St. Louis

St. Louis

Bill costigan
Bill costigan

June 2nd, 2007, 6:19 pm #1

Can anyone give me contemporary information about any Irish mafia families in St. Louis?
All I hear about is stuff in Boston or Chicago. I live in St. Louis and I’m curious about any organizations that operate in my back yard.
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Anonymous
Anonymous

June 6th, 2007, 1:42 am #2

I don't know any 'gang names' in St. Louis, however I'm sure if there are any irish organizations of interest you'd find them in Dogtown.
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Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

June 6th, 2007, 12:02 pm #3

There once was a place in St. Louis, where all of the Irish lived......

I have been studying the Irish in St. Louis for several years now. Anyone with an Irish background whose family was from St. Louis has heard of the "Kerry Patch". The Kerry Patch was a name that local people applied to an area of the city of St. Louis, Missouri where most of the early Irish settled. It never was an actual defined area - it was the Irish neighborhood. As it grew, everyone knew it was still Kerry Patch. People who lived in Kerry Patch just called it "The Patch".

A spliced image of portions of Plates 51 and 52 of Pictorial St. Louis The Great Metropolis of the Mississippi Valley - A Topographical Survey drawn in perspective A.D. 1875 by Compton and Dry, shows the location of Kerry Patch in the red colored outline. The core of the Kerry Patch was roughly bound on the east by Sixteenth street, and the west by Twenty-second street. The northern boundary was considered to be approximately Cass Avenue and the southern boundary was supposed to be around O'Fallon St.

Before we get too far with this page, I need to say that I am not an expert on the history of the Kerry Patch. I have been studying it within the last twelve years as part of unearthing my family history and genealogy. As did most of the Irish families in St. Louis, my family started out in "The Patch".

To understand the Kerry Patch, you must learn a little about the Irish in St. Louis before the Patch came into being. Unlike many other American cities, St. Louis was somewhat tolerant of the Irish and an Irishman who tried, could succeed there. Some of the early Irish settlers who became successful were John Mullanphy, who came from Fermanagh and who became the city's first millionaire from his investments in real estate, and from Roscommon, Jeremiah Connor, St. Louis' first sheriff. John Mullanphy played a prominent role in St. Louis history because he was such a great philanthropist. He took care of his own - generously building hotels for the homeless, orphanages and hospitals.

During the early years of St. Louis, the population of Ireland was burgeoning. Warm winters had made full harvests and even those Irish who lived on a rented piece of land only large enough for their tiny thatched roof house ate well from the potato harvest. Forced to live under the brutality of the English Penal Laws, they worked long and hard to grow crops and care for cattle both of which were exported to England. Some history books refer to a "famine" in Ireland in the mid to late 1840's, but in fact there was no famine. There was a potato blight - a fungus that killed the potatoes while they were still in the ground, not only depriving the Irish of an immediate food source, but also robbing them of seed potatoes for the next year's crop. Ships' cargo records indicate that during the "famine", there was a lot of food in Ireland. It was exported to England or sold to other countries by absent English landowners who considered their Irish land an investment. The English allowed the Irish a very tiny plot of ground on which to grow their own food. These plots were their only food source. Because the potato was so hardy and grew plentifully in a small area, the Irish grew mostly potatoes in their assigned plots. Many potato blights have stricken the Irish, but the blight of 1845-50 was especially brutal. The year 1847 was dubbed "Black 47" because it was the worst year of the potato blight, turning the potatoes black and resulting in millions of deaths by starvation in Ireland. Even more difficult was the fact that the English were actively trying to remove the Irish from Ireland entirely. When they could not pay rents, they were evicted and their homes were burned to the ground so that they could not return. Donations were collected from some kindly English landowners so that the impoverished Irish could be given the price of "passage" out of Ireland, but most were left to their own devices.

Naturally, crime among the starving Irish was rampant. Any Irish person found guilty of a crime was subject to being separated from his/her family and forcibly transported out of Ireland. Many "crimes" were related to starvation and poverty. Because the Irish were forced into farming land that was formerly theirs they were familiar with ways to hide food and cattle and because they were starving, they often stole from the crops and falsified crop reports. One common crime of the times was to "bleed a horse". The Irish were not allowed to own horses without permission. Most horses were owned by the English. Many Irishmen carried a small knife and, at night, would "bleed" a horse and collect the blood so that they could make "soup" for their families. During the worst year of the "famine"- 1847 - emigration from Ireland to the US swelled to millions. Hundreds of "coffin" ships arrived in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore. Others landed in North Carolina and New Orleans. In New York, many ships were turned away because of contagious disease and they eventually landed in St. John, Newfoundland. When the Irish boarded the ships, mostly from Cork, Belfast, and Liverpool, they knew that many of them would die before they ever reached land. An average of 25 per-cent died aboard ship and large numbers died after landing. These were poor, desperate, hungry, determined people launched into the New World by sheer desperation!

Kerry County is in the southwest portion of the island of Ireland. During the "famine", Kerry was primarily an agricultural county. It remains agricultural today. The Irish were good at dairy farming and crop farming. Many had heard from their transplanted relatives that farmers would do well if they landed in New Orleans. So, many chose to land there and eventually they worked their way north up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Steamboats carried the new St. Louisans almost directly from the New Orleans landing to St. Louis. Others worked their way north by land, stopping along the way to work on farms, the railroad, etc. The Civil War also gave them a chance to find paid work and the Irish fought in "Irish Brigades" on both sides of the conflict. Many "mustered out" in St. Louis.

The Irish of the 1840's had never lived in freedom in their homeland. They had lived in a land where they had been forbidden to speak their native tongue, to own land, to educate their children and to openly practice their religion since the early 1600's. So, those who had survived the deprivation in Ireland and lived to step off of steamboats at the St. Louis landing were a hardy, determined, but unprepared lot. Because the Irish had already begun describing their Irish homes as a "patch" of land and because so many of the Irish in St. Louis came from Kerry, it was natural to call their first homes - "The Kerry Patch". St. Patrick's church was where the Kerry Patch began in the mid 1800's. St. Patrick's was located at Sixth and Biddle from 1844 to 1975. The original church was razed in 1973. In 1981, the "new" St. Patrick's ws built and is located at 1000 North 7th St. In 1883, it was the most populous parish in the city. As the number of Irish flooding into St. Louis grew, they overwhelmed the city's ability to house them. In 1850, 43 percent of the population of St. Louis was Irish. Many were living in the streets. Luckily, John Mullanphy, donated a large tract of land for the Irish to settle. It was located north of Carr Square and extended from N. 9th Street, west between Morgan and Franklin Avenues. The heart of Kerry Patch was considered N. 18th and O'Fallon Streets, but as the Irish population spread north and west, all of it was called "Kerry Patch". There, the Irish built "clapboard" houses - small, frame homes that often were home to more than one family. The houses were built at or near the sidewalk line. During floods, many of the homes filled with mud from the streets. These were St. Louis' "Shanty Irish". Life in the Patch was hard. Because the homes were built close together and because of the large number of people who lived there, the neighborhood deteriorated. The residents had a reputation for drinking, fighting, and arguing over politics and religion. After the Civil War, the Patch degenerated quickly into an Irish slum. To say that it became a violent, dangerous place is understatement. Gangs formed in the Patch and as late as 1878 a city guidebook claimed the "chief amusements" of Kerry Patchers "consists of punching out each other's eyes." In the early 1900's, when the clay mines opened, many of the Irish left the Patch to settle in Cheltenham, around Hampton and Manchester, known as "Dogtown" today.

The heart of the Patch was always its Catholic Churches: St. Patrick, St. Michael the Archangel, and St. Bridget of Erin on the near north-side, St. John the Apostle, St. Malachy and St. Kevin on the near south-side as well as St. Alphonsus Liguouri (the Rock church) were the backbone of the Catholic community in the Kerry Patch. St. Lawrence O’Toole parish was founded by Father James Henry in 1855 as a mission from St. Patrick ‘s. The first church was dedicated in December 1855 and was replaced by a later structure across the street at the southwest corner of 14th and O’Fallon Streets in 1865. The neighborhood deteriorated and the church was sold in 1948. Other Catholic churches that served the Irish were: St. Kevin's, St. Leo's, St. Liborius, St. Theresa, St. Malachy's, St. Matthew's, Most Holy Rosary, and St. Cronan's.


In the late 1800's St. Louis withstood cholera epidemics that killed almost ten percent of the population, the tornado of 1896, smallpox epidemics and rampant political corruption. The Patch was badly damaged by the tornado, mostly because of the poorly constructed housing. The tornado struck hardest outside the Patch, but many Irish in the Patch died or were left homeless by it.

In the early 1900s, St. Louis was a thriving metropolis - 4th largest city in the U.S. In 1900, the population of St. Louis was 575,000. The population of St. Louis as of the year 2000 was 348,189! Politics, poverty and prohibition combined to create a very lethal atmosphere in the Patch. Many single shanties had been replaced with tenament housing - boarding houses. Irish families tended to live in compact single rooms located in boarding houses that carried the names of famous battles in Ireland as well as in the US Civil War. One tenament house was called "Vinegar Hill" after the famous Irish battle. Families tended to move often to avoid paying rent when no rent money was available. Since they had little in the way of possessions, moving was an easy option and was often done just to get a better "view" or because the food in a different boarding house was better. Tenament houses were crowded places that housed hundreds of people. There were no sewers and public bath houses were patronized monthly. Some tenaments were not even built facing a street, but faced each other forming a square in the middle. By the 1920's non-Irish were fearful of going into the Patch for fear of their lives, but the residents were fiercely loyal to each other. In the Patch, a politician seeking political office could often find a group of men willing to act as "bodyguard" to anyone who would vote for him as well as some who hadn't planned to vote at all! There were also ruffians who were paid to see that those who weren't going to vote for the paying candidate never made it to the polls.


The Irish had learned to survive in Ireland by forming secret societies much like "gangs" of today. Some of the early gangs that formed in the Patch to enforce the will of St. Louis political machines were called "Eagan's Rats" and the "Hogan Gang". There were many who, despite the squalor, and desperation, climbed the employment ladder and worked in one of the approximately seventy breweries in St. Louis at the turn of the century. When Prohibition (1920-1933) closed the breweries, the Irish, already skilled in making beer, began home breweries and gangs formed to sell home brew throughout the city. Gangs with names like: the Ashley Gang, the Red Hots, The Purple Gang and the Cukoos had hundreds of members from the Kerry Patch. Some of the more notorious gang members were Dinty Colbeck, Tom and Willie Eagan, Ray Renard and Willie Heeney - my great-uncle. Gang wars were fought in the streets of the Patch between the Eagan and the Hogan gangs. Over a two year period, twenty-three men were killed in bloody gang wars.

The Great Depression (1929-1941) of course, took its toll on St. Louis and on the Patch. Many of the Irish began to disperse into the surrounding neighborhoods and following World War I, the neighborhood had begun to diversify. After World War II, the Irish were mostly gone from the Patch. Government run housing projects were built in the area that had been the Kerry Patch in the hope of revitalizing the neighborhood and reducing crime. The opposite effect happened. Crime in the area of the former Kerry Patch is still very high. The Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, which was built in 1956 was razed in 1972. The Carr Square housing complex of today is right in the heart of the old Kerry Patch.

Depressing as the end of the story of Kerry Patch is, there are still remnants of the old life there. In December of 2001, my husband and I visited one of the homes in which my great-grandparents lived on Gamble St. We attended noon mass at St. Bridget of Erin's (which is now closed), but the building is still there. Sitting in the delapidated pew, I looked around the interior of the church and prayed for my great-grandfather and grandmother, James and Margaret (McGoldrick) Heeney who were members of "St. Bridies". James' father, John Heeney, my great-great-grandfather was a member of St. Alphonsus Liguouri (the Rock) church. My great, great, grandmother, Ann Keagan Heeney was buried from St. John the Apostle church, another early Irish parish that was founded by an Irish Jesuit priest, Fr. John Bannon. I attend Mass there now and then, because it is near my place of employment. I remember my mother telling me to sit in the back of the church because when you do, you sit between St. Patrick and St. Bridget. Now, when I go there, I never fail to look up at St. Pat and St. Bridget and recognize how much my Irish ancestors depended on their faith for the strength to survive and eventually thrive in St. Louis.


