Everyone knows the name Al Capone. He’s arguably the most famous criminal in American history, and his life story is still studied to this day. But sometimes the rival criminals who fought against Capone and other famous gangsters get lost to history. Which is a shame because these mostly unknown men led fascinating lives in their own right, and they deserve to be explored. One such man was George ‘Bugs’ Moran.
With a name like George Moran, you would think the man they called ‘Bugs’ was an Irishman, but he actually adopted the name later in life. Moran was born Adelard Cunin to French immigrant parents in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1893. Although he attended a private high school, Moran fell in with a local St. Paul gang and started committing petty crimes at a young age. Before he turned 21, Moran had several convictions under his belt. He eventually made his way to Chicago, where he would make his name as a high-profile bootlegger and gangster.
When Prohibition became law in 1920, Chicago, like other large American cities, became a battleground. Rival bootleggers fought a bloody turf war that claimed victims in every corner of the city. Bugs Moran joined up with the North Side Gang, the biggest Irish-American criminal organization in Chicago at the time. The North Side Gang was led by Dean O’Banion, and Moran and a fellow gangster named Hymie Weiss became two of his most trusted men.
The North Side Gang was at war with a number of criminal factions during the 1920s, but one proved to be their toughest foe: Johnny Torrio’s gang, which reigned from Chicago’s South Side. Torrio’s main lieutenant was a young man from New York named Al Capone. For years the two groups fought bitterly to control the illegal booze trade in Chicago.
On November 10, 1924, Dean O’Banion was shot and killed by South Side gangsters in the flower shop he owned. Bugs Moran and Hymie Weiss were now in control of the North Siders, and they decided that their boss had to be avenged. On January 24, 1925, Johnny Torrio was shot several times in an assassination attempt by the North Side Gang. Torrio, though gravely wounded, somewhat miraculously survived. He was so spooked by the attack, however, that he decided to return to his native Italy. Before he left, he handed over his criminal empire to his protege, Al Capone.
A year later, on October 11, 1926, Hymie Weiss was killed in a shooting that left his body riddled with bullets. There were now only two bosses standing: Bugs Moran and Al Capone.
The violence and bloodshed would not abate over the next several years as the men literally gunned for control of Chicago’s alcohol trade. Moran despised Capone not only because they were rivals – he also took offense at Capone’s prostitution rings. As a devout Catholic, Moran thought Capone’s sex-for-money business was an abomination.
Capone and his gang continued to kill off all rivals that posed a threat to their business empire. By 1929, only one threat was left: Bugs Moran and his North Side Gang. Capone decided to try to snuff out the competition once and for all. On February 14, 1929, five members of Moran’s gang and two other men were gunned down in a garage in Chicago in what came to be known as the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
But Moran cheated death that day. The North Side Gang boss was supposed to be in the garage on North Clark Street with his men, but he slept in later than usual and missed the carnage. Amazingly, even weakened and under constant threat from Capone, Moran managed to keep control of the north side of Chicago until Prohibition ended in 1933. The North Side Gang never again had the strength it had been before the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the group still operated.
At some point after Prohibition ended, Bugs Moran decided to leave Chicago and the North Side Gang – but he did not give up his criminal ways. Without the prestige of his gang at its peak, he returned to the petty crime of his youth. In the early 1940s he was arrested for fraud, serving three years before being released in 1943. Then, in July 1946, Moran was arrested again for robbing a tavern in Ohio – but this time he received a lengthy 20-year prison sentence.
He served 10 years of his sentence and was released, but was immediately tried for robbery again and sent away to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. Only a few months into his new 10-year sentence, Bugs Moran died of lung cancer at Leavenworth on February 25, 1957 at the age of 63.
Moran died a penniless man after running one of Chicago’s top gangs and making millions of dollars, but – incredibly – he managed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of a gun like so many of his fellow gangsters did.
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