Saturday, February 20, 2010

Johnny Yen's Chicago Stories: Lucky and Unlucky Gangsters

When I was doing the research for a post on the "whacking" of gangster Allen Dorfman on January 21, 1983 in a hotel parking lot not too far from my home, I discovered that another notorious gang hit-- or non-hit, as it turned out-- happened around the same time: the attempted gangland murder of Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto.

Eto was an oddity in the Chicago Outfit-- a Japanese-American in a world dominated by Italians, Irish and Jews. The Tacoma, Washington native had learned gambling on a troop train on the way to his deployment as a soldier in World War II. It turned out that he had a knack for gambling, and after the war he migrated to Chicago, where eventually began to run the mob's "Bolito" rackets on Chicago's North Side. Aided by several thousand dollars a week in payoffs to the police, Eto was handling $150,000-$200,000 a week.

The FBI caught on to Eto's operation, and Eto was convicted of running the illegal gambling operations. Like Dorfman, the mob was afraid that Eto would become a government witness rather than face prison time. Just a few weeks before his sentencing, Eto was called to a dinner meeting. While sitting in his car in this spot, in front of the now-demolished Mont Clare theater (this is a southward view), Eto was shot three times in the head by John Gattuso and Jasper Campise. In a sign of how corrupt Chicago was then, Gattuso was a Cook County Sheriff's deputy.

Incredibly, the .22 calibre bullets bounced off of Eto's head. He got out of his car and made his way into a nearby pharmacy, where he called for help.

(Here is a picture of the same area in the early 1970's, with a view to the north. You can see the Mont Clare Theater to the far right)

Eto saw the writing on the wall. He immediately fingered the two gunmen. Unfortunately for them, the mob got to them before the police. On July 14, 1983, they were found beaten and strangled to death in the trunk of a car in suburban Naperville, Illinois.

What had happened? It turned out that the gunmen had packed their own ammunition in order to reduce the chances of the ammunition being traced back to them. They'd put an insufficient amount of powder in their bullets, which had bounced relatively harmlessly off of Eto's head. They paid for this mistake with their lives.

And what of Eto? No fool, he entered the FBI witness program. He died of old age in Georgia in 2004.

The location of the attempted hit was interesting: the northwest Chicago neighborhood of Mont Clare. Mont Clare abuts the Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park, home of many mobsters over the years. By gentlemen's agreement, the town was generally off-limits to hits: in fact, one of notorious mob henchman Anthony Spilotro's most infamous and brutal murders came in retaliation for a hit that violated this agreement. The site of Eto's attempted hit was literally within sight-- but just outside of Elmwood Park. Apparently there was still honor among thieves back in those days.

Two years later, there would be less honor in another more successful hit just about a mile away, just on the other side of the border of Elmwood Park and Chicago, of Charles "Chuckie" English. A lieutenant of Sam Giancana, his star fell somewhat when Giancana was murdered in his Oak Park, Illinois home in July of 1975. Still, he soldiered on, working as a bookie in Florida, but eventually returning to Chicago, where he allegedly badmouthed Giancana's successors. It all caught up to him February of 1985, when he was whacked outside of Horvath's, a then-popular and now-demolished restaurant.

This time, the hitman, who was probably Charles Schweihs, who was also probably responsible for the murders of Allen Dorfman, Sam Giancana, Anthony Spilotro and Michael Spilotro, shot English in Elmwood Park, though just barely so; Harlem Avenue, where the restaurant was located, is the dividing line between Chicago and Elmwood Park in that particular location.

These days, there's a Staples office supply store where Horvath's used to be. Across the street, on the Chicago side, nothing has changed; the building that was there back then serving as a warning to English, Eto and all the other mobsters is still there:

The Galewood Funeral Home.


SkylersDad said...

You always have wonderfully interesting stories JY! The thing that struck me with this story is who in the heck shoots somebody with a 22? Even a well packed round is still likely to not kill a man with a single shot.

Erik Donald France said...

Good detective work, man! Those are some grim lifestyles over the long run.

Wonder what living Japanese in Georgia under witness protection was like . . .

purplelar said...

If you shoot someone just behind the ear with .22 the slug will enter the head bounce around scramble the brain and never exit the skull. That 's why a lot of hitmen have used that caliber.

Churlita said...

I love your Chicago Mob stories. Such a bizarre lifestyle.

Adam said...

This is great! Keep it up.

MadSam said...

"Tokyo Joe" Kenny Eto, played dead after taking 2 to the head, the hitters used weak ammo, old stuff from WW2 days, they were reprimanded for their mistake, believe me, the Outfit don't like mistakes like this, thanks for the amazing article, enjoy your blog.