In 1845, John Heeney left Navan, near Dublin Ireland. His wife had already died in Ireland and he and two children, James and Mary boarded a ship called the "Arabian" from Dublin to New Orleans. From there, John took a steamboat to Louisville, Kentucky and remarried to Anne Keagan in 1848. They lived in Louisville for almost ten years but could not endure through the Nativist attacks on Irish that took place in Louisville in the early 1850's. John worked for the railroad and had been sent to St. Louis to work. He moved his family to the Kerry Patch in the mid-1850's. They lived first in St. Patrick's parish and later lived in St. Alphonsus and St. Bridget's parishes. Their family had members who were nuns, Christian Brothers, early St. Louis Firemen and famous gangsters. Their story is not unlike the stories of the many Irish who lived in the "Kerry Patch". Today, there is nobody living in St. Louis who carries the family name of this particular Heeney family. They lived and died in the "Patch", leaving a legacy of faith, perservance and resourcefulness. Like the Patch itself, their story lives mostly in the memories of the Irish in St. Louis.


Locations of some of the Roman Catholic Parishes that served the Kerry Patch during its heyday:


St. Patrick, 6th and Biddle (1844-1975)- In 1883, it was the most populous parish in the city and was located
north of downtown.

St. Michael the Archangel (1849-1975), 11th and Clinton-Founded as a companion church of St. Patrick's

St. Bridget's (1852-present ) 2401 Carr St. When constructed in 1860, it was the largest church in the city.

Sacred Heart (Most Sacred Heart of Jesus) 1871-1978, 23rd & University. It was located southeast of Fairgrounds Park.

Diane Shaw
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Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

June 6th, 2007, 12:07 pm #4

Egan’s Rats:

Beginning as a political organization forged by St. Louis Fifth Ward Democratic Committeeman Thomas Egan and Missouri State Senator Thomas Kinney, by 1907 the group became known as Egan’s Rats. Early “political activities” included robbery, burglary and theft from railroad boxcars.

In April 1919, Thomas Egan died of natural causes and was replaced as Fifth Ward Boss by his brother William T. “Willie” Egan. During the teens, Rats’ lieutenant Max “Big Maxey” Greenberg was imprisoned on federal charges of interstate theft. Willie Egan was able to pull strings that reached all the way to President Woodrow Wilson to get Greenberg’s sentence commuted. He had served just six months of a five-year sentence. Greenberg repaid Egan by switching his allegiance to the Hogan Gang.

Greenberg soon fled St. Louis for Detroit where he got involved in smuggling liquor from Canada. Needing better financing, he sought out Irving Wexler (Waxey Gordon) in New York, who in turn connected him to Arnold Rothstein. Wexler and Greenberg established a successful rum running operation before Greenberg returned to St. Louis in early 1921.

Upon Greenburg’s return, Egan retaliated. In March 1921, one of his gunmen fired at Greenberg while he was standing with a group of men at Sixth Street and Chester. Greenberg was wounded and political lobbyist John P. Sweeney was killed.

In the fall of 1921, rivals got even with Willie Egan when he was gunned down as he left a saloon at 14th Street and Franklin Avenue. The Rats blamed the murder of their leader on the Hogan Gang, led by Edward J. “Jellyroll” Hogan. Rumors spread that $30,000 was paid for the hit. Egan died in City Hospital refusing to name who shot him. “I’m a good sport,” Egan replied before dying. A week later, Greenberg walked into police headquarters with a Hogan Gang lawyer Jacob H. Mackler and provided an airtight alibi.

The alibi didn’t satisfy William P. Colbeck, Willie Egan’s replacement in the Rats. “Dinty” Colbeck, was a husky plumber and a former World War I infantryman. Taking over the gang, Colbeck had surmised that Greenberg had planned Egan’s death; the attorney was the payoff man, and James Hogan was one of the gunmen. Those three, plus Hogan gunmen John Doyle and Luke Kennedy, were marked for death.

The first to go was John Doyle in January 1922. Next, Rat gunmen fired on an automobile containing Mackler, Kennedy and James Hogan at Eleventh and Market Streets. No one was injured. Mackler was not as fortunate on February 21 when fifteen shots were fired into his automobile on Twelfth Street killing him instantly. The Hogan Gang responded by murdering Rat member George Kurloff in a restaurant on Franklin Avenue. The Rats retaliated by dispatching the bodies of Joseph Cammarata, Joseph Cipolla, and Everett Summers in ditches along lonely county roads. Those murders were followed by the death of Luke Kennedy whose car was riddled with bullets in May 1922. Hogan gunmen retaliated a few days later by blasting away at Colbeck’s plumbing store on Washington Avenue. The following day, Egan’s Rats gunmen shot up “Jellyroll” Hogan’s home.

During the trigger-happy forays that were occurring, several businesses had their windows shot out and once a young boy was hit by an automobile driven by fleeing gunmen. Public anger, caused by the mob shootings, forced police into action and Colbeck moved the gang’s headquarters outside of the city to St. Louis County. The gang converted an eleven-room house into the Maxwelton Club, and took over an abandoned horse and motorcycle racetrack near St. Charles Rock Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. Here the Rats raced around the track taking target practice on tin cans and whiskey bottles, which terrorized the locals.

Over a two-year period, the death toll in the Egan’s Rats-Hogan Gang War reached 23. After the deaths of Doyle and Kennedy, the Rats turned their attention to Greenberg. Colbeck and William “Red” Smith were arrested while waiting outside police headquarters where Greenberg was once being questioned. The police smuggled Greenberg out a back door and the following day he fled to New York where he worked again with Wexler. In April 1933 Greenberg was murdered in an Elizabeth, New Jersey hotel.

In March 1923, the Rats tried to ambush Edward “Jellyroll” Hogan and Humbert Costello as they were driving on Grand Blvd. Two of the shooters, Rat gunmen Elmer Runge and Isadore Londe, were arrested and Hogan was brought to police headquarters to identify them.

“I’ll identify them, all right,” Hogan snapped at police. “I’ll identify them with a shotgun.”

Humbert Costello was known as the muscle in the Hogan Gang and was a suspect in several shootings. He was later convicted of a jewelry store robbery and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After 12 years he was able to obtain a pardon with Hogan’s help. However, upon release, federal agents were waiting with deportation papers. After a long legal battle, Costello was finally deported in 1937.

Rat gang members and Hogan hoodlums next staged a wild shootout on Lindell Blvd. Although no one was injured, again public sentiment was incensed. Commenting on the public’s outburst, Colbeck told reporters, “We are not insensitive to the fact that the public is aroused over what the newspapers have consistently characterized as the violence attending the fights between the Hogan and Egan factions. Our men are not trying to disturb peaceful citizens and it is unfair every time violence occurs in St. Louis to attribute it to myself, my men or the rival gang.”

In April 1923, with Philip Brockman, president of the Board of Police Commissioners, and Father Timothy Dempsey acting as mediators, Colbeck and “Jellyroll” Hogan agreed to peace terms. The truce lasted a few months before Rat gunmen opened up on a crowd, trying to kill James Hogan. They missed and two innocent men were killed. One, William McGee, was a state representative. Colbeck, who expressed shock about the shooting when police questioned him, blamed the incident on “boyish high spirits.”

“I know three of the boys were full of moonshine and were riding around in a big touring car,” Colbeck said. “They might have seen Hogan in the crowd at Jefferson and Cass and maybe took a few shots at him for fun.”

By this time, Colbeck had other matters besides the continuing gang war to worry about. On April 2, 1923, Egan’s Rats gunmen hijacked $2.4 million in negotiable bonds from a mail truck at Fourth and Locust Streets. The following month they struck again, getting $55,000 in cash from the Staunton, Illinois postmaster. Egan’s Rats members had teamed up with members of the Cuckoos to pull off these robberies. However, when police began questioning Rat members, one of them ratted.

With Ray Rennard testifying for the government against his former Rat associates - Colbeck, David “Chippy” Robinson, Oliver Dougherty, Louis “Red” Smith, Charles “Red” Lanham, Frank Hackenthal, Gus Dietmeyer, Frank “Cotton” Eppelshelmer, Steve Ryan, and Cuckoo Gang members Roy Tipton, Leo Cronin, and Rudolph “Featheredge” Schmidt – all were found guilty and sentenced to terms of 25 years in Leavenworth.

Colbeck was released after 16 years in prison. He tried to get back into the rackets, but his comeback was short lived. On February 17, 1943, Colbeck was returning home at 10:30 p.m. After crossing the McKinley Bridge, a car pulled alongside his at Ninth and Destrehan Streets. A man with a Thompson opened up on Colbeck putting half a dozen slugs into him. At the age of 58 Colbeck’s career was over.

After leaving prison in the early 1940s, Louis C. “Red” Smith was convicted of income tax evasion in 1955. He was fined $2,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. Smith was named by authorities as having been involved in the Capone syndicate’s attempted take over of the race wire service. Although questioned in several murders, Smith was never charged. He died of heart disease in September 1959.

Steve Ryan was released from Leavenworth on January 1, 1941. In 1944, he and David Robinson were arrested after a mysterious shooting that took place at the Club Royal, a gambling casino near Belleville, Illinois. Ryan then filed a petition seeking an injunction to halt alleged police persecution claiming to be arrested on many occasions without cause. The detainments, he claimed, lasted from twenty hours to as long as three days. Later in 1944, Ryan and Robinson were again arrested after the murders of Harley Grizzell and Norman Farr on the city’s East Side. Still later, the two were questioned in the murder of a union boss and his driver. On trial in 1946, for extorting $10,000 from a building contractor, a grand jury said there was not enough evidence to indict them. Ryan, one of the last living members of the Egan’s Rats, died on May 3, 1965 after a heart attack.

The St. Louis Egan’s Rats, for all intents and purposes, ceased to be an organized crime power after the imprisonment of most of its members for the 1923 robberies. Two former Rat members would gain notoriety in later years. In 1929, Fred “Killer” Burke participated in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. On December 14, 1929, Burke murdered Police Officer Charles Shelby after a minor automobile accident. Burke fled leaving his car behind. The ensuing investigation turned up a machine gun that ballistics experts tied to both the Massacre and the murder of Frank Yale in New York City in 1928. Burke was later convicted of the policeman’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died of a heart attack in July 1940.

The other ex-Rat to gain notoriety was Leo Vincent Brothers who was convicted of the murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle in June 1930. Many believe Brothers was paid to take the fall for the killing. He received the minimum sentence for the murder and served only eight years. He died of natural causes in 1951.


Hogan Gang:

The Hogan Gang was headed by Edward J. “Jellyroll” Hogan, Jr. and his brother James. “Jellyroll” was one of six sons born to St. Louis Police Officer Edward J. Hogan Sr. “Jellyroll,” born in 1886, like Thomas Egan, was involved in the political affairs of the city. He was elected to the legislature in 1916 as a state representative. After surviving the bootleg wars in St. Louis, Hogan continued in politics. In the 1930s, it was disclosed that one of Hogan’s legislative clerks on the state payroll was a St. Louis brewery worker who found it “unnecessary” to travel to the capital, Jefferson City, even once during the 1937 legislative session.

In 1941, Hogan was part of the Democratic effort to prevent St. Louis Republican and Governor-Elect Forrest C. Donnell from taking office by demanding a recount. The effort failed. Hogan remained in Democratic politics for 50 years, serving five terms in the state house and four terms in the state senate. In 1960, Hogan retired after being defeated by Theodore McNeal, the first Black man to be elected to the Missouri State Senate. In addition to his political position, Hogan was a business agent for a soft drink bottlers’ union. Hogan died at the age of 77 in 1963 after a short illness.

