Battling Jack McGurn

By Clarence George on August 21, 2015
Battling Jack McGurn
The pugilist was shot three times in the head and once in the back, dying on the spot.

Why such a short time in the ring? Three mob enforcers killed his stepfather in early 1923, and McGurn returned the favor…

“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”—Al Capone

Better known as Machine Gun Jack McGurn.

Born Vincenzo Gibaldi in Sicily on July 2, 1902, McGurn arrived at Ellis Island with his mother four years later, his father and brother following shortly thereafter.

Growing up in Chicago’s tough slums, Vinnie learned to use his fists to good effect. He was so proficient, in fact, that he decided to turn pro, taking the name Battling Jack McGurn because Irish boxers were more popular than their Italian counterparts. Hey, if fellow gangster, rosary-toting Henry Earl J. Wojciechowski, could change his name to Hymie Weiss, Vincenzo Gibaldi could certainly change his to Jack McGurn.

A welterweight, the future hitman had five fights between September 1921 and June 1922, winning two, drawing two, and losing one. The guy who beat him, Bud Christiano, died age 70, 45 years later. Phew.

Why such a short time in the ring? Three mob enforcers killed his stepfather in early 1923, and McGurn returned the favor. The triple murder brought him to the attention of Al Capone, with whom he found favor as bodyguard and killer.

Snorky wasn’t pleased, however, with McGurn’s distinct unfriendliness to Joe E. Lewis. Upset that the entertainer was appearing at a rival club, McGurn and three associates paid him a visit early one morning in November 1927. Lewis got himself pistol-whipped, his face and throat cut, and part of his tongue sliced off. It took him years to recover, though he did indeed go on to a successful career and a much longer life than any of the men who beat and diced him. Capone was so upset that he gave Lewis $10,000, the equivalent of around $130,000 today, but didn’t get tough with McGurn, who was too valuable a lieutenant.

The story goes that the Indian Head nickel was McGurn’s trademark. Maybe, but what’s not maybe is that such nickels were found in the lifeless hands of gangsters Edward Westcott and Frank Cawley in September 1929, as well as those of Rudolph and Sam Marino in December 1930.

Almost hit himself, and more than once, McGurn stayed close to Capone. Close enough to be in on the planning and execution of 1929’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?

Seven men were killed that day by machine gun and shotgun: Bugs Moran enforcers Peter and Frank Gusenberg (Frank survived for a few hours, telling cops, “Nobody shot me,” despite the 14 bullets weighing him down); Albert Kachellek, Moran’s number two; Adam Heyer, Moran’s bookkeeper and business manager; Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician and gambler who liked hanging around tough guys; John May, mechanic (and, no, that’s not a euphemism); and Albert Weinshank, a Moran associate who bore a strong resemblance to the boss himself. It’s believed that Capone’s lookouts thought Weinshank was Moran, the key target of the hit. Moran, however, spotted the police car (the fake one driven by the killers) and beat a hasty retreat.

The garage at 2122 N. Clark Street was torn down in 1967. Some of the bricks making up the wall against which the men were shot wound up in the hands of private collectors, but most are now on display at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

Back to Jack. Cops and robbers alike thought he was in the garage that bitterly cold February 14, but McGurn had an airtight alibi. According to his gorgeous girlfriend (and later wife), Louise Rolfe, they spent the day all toasty and cozy in bed. That got her known in the press as “The Blonde Alibi.” What it got her known as in less genteel circles remains under wraps.

Personally, I’m not so sure McGurn was one of the shooters. One or more of the guys would have been likely to recognize him, regardless of the fake policeman’s uniform. Either Capone himself or McGurn, assuming he was in on the planning, would have been shrewd enough to employ imports, maybe from New York or Detroit. No matter. McGurn was now too notorious, too much in the public eye. With Capone in prison and washed up since 1932, his playmates cut him loose. Low on funds, McGurn, who’d long ago made his bones, now made his moolah playing pro golf. He went by the name Vincent Gebhardi, which fooled exactly no one, and found himself constantly being harassed by the law, often arrested on one golf course or the other. On one occasion, Louise demanded of handcuff-bearing cops, “Whose brilliant idea was this?”

