In the world of organized crime, there were few more respected and feared than Easy Eddie. His intellect, business savvy, and ruthlessness made him a natural for Chicago’s underworld crime syndicate. Anyone who knew him in those days would have suspected that Easy Eddie’s name would cast a long shadow over the Windy City that would outlive the man. They were right, but no one could have guessed how it happened.
Eddie came from unassuming origins. Born into an Irish family in St. Louis, Missouri, he showed every indication of being a model citizen. He met the love of his life, Selma Lauth, and married her when he was 19 years old. The couple lived in an apartment over the grocery store owned by Selma’s father. It was there that they started their family. They had two daughters, Patricia and Marilyn. Their only son was named Edward, in homage to his father.
Eddie worked hard to provide for his family. It is a testament to his industriousness that he managed to earn enough to send his son to Western Military Academy while simultaneously taking classes to learn the law. When Eddie passed the Missouri bar exam, he joined a law firm and focused on commercial law.
Life took an unexpected turn for Eddie when Owen Patrick Smith became his client. Smith was the commissioner of the International Greyhound Racing Association. He retained Eddie to get a patent license for a mechanical rabbit to be used as a lure in dog races. That started a lucrative attorney/client relationship that helped elevate the standard of living for Eddie and his family. When Smith died, Eddie purchased the patent rights from Smith’s widow and enjoyed the additional income that came from all the racetracks that used the device.
Although Eddie’s finances were blessed, his marriage was not. He and Selma divorced in 1927. Eddie took his three children to Chicago and tried to make a fresh start.
He arrived in Chicago at the height of the reign of the crime bosses. It wasn’t long before Eddie started working with the most notorious of all the mobsters: Al Capone. Eddie became more than a lawyer to Capone. Before long, they were business partners. He and Capone operated dog racing tracks in Chicago, Boston, and Miami. He was raking in more money than ever, and his future as a bigwig in Capone’s crime syndicate seemed assured.
Then something happened that dramatically changed Eddie’s life. He turned his back on Capone.
It is fairly well known that despite having the blood of countless people on his hands, Al Capone ultimately went to prison for tax evasion. It was his trusted lawyer, partner, and friend, Easy Eddie, who was responsible for that. Eddie was the informant who contacted St. Louis reporter John Rogers. Rogers put Eddie in touch with agents of the Internal Revenue Service. Eddie handed over reams of incriminating financial records — more than enough to empower prosecutors to indict and convict Al Capone.
Capone was shipped off to Alcatraz. Chicago police officer and historian Ed Burke wrote that “without [Eddie’s] cooperation, there never would have been a case against Capone.”
As you can imagine, betraying someone as powerful as Capone had its risks. Eddie certainly knew this. As tragic as it was, no one was surprised when Eddie was shot by two men on November 8, 1939. They acted efficiently and effectively, as professional hitmen are expected to do. After killing Eddie, they fled the scene. No one was arrested or charged for Eddie’s murder.
You might wonder why Eddie did what he did. Why would a man turn his back on wealth and power and invite almost-certain death by betraying Al Capone? You wouldn’t have to look long for the answer. It was right under Eddie’s roof.
When he was still an honest and industrious young man, Eddie worked hard and sacrificed a lot for his family. His devotion to his family compelled him to work long hours so he could send his son to Western Military Academy. When Edward Jr. was old enough, he confided that he wanted to serve his country by joining the Navy. More than that, he wanted to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy and become a naval aviator.
That’s where things got real for Easy Eddie. If his son was going to be able to go to the Naval Academy, his application needed the backing of a congressman. Eddie’s criminal dealings gave him plenty of connections to politicians, but those types of connections weren’t going to help his son. They would, in fact, be a serious stain on his son’s application and would likely result in rejection. If Edward Jr. was going to fulfill his dream, Easy Eddie would have to make some sacrifices.
It turned out that Easy Eddie’s sacrifice was not in vain. Edward Jr. was admitted to the Naval Academy and served his country with distinction. Easy Eddie didn’t live to see his son leave his own mark on history, but we’re sure he would have been proud. On February 20, 1942, Edward Jr. became the Navy’s first fighter ace of World War II when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching his aircraft carrier. With limited ammunition, he shot down five enemy bombers and became the first naval aviator recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II.
The next time you are in Chicago, you may think about the city’s shady history of organized crime. You may think about Al Capone and his bloody reign of terror. Try to also remember a father who went down the wrong path but was willing to sacrifice everything so his son could have an honorable future.
If you are among the more than 80 million people who fly into Chicago’s largest airport, you will have an added reminder of Easy Eddie’s sacrifice. That airport is named after his son: Edward “Butch” O’Hare.
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