Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Dec. 23, 1959
December 23, 2009 | 2:00 pm
A Refugee From Terrible Infamy
I talked to a man-come-out-of-hiding last night, a man who's been living precarious inches out of notorious headlines.
He's 33 years old now, but since the age of 7 he's been living under an assumed name.
He's had to. Because, in spite of the fact that he's a peace-loving, church-going man whose only brush with the law in his life was a single traffic violation years ago, he's got a name that he, his children, and possibly even his grandchildren will never live down.
The name he was born with is Touhy. Tom Touhy.
His father, whose violent, gangland-style murder made headlines last week, was Roger (The Terrible) Touhy.
We met through a mutual friend. And his willingness to talk to me, or any newspaperman, came primarily out of his concern over a printed report that he was "out to avenge his father's death."
"I certainly wish you could straighten that out," he said, in a disarmingly boyish voice. "I don't want to get mixed up in anything like that."
Then, his point made, Tom Touhy wasn't unwilling to discuss any part of his life as a refugee from infamy.
"I remember when I just started in grammar school," he said. "The other kids used to tease me and say my father was a jailbird. I used to ask my mother about it and she'd say, 'Don't believe them.'
"Naturally, I went by what my mother said. But when I was 7, we moved out of Chicago, to Florida, and changed our name. She raised us there -- my brother and me -- and I never knew until I was 16 years old who my father really was.
"She always told us that our father had some trouble about taxes and was living in the Canary Islands.
"She's a wonderful woman," Tom Touhy added. "All her life, she carried that burden. I've got to respect her for keeping it from us."
"How did you find out who your father was?" I asked him.
"In 1942 he escaped from prison. That made headlines. That's how I found out."
A year later, on his 17th birthday, Tom Touhy joined the Seabees. It wasn't until he was honorably discharged that he met the man whom his vague childhood memories established as his father.
"I was 21," he said. "That long corridor in the prison -- I remember that. I walked down it -- it seemed like forever. Then we shook hands, but what we talked about, that's kind of blacked out. I just remember that he'd excuse himself now and then and say he had something to do and step out of the room. I knew he was going out to cry and then coming back."
After that meeting, the visits were frequent. "But we never talked about much except trying to get him out of jail. My mother believed that he was innocent and so did I. He didn't kidnap anybody, I still believe that.
"But I never really got to know him." he added, "until he finally was released from jail last month. I saw him just about every day. The day before he was killed we sat down and talked for hours about the future.
"He wanted to go to Florida and go into the fishing equipment business. I work in construction now. I make $152 a week. I've got my daughter, who's 11. But I was willing to make the move and go into it with him. The only reason why I stayed in Chicago was so I could visit him in prison.
"We talked about fishing lures and plastics and dies," Tom Touhy continued. "He picked up a lot of information about them in prison. He just wanted to live out the rest of his life peacefully, honestly."
An Old Man, but a Big Name
"Then what, do you think," I asked "was behind his murder?"
The slight young man paused before answering. Then he said, "There's still a mob in Chicago. I just have the feeling that it was somebody small in the mob who was trying to impress somebody big. Roger Touhy may be an old man who wouldn't hurt anybody, but he's still a big name.
"That's who I think it was," he said.
Tom Touhy and I talked for quite a while. In answer to my questions, he said that only a few of his closest friends knew his real name, his real identity. He's strong in the PTA, he said, chairman of its entertainment committee last year. And he's very active in his church.
But still he's the son of Roger the Terrible.
And that, in our society, is a sin that one man is too small to live down in a lifetime.