Bowling in tie, vest, and spats on February 15, 1936, with two “friends,” a fourth man entered the alley, telling everyone, “You move and you die.” At the mercy of the merciless threesome, the one-time pugilist was shot three times in the head and once in the back, dying on the spot. The lesson? Well, he could have moved if he’d wanted to. I mean, fat lot of difference, right?

Found on his person were two unused tickets to the Clarence Burman-Hank Bath fight, which had taken place the night before at Chicago Stadium, Burman winning on points. Why McGurn didn’t attend the bout is unknown. An interesting aside, according to the Kansas City Times, is that the bout served to end the 13-year silence that existed between Jack Dempsey, who managed Burman, and Doc Kearns, Bath’s manager. “How you doing, Doc?” “All right, Jack.”

Cops speculated that the hit was payback for the Massacre seven years before, but they never did find the triggermen, who left behind a cryptic clue, a Valentine’s Day card:

“You’ve lost your job; you’ve lost your dough;
Your jewels and cars and handsome houses!
But things could still be worse, you know…
At least you haven’t lost your trousas!”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Joe E. Lewis & Lili St. Cyr at El Rancho Vegas 20 April 1956



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  1. Rob 11:00am, 08/26/2015

    And they say that black people are violent?

  2. Joe Masterleo 06:06pm, 08/23/2015

    Thanks, Mr. George. I understand and fully appreciate the earthy way you frame things—honest, amusing, self-preserving, sensual and entirely this worldly in scope.  Your comments/columns reflect that, and there is surely a place for them. Such perspective seems born of a mix of rugged individualism and survivalist thinking. No, wait. Make that survivalist militia-type thinking. Like boxing, it seems content to dwell within in its own peculiar brand of taint and crassness, too comfortably accommodating to its imperfections, even while brashly parading them. As such, it both betrays its limitations and sounds its death-knell. In failing to create a desire for loftier principles, elevating itself beyond the totally base, it becomes part of the poison not the antidote. Such a view couldn’t be further from being “intellectual,” as you say. To the thinking man such observations are more plainly common sense. Men given to reason, logic and principle are merely decent, not all intellectuals. At any rate, thanks for the exchanges . . . and the columns.

  3. KB 01:00pm, 08/22/2015

    lol

  4. Clarence George 12:56pm, 08/22/2015

    KB on the left, CG on the right:

    http://www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/sites/default/files/bigstock_Bulldog_Sticking_Tongue_Out_At_4192979.jpg

  5. kb 12:42pm, 08/22/2015

    CG Christ Clarence everything was going just swimmingly until you wrote “Chitown.” Where in God’s name is that or did you mean China Town?

  6. Clarence George 12:27pm, 08/22/2015

    Thanks very much indeed, Irish.  Not too many reads, per uje, but I’m very pleased with the quantity and quality of comments.

    There once was a girl from Sicily (no, not a limerick) who asked my advice on a logo for a Sicilian organization.  I undiplomatically suggested crossed Tommy Guns.  She found me amusing, fortunately, otherwise I might have been denutted via switchblade.

    Lili was something else, all right, though I think my favorite is Candy Barr.

    For those readers/commenters from Chitown:  How the hell did Terrible Tommy O’Connor pull off a lifelong escape?  Amazing story, couldn’t be written as fiction.  And Eleanor Jarman!  Even more extraordinary.

    I’ll close with an in-a-nutshell response to Joe.  As usual, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe says it best (from “Playback”):  “If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive.  If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:45am, 08/22/2015

    Clarence George-Great article and comments! Here’s what I’m thinkin’...lotsa’ stronzos came from Sicily and the guys who hit the lotto and got to boink Lili St. Cyr must have felt like they were King of the World.

  8. Clarence George 05:03am, 08/22/2015

    Well, Joe, I’m no intellectual.  Just a boxing writer, which pretty much means a character out of a David Goodis novel.  But I’ll give it a whirl.

