George 'Bugs' Moran was the last of
the spectacular North Side gang leaders, a colorful and violent
urban dynasty that began with the rise of Dean O'Banion in 1920.
Although Moran was not killed in the February 1929 bloodbath that
had obviously been meant for him, his days as a mighty gangland
power were numbered. Cops and journalists who prided themselves
on knowing gangsters better than the hoods themselves dismissed
Moran, figuring that the loss of his top men in the Clark Street
garage and Capone's slow but sure absorption of the North Side would
either force Bugs out of town for good or make him a vulnerable
target that no red-hot seeking a reputation could resist.
Moran suffered neither predicted fate.
The career that commenced in September 1910 with horse thievery
and progressed by 1929 to bootlegging, cleaning and dyeing unions
and dog racing, was the outward expression of a cunning and determined
survivor. Although not as cerebral as John Torrio or Hymie Weiss,
Moran was street-smart in the style of the pre-World War One gangsters;
those rough and tumble brawlers who relied on their instincts alone
and sneered that they'd never seen a bullet yet that was afraid
of brains. He had the battle scars to prove his apprenticeship in
that do-or-die environment, sporting a 4" knife scar along
the right side of his neck and a crooked middle finger from a badly
knit broken bone. He outlived O'Banion, Weiss, Drucci, Capone (his
preference for monogamy rescued him from Capone's fate to die a
syphilitic wreck), and probably those who predicted his imminent
demise back in 1929.
He did not, however, escape scot-free,
serving the latter part of his life in both Ohio State and Leavenworth
prisons on bank robbery charges. He did die from causes unrelated
to old age: lung cancer. Cigarettes, not bullets, did him in. Irony
knows no bounds.
the fame that George Moran attained as Al Capone's arch enemy and
gangland's ultimate survivor, the man himself has been somewhat
of a mystery until now. Previous books exploring and explaining
the turbulent period that Chicago's underworld experienced during
the Twenties report Moran's pre-Prohibition activities only to the
extent of quoting his criminal record. His Minnesota childhood,
his persistent sinning during the 1910s, his two marriages and fatherhood
are skimmed over and his years as an independent outlaw (late Thirties
to mid-Forties) appear as mere mentions in an epilogue. My upcoming
book is the first in-depth treatment of Bugs Moran's charmed yet
wacky life. In the process of telling his story, some of this century's
most fascinating and bewildering gangland figures are revisited:
Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, Dean O'Banion, Vincent Drucci, Earl 'Hymie
Weiss', Chicago's bellowing showboat mayor "Big Bill Thompson",
the gang-hating yet oddly pro-Moran Judge John H. Lyle, and Virgil
Summers and Albert Fouts, two of Ohio's most colorful and brazen
Although George Moran both associated
with and commanded some fairly ruthless and violent characters,
those who knew him well suspected that there was as much gold in
his heart as in his Twenties bank account. Judge John Lyle, who
relished the vagrancy warrant as a weapon against wealthy gangsters
with no "legal" means of support, recalled in his memoir,
The Dry and Lawless Years, "As a man Moran had interested me.
In the many times he had been before me in court I had discerned
contradictions in his makeup. He was guilty of many wicked acts.
But also he was sharp-witted, had a keen sense of humor, and at
times was highly emotional. I had long thought that of all the gangsters
I had observed, Moran was the most likely to repent before he died
and ask God's forgiveness."
History has not recorded the details
of Moran's last confession, but the public record and interviews
with former associates allows us to venture a guess.