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Joined: April 15th, 2005, 9:58 am

June 6th, 2007, 12:15 pm #5

The John Gotti of St. Louis

The Rise and Fall of "Dinty" Colbeck

By Walter Fontane


John Gotti is one of the most famous underworld chieftains in United States history. He was young for a mob boss; he was ambitious; and he possessed many of the qualities of a good Godfather. However, this gangster loved the limelight. He dressed in the most expensive suits, rode around in fancy cars, owned a mansion retreat in the mountains, gained the support of celebrities, thumbed his nose triumphantly at law enforcement, and claimed to be a successful plumbing supply salesman. Although many people are quite besmitten by his flamboyancy, law enforcement and mob historians view John Gotti in a different light. These people see, not the epitome of a Mafia don, but an insecure, degenerate gambler who murdered his former boss and various associates under dubious circumstances, and ultimately destroyed the nation’s foremost crime syndicate because of his insecurities and his reliance on young aggressive thugs similar in ideology to himself. By placing people in positions of power based on personal loyalty rather than capability or merit, the Gambino Crime Family fell from the pinnacle of the underworld. Underworld historians can find a John Gotti in most criminal groups in cities all over the world. This is the story about the John Gotti of St. Louis, Missouri: "Dinty" Colbeck.

William Patrick Colbeck was born in 1891 in Kerry Patch, the Irish ghetto of St. Louis. At that time there were no major citywide gangs. A large collection of street gangs terrorized individual neighborhoods. Among these was the Ashley Street Gang, the future Egan’s Rats. The Ashley Street Gang dabbled in robbery and thievery, but their real purpose (like that of most other gangs) was political. From the late 1880s until 1902, a consortium known as either "The Push" or the "Butler Machine" controlled St. Louis politics. It members insured votes by placing gangs of hooligans at the polls to protect supporters and discourage those who supported rival candidates.

Col. Ed Butler ran a smooth operation until 1902 when the new Circuit Attorney, Joseph P. Folk, began a crusade against his former benefactor. Butler and his machine were destroyed. Without the machine, politics in the city became very nasty. There was little rivalry between the Democrats and Republicans. The city was firmly Democratic. The intense rivalry was between various Democrats trying to form a new machine. In 1904 Harry Hawes made a power play to seize control. The other Democrats banded together to defeat him. Desperate for control over the voting stations, Hawes spent a fortune recruiting supporters wherever he could find them. It is possible that an adolescent William Colbeck served as one of Hawes’ Indians, but there is no record to support this. Hawes’ reliance on recruiting juveniles reveals how desperate he was, but his efforts were to little avail; his army of rogues and juveniles failed him and he was defeated.

After the fall of Harry Hawes, city politics fell to a triumvirate: Thomas Kinney, Frank Hussey, and Cornelius McGillcuddy a.k.a. "Cuddy Mack." All three ruled various wards of the city through the House of Delegates and supported by vicious gangs of cutthroats. After a swift gang war and a bloody election, Cuddy Mack lost power to Thomas Kinney. By 1910 Hussey had also been neutralized and Kinney dominated city politics. Now that he was firmly in control over city politics (Kinney had since become one of the state’s most popular senators), Kinney began to distance himself from gang affairs. Leadership over his gang of hooligans was relinquished to Tom Egan. Egan had all of the qualities of the ideal crime boss. He was quiet, powerful, patient, resourceful, connected, popular with the troops and public, imaginative, and often thoughtful about the future. When Tom Kinney died in 1912, Egan assumed control over city politics and crime. Unlike his predecessor, Egan had no qualms about connecting politics and crime. In fact, he almost seemed to flaunt his position. In an interview to a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Egan said that his gang numbered over 400 men. This was more than enough to tip any election in the city during those turbulent days. Undoubtedly William Colbeck was among the 400 gang members. The headquarters for the city’s crime and politics was Egan’s saloon. Whenever there was a gang murder, it was a police ritual to raid the saloon. The gangsters that infested the place were hauled off to jail with much fanfare, only to be quietly released shortly afterwards. One police officer that was bored with the routine simply called them Egan’s Rats when hauling them off to the city jail instead of listing their names and writing, "arrested for suspicion." The moniker stuck to the gang.

St. Louis had been regulating the liquor industry since the 1890s. The number of regulations had increased coincidental with the rise of the Temperance Movement. Expecting Prohibition to become a reality, Tom Egan took steps to insure the tranquility of the St. Louis underworld. Most of the other city gangs made deals with Egan to maintain the peace and remain in his good graces. Even his primary political rival, Edward "Jellyroll" Hogan Jr., agreed to Egan’s peace proposals. The relationship between Egan and Hogan is similar to that between Tom Pendergast and Joe Shannon in Kansas City, albeit on a smaller scale. At the time, Hogan was not a real threat to the Egan political faction, but he would become the archrival of "Dinty" Colbeck. When arrangements had been made to establish gang territories, Egan focused on building his liquor supply base. He sent henchmen to cities and town like East St. Louis, Terre Haute, Cincinnati, Detroit, and New Orleans. These cells were to arrange for liquor to be sent to St. Louis and supply security for the shipments. At the outset of Prohibition, liquor poured into St. Louis, so much so that there was hardly a decrease in the supply of good (safe) booze. Unfortunately, Tom Egan never saw how smoothly his plan operated. The Carlo Gambino of this story died in April 1918.

Tom Egan was probably the most capable gang leader ever produced by St. Louis. With one eye on politics and another on the public, Egan tried to limit gangland activity by using the police to pursue rival, less powerful gangs. The incarceration of lesser gangs made the police look good to both the media and the public, and in return the police often let the Egan’s Rats carry on their activities without molestation. Using these tactics, Egan steadily increased his underworld power and influence. William Colbeck had been privy to the rise of Tom Egan; much like John Gotti had witnessed the rise of Carlo Gambino. However, in both cases, the spectator was a minor player in the underworld. Both would suddenly become powerful crime lords. Colbeck was a man of action and did not favor the slow and steady methodology used by Tommy Egan and Tom Kinney. Whether out of national pride or a thirst for adventure, Colbeck joined the American expeditionary force in World War I and was sent to France, allegedly serving in the Battle of the Marne. Upon his return to St. Louis, he was regarded as a full-fledged member of the gang.

William Egan, brother of the late Tom Egan, took over the gang. Willie Egan kept the booze flowing to the city and generally kept the peace. An upstart Italian gang was causing trouble. Another gang had degenerated into civil war. Although he was efficient and clever, he was not as strong as his brother was. He continued to keep the law enforcement community from interfering with the Egan’s Rats as well as maintained Egan Gang supremacy over the underworld. In an ironic twist of fate, the city’s top crimeboss was also a constable, commissioned to fight crime! The power structure of the gang remained much like that created by Tom Egan. All of the top figures in the gang were primarily involved in the liquor business. However, there was a small faction of the gang that preferred to engage in high-risk crimes such as holdups and robbery. Willie Egan was able to keep the "red hots" under control as long as he was aware of their activities.

The red hots were often the soldiers who were paid by Egan and his lieutenants to protect liquor shipments. In an effort to increase their pocket money, they often resorted to more violent crimes. A similar situation existed within the Hogan Gang. A small Southside gang, the Cuckoos, was more devoted to robbery than bootlegging, but active in both rackets. In consequence, the Egan red hots, the Hogans, and the Cuckoos formed comradery as they united in violent crime. The leaders of the Egan and Hogan Gangs could only frown upon the situation. Among the Egan red hots was William Colbeck. As a cover for his illegal activities, he became a plumber and hence the nickname "Denty" or "Dinty." Colbeck was imaginative and successful. Many young toughs including Thomas Hayes, Frank Wortman, and Peter and "Yonnie" Licavoli looked up to Colbeck as a role model. Despite his influence over the Egan Gang’s chief gunmen and enforcers, Colbeck remained firmly loyal to Willie Egan. In this regard he is unlike his New York counterpart of the 1980s. Colbeck probably was not one of Egan’s lieutenants. Egan’s gang was structured for liquor trafficking and Colbeck was unsuccessful in his liquor dealings. However, Colbeck was a perfect liaison to the troops, and therefore found a place at Egan’s inner circle of consultants.

The history of the St. Louis underworld would have been very different if Willie Egan had not been murdered in 1921. Based on the confessions of Ray Renard, the murder of Willie Egan was engineered by his chief lieutenant, Max Greenberg. According to Renard, Egan blamed Greenberg for swindling him out of $50,000 worth of booze. When it became clear to Egan that Greenberg would not pay him back the money, Egan tried to have Greenberg murdered. The assassination went awry and Greenberg escaped. Greenberg went to Jacob Mackler, "the mouthpiece of the Hogan Gang." In return for an alleged $15,000 three Hogan gunmen, James Hogan, Luke Kennedy, and John Doyle, murdered Egan on November 1, 1921. Colbeck was one of the first Egan gangsters on the scene and supposedly with his last breath, Egan told Colbeck the identities of the gunmen. Like John Gotti in 1985, Colbeck was present when his boss was murdered.

Renard would later blame the Egan’s Rats for most of the gang murders (1920-1924), but he did not blame them for the Egan murder. It is unusual that Colbeck was present at the murder scene. More interesting is that the next gangland victim was George Ruloff. Ruloff was Egan’s shadow and bodyguard. He was at Egan’s side before Colbeck, and underworld gossip ran that Ruloff was killed "so that he couldn’t identify the slayers of Willie Egan." A final mystery added to the murder is that there were substantial rumors that John Doyle was in Ohio prison at the time of the Egan murder. Could Egan have mistaken the identities of his assailants? Were the gunmen really Hogan gangsters? How come the comradery between the lower echelons of the gangs had not revealed the murder plot?

Although circumstantial evidence would suggest that Colbeck had been privy to what would happen to Egan on that fateful night, it is unlikely that Colbeck was behind the murder or even encouraged it. It is more plausible that he heard rumors of the murder plot, but he did not take them seriously. He did pursue a vendetta against the three Hogan gunmen, a vendetta that would become a full-fledged gang war. It is unlikely that he would have been so intent on killing these three men (and later other members of the Hogan Gang) had he been responsible for the murders. Furthermore, if a coup had occurred within the Egan Gang, news of who was responsible would have been circulated in the era of yellow journalism. Even if Colbeck had kept such knowledge to himself, Ray Renard, a member of his inner circle, would have divulged the details in his lengthy confession.

Colbeck assumed control of the Egan’s Rats as an avenging angel. The old Egan lieutenants thought that Colbeck would crush the Hogan Gang hereby allowing them to expand their liquor operations, and generally increase the power and prestige of the gang. John Doyle was murdered in January 1922 and Luke Kennedy was slain shortly afterwards. "Jellyroll" Hogan was furious and scared. He was outgunned by a powerful and expansionistic new rival who had targeted some of his closest gang associates, including his brother, for death. After the Kennedy murder, Hogan reluctantly went to war. The two gangs followed very different strategies. The Egan’s Rats sought revenge, but their bloodlust had subsided slightly when Kennedy was slain. After the Kennedy murder, the Egan Gang pursued the gang war as either a pastime or an immediate retaliation after a Hogan attack. The Hogan Gang sought survival. Their energy was devoted to the defensive. Rarely did they venture from their territory along Cass Avenue to attack their foes.

The war was at its peak in 1922 when the two gangs waged vicious gun battles from speeding automobiles along St. Louis streets. Bystanders were run down and injured more often than the feudists. Several children were hit by cars and public outrage grew with every confrontation. In March 1922 Hogan gunmen ambushed Colbeck in his plumbing shop. They riddled the storefront with bullets and shotgun slugs, but no one was injured. Greatly perturbed, the Egan chief struck back violently. A cavalcade of at least four touring cars full of gunmen slowly drove past the Hogan residence and poured a fusillade into the house. Again, no one was injured.

After the plumbing shop incident, Colbeck moved his gang to the Maxwelton Club and Racetrack on St. Charles Rock Road in the wilderness of St. Louis County. From this location, the gangsters could easily be alerted to the presence of Hogan gangsters. Egan gunmen also practiced their marksmanship at the club. Cans and bottles were placed in the center of the track. Gunmen from the grandstands or in cars racing around the track fired at the targets. The Egan gangsters also terrorized local residents. One time they waylaid a farmer and his family. Evicting them from their car, the gangsters cartwheeled it into a ditch. The farmer called Colbeck at the club and demanded reparations. Colbeck was not only a gangster, but he was also a politician. Previously he had been a committeeman in the fifth ward. At the height of his power, he was the Sargent-in-arms of the St. Louis Democratic Committee. Despite the public outrage at the gang war, he knew it was in his best interests to keep the people happy. Colbeck sent the farmer enough money to purchase two cars.

