-like little man with a hair-trigger temper and a lisp. He was ambitious and found the Valley territory too restrictive for his high ambition. He soon extended his criminal reach far beyond its borders.
Over the years, Terry Druggan had gained a reputation as a fool and a clown. Despite this reputation Druggan proved to be a highly effective leader. He was a smooth operator and a highly intelligent hood, and by the third year of Prohibition he had made himself and most of his gang members rich beyond their wildest dreams. By 1924, Terry Druggan could truthfully boast that even the lowest member of his gang wore silk shirts and had a chauffeur for his new Rolls-Royce.
Druggan was smart enough to enter into several lucrative business agreements with Johnny Torrio. He was wise enough to pull the Valley Gang off the streets and remodel them after Johnny Torrio's restructured version of "Big Jim" Colosimo's outfit. With his alcohol millions, Druggan bought a magnificent home on Lake Zurich and a winter estate in Florida. He surrounded himself with yes-men and flunkies and parked twelve new cars in his garage. He had a swimming pool although he couldn't swim, a tennis court although he didn't play, and dairy cattle (which he admitted scared him), sheep and swine in his pastures. He owned a thoroughbred racing stable and raced his horses, draped in his family's ancient Celtic color scheme, at Chicago's tracks.
Once, when he was ruled off the turf at one track for fixing a race, Druggan pulled his gun on the officials and promised to kill them all then and there if they didn't change their ruling. They changed their ruling. Frankie Lake grew up with Druggan in the Valley. He and Druggan were inseparable companions, as well as business partners in everything. They even went to jail together.
In 1924, during the height of Prohibition, both Druggan and Lake were sentenced to a year in the Cook County jail by Judge James Wilkerson for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions regarding their business dealings. Lake appealed to the President of the United States for help. The President refused to intervene and the pair went to jail-sort of. After a $20,000 cash bribe to Sheriff Peter Hoffman, "for the usual considerations and conveniences" as Druggan put it, he and Lake were allowed to turn their cells into working offices. They came and went from the jail as they saw fit and were often seen in cafes late at night, retiring to their spacious apartments on ritzy Lake Shore Drive.
On those rare days when they actually stayed in the jail-waking up late and having breakfast in bed-their wives were regular visitors. In fact, on several occasions Druggan had his dentist brought in to fill a cavity. Later, when the story broke, a reporter asked Druggan to explain his absence from jail. The gangster explained, "Well you know, it's awfully crowded in there."He was right. In 1924 the Cook County jail, which had been built to house no more than 500 inmates, was home to over 1,500 men.
The same thing happened in 1933 when Druggan was supposed to be in Leavenworth Federal Prison for two and a half years on a tax evasion charge. Once again he bought his way out of the jail and was living in the tiny town just outside the prison, in a three bedroom apartment with his girlfriend Bernice Van De Hauten. She was a buxom blonde who moved down from Chicago to keep Terry company, much to his wife's surprise. The story broke and Druggan was moved from Leavenworth to Atlanta, without his girlfriend this time.
With the end of Prohibition, the Druggan and Lake Gang, as the Valley Gang was then called, was completely absorbed by the Chicago syndicate operations and for all practical purposes ceased to exist.
As dyed-in-the-wool members of the old Valley Gang, the older Touhy boys learned the dark arts of burglary, daylight holdups and labor extortion, at which they excelled. There is a story that became underworld legend, how one stormy night in 1909, Patrolman James Touhy was walking his beat when he confronted his eldest son, Jimmy leaving Paddy the Bear's saloon with a burglar's bag over his shoulder. The normally quick-tempered Touhy remained uncharacteristically calm.
"Open the bag," his father said.
When the young man did as he was told, out rolled burglary tools and a bottle of nitroglycerin- an explosive used on difficult safes around the turn of the century. The elder Touhy cuffed his son and then called a paddy wagon to have the boy taken to the station to be booked.
"You book him, “he told the cop behind the desk. "It's bad enough to arrest my own son without going to court to testify against him."
