The Hands That Built America
The question to ask in the reading of this is the following.
How did this period affect the tone, future, and crime systems of the USA? The answers that this piece would offer are these. It changed the way the world saw America as well as the way America saw itself. It showed everyone the developing dark side of what had been viewed as a practical utopia as compared to the rest of the world at the time. The times were changing and the first harbinger of the future troubles of the world had arrived in the form of World War I. Against all odds they had lived through it and they were still shell shocked from the very event of such a devastating conflict.
They were celebrating being alive and the cities- the country itself showed it. It became a sundown land of nightclubs, and bars. The opulence that the USA would later be known for began to appear on the streets in the form of millions of cars, in the stores as jewelry, cloths, and food. Everyone was trying to create an enormous party after the horror of war. Not everyone however parties in the same manner. This Saturnalia did not take place across the globe and many who had fled their shattered countries came to America. Some were taking advantage of the fragility of America's power to profit in some way. Some were simply seeking refuge but whatever the reason the result was still the same.
It was 1918 after the end of World War I when organized crime first became a serious issue for the United States. The Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) was in its fledging stages of development and high levels of immigration had resulted in the transfer of foreign mafia and crime syndicates to the U.S. This was especially true of New York and Chicago because of the extremely high population rates, particularly Italians.
In 1919 because of the rising crime rates, the Chicago Crime Commission was formed and just to be the icing on the cake the Women's Suffrage Movement began to protest alcohol saying that it tore apart homes et cetera. Which was true but unfortunately they actually got the Government's attention and in 1920 the 18th amendment was passed. Also known as the Prohibition Act it prohibited the buy, sale, ownership or use of liquor in the United States. It was a fool's decision. The Prohibition Act opened up one of the most profitable and widely spread criminal businesses. The Black Market price of liquor of any type went through the roof and many people were willing to pay. Gangs who now had the funds to expand did and two came to the forefront. One was the Johnny Torrio- Al Capone Gang later known as the Chicago Outfit, another –its main rival- was the North Side Gang or North Side Mob headed by George Moran and Dion O'Banion among others. Because of everything from differences in ethnicity, to simple mutual hatred, there were many conflicts between these gangs. In 1924 Dion O'Banion was killed starting a war between the rival groups that would last many years.
In the same year in a different place a young man by the name of John Dillinger was being tried, convicted and thrown in prison for a robbery setting the scene for many events to come. An attempted assassination by the Northside Gang of the leader of the Chicago Outfit and Al Capone in 1925 failed leaving the prodigal son Al Capone head of one of the most powerful criminal enterprises in America.
Similarly, the FBI was being changed from the inside out at this time by another man. His name was J. E. Hoover possibly the most famous and infamous head of the department that there has ever been. He began to make it a professional and academic institution instead of the glorified police force it had started as and by a random decision in 1927 Melvin "Little Mel" Purvis joined the FBI. He was a Law School graduate and had decided to try crime fighting, his choice was a good one and he rose quickly in the ranks. Unfortunately, he rose to fast and caught the eye of Hoover to whom he was something of a pet for several years. During those years he set a still unbroken record for most arrests of major criminals ever made. About this time Capon's former consigliere Antionio Lambardo was killed in 1928. In 1929 Capone himself was briefly imprisoned on a concealed weapons charge, Tony Accardo was made head enforcer of the Chicago outfit during his absence. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and America entered the Great Depression the difficulty of finding employment drove more and more people to turn to crime as a means of supporting themselves and their families, this led to even more extreme rising crime rates. On February 14, 1929 the famous Day massacre took place ending the war between Moran and Capone. After many years of fighting Capone had won. The 1930's however brought instead of peace the brutal Taxi War's where men from apposing gangs shot at each other in their cabs.
Finally, in 1932, Purvis was placed in charge of the Chicago FBI office.
For many years the police and FBI had known that Al Capone was the leader of possibly the most powerful gang they had ever faced but they had nothing with which to arrest him until finally by luck they found he had committed a crime they could actually catch him on, tax evasion. The jollity with which they must have arrested him is vaguely disturbing. Capone began serving his eleven year sentence in 1932. Every law enforcement agency in Chicago must have thrown a party that night. Unfortunately he was let out in six years for good behavior and probably also because of his declining mental and physical health. After to many years the government came to their senses and instituted the 21st amendment negating prohibition. That very same year Dillinger who was to be the next great Public Enemy Number One was released and used all he had learned over the years in prison along with his own natural ingenuity to begin a glorious career in criminal carryings on. It would be impossible to summarize in the last of this paper how the young man became a legend. How he robbed banks in full view and broad daylight, fooling everyone into thinking that his gang was a movie crew staging a robbery in one case, or how Purvis now one of if not the greatest FBI agent of all time hunted him without success across a nation, himself driven by his less than pleasant director and sense of personal responsibility. For a few short years Purvis and Dillinger were names on everyone's lips perhaps more so than even Capone because in that time and even now there was a certain kind of glamour about the story, like how Dillinger met his girlfriend of the next several years near that time and took her with him. How they were almost caught staying in an Inn and escaped in a shoot out with the FBI and many others. After the Inn incident Dillinger went incognito in Chicago, it was 1934. On July 22, the FBI received information that Dillinger was going to a theater that night and the woman he was with would be wearing a red dress to distinguish them. Purvis arranged the trap and when Dillinger walked out of the theater Purvis lit his cigar as a signal. The reports said that John Dillinger acted like he realized it was a trap when he saw Melvin and reached for a gun. What ever he was doing we will never know because he was shot five times before he could do anything. He was dead that night at the Biograph Theater before he even could say a last word.
The next year Melvin Purvis resigned with honors. For the rest of his life he was haunted by Hoover who made his life miserable. No one knows why, but there was much speculation as to the reasons behind his apparent enmity after such favoritism. Purvis did his best to throw off his past and had several careers afterward, however not long after his retirement he died from a shot to the head by his own pistol. Again, no one knows if it was accident or suicide. This period in American history was an anomaly when compared to the rest. It was poignant, it changed the way the world viewed America. It was the teenage years of the United States full of trouble, ideals, and romance. There was a good reason for it to be called the "Roaring Twenties." The American economy and underworld were changed forever and the way many systems, from the FBI to the crime syndicates, were run was also altered. This was the transition period from youth to adulthood for an entire country it was the end of innocence in more ways than one. It spelled the beginning of political wars on many issues. It was the great seizure of young America by the hand of crime and in a hold that would only continue to tighten. The 1st World War had graduated the USA by blood and death to a nation at arms, America had faced it as a callow youth with only the barest perception of destruction and come out a hardened warrior. After the battle they celebrated their victory but the tensions that had caused the first horror were still there and in 1941 when World War II erupted, America faced it as one who had witnessed death and the depths of the human capacity for madness and sheer evil. To disregard the effect the second war had on the USA would be foolish but it is not what we are focusing on. That small period between the first and the second of the most devastating wars ever seen by man is our query. Why did this affect America so much? A question answered to the best of human ability by several people. Most importantly it must be understood that the hands that rebuilt America after it's coming of age were not the same as the ones that built America from the ground up during a time when such concepts as honor and justice were held to be truth.