During the early phases of the war (1922) Colbeck became increasingly distracted from the gang’s bootlegging activities. He began to rely on young gunmen and thieves for advise about gang matters. Although such men were in abundance in the gang, few of them had any lengthy expertise, especially in the alcohol industry. David "Chippy" Robinson, Eddie Linham, and James "Sticky" Hennessey were fearsome gunmen, but poor lieutenants. Slowly the liquor interests of the Egan Gang were usurped by the Italian crimeboss, Vito Giannola. The Egan gangsters outside of St. Louis (in Terre Haute, Cincinnati, Detroit, etc.) operated their own rackets and ceased to obey the Egan hierarchy. The old lieutenants of the era of the Egan Brothers faded away into obscurity. The money that had supplied Colbeck and his vendetta against the Hogan Gang was quickly dwindling. The new gang chief and his lieutenants needed to find a new means by which to support themselves. Once they had to work for a living, the gang war began to subside.

Ray Renard joined the gang in 1920 by being acquainted with one of the red hots, Gus Dietmeyer. Renard demonstrated his skill as a get-away driver for the gang during the glory days under Willie Egan. Renard became increasingly valuable to Colbeck when around 1923 the crimelord had to resort to robbery as the gang’s chief source of money. At first the gangsters held up banks, jewelry stores, and anything that had a large bankroll. Then, almost suddenly, Colbeck learned that company payrolls were sent by cash through the mail. The gang could get $50,000 cash by simply holding up a few postal inspectors.

St. Louis firms often employed policemen to guard their payrolls when transferring from a bank to an institution. These transactions had become speedy, efficient, and routine. It would have been dangerous to try to rob the St. Louis post-office, especially when similar prizes were awaiting the gang in Illinois at far less risk. During the first half of the twentieth century, Illinois possessed some large mining communities. Colbeck and his gang had to learn when the mining companies would deliver their payrolls. This was easily learned by bribing miners or lounging around taverns frequented by miners. Ray Renard, in his confessions, goes into elaborate detail on how the gangsters planned and rehearsed a crime before they went through with it.

It will never be known how many crimes Colbeck and his gang performed. Since the fall of the Egan Gang in 1925, the popular press mentions that the gang collected "at least $2.4 million from robbery;" but in just one crime alone, they escaped with $2.1 million. Renard says that he was privy to crimes that collected over $44 million, but this seems too high. The Egan Gang became increasingly disorganized as Colbeck isolated himself within a core group of gunmen. The vast rings of lesser members and associates including Tommy Hayes, Pete Licavoli, and Frank Wortman, began to associate with the Cuckoos, Italians, and Eastsiders respectively and drifted away from Colbeck and his criminal empire.

Distrust ruptured the Egan’s Rats as it did with the Gambino Crime Family years later. During the years of the Egan-Hogan feud, around twenty-three feudists were slain. Well over half of those were Egan gangsters killed by their own comrades. Some were minor members of no importance. Others were at the top of the gang. In 1922 "Chippy" Robinson and Eddie Linham were vying for the position of the gang’s premier gunman. If we are to believe Ray Renard, Robinson killed Linham so that he could become Colbeck’s chief lieutenant and enforcer: the Sammy Gravano of the Egan’s Rats. It should be noted that although "Chippy" Robinson was regarded by many as the city’s most fearsome gangster after the Linham murder, he was not as bloodthirsty as Sammy the Bull. According to Ray Renard, Colbeck had poor control over his henchmen and used Robinson to kill them for questionable motives.

The beginning of the end for the Egan’s Rats began in south St. Louis with the Cuckoo Gang. Roy Tipton, the leader of the gang, walked a fine line between bootlegging and robbery. Sometime in early 1923 an associate of the Cuckoos, Max Simmonson, approached Tipton with a proposition. As a dealer in stolen bonds, he had learned through his connections that on a given date an armored car carrying over $2 million in negotiable bonds and cash would be traveling between various businesses in downtown St. Louis. Tipton did not believe that the Cuckoos could pull off such a crime by themselves and so Tipton took the information to Colbeck. On April 2, 1923 the gangsters held up the armored car at the intersection of Fourth and Locust in downtown St. Louis.

The gangsters split about $260,000 in cash and awaited Simmonson and other fences to sell the stolen bonds. However, many of the stolen bonds were seized in several police raids. Quickly identifying the Egan Gang with the crime, the police and the postal inspectors began to increase their harassment of the gang. Despite increased police pressure and public outrage at the gang war and blatant crimes, Colbeck was at the height of his power. Unbeknown to Colbeck, the Egan Gang was on the verge of ruin. Father Timothy Dempsey was able to arrange for the two gang chiefs (Colbeck and Hogan) to meet and sign pledges that the gang war was over. These pledges were later published in the newspapers with their photographs. The truce lasted only a few months when James Hogan was spotted by a group of intoxicated Egan red hots. Remembering orders to kill Hogan in revenge for Willie Egan, the red hots opened fire. Hogan escaped unharmed, but William McGee, a member of the state legislature was critically wounded and John P. Sweeney, a lawyer loosely affiliated with the Hogan political faction, was slain. Colbeck shrugged off the murders as "some of the boys got a little hot with whiskey." After the Sweeney murder, the gang’s political protection turned its back on Colbeck causing many Egan gunmen to flee the city.

Tired of continual police harassment and fearful of his associates, Ray Renard, the gang’s wheelman, fled the city to avoid prosecution for robbery. Renard was just one of many Egan gangsters in the growing exodus from the crumbling empire of the Egan’s Rats. Hunted by the authorities, Renard was captured in Los Angles. On the train ride back to St. Louis, Renard was accompanied by Harry Brundidge who managed to elicit a confession from Renard. Renard said that the reason he was breaking the gang code of silence was that he was tired of constantly being broke. "I spent everything I got." He said that he wanted to start a new life. Renard would be sentenced to five years for robbery. He obtained leniency for testifying against his former comrades in the robbery trials.

In November 1924 Colbeck, Robinson, Gus Dietmeyer, Louis Smith, Stephen Ryan, and Oliver Dougherty were convicted of a mail robbery in Staunton, Illinois. Colbeck received fifteen years. It had been a victory for postal inspectors. However, their most notable victory against the underworld would come the following year. In January, a motley assortment of Egan and Cuckoo gangsters was brought to trial for the armored car robbery. Most of the gangsters received a sentence of twenty-five years to run concurrently with their previous convictions. Another batch of Egan gangsters was convicted of a mail robbery in Pocahontas, Illinois in which they made their escape by airplane.

Within the winter of 1924-1925 the core membership of the Egan Gang had collapsed. Colbeck and most of his lieutenants were incarcerated in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. The lone exception was Fred Burke, destined to become infamous as one of the gunmen in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The destruction of the Egan Gang was complete. After the convictions, there were few Egan gangsters who could fill the power vacuum. Most of the Egan gangsters still alive and free were leaving the city or joining other gangs. A small shadow of the gang remained active for a few months, but was quickly crushed by the police.

Even after his incarceration, Colbeck remained a media sensation. In 1926 there were close to twenty Egan gangsters incarcerated in Leavenworth. Colbeck’s lawyers were busy appealing the convictions and made headlines when they found new evidence in favor of their clients. Eventually Colbeck hit on the idea that his henchmen should write confessions absolving him of the crimes. This did not sit well with his followers, and two distinct camps existed among the gangster clique. Hostilities became so bad that several of the combatants (including Colbeck) were transferred to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Colbeck and the other gangsters convicted with him would make headlines whenever they came up for parole.

Beginning in 1940 those convicted of the armored car robbery were slowly released one by one from prison. All were at liberty by mid-1944. "Dinty" Colbeck was released late in 1940. He immediately resumed his former role as a plumber and opened a shop. He was soon involved in election fraud and petty racketeering. As a former rackets boss, he had little difficulty in finding employment in the underworld. Within a few years, however, he was trying to reassert his control over the underworld. Unfortunately for him, things had radically changed since he was a big shot. The East St. Louis gambling halls, not the St. Louis political clubs, governed the underworld. When Colbeck learned that some of his old henchmen were running some of the gambling clubs, he began to demand a cut of the profits. This did not sit well with any of the established underworld groups operating on the Eastside.

On February 17, 1943 "Dinty" Colbeck was driving on a lonely road outside of East St. Louis when another car pulled along side of him and a man with a machine gun straffed Colbeck’s car. The notorious crime chief was dead. Scores of hoodlums were arrested for questioning. Among these were former Egan gangsters affiliated with a gang that had the support of the Chicago mob. Others arrested were members of the Shelton and Italian gangs. There were no substantial leads and there were no prime suspects. Some historians blame the embryonic Wortman Gang, but they did not gain power until after World War II. The Italians were too engrossed in their own internal power struggles to exert any great control over the Eastside gambling community. The most likely perpetrators were members of the Shelton Gang. The Sheltons were the real masters of the Illinois underworld until Wortman successfully challenged them. The Shelton Gang had the most to loose from Colbeck’s latest activities.

This time, the Egan gangsters did not rally around a concept of revenge. Instead they did nothing. Chippy Robinson, Stephen Ryan, Gus Dietmeyer, and other former Egan gangsters offered their loyalty to the new crime syndicate being organized by Frank Wortman and Elmer Dowling, both formerly associates of the Egan Gang during its heyday under Colbeck and Willie Egan. The flashy bravado of this hoodlum was visible in the powerful Wortman Gang. Colbeck’s former associates formed the backbone of the organization and remained fixed on using blatant gangster tactics to achieve their desires. Their high profile served as a beacon to law enforcement members and especially the IRS who devastated the Wortman Gang. Similarly, the highhandedness of John Gotti in the 1980s attracted the attention of the FBI. Both the Gambinos and the Wortmans snubbed their government pursuers and were burned in the end. Wortman hoodlums who had not been influenced by the Egan’s Rats and Dinty Colbeck remained more elusive to prosecution. Instability plagued the Wortman Gang, as it was a huge assortment of poorly organized thugs, much like the Egan’s Rats. It was hard to control and internal rivalries split it apart. The audacity and bravado that haunted Frank Wortman can easily be seen in the Egan’s Rats who shot whiskey bottles while they whizzed around a track at the old Maxwelton Club.

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the irishman
the irishman

July 18th, 2007, 5:42 pm #6

Can anyone give me contemporary information about any Irish mafia families in St. Louis?
All I hear about is stuff in Boston or Chicago. I live in St. Louis and I’m curious about any organizations that operate in my back yard.
hey bud, i'm in st. louis too lookin for the same thing. do u know where O'Mally's is in south city? if so, my real name is jerry, and i am always in a flop hat. meet me there on Friday night the 20th of July and we can talk. i'll be at the bar. i have a STL tat on my left arm and an irish tat on my right. both are visible so yeah, we should get together and talk
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retired fbi
retired fbi

January 25th, 2008, 6:53 am #7

The John Gotti of St. Louis

The Rise and Fall of "Dinty" Colbeck

By Walter Fontane


John Gotti is one of the most famous underworld chieftains in United States history. He was young for a mob boss; he was ambitious; and he possessed many of the qualities of a good Godfather. However, this gangster loved the limelight. He dressed in the most expensive suits, rode around in fancy cars, owned a mansion retreat in the mountains, gained the support of celebrities, thumbed his nose triumphantly at law enforcement, and claimed to be a successful plumbing supply salesman. Although many people are quite besmitten by his flamboyancy, law enforcement and mob historians view John Gotti in a different light. These people see, not the epitome of a Mafia don, but an insecure, degenerate gambler who murdered his former boss and various associates under dubious circumstances, and ultimately destroyed the nation’s foremost crime syndicate because of his insecurities and his reliance on young aggressive thugs similar in ideology to himself. By placing people in positions of power based on personal loyalty rather than capability or merit, the Gambino Crime Family fell from the pinnacle of the underworld. Underworld historians can find a John Gotti in most criminal groups in cities all over the world. This is the story about the John Gotti of St. Louis, Missouri: "Dinty" Colbeck.

