The End of Big Jim Colosimo (5-11-1920)

This was one historic day in the annals of Chicago gangland.  This was the day Big Jim Colosimo was killed.

Big Jim

Colosimo was a native of Calabria, in southern Italy.  He’d come to Chicago as a teenager in 1895, and at first was just another two-bit hustler hanging out on the 22nd Street Levee.  Then he grabbed for the gold.  He married one of the city’s leading madams.

Colosimo had a good head for business.  He expanded his wife’s operation until the couple was running dozens of brothels and gambling halls.  By 1910 he had also become a political power in the First Ward.

That year Big Jim opened a cafe at 2126 South Wabash Avenue.  Italian cuisine was considered exotic by mainstream American then—think Ethiopian food today—and Colosimo’s became a chic dining spot for the “best people.”  Visiting celebrities and knowledgeable tourists flocked to the place.

In the spring of 1920 Big Jim divorced his first wife and married a young singer.  A few weeks later, on May 11, he went to his cafe to wait for a delivery.  At about 5 in the afternoon one of the employees heard a shot.  The man followed the sound and found Colosimo lying dead.

Souvenir postcard from Colosimo’s

The police had two suspects, the dumped wife and the trophy wife.  Both women were cleared and dropped out of sight.  The killing was officially credited to that old standby, “person or persons unknown.”  Only later did the whole story emerge.

Johnny Torrio

Johnny Torrio was Colosimo’s chief lieutenant.  Prohibition was on the way, and Torrio knew there was a fortune to be made supplying liquor to thirsty citizens.  Big Jim balked at the idea.  He’d gained a certain measure of respectability, and didn’t want to rock the boat.

So Torrio decided that Big Jim had to go.  The identity of The Man Who Shot Big Jim Colosimo is still in dispute.  But many scholars say the deed was done by Torrio’s young friend from Brooklyn, Al Capone.

Torrio proved to be a visionary.  With Colosimo out of the way, bootlegging became big business.  And with the profits from that business, the mob entrepreneurs flourished and grew.

Colosimo’s Café endured some hard times after Big Jim’s death.  For awhile the business was shuttered.  A new owner took over in 1948, but couldn’t make a go of it.

Still, Chicagoans counted the café at 2126 South Wabash Avenue as one of the city’s historic sites.  When the building’s planned demolition was announced in 1958, the property was overrun by hundreds of souvenir hunters.



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