Saturday, 25 October 2014

Egan`s Rats

The criminal history of the United States is littered with hundreds, if not thousands of gangs that exerted control over cities, towns and even entire states.  Some are well known such as the Purple Gang & The Five Pointers.  Another gang that had extensive control over a city, was Egan's Rats.  Their powerbase was St Louis in Missouri, though that did not stop wreaking havoc throughout the state.  Their reign lasted for some 35 years, and saw gangland violence and murder that rivalled New York and Chicago.

    The beginnings of the gang go back to 1890 and the leadership of Tom Kinney and Tom Egan.  The members of the gang were mainly Irish American, but they did have Italian American and Jewish members.  The most notable was Max Greenberg.  They started out as political strong arm men for Democratic candidates.  They used intimidation to persuade people how to vote or not at all.  But this was not all.  They were pickpockets, burglars, they stole from the railroad companies.  They worked out of the Kerry Patch waterfront, whilst Kinney got involved in politics, going to the Missouri House of Delegates as representative of the Fourth Ward, then later, on to the State Senate.  By 1904, they were the powerfulest gang in St Louis.  They included murder in their resume`, by killing rival gangster Fred Mohrle in June 1909, whilst he was awaiting trial for the murder of Rat Sam Young.  Retribution came early the next year in February 1910 when John Barry was shot dead in a courtroom by Henry Diederichsen.

    1916 saw an all out war with the Bottoms Gang.  What made the war worse, was that Harry Dunn, one of the Rats, had defected to the rival mob, over dissatisfaction over Tom Egan refusing to support Dunn`s brother whilst he was incarcerated.  There were numerous killings on both sides.  Dunn was murdered in September 1916 in the Typo Press club by Rats Walter Costello and Frank Newman.  1920 saw the end of Tom Egan, courtesy not of a bullet but Bright`s Disease.  His younger brother Willie took over, but could not control the younger members.  Egan wanted to concentrate on bootlegging but others wanted action, in the form of armed robberies, and they rampaged through the state, robbing banks and armoured vehicles.  But then came another major defection; Max Greenberg.  He joined up with the rival Hogan mob, and in October 1921, Willie Egan met his end outside his bar on Franklin Avenue, in a hail of bullets. There was no doubt which mob was responsible.

    Now Dink Colbeck took reins of the Rats and instigated a shooting spree throughout the city.  Even innocent bystanders were not immune.  But there was much pressure from the public on authorities to act, resulting in the Rats making peace with the Hogan mob.  Now there was no drive by shootings going off everywhere, Colbeck had his men committing robberies and murders throughout Missouri.  With all this mayhem, a chink in the armour was showing, in the shape of Rat Ray Renard.  He feared being killed so he decided to roll over and tell all to cops.  This resulted in nine of the gang, including Colbeck, jailed for a mail robbery at Staunton, Illinois.  It sparked the end of the gang.

    Some of those not taken down, moved about.  Fred Burke went to Chicago and was alleged to be part of the St Valentine`s Day Massacre hit team.  Leo Vincent Brothers was convicted and jailed for the June 1930 murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle.  Pete & Tom Licavoli went to Detroit and formed the River Gang, specialising in bootlegging in that city and in Toledo, Ohio.  When the nine Rats were released from jail, their position of power was long gone, so they ended up working for a mob boss named Frank Wortman.  Colbeck was shot dead in a street on February 17th 1943.