William Patrick Colbeck was born in 1891 in Kerry Patch, the Irish ghetto of St. Louis. At that time there were no major citywide gangs. A large collection of street gangs terrorized individual neighborhoods. Among these was the Ashley Street Gang, the future Egan’s Rats. The Ashley Street Gang dabbled in robbery and thievery, but their real purpose (like that of most other gangs) was political. From the late 1880s until 1902, a consortium known as either "The Push" or the "Butler Machine" controlled St. Louis politics. It members insured votes by placing gangs of hooligans at the polls to protect supporters and discourage those who supported rival candidates.

Col. Ed Butler ran a smooth operation until 1902 when the new Circuit Attorney, Joseph P. Folk, began a crusade against his former benefactor. Butler and his machine were destroyed. Without the machine, politics in the city became very nasty. There was little rivalry between the Democrats and Republicans. The city was firmly Democratic. The intense rivalry was between various Democrats trying to form a new machine. In 1904 Harry Hawes made a power play to seize control. The other Democrats banded together to defeat him. Desperate for control over the voting stations, Hawes spent a fortune recruiting supporters wherever he could find them. It is possible that an adolescent William Colbeck served as one of Hawes’ Indians, but there is no record to support this. Hawes’ reliance on recruiting juveniles reveals how desperate he was, but his efforts were to little avail; his army of rogues and juveniles failed him and he was defeated.

After the fall of Harry Hawes, city politics fell to a triumvirate: Thomas Kinney, Frank Hussey, and Cornelius McGillcuddy a.k.a. "Cuddy Mack." All three ruled various wards of the city through the House of Delegates and supported by vicious gangs of cutthroats. After a swift gang war and a bloody election, Cuddy Mack lost power to Thomas Kinney. By 1910 Hussey had also been neutralized and Kinney dominated city politics. Now that he was firmly in control over city politics (Kinney had since become one of the state’s most popular senators), Kinney began to distance himself from gang affairs. Leadership over his gang of hooligans was relinquished to Tom Egan. Egan had all of the qualities of the ideal crime boss. He was quiet, powerful, patient, resourceful, connected, popular with the troops and public, imaginative, and often thoughtful about the future. When Tom Kinney died in 1912, Egan assumed control over city politics and crime. Unlike his predecessor, Egan had no qualms about connecting politics and crime. In fact, he almost seemed to flaunt his position. In an interview to a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Egan said that his gang numbered over 400 men. This was more than enough to tip any election in the city during those turbulent days. Undoubtedly William Colbeck was among the 400 gang members. The headquarters for the city’s crime and politics was Egan’s saloon. Whenever there was a gang murder, it was a police ritual to raid the saloon. The gangsters that infested the place were hauled off to jail with much fanfare, only to be quietly released shortly afterwards. One police officer that was bored with the routine simply called them Egan’s Rats when hauling them off to the city jail instead of listing their names and writing, "arrested for suspicion." The moniker stuck to the gang.

St. Louis had been regulating the liquor industry since the 1890s. The number of regulations had increased coincidental with the rise of the Temperance Movement. Expecting Prohibition to become a reality, Tom Egan took steps to insure the tranquility of the St. Louis underworld. Most of the other city gangs made deals with Egan to maintain the peace and remain in his good graces. Even his primary political rival, Edward "Jellyroll" Hogan Jr., agreed to Egan’s peace proposals. The relationship between Egan and Hogan is similar to that between Tom Pendergast and Joe Shannon in Kansas City, albeit on a smaller scale. At the time, Hogan was not a real threat to the Egan political faction, but he would become the archrival of "Dinty" Colbeck. When arrangements had been made to establish gang territories, Egan focused on building his liquor supply base. He sent henchmen to cities and town like East St. Louis, Terre Haute, Cincinnati, Detroit, and New Orleans. These cells were to arrange for liquor to be sent to St. Louis and supply security for the shipments. At the outset of Prohibition, liquor poured into St. Louis, so much so that there was hardly a decrease in the supply of good (safe) booze. Unfortunately, Tom Egan never saw how smoothly his plan operated. The Carlo Gambino of this story died in April 1918.

Tom Egan was probably the most capable gang leader ever produced by St. Louis. With one eye on politics and another on the public, Egan tried to limit gangland activity by using the police to pursue rival, less powerful gangs. The incarceration of lesser gangs made the police look good to both the media and the public, and in return the police often let the Egan’s Rats carry on their activities without molestation. Using these tactics, Egan steadily increased his underworld power and influence. William Colbeck had been privy to the rise of Tom Egan; much like John Gotti had witnessed the rise of Carlo Gambino. However, in both cases, the spectator was a minor player in the underworld. Both would suddenly become powerful crime lords. Colbeck was a man of action and did not favor the slow and steady methodology used by Tommy Egan and Tom Kinney. Whether out of national pride or a thirst for adventure, Colbeck joined the American expeditionary force in World War I and was sent to France, allegedly serving in the Battle of the Marne. Upon his return to St. Louis, he was regarded as a full-fledged member of the gang.

William Egan, brother of the late Tom Egan, took over the gang. Willie Egan kept the booze flowing to the city and generally kept the peace. An upstart Italian gang was causing trouble. Another gang had degenerated into civil war. Although he was efficient and clever, he was not as strong as his brother was. He continued to keep the law enforcement community from interfering with the Egan’s Rats as well as maintained Egan Gang supremacy over the underworld. In an ironic twist of fate, the city’s top crimeboss was also a constable, commissioned to fight crime! The power structure of the gang remained much like that created by Tom Egan. All of the top figures in the gang were primarily involved in the liquor business. However, there was a small faction of the gang that preferred to engage in high-risk crimes such as holdups and robbery. Willie Egan was able to keep the "red hots" under control as long as he was aware of their activities.

The red hots were often the soldiers who were paid by Egan and his lieutenants to protect liquor shipments. In an effort to increase their pocket money, they often resorted to more violent crimes. A similar situation existed within the Hogan Gang. A small Southside gang, the Cuckoos, was more devoted to robbery than bootlegging, but active in both rackets. In consequence, the Egan red hots, the Hogans, and the Cuckoos formed comradery as they united in violent crime. The leaders of the Egan and Hogan Gangs could only frown upon the situation. Among the Egan red hots was William Colbeck. As a cover for his illegal activities, he became a plumber and hence the nickname "Denty" or "Dinty." Colbeck was imaginative and successful. Many young toughs including Thomas Hayes, Frank Wortman, and Peter and "Yonnie" Licavoli looked up to Colbeck as a role model. Despite his influence over the Egan Gang’s chief gunmen and enforcers, Colbeck remained firmly loyal to Willie Egan. In this regard he is unlike his New York counterpart of the 1980s. Colbeck probably was not one of Egan’s lieutenants. Egan’s gang was structured for liquor trafficking and Colbeck was unsuccessful in his liquor dealings. However, Colbeck was a perfect liaison to the troops, and therefore found a place at Egan’s inner circle of consultants.

The history of the St. Louis underworld would have been very different if Willie Egan had not been murdered in 1921. Based on the confessions of Ray Renard, the murder of Willie Egan was engineered by his chief lieutenant, Max Greenberg. According to Renard, Egan blamed Greenberg for swindling him out of $50,000 worth of booze. When it became clear to Egan that Greenberg would not pay him back the money, Egan tried to have Greenberg murdered. The assassination went awry and Greenberg escaped. Greenberg went to Jacob Mackler, "the mouthpiece of the Hogan Gang." In return for an alleged $15,000 three Hogan gunmen, James Hogan, Luke Kennedy, and John Doyle, murdered Egan on November 1, 1921. Colbeck was one of the first Egan gangsters on the scene and supposedly with his last breath, Egan told Colbeck the identities of the gunmen. Like John Gotti in 1985, Colbeck was present when his boss was murdered.

Renard would later blame the Egan’s Rats for most of the gang murders (1920-1924), but he did not blame them for the Egan murder. It is unusual that Colbeck was present at the murder scene. More interesting is that the next gangland victim was George Ruloff. Ruloff was Egan’s shadow and bodyguard. He was at Egan’s side before Colbeck, and underworld gossip ran that Ruloff was killed "so that he couldn’t identify the slayers of Willie Egan." A final mystery added to the murder is that there were substantial rumors that John Doyle was in Ohio prison at the time of the Egan murder. Could Egan have mistaken the identities of his assailants? Were the gunmen really Hogan gangsters? How come the comradery between the lower echelons of the gangs had not revealed the murder plot?

Although circumstantial evidence would suggest that Colbeck had been privy to what would happen to Egan on that fateful night, it is unlikely that Colbeck was behind the murder or even encouraged it. It is more plausible that he heard rumors of the murder plot, but he did not take them seriously. He did pursue a vendetta against the three Hogan gunmen, a vendetta that would become a full-fledged gang war. It is unlikely that he would have been so intent on killing these three men (and later other members of the Hogan Gang) had he been responsible for the murders. Furthermore, if a coup had occurred within the Egan Gang, news of who was responsible would have been circulated in the era of yellow journalism. Even if Colbeck had kept such knowledge to himself, Ray Renard, a member of his inner circle, would have divulged the details in his lengthy confession.

Colbeck assumed control of the Egan’s Rats as an avenging angel. The old Egan lieutenants thought that Colbeck would crush the Hogan Gang hereby allowing them to expand their liquor operations, and generally increase the power and prestige of the gang. John Doyle was murdered in January 1922 and Luke Kennedy was slain shortly afterwards. "Jellyroll" Hogan was furious and scared. He was outgunned by a powerful and expansionistic new rival who had targeted some of his closest gang associates, including his brother, for death. After the Kennedy murder, Hogan reluctantly went to war. The two gangs followed very different strategies. The Egan’s Rats sought revenge, but their bloodlust had subsided slightly when Kennedy was slain. After the Kennedy murder, the Egan Gang pursued the gang war as either a pastime or an immediate retaliation after a Hogan attack. The Hogan Gang sought survival. Their energy was devoted to the defensive. Rarely did they venture from their territory along Cass Avenue to attack their foes.

The war was at its peak in 1922 when the two gangs waged vicious gun battles from speeding automobiles along St. Louis streets. Bystanders were run down and injured more often than the feudists. Several children were hit by cars and public outrage grew with every confrontation. In March 1922 Hogan gunmen ambushed Colbeck in his plumbing shop. They riddled the storefront with bullets and shotgun slugs, but no one was injured. Greatly perturbed, the Egan chief struck back violently. A cavalcade of at least four touring cars full of gunmen slowly drove past the Hogan residence and poured a fusillade into the house. Again, no one was injured.

After the plumbing shop incident, Colbeck moved his gang to the Maxwelton Club and Racetrack on St. Charles Rock Road in the wilderness of St. Louis County. From this location, the gangsters could easily be alerted to the presence of Hogan gangsters. Egan gunmen also practiced their marksmanship at the club. Cans and bottles were placed in the center of the track. Gunmen from the grandstands or in cars racing around the track fired at the targets. The Egan gangsters also terrorized local residents. One time they waylaid a farmer and his family. Evicting them from their car, the gangsters cartwheeled it into a ditch. The farmer called Colbeck at the club and demanded reparations. Colbeck was not only a gangster, but he was also a politician. Previously he had been a committeeman in the fifth ward. At the height of his power, he was the Sargent-in-arms of the St. Louis Democratic Committee. Despite the public outrage at the gang war, he knew it was in his best interests to keep the people happy. Colbeck sent the farmer enough money to purchase two cars.

During the early phases of the war (1922) Colbeck became increasingly distracted from the gang’s bootlegging activities. He began to rely on young gunmen and thieves for advise about gang matters. Although such men were in abundance in the gang, few of them had any lengthy expertise, especially in the alcohol industry. David "Chippy" Robinson, Eddie Linham, and James "Sticky" Hennessey were fearsome gunmen, but poor lieutenants. Slowly the liquor interests of the Egan Gang were usurped by the Italian crimeboss, Vito Giannola. The Egan gangsters outside of St. Louis (in Terre Haute, Cincinnati, Detroit, etc.) operated their own rackets and ceased to obey the Egan hierarchy. The old lieutenants of the era of the Egan Brothers faded away into obscurity. The money that had supplied Colbeck and his vendetta against the Hogan Gang was quickly dwindling. The new gang chief and his lieutenants needed to find a new means by which to support themselves. Once they had to work for a living, the gang war began to subside.