Nothing good came from the Touhy boys. In 1917 Jimmy Touhy was killed in a botched robbery attempt. His brother, Joe Touhy was killed in a freak shooting ten years later. Brother John tracked down Joe's killer and murdered him, only to die of consumption in the state prison several years later. Tommy Touhy, the second eldest and most fearless and feared of the lot, grew to be a ruthless outlaw who well deserved his nickname 'Terrible Touhy." By 1919, Tommy was one of Chicago's leading hoods.
With poverty and crime on the rise in the Valley, James Touhy gave up on his elder sons, and, early in the summer of 1908, he moved his daughters, Eleanor and Eileen, and ten-year old son Roger to the tiny village of Downers Grove. The village had been created only seventy-five years earlier, taking its name from a New Englander, Pierce Downer, who settled on what had been the crossing of two ancient Indian trails.
In Downers Grove, Roger became a better-than- average baseball player and an above-average student. In general it was a pleasant time in his life. "It was a good enough boyhood," he remembered. "I played baseball and raised the usual amount of the devil and got teased because my hair was curley. [sic] If I had anything to gripe about, I didn't realize it, because the other boys didn't have any more than I did, generally speaking."
He took up ham operations as a hobby and built his own set at home and learned the international code. He attended St. Joseph's Roman Catholic church and school while the parish was still being run out of a hall over the top of the Des Plaines hardware shop.
Since the family was strapped for cash, Roger worked around the parish as a handyman and assistant to the parish priest and its first pastor, Father Eneas Goodwin. Roger's duties included serving mass as an altar boy and accompanying the priest as his driver in a rented horse buggy on his twice weekly rounds. "At whatever house we stopped there would be refreshments-apple pies, lemonade, thick sandwiches, salads, pickles, ice cream. Father waved the food away, but I ate fit to bust a gut....In the church there was a big oil painting of the Last Supper. Father Goodwin explained it to me, saying that a man called Judas had betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. A thing like that can have a remarkable influence on a kid. I began thinking of Judas as a stool pigeon, a word I knew as did all youngsters. While sweeping up the church and dusting the pews I would stop and look for a long time at the painting. I picked out the face of a man I figured was Judas, and I would stand there hating him."
In 1915 Roger Touhy graduated from the eighth grade as class valedictorian and, as did many boys his age at that time, went job hunting and tried to land a position as an international wireless radio operator. However, his youth (he was only thirteen) kept him out of that line. Instead, he worked as an office boy and stock room clerk. He later took another position as a cookie taster in a biscuit bakery.
He was a determined adolescent and in 1915, the year his father retired from the Chicago police force, Roger lied about his age and managed to land a position with Western Union for twelve dollars a week. Of his age Touhy said, "...it was easy to get by. My hair was gray at the sides of my head (maybe I worried as an infant) before I got out of knee pants and every day I would have a five o'clock shadow by lunch time." He became the manager of a little residential section branch office and considered himself "a real big dealer."
Western Union taught Touhy the Morse code which was easy enough since he already had experience. He was moved to a main office in midtown as an operator where he ran a book-making operation on the side. He even took the occasional bet from his father, of whom he said, "...[h]e liked to play the horses. He would bet fifty cents or one or two bucks on a race when he had the cash to spare. And now I was in a position to be his personal tout. The stable owners, trainers and jockey would send messages on the chances of their horses over the wires. I tipped off my father."
Touhy continues, "A really important thing happened to me-back then in 1915-was that a dark-haired Irish girl went to work for Western Union in the company branch office in Chicago's finest hotel- the Blackstone. She was fresh out of telegraph school. From the main office I sent the Blackstone's messages to her and received the ones she transmitted back. She sent better than she copied, but she wasn't good at either. I tried to help her."
Her name was Clara Morgan. She was just sixteen and six years later Touhy would marry her. Clara worked the four-to-midnight shift, and since Touhy worked the day shift he would drop by to see her and eventually to walk her home. They were normally accompanied by one of Clara's co-workers, Emily Ivins who years later would be an instrumental witness to Touhy's innocence on kidnapping charges.
