Murder Among the Flowers (11-10-1924)

As a boy, Dion O’Banion had sung in the choir at Holy Name Cathedral.  On this date, as a 32-year-old man, he was killed in his florist shop across the street.  Flowers were only a hobby.  His chief occupation was mob boss of Chicago’s North Side.

He’d started as a slugger is the newspaper circulation wars, later graduating to hijacking and safecracking.  When Prohibition came in 1920, O’Banion saw opportunity.  He put together a booze-smuggling operation that soon dominated the area north of the river.

It was a boom time for bootleggers.  Everyone was making money.  The South Side group, led by Johnny Torrio and Al Capone, brokered a peace agreement among the rival operators.  But late in 1924 that peace was growing uneasy.

Different explanations are offered.  The North Siders had cheated the South Siders in a brewery deal . . . A man in one mob was consorting with a woman in another mob . . . West Side bootleggers were trying to muscle in on another group’s territory . . . O’Banion had publicly insulted his counterparts, saying “The hell with those Sicilians!”

O’Banion was a cautious man–he carried three guns.  On November 10 he was in the shop preparing a floral display.  Only the porter was with him.

Shortly after noon, three men sauntered into the emporium to pick up a wreath.  While the first man shook hands with O’Banion, his two companions produced pistols and pumped six bullets into the gangster-florist.  Then they left, without bothering to take their order.

The assassination caused a sensation.  Within two hours, extra editions of the city’s papers were on the street, snapped up in record numbers by commuters on their way home from work.  Dark predictions of a major gang war were made.

The gang war did develop.  With a few pauses, it lasted for five years.

Front Page News

Front Page News

In the longer term, the O’Banion shooting was a cultural event.  For one thing, it provided scriptwriters with a dandy scenario.  The Murder Among the Flowers has been reworked nearly as much as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

O’Banion’s funeral also set new standards.  His chums buried their fallen leader in a silver-handled casket costing $10,000–about $125,000 in 2014 money.   The parade to the cemetery stretched for three miles.  Accompanying the cortege were twenty-six truckloads of flowers.

Among the floral tributes was a small basket of mixed blooms.  It bore the simple inscription, “From Al.”

—30—

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