    On the one hand, I dread the very idea of trying to survive in some nightmarish dystopia.  On the other, I recognize that when people talk about “behaving in a civilized manner,” they’re often rationalizing weakness or cowardice.  I’m all in favor of civilization, but it so often collapses into decadence, degeneracy, and depravity.  The only way to avoid getting all dainty and delicate, and ultimately being overwhelmed by Mad Max types, is by being a touch brutish.  In fact, as Oswald Spengler observed, “In the final instance civilization is always saved by a platoon of soldiers.”

    Granted, I have low tastes (as was once pointed out to me when I expressed interest in a blonde in a fur coat chewing gum).  I like The Three Stooges, boxing, wrestling, and old-time gangsters with colorful nicknames.  Not surprising, given my background.  My grandfather, for example, got up to all sorts of mischief in Budapest, which ultimately resulted in his getting stabbed to death (though that could have been my grandmother).  I’m very proud of that.  Yeah, it’s fine if your grandfather had been a violinist with the New York Philharmonic, but wouldn’t you rather he’d been a rumrunner during Prohibition?  Sure you would.

    That’s why we love boxing, isn’t it?  Because our grandfathers ran rum in the ‘20s.  Or they didn’t…but that doesn’t stop us from telling the ladies that they did.

  9. Joe Masterleo 03:27am, 08/22/2015

    Mr. George:
    Very keen observation and comments well put. I don’t have an anti-boxing ax to grind. However, in my view it falls to the thinking man (thereby eliminating the vast majority) to consider and scrutinize the degree to which he identifies with any endeavor and why. If he is self-honest and forthright, particularly when it comes to being drawn or fascinated by bloodlust (the desire to kill or be violent, even by proxy, defined as ‘well-beyond moderation’) he must take his proper place among the brutes. And that, with more than a modicum of compunction and shame. Not one of us is to be blamed or shamed for our racial/phylogenetic ties to the animal kingdom, or to an allowable degree, the pleasures, pastimes and amusements associated thereof. After all, we do share a reptilian and mammalian brain with same at our cranial core, well beneath our ‘advanced’ cortex. Being human, we’re entitled to our fair share of leeway for the expression of same.  While sprinklings of sociopathy, psychopathy and the brutish are to be found everywhere, there are certain endeavors that draw a greater proportion of them like moth to flame. And that, with an religious, almost worshipful zeal. And perhaps, just perhaps, such form the irresistable allures and entrapments of hell itself. Character, it is said, is determined by the objects/endeavors toward which men most incline themselves. Sport is life in microcosm. Not to moralize, but insatiable bloodlust is a category unto itself. As such, there are aspects of life and sport, boxing among them, that cross that zealous line in the direction of the base and primitive.  Says here, while some men cross that line with vicious intent, most men cross it unawares. Such is the character and fate of the un-observant. Further, it should fall within the domain of writing and writers to comment on same.  All art, after all, begins in observation.

  10. Clarence George 05:17pm, 08/21/2015

    If you’re saying, Joe (and forgive me if you’re not), that boxing is hopelessly marginalized, I agree.  But I think that has less to do with the mob (past or present) and more to do with time.  The sport is almost the definition of anachronistic.  It’s just not of these times.  Too brutal for some, not brutal enough for others, received with a blank stare by most.  Tragedy plus time may be comedy, but boxing plus time has proven to be datedness.

  11. KB 04:05pm, 08/21/2015

    Thanks Joe

  12. Joe Masterleo 02:48pm, 08/21/2015

    Mr. George:
    Your comment that “boxing is night” is well said, but understated. Truth be told, boxing has a sizeable shadow side, rather, a historically decrepit dark side that has never been effectively addressed or corrected by its organizers and insiders, or by its writers who tend to pull their collective literary punches. I certainly wouldn’t throw all of boxing or boxers under the bus, painting the entire sport with too broad a critical brush. Yet arguably, the sport of pro boxing is less than sound, with little credibility or viability remaining on the whole. If a terminal cancer patient is in stage 3 or 4 of his/her illness, there’s not a lot of healthy tissue or life left in them, however gamely they may struggle along. Doesn’t mean your wrong to have affectionate or concerned regard for them, or what’s left of them. No matter how you slice it, the mob is a consortium of necrophiles who traffick in, operate and regulate by death. Anyone associated with them is compromised, infected and/or perversely “aroused” by its culture of death in one form or another. And yes KB, you may employ that quote at your discretion, hopefully utilizing it like a stiff left jab.