Ray Renard joined the gang in 1920 by being acquainted with one of the red hots, Gus Dietmeyer. Renard demonstrated his skill as a get-away driver for the gang during the glory days under Willie Egan. Renard became increasingly valuable to Colbeck when around 1923 the crimelord had to resort to robbery as the gang’s chief source of money. At first the gangsters held up banks, jewelry stores, and anything that had a large bankroll. Then, almost suddenly, Colbeck learned that company payrolls were sent by cash through the mail. The gang could get $50,000 cash by simply holding up a few postal inspectors.

St. Louis firms often employed policemen to guard their payrolls when transferring from a bank to an institution. These transactions had become speedy, efficient, and routine. It would have been dangerous to try to rob the St. Louis post-office, especially when similar prizes were awaiting the gang in Illinois at far less risk. During the first half of the twentieth century, Illinois possessed some large mining communities. Colbeck and his gang had to learn when the mining companies would deliver their payrolls. This was easily learned by bribing miners or lounging around taverns frequented by miners. Ray Renard, in his confessions, goes into elaborate detail on how the gangsters planned and rehearsed a crime before they went through with it.

It will never be known how many crimes Colbeck and his gang performed. Since the fall of the Egan Gang in 1925, the popular press mentions that the gang collected "at least $2.4 million from robbery;" but in just one crime alone, they escaped with $2.1 million. Renard says that he was privy to crimes that collected over $44 million, but this seems too high. The Egan Gang became increasingly disorganized as Colbeck isolated himself within a core group of gunmen. The vast rings of lesser members and associates including Tommy Hayes, Pete Licavoli, and Frank Wortman, began to associate with the Cuckoos, Italians, and Eastsiders respectively and drifted away from Colbeck and his criminal empire.

Distrust ruptured the Egan’s Rats as it did with the Gambino Crime Family years later. During the years of the Egan-Hogan feud, around twenty-three feudists were slain. Well over half of those were Egan gangsters killed by their own comrades. Some were minor members of no importance. Others were at the top of the gang. In 1922 "Chippy" Robinson and Eddie Linham were vying for the position of the gang’s premier gunman. If we are to believe Ray Renard, Robinson killed Linham so that he could become Colbeck’s chief lieutenant and enforcer: the Sammy Gravano of the Egan’s Rats. It should be noted that although "Chippy" Robinson was regarded by many as the city’s most fearsome gangster after the Linham murder, he was not as bloodthirsty as Sammy the Bull. According to Ray Renard, Colbeck had poor control over his henchmen and used Robinson to kill them for questionable motives.

The beginning of the end for the Egan’s Rats began in south St. Louis with the Cuckoo Gang. Roy Tipton, the leader of the gang, walked a fine line between bootlegging and robbery. Sometime in early 1923 an associate of the Cuckoos, Max Simmonson, approached Tipton with a proposition. As a dealer in stolen bonds, he had learned through his connections that on a given date an armored car carrying over $2 million in negotiable bonds and cash would be traveling between various businesses in downtown St. Louis. Tipton did not believe that the Cuckoos could pull off such a crime by themselves and so Tipton took the information to Colbeck. On April 2, 1923 the gangsters held up the armored car at the intersection of Fourth and Locust in downtown St. Louis.

The gangsters split about $260,000 in cash and awaited Simmonson and other fences to sell the stolen bonds. However, many of the stolen bonds were seized in several police raids. Quickly identifying the Egan Gang with the crime, the police and the postal inspectors began to increase their harassment of the gang. Despite increased police pressure and public outrage at the gang war and blatant crimes, Colbeck was at the height of his power. Unbeknown to Colbeck, the Egan Gang was on the verge of ruin. Father Timothy Dempsey was able to arrange for the two gang chiefs (Colbeck and Hogan) to meet and sign pledges that the gang war was over. These pledges were later published in the newspapers with their photographs. The truce lasted only a few months when James Hogan was spotted by a group of intoxicated Egan red hots. Remembering orders to kill Hogan in revenge for Willie Egan, the red hots opened fire. Hogan escaped unharmed, but William McGee, a member of the state legislature was critically wounded and John P. Sweeney, a lawyer loosely affiliated with the Hogan political faction, was slain. Colbeck shrugged off the murders as "some of the boys got a little hot with whiskey." After the Sweeney murder, the gang’s political protection turned its back on Colbeck causing many Egan gunmen to flee the city.

Tired of continual police harassment and fearful of his associates, Ray Renard, the gang’s wheelman, fled the city to avoid prosecution for robbery. Renard was just one of many Egan gangsters in the growing exodus from the crumbling empire of the Egan’s Rats. Hunted by the authorities, Renard was captured in Los Angles. On the train ride back to St. Louis, Renard was accompanied by Harry Brundidge who managed to elicit a confession from Renard. Renard said that the reason he was breaking the gang code of silence was that he was tired of constantly being broke. "I spent everything I got." He said that he wanted to start a new life. Renard would be sentenced to five years for robbery. He obtained leniency for testifying against his former comrades in the robbery trials.

In November 1924 Colbeck, Robinson, Gus Dietmeyer, Louis Smith, Stephen Ryan, and Oliver Dougherty were convicted of a mail robbery in Staunton, Illinois. Colbeck received fifteen years. It had been a victory for postal inspectors. However, their most notable victory against the underworld would come the following year. In January, a motley assortment of Egan and Cuckoo gangsters was brought to trial for the armored car robbery. Most of the gangsters received a sentence of twenty-five years to run concurrently with their previous convictions. Another batch of Egan gangsters was convicted of a mail robbery in Pocahontas, Illinois in which they made their escape by airplane.

Within the winter of 1924-1925 the core membership of the Egan Gang had collapsed. Colbeck and most of his lieutenants were incarcerated in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. The lone exception was Fred Burke, destined to become infamous as one of the gunmen in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The destruction of the Egan Gang was complete. After the convictions, there were few Egan gangsters who could fill the power vacuum. Most of the Egan gangsters still alive and free were leaving the city or joining other gangs. A small shadow of the gang remained active for a few months, but was quickly crushed by the police.

Even after his incarceration, Colbeck remained a media sensation. In 1926 there were close to twenty Egan gangsters incarcerated in Leavenworth. Colbeck’s lawyers were busy appealing the convictions and made headlines when they found new evidence in favor of their clients. Eventually Colbeck hit on the idea that his henchmen should write confessions absolving him of the crimes. This did not sit well with his followers, and two distinct camps existed among the gangster clique. Hostilities became so bad that several of the combatants (including Colbeck) were transferred to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Colbeck and the other gangsters convicted with him would make headlines whenever they came up for parole.

Beginning in 1940 those convicted of the armored car robbery were slowly released one by one from prison. All were at liberty by mid-1944. "Dinty" Colbeck was released late in 1940. He immediately resumed his former role as a plumber and opened a shop. He was soon involved in election fraud and petty racketeering. As a former rackets boss, he had little difficulty in finding employment in the underworld. Within a few years, however, he was trying to reassert his control over the underworld. Unfortunately for him, things had radically changed since he was a big shot. The East St. Louis gambling halls, not the St. Louis political clubs, governed the underworld. When Colbeck learned that some of his old henchmen were running some of the gambling clubs, he began to demand a cut of the profits. This did not sit well with any of the established underworld groups operating on the Eastside.

On February 17, 1943 "Dinty" Colbeck was driving on a lonely road outside of East St. Louis when another car pulled along side of him and a man with a machine gun straffed Colbeck’s car. The notorious crime chief was dead. Scores of hoodlums were arrested for questioning. Among these were former Egan gangsters affiliated with a gang that had the support of the Chicago mob. Others arrested were members of the Shelton and Italian gangs. There were no substantial leads and there were no prime suspects. Some historians blame the embryonic Wortman Gang, but they did not gain power until after World War II. The Italians were too engrossed in their own internal power struggles to exert any great control over the Eastside gambling community. The most likely perpetrators were members of the Shelton Gang. The Sheltons were the real masters of the Illinois underworld until Wortman successfully challenged them. The Shelton Gang had the most to loose from Colbeck’s latest activities.

This time, the Egan gangsters did not rally around a concept of revenge. Instead they did nothing. Chippy Robinson, Stephen Ryan, Gus Dietmeyer, and other former Egan gangsters offered their loyalty to the new crime syndicate being organized by Frank Wortman and Elmer Dowling, both formerly associates of the Egan Gang during its heyday under Colbeck and Willie Egan. The flashy bravado of this hoodlum was visible in the powerful Wortman Gang. Colbeck’s former associates formed the backbone of the organization and remained fixed on using blatant gangster tactics to achieve their desires. Their high profile served as a beacon to law enforcement members and especially the IRS who devastated the Wortman Gang. Similarly, the highhandedness of John Gotti in the 1980s attracted the attention of the FBI. Both the Gambinos and the Wortmans snubbed their government pursuers and were burned in the end. Wortman hoodlums who had not been influenced by the Egan’s Rats and Dinty Colbeck remained more elusive to prosecution. Instability plagued the Wortman Gang, as it was a huge assortment of poorly organized thugs, much like the Egan’s Rats. It was hard to control and internal rivalries split it apart. The audacity and bravado that haunted Frank Wortman can easily be seen in the Egan’s Rats who shot whiskey bottles while they whizzed around a track at the old Maxwelton Club.
as the egan rats spread there terror, frank hackenthal was a menber who was also sent to levenworth for the staunton robery , as he left levenworth he slowly regain controll of the various activities, he was rewarded for his keeping his mouth shut on the gangs activies.he ran several of the operations for the buster workman gang as well, The years to follow he kept his hands on the controll for the crime syndicate around the St.Louis area, a common safe house and club was the long lake club around the Mitchell area, as he grew older he brought into his networking his nephew Larry Hackethal .
Frank Hackenthal released then became one of the largest club owners in the area, gambling, speakeasys,numbers games racketeering. before his death he turned the family business over to his great nephew Larry "godfather "Hackenthal, who ran the organization for several years , his keen sence of the way things worked made the organizations run smoother.until he gave it up to freind mob boss Jimmy Patrigoni in the early 80s. the young Hackenthal moved to southern illinois, where he resides todate , involving himself in local politics and business. he is said to still have deep rooted mob connections
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retired fbi
retired fbi

January 25th, 2008, 6:53 am #8

The John Gotti of St. Louis

The Rise and Fall of "Dinty" Colbeck

By Walter Fontane


John Gotti is one of the most famous underworld chieftains in United States history. He was young for a mob boss; he was ambitious; and he possessed many of the qualities of a good Godfather. However, this gangster loved the limelight. He dressed in the most expensive suits, rode around in fancy cars, owned a mansion retreat in the mountains, gained the support of celebrities, thumbed his nose triumphantly at law enforcement, and claimed to be a successful plumbing supply salesman. Although many people are quite besmitten by his flamboyancy, law enforcement and mob historians view John Gotti in a different light. These people see, not the epitome of a Mafia don, but an insecure, degenerate gambler who murdered his former boss and various associates under dubious circumstances, and ultimately destroyed the nation’s foremost crime syndicate because of his insecurities and his reliance on young aggressive thugs similar in ideology to himself. By placing people in positions of power based on personal loyalty rather than capability or merit, the Gambino Crime Family fell from the pinnacle of the underworld. Underworld historians can find a John Gotti in most criminal groups in cities all over the world. This is the story about the John Gotti of St. Louis, Missouri: "Dinty" Colbeck.

William Patrick Colbeck was born in 1891 in Kerry Patch, the Irish ghetto of St. Louis. At that time there were no major citywide gangs. A large collection of street gangs terrorized individual neighborhoods. Among these was the Ashley Street Gang, the future Egan’s Rats. The Ashley Street Gang dabbled in robbery and thievery, but their real purpose (like that of most other gangs) was political. From the late 1880s until 1902, a consortium known as either "The Push" or the "Butler Machine" controlled St. Louis politics. It members insured votes by placing gangs of hooligans at the polls to protect supporters and discourage those who supported rival candidates.