Sometime in 1916, Touhy became involved with the Commercial Telegraphers Union (C.T.U.) of America which was trying to organize the Western Union and Postal Telegraph Company. According to Touhy, during one of his breaks, he walked into the men's smoking lounge and read one of the union pamphlets that had been scattered across the room by organizers. Someone reported him to the management who called him in for interrogation. They asked Touhy if he was a union member, if he was acquainted with any union members and would he be willing to provide their names. Touhy said he wasn't a member, he didn't know any members and if he did he wouldn't give out their names. "So," one of the managers asked, "you intend to take a union card?"
Touhy replied "maybe" and was fired on the spot.
'I should have lied to that superintendent," he wrote. "Honesty was my downfall."
That evening an organizer for the C.T.U. came to Touhy's house and told him that he was already blacklisted within the telegraph industry. Touhy didn't believe him and applied for work with the Associated Press which needed telegraph operators. They refused to take his application. He describes the incident saying, "I could have been a bearded Bolshevik with a bomb under my coat."
So he became a union organizer, probably the only job he could find in the only business he knew anything about. One of the first things Touhy did was to forge the names of ten Western Union employee-informants on union application membership cards and give them to one of the secretaries in the union's office who Touhy suspected of being a plant.
Among the names he provided to her was the Western Union employee who had turned him in to management for reading union literature. The next day all of the people named on the fake application cards were fired and the secretary was terminated.
It was at this point that Touhy would meet some of the legends of labor organizing.
'Their faces" Roger wrote, "were scar tissued from fighting hired strike breakers on picket lines. Their skulls were creased from bumping their heads on the tops of police paddy wagons. Their knuckles sometimes were driven halfway up to their wrists from past impacts."
One of the legends he met was Con Shea who was "an erudite character who delighted in using fancy words."
One evening over a beer he taught the young Touhy that "a divided septum is an occupational hazard of the profession of union organizing." Touhy said, "I nodded wisely not wanting to appear dumb. I learned later that he was talking about a busted nose."
Shea should have known about broken noses. He, along with "Big Frenchy" Mader, "Big Tim" Murphy and "Dapper" Dan McCarthy (a professional gunner later employed by Johnny Torrio) all but created the great Chicago Building Trades War of 1922. During the war-and it was a war by all definitions-Shea and the others worked both sides of the fence, for labor and for management, bombing both sides equally. The war ended when Big Frenchy Mader walked into the union hall with a machine gun and declared himself President and owner of the Building Trades Council. At that point there were so few people left that no one opposed him. Six years later, Shea's co-terrorist, Big Tim Murphy was gunned down during the violent Republican pineapple primary of 1928, so-called because of the throwing of bombs. By 1929, Shea, who had been a bomber for the Teamsters since he was sixteen, was now an old man taking any job he could find.
Roger soon tired of organizing; the hours were long, the pay was low and often the work was brutal and dangerous. Except for a still-blossoming romance with Clara Morgan, Roger had nothing to hold him in Chicago, and, like thousands of young men before him, he headed out west to make his fortune. He left Chicago for St. Paul, but he was unable to find work. Touhy describes his plight, "[I was] dead broke. I bummed my way out of the city aboard a freight train."
Eventually, Roger found work as a telegraph operator for various railroads and commercial houses as he made his way out west. During his travels he worked as an operator for the Union Pacific Railroad, then as a telegraph operator and later as a brakeman on the Northwestern Railroad. Finally he accepted a position as a telegrapher for $185 a month on the Denver & Rio and Grand Railroad and was sent out west by the company, often to Colorado, with most of his time spent in Eagle County.
It was here in Eagle where he befriended Clyde Nottingham, who was said to be the meanest cowboy in the region if not in the state. A giant of a man with a short temper, Nottingham grew up in the rough and tumble world of mining camps. He was a man beset with endless personal problems, and he acted as the local bully. 'When he wanted something," a relative noted, 'he just took it."
In 1899, Clyde married Tillie Samuelson. They had three children, a daughter Lola and twin sons, Harold and Clyde Jr. Harold, who was said to have been a bright child, died at age two, after a week's illness, and Clyde Jr. died in infancy.