  13. KB 12:57pm, 08/21/2015

    Jim, we probably crossed paths. Those pools were fantastic. We used to sneak in there at 12 midnight and go for a bareass swim. I graduated from HS in1955. Left Chicago in the early 60’s and never looked back.

    Knute Rockne, as a young Norwegian immigrant, lived in Logan Square (and played football for the Northwest Side Wildcats according to legend).

  14. Jim Crue 12:54pm, 08/21/2015

    KB, the outfit barely exists in Chicago now, except for a few low life’s and illegal gambling joints mostly in suburb of Rosemont out near O’Hare Field but the political corruption lives on.

  15. Jim Crue 12:50pm, 08/21/2015

    Joe, very erudite comment. Sounds like something Gene Tunney would have said.

  16. Jim Crue 12:48pm, 08/21/2015

    KB, my mom and dad met at Portage Park when my dad was playing baseball there. I went swimming with my cousins at Portage Park after they built the fantastic swimming and diving pools for the 1959 Pan Am games.
    The great bantamweight champion Johnny Coulon lived in Logan Square.

  17. KB 12:46pm, 08/21/2015

    ” boxing has sealed its place forever as the putrid bowel in the body of sport” I may find use for this in a future article or post on another site. Joe, may I use it? And I promise not to attribute it to you.

  18. KB 12:42pm, 08/21/2015

    Jim. My sister used to live in Rogers Park. My late brother went to Schurz. I went to North Park at Foster and Kedzie and grew up on the Northwest side. Logan Square and Portage Park—50-50. Milwaukee Ave seemed to be wherever I was.

    Everyone talks about the mob (outfit as it was called in Chicago) but I really question whether a truly well-organized one still exists and/or if it does, whether it has any ties to boxing. The “new”  mob is in corporate offices and taking their cut of the pie whether they fail or not like that moron Fiorina. That’s called rewarding failure. Ugh.

  19. KB 12:34pm, 08/21/2015

    Hauser calls it a cess pool and he just might be right.

  20. Jim Crue 12:34pm, 08/21/2015

    KB, don’t know if you received my first reply. After WW2 when my dad was discharged from the Marine Corps my mom wanted to live close to the lake so they ended up in Rogers Park. They were both from the NW side. My dad went to Lane Tech my mom went to Schurz. I went to Sullivan

  21. Clarence George 12:32pm, 08/21/2015

    Draw it mild, old boy, draw it mild.  “Putrid bowel” is putting it rather strongly, not to mention unappetizingly.  Jimmy Cannon calling boxing “the red light district of sports” is the way to go, IMO.  That’s exactly what it is, and one of the fundamental reasons why it’s always been so appealing.  Can you imagine, for example, a between-rounds boy holding an umbrella over the head of a boxer to protect His Delicacy from the sun, as is done in tennis?  It’s night and day.  And boxing is night.

  22. Joe Masterleo 11:50am, 08/21/2015

    By dint of its association to the mob in a brotherhood of long-standing corruption, blood and gore, boxing has sealed its place forever as the putrid bowel in the body of sport. If the entire athletic world has a purgatory, or better yet, a hellish repository wherein its worst souls are consigned in perpetuity, it would be the forbidding abode called boxing. That the morbid alliance of mob and boxing continue to have such a riveting and ghoulish grip on its ogling fans and followers speaks volumes, remaining a peculiar American phenomenon indeed.

  23. KB 09:37am, 08/21/2015

    Jim Crue, what HS did you attend? Where did you grow up?

  24. Clarence George 08:30am, 08/21/2015

    Thanks very much, Eric.  That’s Lili St. Cyr, one of the great burlesque artists.  Gigante lost to Clarence Wilkinson, who was a pretty good light heavy, if not a very hard puncher.  Let me know what happens with those numbers.

