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  • Writer's pictureJ. Sutton

Johnny Torrio aka Giovanni Torrio

Updated: May 10, 2023

Giovanni Torrio was born in Italy on January 20, 1882. After his father died his mother moved the family to New York to be closer to other family members.

Upon arriving in American Giovannis mother changed his name to Johnny to sound more American.

Johnny was the nephew of James "Big Jim" Colosimo an Italian man who was married to his Aunt Victoria Moresco and resided in Chicago. He ran some of the rackets of the Chicago Outfit.

As a young adult Johnny would purchase a pool hall, there he began to run small gambling rackets to make some extra money. This business type initiative caught the attention of Paul Kelly the leader and founder of the Five Points Gang in New York. Kelly took Torrio under his wing and began to mentor him.

It was 1909 and Johnny was rising in the ranks of mafia life in New York, meanwhile his uncle Colosimo in Chicago was expanding his.

Colosimo approached Diamond Joe (Boss of the 42 gang & politician) and proposed that he bring in some additional muscle from New York to help subdue some of their rivals from the Black Hand.

Johnny Torrio would be one of the people bought in.

According to the Giancana Brothers Johnny was "a hardworking hustler who'd already proven [himself] with the New York Five Points Gang." Giancana. S, Giancana. C (1992)

Torrio quickly got down to business once he arrived in Chicago, handling some of the brothels and gambling rackets for his uncle Colosimo. He was bringing in good money and started to branch out but needed more men to do this. After speaking to his uncle it was agreed that he could bring in some of his New York associates.

Torrio knew the exact men he wanted to bring in so he arranged for his associate Alphonse Gabriel Capone and a few others to come to Chicago and help him to keep operations running smoothly.

While Torrio had been in New York he had taken note of how successful the alcohol rackets were and saw that he could do this in Chicago.

So he proposed to his uncle to invest in the production of alcohol and to distance himself from brothels. But Colosimo was completely against the idea and insisted Torrio get it out of his head and focus on running and opening more brothels.

To add to this Colosimo was having problems at home and Torrios aunt was divorcing him, Colosimo was being very disrespectful to Torrios Aunt something that would prove to be a mistake on Colosimos part.

This made Johnny angry he had no intention of listening to his uncle or respecting him. Torrio decided to go ahead with his expansion plan with or without his uncle's blessing. Colosimo wasn't happy about Torrios resistance and again insisted Torrio obey him and do as he's told. This was the last straw for Johnny, he went back and spoke to his closest men. They arranged to carry out a hit on Colosimo so they could continue with their plans in peace.

The assassination preparations were made and it is assumed that Frankie Yale was the shooter, Torrio gave the order and made the arrangements. During the spring of 1920 on May 11th around 4pm James "Big Jim" Colosimo was gunned down and excecuted at a restaurant owned by Johnny's uncle.

Both Torrio and Yale were arrested for murder, but after witnesses refused to give evidence they had to release the men and the record of the murder remains unsolved.

This left Johnny to get on with his prohibition plans. Initially things were going well the money was coming in and operations were seemingly running smoothly. In the first few years of his expansion due to "organization and complete shamelessness" beingTorrio's "strong points." it is estimated that he earned "nearly $50 million"in profit - Chicago Tribune 1929.

He had been in talks with a business associate O'Banion about teaming up to increase profits. Between the Chicago Outfit and the O'Banion Outfit they could make twice the profit.

Dean O’Banion was an American Mobster he was the head of the North Side Gang and had been working for Torrio for years.

Torrios success would be short lived, O'Banion was not all he seemed.

As Torrio was planning to go into business with O'Banion he thought he would do a bit of investigation into how he operates. Torrio discovered that O'Banion had been hijacking the outfit’s liquor trucks near enough the whole time they had been working together. But before Torrio could act O'Banion had already set in motion a plan to get rid of Torrio and his partner Capone so he could take over the business.

O'Banion framed both Torrio and Capone for a murder. They subsequently got arrested, but they weren't held for long. Once released it is believed they arranged a hit on O'Banion he was a problem that needed removing. It is suspected that Frankie Yale was the one who carried out the hit on O'Banion however, that hasn't been confirmed. Dean O’Banions death remains unsolved.

In retaliation O'Banions men attempted to assassinate Torrio while he was out in the car with his wife. He was shot multiple times but survived and was taken to hospital where he remained guarded by his associates until he was well again. Shortly after he recovered he was arrested and convicted to 9 months in Jail. Upon his release he moved back to Italy with his family and officially retired from mob life.

Torrio couldn't stay away, his love for the life was too much. He returned to Chicago and became Consigliore to Capone, who now ran the Chicago Outfit. Torrio remained loyal to the life and ultimately couldn't leave it, it was all he'd ever known.

Johnny Torrio passed away April 16, 1957 from a heart attack. His legacy in organised crime will always live on.

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