A Wrongful Conviction, A Story in Several Parts

Part 2: Who Was Roger Touhy?

Perhaps “What was Roger Touhy?” would be a better question to start with. Everyone agreed that he was a very successful bootlegger during Prohibition, a bootlegger with a lucrative side business in slot machines that he placed in various suburban roadhouses. He also had some ties to some labor unions in Chicago.

But past that, there was little consensus. Touhy insisted that was all he was; that and a good family man, though he admitted one of his brothers was a criminal. He also admitted that he and a partner, Matt Kolb manufactured and sold beer, both the low alcohol beer that was legal during Prohibition and “real” beer, which he sold to road houses and bars, and gave away as gifts to politicians and police officers. And he admitted that he handled slot machines, which. as he put t, “were against the law, technically, but they stood openly and invitingly in practically every roadhouse, drug store, saloon, gas station and grocery in outlying Cook County. The only place you wouldn’t find them were in churches, schools, hospitals, post offices, and public libraries.” (Touhy, 68). Slot machines were very lucrative; Touhy and his partner did very well for themselves in the 1920s.

While Chicago papers knew that Matt Kolb was a bootlegger, they did not apparently associate Roger Touhy with his business during Progibition. When Kolb was killed, shot gangland-style in a roadhouse inn the Chicago suburb Morton Grove roadhouse in 1931, reports were quick to tie Kolb to various local gangs, but apparently did not connect him to Touhy until year after Kolb died.

By that point in 1932, Chicago newpapers had begun to refer to the “Roger Touhy gang,” or the “Touhy beer gang,” and claimed Roger Touhy and perhaps one of his brothers, ran it. Those accounts reported Touhy and his gang were waging war on other gangs to try to control “beer and booze traffic in suburbs north of Chicago.

Whether Touhy’s reputation as a gangster was merited or not, in 1932 he had come to the attention of the press and the police. Then, in June 1933 (six months before Prohibition came to an end), two seemingly unrelated things happened. First, William Hamm (of Hamm’s brewing) was kidnapped a little after noon on June 15 as he walked to his house from his brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota. Then, sometime in the late evening, early morning hours of June 30-July 1, 1933, a man named Jacob “Jake the Barber” Factor was apparently kidnapped from a roadhouse near Morton Grove.



Writer. Formerly civil rights attorney. Currently professor. Working on new book about mental disability and criminal law in the 20th century.

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