Clyde had moved to the area from Iowa at the age of seven. Like his father, teamster William Henry Nottingham, he was known to be mean to the bone. Both men were known to threaten with death anyone that dared cross them.
In 1904, Clyde Nottingham beat and threatened to kill a depot agent named H.G. Comstock, an import from New York, and then ordered him out of town. A few days later the clerk spotted Nottingham walking toward Comstock, pulled out a revolver and fired three shots. Comstock failed to kill him but did manage to cut a hole through his pants and give him flesh wounds in two other places. A trial was held, but the jury, knowing Nottingham's reputation, acquitted the depot agent, who left town that same day. A while later Nottingham was arrested for beating up another depot agent-the one Roger Touhy replaced.
Several days after arriving in town Roger Touhy-the five-foot four-inch, ninety-eight-pound kid from Chicago's Valley who never backed down- met Nottingham, the giant rancher with the quick fists.
Roger remembered Nottingham: "I got my first warning of western bad-man danger when a local merchant told me, 'You won't be here long, sonny, we got a rancher, Clyde Nottingham, who runs depot agents out of town. He carries a gun. Guess he don't like you depot agent dudes.'"
He continues, "It was cold that first night in Eagle and I had the stove red hot as I jiggled the telegraph key, handling the freight car, stock car and personnel messages. The waiting room door opened and in came a big man in cowboy clothes and a sheepskin coat. He spat on the potbellied stove.
"I walked to the ticket window, looked out and saw the caller was carrying a .45. He didn't look pleasant, but damned if he was going to run me out of town. 'Mr.,' I asked. He nodded and I said 'Mr. Nottingham anytime you want to spit on the stove go right ahead. But come back the next day after the stove cools and polish it. I ain't going to do it.'"
Remarkably an agreement was reached. Touhy agreed to put Nottingham's letters on the late train and in turn, Nottingham agreed to stop spitting in Touhy's fire. This was the beginning of what Touhy would deem "a fine friendship." Touhy was invited to spend time at Nottingham's ranch with his family. Touhy admits this gave him a "sense of belonging," which he appreciated.
Spending his free time at Nottingham's three- hundred-acre ranch, complete with stream, lake and seven bedroom house, Roger learned big game hunting and horseback riding. He became a better-than- average marksman and acquired his life-long obsession with fishing.
Roger left Eagle after a two-year stay, and in 1918 enlisted in the Navy and was eventually stationed at Harvard University where he worked as a wireless operator and taught officers the Morse code.
'The Navy," as Roger liked to point out, "gave grounds for me, a boy from the eighth grade to say honestly to cops, bootleggers, convicts, prison guards and interviewers, 'I've been to Harvard.'"
Opting for an early out with the Navy Reserve, Roger was back in Chicago by 1919, living with his father in suburban Franklin Park and dating Clara Morgan, having kept in touch with her through long letters from Colorado and later from Boston. There was talk of marriage, but Roger set off for the west again, landing in Drummund, Oklahoma where the oil business was in full boom and fortunes were being made overnight.
"I didn't know any more about the oil business then a mink knows about sex hygiene, but I could learn....The Sinclair Oil people, in a moment of laxity hired me as a scout. The experience I had in that line was confined to watching silent western movies in which army scouts killed Indians,"says Tuohy.
Actually the position he filled was as a driver to the world famous geologist Dick Raymond who had been brought in to determine which wildcat wells were producing the most oil and from that, decide which land was worth leasing. "There was nothing," he wrote "against my buying leases that Raymond recommended."
Learning everything he could about the oil business from Raymond, Roger took $1,000 out of his savings and purchased a 150-acre site that Drummond recommended. Within a month, he resold the lease for a 200 percent profit. He repeated the process twenty times in one year. Of that time Touhy said, "[I] never lost on any of them...the money was good, but I was a guy who liked the city. And my mind was on the girl at the telegraph key in the Blackstone Hotel."
He returned to Chicago with $25,000, a respectable fortune in 1920, "and, “he liked to point out, "it had taken me less than a year to earn it."