Col. Ed Butler ran a smooth operation until 1902 when the new Circuit Attorney, Joseph P. Folk, began a crusade against his former benefactor. Butler and his machine were destroyed. Without the machine, politics in the city became very nasty. There was little rivalry between the Democrats and Republicans. The city was firmly Democratic. The intense rivalry was between various Democrats trying to form a new machine. In 1904 Harry Hawes made a power play to seize control. The other Democrats banded together to defeat him. Desperate for control over the voting stations, Hawes spent a fortune recruiting supporters wherever he could find them. It is possible that an adolescent William Colbeck served as one of Hawes’ Indians, but there is no record to support this. Hawes’ reliance on recruiting juveniles reveals how desperate he was, but his efforts were to little avail; his army of rogues and juveniles failed him and he was defeated.

After the fall of Harry Hawes, city politics fell to a triumvirate: Thomas Kinney, Frank Hussey, and Cornelius McGillcuddy a.k.a. "Cuddy Mack." All three ruled various wards of the city through the House of Delegates and supported by vicious gangs of cutthroats. After a swift gang war and a bloody election, Cuddy Mack lost power to Thomas Kinney. By 1910 Hussey had also been neutralized and Kinney dominated city politics. Now that he was firmly in control over city politics (Kinney had since become one of the state’s most popular senators), Kinney began to distance himself from gang affairs. Leadership over his gang of hooligans was relinquished to Tom Egan. Egan had all of the qualities of the ideal crime boss. He was quiet, powerful, patient, resourceful, connected, popular with the troops and public, imaginative, and often thoughtful about the future. When Tom Kinney died in 1912, Egan assumed control over city politics and crime. Unlike his predecessor, Egan had no qualms about connecting politics and crime. In fact, he almost seemed to flaunt his position. In an interview to a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Egan said that his gang numbered over 400 men. This was more than enough to tip any election in the city during those turbulent days. Undoubtedly William Colbeck was among the 400 gang members. The headquarters for the city’s crime and politics was Egan’s saloon. Whenever there was a gang murder, it was a police ritual to raid the saloon. The gangsters that infested the place were hauled off to jail with much fanfare, only to be quietly released shortly afterwards. One police officer that was bored with the routine simply called them Egan’s Rats when hauling them off to the city jail instead of listing their names and writing, "arrested for suspicion." The moniker stuck to the gang.

St. Louis had been regulating the liquor industry since the 1890s. The number of regulations had increased coincidental with the rise of the Temperance Movement. Expecting Prohibition to become a reality, Tom Egan took steps to insure the tranquility of the St. Louis underworld. Most of the other city gangs made deals with Egan to maintain the peace and remain in his good graces. Even his primary political rival, Edward "Jellyroll" Hogan Jr., agreed to Egan’s peace proposals. The relationship between Egan and Hogan is similar to that between Tom Pendergast and Joe Shannon in Kansas City, albeit on a smaller scale. At the time, Hogan was not a real threat to the Egan political faction, but he would become the archrival of "Dinty" Colbeck. When arrangements had been made to establish gang territories, Egan focused on building his liquor supply base. He sent henchmen to cities and town like East St. Louis, Terre Haute, Cincinnati, Detroit, and New Orleans. These cells were to arrange for liquor to be sent to St. Louis and supply security for the shipments. At the outset of Prohibition, liquor poured into St. Louis, so much so that there was hardly a decrease in the supply of good (safe) booze. Unfortunately, Tom Egan never saw how smoothly his plan operated. The Carlo Gambino of this story died in April 1918.

Tom Egan was probably the most capable gang leader ever produced by St. Louis. With one eye on politics and another on the public, Egan tried to limit gangland activity by using the police to pursue rival, less powerful gangs. The incarceration of lesser gangs made the police look good to both the media and the public, and in return the police often let the Egan’s Rats carry on their activities without molestation. Using these tactics, Egan steadily increased his underworld power and influence. William Colbeck had been privy to the rise of Tom Egan; much like John Gotti had witnessed the rise of Carlo Gambino. However, in both cases, the spectator was a minor player in the underworld. Both would suddenly become powerful crime lords. Colbeck was a man of action and did not favor the slow and steady methodology used by Tommy Egan and Tom Kinney. Whether out of national pride or a thirst for adventure, Colbeck joined the American expeditionary force in World War I and was sent to France, allegedly serving in the Battle of the Marne. Upon his return to St. Louis, he was regarded as a full-fledged member of the gang.

William Egan, brother of the late Tom Egan, took over the gang. Willie Egan kept the booze flowing to the city and generally kept the peace. An upstart Italian gang was causing trouble. Another gang had degenerated into civil war. Although he was efficient and clever, he was not as strong as his brother was. He continued to keep the law enforcement community from interfering with the Egan’s Rats as well as maintained Egan Gang supremacy over the underworld. In an ironic twist of fate, the city’s top crimeboss was also a constable, commissioned to fight crime! The power structure of the gang remained much like that created by Tom Egan. All of the top figures in the gang were primarily involved in the liquor business. However, there was a small faction of the gang that preferred to engage in high-risk crimes such as holdups and robbery. Willie Egan was able to keep the "red hots" under control as long as he was aware of their activities.

The red hots were often the soldiers who were paid by Egan and his lieutenants to protect liquor shipments. In an effort to increase their pocket money, they often resorted to more violent crimes. A similar situation existed within the Hogan Gang. A small Southside gang, the Cuckoos, was more devoted to robbery than bootlegging, but active in both rackets. In consequence, the Egan red hots, the Hogans, and the Cuckoos formed comradery as they united in violent crime. The leaders of the Egan and Hogan Gangs could only frown upon the situation. Among the Egan red hots was William Colbeck. As a cover for his illegal activities, he became a plumber and hence the nickname "Denty" or "Dinty." Colbeck was imaginative and successful. Many young toughs including Thomas Hayes, Frank Wortman, and Peter and "Yonnie" Licavoli looked up to Colbeck as a role model. Despite his influence over the Egan Gang’s chief gunmen and enforcers, Colbeck remained firmly loyal to Willie Egan. In this regard he is unlike his New York counterpart of the 1980s. Colbeck probably was not one of Egan’s lieutenants. Egan’s gang was structured for liquor trafficking and Colbeck was unsuccessful in his liquor dealings. However, Colbeck was a perfect liaison to the troops, and therefore found a place at Egan’s inner circle of consultants.

The history of the St. Louis underworld would have been very different if Willie Egan had not been murdered in 1921. Based on the confessions of Ray Renard, the murder of Willie Egan was engineered by his chief lieutenant, Max Greenberg. According to Renard, Egan blamed Greenberg for swindling him out of $50,000 worth of booze. When it became clear to Egan that Greenberg would not pay him back the money, Egan tried to have Greenberg murdered. The assassination went awry and Greenberg escaped. Greenberg went to Jacob Mackler, "the mouthpiece of the Hogan Gang." In return for an alleged $15,000 three Hogan gunmen, James Hogan, Luke Kennedy, and John Doyle, murdered Egan on November 1, 1921. Colbeck was one of the first Egan gangsters on the scene and supposedly with his last breath, Egan told Colbeck the identities of the gunmen. Like John Gotti in 1985, Colbeck was present when his boss was murdered.

Renard would later blame the Egan’s Rats for most of the gang murders (1920-1924), but he did not blame them for the Egan murder. It is unusual that Colbeck was present at the murder scene. More interesting is that the next gangland victim was George Ruloff. Ruloff was Egan’s shadow and bodyguard. He was at Egan’s side before Colbeck, and underworld gossip ran that Ruloff was killed "so that he couldn’t identify the slayers of Willie Egan." A final mystery added to the murder is that there were substantial rumors that John Doyle was in Ohio prison at the time of the Egan murder. Could Egan have mistaken the identities of his assailants? Were the gunmen really Hogan gangsters? How come the comradery between the lower echelons of the gangs had not revealed the murder plot?

Although circumstantial evidence would suggest that Colbeck had been privy to what would happen to Egan on that fateful night, it is unlikely that Colbeck was behind the murder or even encouraged it. It is more plausible that he heard rumors of the murder plot, but he did not take them seriously. He did pursue a vendetta against the three Hogan gunmen, a vendetta that would become a full-fledged gang war. It is unlikely that he would have been so intent on killing these three men (and later other members of the Hogan Gang) had he been responsible for the murders. Furthermore, if a coup had occurred within the Egan Gang, news of who was responsible would have been circulated in the era of yellow journalism. Even if Colbeck had kept such knowledge to himself, Ray Renard, a member of his inner circle, would have divulged the details in his lengthy confession.

Colbeck assumed control of the Egan’s Rats as an avenging angel. The old Egan lieutenants thought that Colbeck would crush the Hogan Gang hereby allowing them to expand their liquor operations, and generally increase the power and prestige of the gang. John Doyle was murdered in January 1922 and Luke Kennedy was slain shortly afterwards. "Jellyroll" Hogan was furious and scared. He was outgunned by a powerful and expansionistic new rival who had targeted some of his closest gang associates, including his brother, for death. After the Kennedy murder, Hogan reluctantly went to war. The two gangs followed very different strategies. The Egan’s Rats sought revenge, but their bloodlust had subsided slightly when Kennedy was slain. After the Kennedy murder, the Egan Gang pursued the gang war as either a pastime or an immediate retaliation after a Hogan attack. The Hogan Gang sought survival. Their energy was devoted to the defensive. Rarely did they venture from their territory along Cass Avenue to attack their foes.

The war was at its peak in 1922 when the two gangs waged vicious gun battles from speeding automobiles along St. Louis streets. Bystanders were run down and injured more often than the feudists. Several children were hit by cars and public outrage grew with every confrontation. In March 1922 Hogan gunmen ambushed Colbeck in his plumbing shop. They riddled the storefront with bullets and shotgun slugs, but no one was injured. Greatly perturbed, the Egan chief struck back violently. A cavalcade of at least four touring cars full of gunmen slowly drove past the Hogan residence and poured a fusillade into the house. Again, no one was injured.

After the plumbing shop incident, Colbeck moved his gang to the Maxwelton Club and Racetrack on St. Charles Rock Road in the wilderness of St. Louis County. From this location, the gangsters could easily be alerted to the presence of Hogan gangsters. Egan gunmen also practiced their marksmanship at the club. Cans and bottles were placed in the center of the track. Gunmen from the grandstands or in cars racing around the track fired at the targets. The Egan gangsters also terrorized local residents. One time they waylaid a farmer and his family. Evicting them from their car, the gangsters cartwheeled it into a ditch. The farmer called Colbeck at the club and demanded reparations. Colbeck was not only a gangster, but he was also a politician. Previously he had been a committeeman in the fifth ward. At the height of his power, he was the Sargent-in-arms of the St. Louis Democratic Committee. Despite the public outrage at the gang war, he knew it was in his best interests to keep the people happy. Colbeck sent the farmer enough money to purchase two cars.

During the early phases of the war (1922) Colbeck became increasingly distracted from the gang’s bootlegging activities. He began to rely on young gunmen and thieves for advise about gang matters. Although such men were in abundance in the gang, few of them had any lengthy expertise, especially in the alcohol industry. David "Chippy" Robinson, Eddie Linham, and James "Sticky" Hennessey were fearsome gunmen, but poor lieutenants. Slowly the liquor interests of the Egan Gang were usurped by the Italian crimeboss, Vito Giannola. The Egan gangsters outside of St. Louis (in Terre Haute, Cincinnati, Detroit, etc.) operated their own rackets and ceased to obey the Egan hierarchy. The old lieutenants of the era of the Egan Brothers faded away into obscurity. The money that had supplied Colbeck and his vendetta against the Hogan Gang was quickly dwindling. The new gang chief and his lieutenants needed to find a new means by which to support themselves. Once they had to work for a living, the gang war began to subside.

