Giovanni Torrio was born in Italy on January 20, 1882. At the age of two his father passed away and he moved to New York with his mother. His name was switched to Johnny after the move so that he sounded more “American.” Torrio began running with the James Street Gang when he was in his teens to make money.
While running errands for the James Street Gang, Torrio saved enough money to open a local pool hall/gambling den. He began running an illegal gambling operation which caught the eye of local Mafia Capo, Paul Kelly. Soon Torrio became Kelly’s number two and right hand man in the operation. Kelly taught Torrio how to be more sophisticated by not swearing so much, dressing professionally, and how to front as a legitimate business owner.
Soon Torrio left the operation on good terms with Kelly and began his own operation that involved bookmaking, loan sharking, hijacking, prostitution, and opium trafficking. Eventually, a local kid by the name of Al Capone began working in Torrio’s crew. Capone showed signs of greatness and Torrio gave him small jobs and became his mentor.
Torrio soon moved his operations to Chicago because his aunt’s husband, Jim Colosimo, was being blackmailed by the “Black Hand.” As a favor to Colosimo, Torrio and his gang waited for the extortionists to pick up the money and gunned them all down. While in Chicago, Torrio began running prostitution rackets for the Colosimo family, transforming the houses with virgins obtained from the White Slave Trade. During this time two women escaped one of Torrio’s houses and threatened to call the police. Two of Torrio’s men went as undercover agents and killed both women so that they could not testify against Torrio’s operation.
Torrio married a Jewish woman named Anna Jacob and planted roots in Chicago. Knowing that his mentor was staying in Chicago, Al Capone moved to Chicago and together they ran the Chicago outfit. Colosimo proved to be a disgrace to the mafia and divorced Torrio’s aunt, so in a fit of rage Torrio had Colosimo executed in the May of 1920. He had hired a man by the name of Frankie Yale to carry out the hit. Both Yale and Torrio were put on trial for the murders, but the prosecution’s witness refused to testify and both men were released.
Soon the Chicago Outfit became a force to be reckoned with, and Torrio set up an agreement between Dean O’Banion and his outfit. The agreement was to become business partners and run Chicago, but little did Torrio know that O’Banion had been hijacking the outfit’s liquor trucks for years. O’Banion wanted to run Chicago alone so he set up Torrio and Capone for murders in one of the outfit’s local clubs. After both Capone and Torrio were released Torrio was believed to have hired Frankie Yale again to commit the murder of O’Banion, but O’Banion’s murder is still unsolved and the trigger man was never officially named.
After driving his wife home from the grocery store Torrio was ambushed and shot four times by O’Banion’s crew as retaliation for the murder of their leader. Torrio was shot in the chest, neck, right arm, and the groin but when the shooter walked up to the car and placed the gun to Torrio’s temple the gunman was out of ammo. Luckily the gunman and his driver fled the scene and Torrio managed to survive. Capone and many other body guards sat outside of Torrio’s hospital room and protected their boss until he was able to quickly recover. After his recovery Torrio was sentenced to serve 9 months in jail where he had paid off the warden to give him a bullet proof cell and two armed guards at all times.
After his release, Torrio quickly announced his retirement and moved to Italy with his wife, leaving control of the Chicago Outfit to his protégée Al Capone. Soon he returned to serve as a Consigliore to Capone’s Outfit and watched as his understudy became the most notorious gangster of all time. Johnny Torrio died April 16, 1957 from a heart attack while in New York.
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