Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Dec. 4, 1959
December 4, 2009 | 2:00 pm
Touhy, Jake Factor, J. Edgar Hoover. Et Al.
Roger (The Terrible) Touhy, prohibition era gangland boss who was released from Illinois State Penitentiary last week, is remembered most for his kidnapping of John (Jake the Barber) Factor. That crime earned him a 99-year sentence back in '34.
But the Touhy story which melted that one into insignificance happened in 1942.
That's when he and six fellow Statesville inmates practically drove World War II out of the Chicago newspapers by pulling off one of the most implausible prison escapes in penal history.
After smuggling a small arsenal into the pen, Touhy commandeered a prison garbage truck, which he couldn't get started until some by-standing inmates rocked it back and forth for him.
He collected his cohorts, a ladder, and a couple of guard-hostages whom he had sit on the ladder so it wouldn't fall off the truck. Then he drove to the guard tower, where the group engaged in a heated argument on how to assemble the ladder.
While they argued, another guard, unaware of what was happening, reprimanded them for "trying to wash the tower windows from inside."
This, Touhy reminisced later, got him laughing so hard that he could barely hold the .45 he had leveled on the other guards.
After a few more similar incidents, the seven made it over the wall and escaped. Then began the biggest manhunt in Chicago history.
Touhy and his pals evaded the police and the FBI for 82 days. But on Dec. 29, 1942, the FBI closed a fantastically elaborate trap on the two Chicago apartments where Touhy and four of the other escapees were holed up.
The federal men moved in during the dead of night with blinding white searchlights, loudspeakers and a small army of agents. Two of Touhy's buddies were shot down and killed during the capture.
Right after the dramatic episode, an alert reporter recalled that the FBI had moved into the case on the theory that the fugitives had crossed a state line or two in their flight. This was their legal "in" into the manhunt. But, as it happened,Touhy never left Illinois.
The reporter turned to J. Edgar Hoover and asked him on what federal violation he was holding Touhy and Co.
The FBI chief, who had branded the Touhy mob as the most vicious, dangerous gang force in the history of Chicago, scratched his head and puffed vigorously on his cigar.
Then, breaking into a triumphant smile, he replied:
"We're holding them for failure to notify their draft boards of change of address when they went over the wall."
A Christmas request:
This is the fifth year that the County Assn. for Mental Health is conducting its "Christmas for the Unremembered" campaign.
The program is to assure that each of the 18,000 mentally ill patients in our Southern California state hospitals receives at least one nice present on Dec. 25.
They ask the public for money, no gifts. These are contributed by manufacturers and merchants. This year, more than 25,000 have donated.
The association could use your help, however.
It needs volunteers to assist in wrapping the gifts.
If you've got a few hours to spare, call them. The number is REpublic I-2594. Or drop by "Christmas for the Unremembered" headquarters at 952 S. Western, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.