Ray Renard joined the gang in 1920 by being acquainted with one of the red hots, Gus Dietmeyer. Renard demonstrated his skill as a get-away driver for the gang during the glory days under Willie Egan. Renard became increasingly valuable to Colbeck when around 1923 the crimelord had to resort to robbery as the gang’s chief source of money. At first the gangsters held up banks, jewelry stores, and anything that had a large bankroll. Then, almost suddenly, Colbeck learned that company payrolls were sent by cash through the mail. The gang could get $50,000 cash by simply holding up a few postal inspectors.

St. Louis firms often employed policemen to guard their payrolls when transferring from a bank to an institution. These transactions had become speedy, efficient, and routine. It would have been dangerous to try to rob the St. Louis post-office, especially when similar prizes were awaiting the gang in Illinois at far less risk. During the first half of the twentieth century, Illinois possessed some large mining communities. Colbeck and his gang had to learn when the mining companies would deliver their payrolls. This was easily learned by bribing miners or lounging around taverns frequented by miners. Ray Renard, in his confessions, goes into elaborate detail on how the gangsters planned and rehearsed a crime before they went through with it.

It will never be known how many crimes Colbeck and his gang performed. Since the fall of the Egan Gang in 1925, the popular press mentions that the gang collected "at least $2.4 million from robbery;" but in just one crime alone, they escaped with $2.1 million. Renard says that he was privy to crimes that collected over $44 million, but this seems too high. The Egan Gang became increasingly disorganized as Colbeck isolated himself within a core group of gunmen. The vast rings of lesser members and associates including Tommy Hayes, Pete Licavoli, and Frank Wortman, began to associate with the Cuckoos, Italians, and Eastsiders respectively and drifted away from Colbeck and his criminal empire.

Distrust ruptured the Egan’s Rats as it did with the Gambino Crime Family years later. During the years of the Egan-Hogan feud, around twenty-three feudists were slain. Well over half of those were Egan gangsters killed by their own comrades. Some were minor members of no importance. Others were at the top of the gang. In 1922 "Chippy" Robinson and Eddie Linham were vying for the position of the gang’s premier gunman. If we are to believe Ray Renard, Robinson killed Linham so that he could become Colbeck’s chief lieutenant and enforcer: the Sammy Gravano of the Egan’s Rats. It should be noted that although "Chippy" Robinson was regarded by many as the city’s most fearsome gangster after the Linham murder, he was not as bloodthirsty as Sammy the Bull. According to Ray Renard, Colbeck had poor control over his henchmen and used Robinson to kill them for questionable motives.

The beginning of the end for the Egan’s Rats began in south St. Louis with the Cuckoo Gang. Roy Tipton, the leader of the gang, walked a fine line between bootlegging and robbery. Sometime in early 1923 an associate of the Cuckoos, Max Simmonson, approached Tipton with a proposition. As a dealer in stolen bonds, he had learned through his connections that on a given date an armored car carrying over $2 million in negotiable bonds and cash would be traveling between various businesses in downtown St. Louis. Tipton did not believe that the Cuckoos could pull off such a crime by themselves and so Tipton took the information to Colbeck. On April 2, 1923 the gangsters held up the armored car at the intersection of Fourth and Locust in downtown St. Louis.

The gangsters split about $260,000 in cash and awaited Simmonson and other fences to sell the stolen bonds. However, many of the stolen bonds were seized in several police raids. Quickly identifying the Egan Gang with the crime, the police and the postal inspectors began to increase their harassment of the gang. Despite increased police pressure and public outrage at the gang war and blatant crimes, Colbeck was at the height of his power. Unbeknown to Colbeck, the Egan Gang was on the verge of ruin. Father Timothy Dempsey was able to arrange for the two gang chiefs (Colbeck and Hogan) to meet and sign pledges that the gang war was over. These pledges were later published in the newspapers with their photographs. The truce lasted only a few months when James Hogan was spotted by a group of intoxicated Egan red hots. Remembering orders to kill Hogan in revenge for Willie Egan, the red hots opened fire. Hogan escaped unharmed, but William McGee, a member of the state legislature was critically wounded and John P. Sweeney, a lawyer loosely affiliated with the Hogan political faction, was slain. Colbeck shrugged off the murders as "some of the boys got a little hot with whiskey." After the Sweeney murder, the gang’s political protection turned its back on Colbeck causing many Egan gunmen to flee the city.

Tired of continual police harassment and fearful of his associates, Ray Renard, the gang’s wheelman, fled the city to avoid prosecution for robbery. Renard was just one of many Egan gangsters in the growing exodus from the crumbling empire of the Egan’s Rats. Hunted by the authorities, Renard was captured in Los Angles. On the train ride back to St. Louis, Renard was accompanied by Harry Brundidge who managed to elicit a confession from Renard. Renard said that the reason he was breaking the gang code of silence was that he was tired of constantly being broke. "I spent everything I got." He said that he wanted to start a new life. Renard would be sentenced to five years for robbery. He obtained leniency for testifying against his former comrades in the robbery trials.

In November 1924 Colbeck, Robinson, Gus Dietmeyer, Louis Smith, Stephen Ryan, and Oliver Dougherty were convicted of a mail robbery in Staunton, Illinois. Colbeck received fifteen years. It had been a victory for postal inspectors. However, their most notable victory against the underworld would come the following year. In January, a motley assortment of Egan and Cuckoo gangsters was brought to trial for the armored car robbery. Most of the gangsters received a sentence of twenty-five years to run concurrently with their previous convictions. Another batch of Egan gangsters was convicted of a mail robbery in Pocahontas, Illinois in which they made their escape by airplane.

Within the winter of 1924-1925 the core membership of the Egan Gang had collapsed. Colbeck and most of his lieutenants were incarcerated in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. The lone exception was Fred Burke, destined to become infamous as one of the gunmen in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The destruction of the Egan Gang was complete. After the convictions, there were few Egan gangsters who could fill the power vacuum. Most of the Egan gangsters still alive and free were leaving the city or joining other gangs. A small shadow of the gang remained active for a few months, but was quickly crushed by the police.

Even after his incarceration, Colbeck remained a media sensation. In 1926 there were close to twenty Egan gangsters incarcerated in Leavenworth. Colbeck’s lawyers were busy appealing the convictions and made headlines when they found new evidence in favor of their clients. Eventually Colbeck hit on the idea that his henchmen should write confessions absolving him of the crimes. This did not sit well with his followers, and two distinct camps existed among the gangster clique. Hostilities became so bad that several of the combatants (including Colbeck) were transferred to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. Colbeck and the other gangsters convicted with him would make headlines whenever they came up for parole.

Beginning in 1940 those convicted of the armored car robbery were slowly released one by one from prison. All were at liberty by mid-1944. "Dinty" Colbeck was released late in 1940. He immediately resumed his former role as a plumber and opened a shop. He was soon involved in election fraud and petty racketeering. As a former rackets boss, he had little difficulty in finding employment in the underworld. Within a few years, however, he was trying to reassert his control over the underworld. Unfortunately for him, things had radically changed since he was a big shot. The East St. Louis gambling halls, not the St. Louis political clubs, governed the underworld. When Colbeck learned that some of his old henchmen were running some of the gambling clubs, he began to demand a cut of the profits. This did not sit well with any of the established underworld groups operating on the Eastside.

On February 17, 1943 "Dinty" Colbeck was driving on a lonely road outside of East St. Louis when another car pulled along side of him and a man with a machine gun straffed Colbeck’s car. The notorious crime chief was dead. Scores of hoodlums were arrested for questioning. Among these were former Egan gangsters affiliated with a gang that had the support of the Chicago mob. Others arrested were members of the Shelton and Italian gangs. There were no substantial leads and there were no prime suspects. Some historians blame the embryonic Wortman Gang, but they did not gain power until after World War II. The Italians were too engrossed in their own internal power struggles to exert any great control over the Eastside gambling community. The most likely perpetrators were members of the Shelton Gang. The Sheltons were the real masters of the Illinois underworld until Wortman successfully challenged them. The Shelton Gang had the most to loose from Colbeck’s latest activities.

This time, the Egan gangsters did not rally around a concept of revenge. Instead they did nothing. Chippy Robinson, Stephen Ryan, Gus Dietmeyer, and other former Egan gangsters offered their loyalty to the new crime syndicate being organized by Frank Wortman and Elmer Dowling, both formerly associates of the Egan Gang during its heyday under Colbeck and Willie Egan. The flashy bravado of this hoodlum was visible in the powerful Wortman Gang. Colbeck’s former associates formed the backbone of the organization and remained fixed on using blatant gangster tactics to achieve their desires. Their high profile served as a beacon to law enforcement members and especially the IRS who devastated the Wortman Gang. Similarly, the highhandedness of John Gotti in the 1980s attracted the attention of the FBI. Both the Gambinos and the Wortmans snubbed their government pursuers and were burned in the end. Wortman hoodlums who had not been influenced by the Egan’s Rats and Dinty Colbeck remained more elusive to prosecution. Instability plagued the Wortman Gang, as it was a huge assortment of poorly organized thugs, much like the Egan’s Rats. It was hard to control and internal rivalries split it apart. The audacity and bravado that haunted Frank Wortman can easily be seen in the Egan’s Rats who shot whiskey bottles while they whizzed around a track at the old Maxwelton Club.
Frank Hackenthal released then became one of the largest club owners in the area, gambling, speakeasys,numbers games racketeering. before his death he turned the family business over to his great nephew larry "godfather "hackenthal, who ran the organization for several years , his keen sence of the way things worked made the organizations run smoother.until he gave it up to freind mob boss Jimmy Patrigoni in the early 80s. the young Hackenthal moved to southern illinois, where he resides todate , involving himself in local politics and business. he is said to still have deep rooted mob connections
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Yeah Right
Yeah Right

January 26th, 2008, 6:06 am #9

as the egan rats spread there terror, frank hackenthal was a menber who was also sent to levenworth for the staunton robery , as he left levenworth he slowly regain controll of the various activities, he was rewarded for his keeping his mouth shut on the gangs activies.he ran several of the operations for the buster workman gang as well, The years to follow he kept his hands on the controll for the crime syndicate around the St.Louis area, a common safe house and club was the long lake club around the Mitchell area, as he grew older he brought into his networking his nephew Larry Hackethal .
Frank Hackenthal released then became one of the largest club owners in the area, gambling, speakeasys,numbers games racketeering. before his death he turned the family business over to his great nephew Larry "godfather "Hackenthal, who ran the organization for several years , his keen sence of the way things worked made the organizations run smoother.until he gave it up to freind mob boss Jimmy Patrigoni in the early 80s. the young Hackenthal moved to southern illinois, where he resides todate , involving himself in local politics and business. he is said to still have deep rooted mob connections
This FBI guy above is full of crap. Nice little online fiction writing campaign you're into. Making up crap on the computer is fun, isn't it? Fake names. Fame mob bosses. The only thing real there is that there used to be a gang called the Egan's Rats and there used to be a rackets gang run by Buster Wortman, who died in 1968. All the rest is completely made up. Get a life, bud!
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Yeah Right
Yeah Right

January 26th, 2008, 6:12 am #10

Frank Hackenthal released then became one of the largest club owners in the area, gambling, speakeasys,numbers games racketeering. before his death he turned the family business over to his great nephew larry "godfather "hackenthal, who ran the organization for several years , his keen sence of the way things worked made the organizations run smoother.until he gave it up to freind mob boss Jimmy Patrigoni in the early 80s. the young Hackenthal moved to southern illinois, where he resides todate , involving himself in local politics and business. he is said to still have deep rooted mob connections
Again,"FBI" guy, get a life. Your fiction tales aren't even good. I like how you misspelled Wortman as Workman. I know what book you got that out of. Maybe if you did some research on the subject you could give these guys a real story instead of making one up.

The truth is there isn't an Irish Mafia in St. Louis and never has been. Even the Egan's Rats had others in the gang than just Irish gangsters, such as Jews, Italians, etc. There has never been an Irish mob in St. Louis. As for today, there definitely isn't any Irish mob and there really isn't even an Italian mob anymore. The closest thing you'll get to the Mafia in St. Louis today are a few Syrian-Lebanese mobsters left on the South Side.

That's the truth. I don't make up stuff like this so-called FBI guy.
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