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Friday, October 14, 2011

Gangsters Bring Prohibition Violence to Fox Lake

Prohibition gang violence spilled into Lake County on June 1, 1930.

Mobsters from the Capone and the Druggan-Lake gangs were gunned down at Manning's Hotel in what came to be known as the "Fox Lake Massacre." Above: watercolor by sketch artist Andy Austin for WLS TV. Dunn Museum 77.23.4.

The Chain O' Lakes region became a notorious hangout for Prohibition gangsters. The likes of Al Capone (1899-1947) and his gang could freely gamble and drink the nights away. Capone was reported to have owned a summer house on Bluff Lake near Antioch, and to frequent the Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake. George "Bugs" Moran was also reported to have a home on Bluff Lake.

Colorized postcard view of Bluff Lake, Antioch, where Chicago gangsters owned private residences and frequented lakeside resorts during Prohibition. Dunn Museum M-86.1.24.

The reason behind the "Fox Lake Massacre" is still debated. Many believe the hit was part of Chicago's beer wars, and control of the Chain O' Lakes region beer distribution between Al Capone and Bugs Moran.

Mario Gomes, Al Capone expert and webmaster of the encyclopedic My Al Capone Museum website, noted that: "Moran and his men had to constantly out-think and stay one step ahead of the Capone boys in order to survive." By the time of the Fox Lake Massacre, Moran was being squeezed out of his territories and his days as a Chicagoland gangster were coming to an end.

The Manning Hotel on Pistakee Lake, showing the enclosed porch where the gangsters were seated. Chicago Tribune June 2, 1930.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "Alderman Manning had changed beer dealers, putting in Druggan beer in preference to 'local beer' in which the Bugs Moran gang—hibernating in the resort country—had taken a partnerly interest." James Manning was a Fox Lake alderman and the proprietor of Manning's Hotel. Manning's was located on Pistakee Lake near W. Grand Avenue, west of Route 12. (The building still stands as a private residence).

Chicago gangsters and their "molls" drinking at Manning's Hotel the night of the shooting. One of the victims, Vivian Ponic McGinnis, is shown at back in pink dress. Watercolor by sketch artist Andy Austin for WLS TV. Dunn Museum 77.23.1

At 1:40 a.m. on June 1, 1930, gangsters in the enclosed porch at Manning's were machine-gunned without warning.
Fox Lake Massacre gangsters shot and fleeing the scene. Watercolor by sketch artist Andy Austin for WLS TV.  Dunn Museum 77.23.5. 

Three of the five victims were killed. Left to right: Michael Quirk (Klondike O’Donner Gang), Sam Pellar (Capone Gang), and Joseph Bertsche (Druggan-Lake Gang). George Druggan (shown right) was severely wounded and was the brother of Terry "Machine Gun" Druggan, the head of the Druggan-Lake Gang. Chicago Tribune photo, June 2, 1930.

Vivian Ponic McGinnis from Chicago Tribune June 2, 1930. 

Also wounded was Vivian Ponic McGinnis (1903-1993), wife of Chicago attorney Arthur J. McGinnis and girlfriend of George Druggan (1901-1943). Vivian's mother, Anna Ponic, ran a resort next to Manning’s. Vivian McGinnis was drinking with the gangsters when the shooting occurred. She and George Druggan were driven to Chicago, two and half hours away, for medical attention. In 1934, Vivian married George Druggan.

Chief of Detectives Stege commented: "Ordinarily it would be bad medicine for them to invite a war with the Capone-O'Donnell and Druggan-Lake outfits, but the Moran and Aiello hoodlums have been up in Fox Lake long enough to start any kind of war."

In the aftermath of the shooting, a policeman points at a detail of the crime scene at Manning's Hotel. Dunn Museum 2011.5

Louis Capella, the bartender at Manning's, said all was "merriment" that night. "They were having a good time all evening." Just before the shooting he started sweeping around the Druggan table to give them the hint to leave. When he heard the first shot, he dove behind the bar and escaped injury. "When it was quiet, I looked out and saw some of the injured people running."

State's Attorney A.V. Smith interviewing the Manning Hotel's bartender, Louis Capella. Chicago Tribune June 2, 1930.

There is also strong speculation that the Fox Lake Massacre was in retaliation for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre on February 14, 1929. Seven of Moran's associates were lined up against the rear inside wall of the garage at 2122 North Clark Street (Lincoln Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side), and executed.
Obituary for Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo (1906-1992), reputed triggerman for the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The San Francisco Examiner May 29, 1992.

According to Bugs Moran biographer, Rose Keefe: "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre on February 14, 1929 marked the end of Moran's reign over the North Side. For over a year, the shaken gangster debated the feasibility of continuing the fight, briefly partnering with minor league Capone rivals such as renegade Sicilian Joe Aiello and pimp Jack Zuta."

In late 1930, Moran finally conceded defeat. But he did not slink away in disgrace. Keefe wrote: "The door had closed in Chicago, but he found windows of opportunity elsewhere."

This photo postcard near Bluff Lake provides an accurate view of roads at the time of the Fox Lake Massacre. Dunn Museum M-86.1.19

Local authorities did not seem interested in solving the shooting at Manning's. Within several days of the Fox Lake murders, State's Attorney, A.V. Smith, announced that he believed the killers were professionals from New York and were long gone.

Bugs Moran was arrested at Elizabeth Cassidy's resort on Bluff Lake in October 1930. The arrest was not related to the shooting at Manning's Hotel.

For continued reading on this era and Bugs Moran, I recommend, The Man Who Got Away: The Bugs Moran Story by Rose Keefe.


Anonymous said...

I read that Verne Miller had done the killing in revenge for the Capone gang's slaying of Eugene "Red" McLaughlin.Could you confirm this please?

Diana Dretske said...

Here's an interesting reference in Rose Keefe's bio of Bugs Moran:

"Verne Miller biographer Brad Smith summed up the Fox Lake Massacre succinctly in 'Lawman to Outlaw': 'The men who stayed up that night drinking on the porch of Manning's Resort learned too late what others would also come to learn. It was hazardous to your health to cross a friend of Verne Miller.'"

Anonymous said...

Interesting assortment of characters. Sam Pellar was of course famous for being a body guard and driver for north side boss Earl Hymie Weiss, and surviving what was called ganglands most perfect execution, in front of Holy Name Cathedral in 1926. Bertsches' brother Barney was also a Bugs Moran ally.

Unknown said...

It's pretty common knowledge as the years went by that Capones bodyguard did the St valentine's day massacre. I knew him in the 70's when I was a supervisor in the sheriff's office. Tony "batters" Acardo was a decent guy.

Diana Dretske said...

Thank you for the information about Tony Accardo. I just researched him and found his obituary, which reiterates what you shared. I'm adding the information to my post.

Thanks for reading and commenting.