  25. Eric 07:27am, 08/21/2015

    Nice hoochie coochie clip to go along with a fine article. Vincent “The Chin” Gigante was a boxer.“The Chin” wasn’t much of a banger, he only scored two knockout victories in his 21 wins. I like that number 2122, think I’ll play it today, I have been playing 1212 for years with not much luck.

  26. Clarence George 07:00am, 08/21/2015

    Thanks, Jim.  I also got a kick out of the reference to the “annuals” of organized crime.

    Thanks, Mike.  Yes, all newspaper decisions from the Trib.

  27. Mike Casey 06:53am, 08/21/2015

    Here we go, Clarence: http://boxrec.com/boxer/307739

  28. Clarence George 06:45am, 08/21/2015

    I never liked Robards, Clint.  But even if I did, it was just inept casting.  I agree with your assessment of De Niro in that role.  Bob Hoskins almost got the part, and should have.  Ben Gazzara (whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few times) was also miscast as Capone, but I at least found his interpretation entertaining.  Ritchie was on “One Life to Live.”  Sadly, he died a few years ago.

    Thanks very much indeed, Jim, and for the fantastic reminiscences.  Don’t hesitate to share more of such stories.  I’m probably telling you something you already know, but McGurn is buried at Mount Carmel, as I think most of those guys are.  As for Louise Rolfe, she only died about 20 years ago.

  29. Jim Crue 06:31am, 08/21/2015

    PS..
    the guy narrating the video on the bowling alley where McGurn was killed must not be from Chicago. No one from Chicago calls Milwaukee Ave, Milwaukee Road.
    Actually a Chicagoan would call it Milwaukee Aveinya.

  30. Clint Ritchie 06:22am, 08/21/2015

    Robards was the worst of the Capones on film. I wasn’t thrilled with De Niro’s portrayal either, but it was more believable than Robards.  I believe the real Clint Ritchie wound up on daytime soap operas and might even still be with us.

  31. Jim Crue 06:22am, 08/21/2015

    Another great story CG, as a kid growing up in Chicago in the 1950’s I would ride my bike with my friends to 2122 N Clark St, it was still a cartage company, and if the door was open which it usually was, we would ride our bikes in and look at the bullet holes in the wall. The brownstones across the street where Capone’s men hid out observing Clark Street are still standing and are some of the most expensive condos in the city.
    I had a bicycle store on Broadway Ave in the 1970’s down the street from the Green Mill which McGurn owned and where Joe E Lewis worked. As you wrote, when he quit good old Machine Gun Jack roughed him up a bit. The Green Mill is still standing and bills itself as the oldest nightclub in Chicago. I have lots of stories of the outfit, as the mob is called in Chicago, but maybe another time.

  32. Clarence George 05:47am, 08/21/2015

    Clint Ritchie, is it?  Now, how many people would know that Ritchie played McGurn in “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”?  I’m impressed.  Jason Robards, by the way, was poorly cast as Capone.

    Coll bought the farm at a drugstore on 23rd and Eighth, which I think is now a Chinese restaurant.  He’s buried at St. Raymond’s in the Bronx.

    Anyway, Clint, I’m very glad you liked it, and thanks for the kind words.

  33. Clint Ritchie 05:20am, 08/21/2015

    I had no idea that McGurn had been a once clean-cut boy, as well as a pro fighter. Fantastic story on a gangster who, like his New York counterpart, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, has been relegated to relative anonymity by history. Thanks for this wonderful story, and the great clips that accompany it.  Loved it.

  34. Mike Casey 04:29am, 08/21/2015

    Yeah, see what you mean!

  35. Clarence George 04:14am, 08/21/2015

    Hope you do, Mike.

    Check out dem spats!  Even by 1930s sartorial standards, they were hopelessly out of date, few men not in their 70s still wearing them.

  36. Mike Casey 03:47am, 08/21/2015

    Ah, Clarence, I know I’m going to enjoy this one!

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