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Gangs and mobsters

  Gangs and mobsters  

February 15, 2012 13:57      

permalink   Greatest Mob Hits 

When I say greatest hits, I'm not talking Frank Sinatra singing My Way. A new museum opened yesterday in Las Vegas.

The Mob Museum.

It cost $42 million, and it opened on the 83rd anniversary of the St. Valentine's Massacre in 1929. I didn't want to spoil your chocolate with anything bloody or gruesome so I waited a day to put up the post. The museum features a thrilling lineup of mobsters, past and present, and their bloody exploits.

A trip down memory lane

But first,  in case you've never heard of The St. Valentine's Massacre, here's a recap. On February 14, 1929, St. Valentine's Day, seven members of an Irish gang led by Bugs Moran were lined up against a wall in a Chicago garage and executed. Allegedly, by hitmen in police uniforms hired by Al Capone, leader of Chicago's Italian gang.


        Al Capone                                                      Bugs Moran

One man survived the massacre. Police later questioned him in his hospital room and asked who shot him. Despite having 14 bullet wounds, he replied: "Nobody shot me."  Don't you love it? Warring mobsters protecting each other. How heartwarming.

What were they fighting about? Hey, every mobster wants to be top dawg. You shoot two of my guys, I'll shoot five of yours. But there were other reasons. Bugs had taken over some of Al's saloons and was trying to muscle in on Al's lucrative suburban dog track.

But the biggest reason? This was during Prohibition. Back in the day when nobody was supposed to drink alcohol, but everybody did. Sort of like the current drug laws in the U.S. Just say no to drugs, but in most cities you can buy them on most any street corner. But hey, that's fodder for another post. Bottom line: Moran and Capone were competing for control of Chicago's lucrative bootlegging business.

Police eventually charged two men with the massacre. Capone killed one of them. Charges against the other man were dropped for lack of evidence. Al's henchmen took care of that. In 1931, Capone was convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison. Moran held onto his territory until Frank Nitti grabbed it, having muscled his way into leadership of Capone's gang after Al was sent to prison. 

Why Las Vegas?

Las Vegas is the perfect place for a mob museum, a city where Lefty and Lucky, Bugsy and Scarface felt right at home. And they wanted no gang wars. "We don't want no blood [here]," said one mobster. "It's bad for tourist business." One of the mover-shakers behind the museum is Oscar B. Goodman. A former defense lawyer for some of the city's mobsters, he later became mayor of Las Vegas, and played himself in the movie, Casino.

Former mayor Oscar Goodman in the mob museum

When term limits forced his retirement, Oscar swore in his wife, Carolyn G, Goodman, the current mayor, in his place. Like mobsters, politicians hate to give up control of their territory.

The three story museum has 17,000 square feet of exhibition space. Exhibits with artifacts (bullet-riddled cars and bodybags) interactive displays, photographs (some bloody, some not) and videos. To be fair, law enforcement gets equal time. A former special agent for the Las Vegas FBI office, Ellen Knowlton says, "We wanted to make sure the truth came out."

Much of the focus is not on romanticized mobsters, but on the fight against them. Exhibits show bugged homes and telephone booths, informants, and undercover agents trying to prevent mob killings.


Elliot Ness (left). The one on the right is Robert Stack, who played Ness in The Untouchables.

The museum is housed in the federal courthouse where one of fourteen U.S. Senate hearings on organized crime was held in the 1950s. The hearings, televised live and seen by 30 million viewers, introduced the mob to Americans. La Cosa Nostra and all that mob talk spawned dozens of Hollywood movies. I bet you saw this one ...

But museum officials deny any attempt to cash in on sensationalism. Hell no. The tickets only cost $18.00. But there's a gift store with mobster paper dolls and gangster teddy bears dressed in pin-striped suits and armed with plastic machine guns. Fun stuff like that. Oh yeah, and a T-shirt that reads: "In Godfather We Trust."

The point

This may be a new century, but trust me, the mobsters are alive and well. The only difference is that the ethnicities are more diverse: Russian and Eastern European gangs, Asian gangs, Irish mobs (even if the feds did catch Whitey Bulger and put him in jail), and, of course, representing the other half of my heritage, Italian mobs.

Like I said: Mobs aren't going away. If you want to know more about The Mob Museum, here's the link. http://themobmuseum.org/

My suggestion? Go eat some chocolate.

I got a lot of blowback from my Super Bowl post. But hey, I'm tough. I can take it. Leave me a comment. Good or bad, I'd love to hear from you. And while you're here pick up a copy of Absolution or Diva to find out what I really think. This is NOPD homicide detective Frank Renzi signing off.

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