Code of Silence

Code of Silence

Chicago’s Code of Silence in the Windy City

By now we all know that the “wind” that gave Chicago its most famous nickname was really just the boastful ways of the city’s politicians.  So that the Windy City had one of the most notorious decades of conspiratorial silence is a strange conundrum.

If you had been living in Chicago in the 1920’s, you might have been surprised at how willing you were to see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil.  Would you have been more afraid of the Chicago Police Department and the federal Prohibition agents that asked you for information about a murder you witnessed, or of snitching on one of Chicago’s ruling gang bosses?  If it sounds like that’s comparing apples to oranges, you might be surprised at how similar the two organizations actually might have been.

On the one hand, you had a rapidly growing and expanding force that protected those loyal to it and that amassed millions of dollars without collecting any tax revenue.  This group protected those not-so-law abiding citizens that wanted nothing more than a drink or to listen to jazz in the backroom of a saloon or speakeasy.  The group was violent, yes, but rarely engaged in random violence and even reportedly paid the medical bills of those unfortunate, but innocent bystanders that were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This group was also incredibly efficient at enacting its version of justice.  No judge and jury required, just simple execution.  Of primary importance to this group was a steadfast, very quiet loyalty.

On the other hand, you had a badly outnumbered group of enforcers that had far less revenue, far less organization, and occasionally, were far less loyal to their own team.  Between the years 1926 and 1927, this group solved not one homicide perpetrated by the other group, despite multiple tries.  Spoiler alert—this is the Chicago PD and this is what they were up against during the 1920’s.  In fact, the Chicago PD even failed to solve the murder of one of its own when assistant state’s attorney William McSwiggin was gunned down outside of a Capone establishment called the Pony Inn. But how great is the surname McSwiggin during Prohibition?

Was the murder of McSwiggin a homicide, gang hit, or unfortunate case of an innocent bystander?  No one knows, because despite six grand jury attempts there was not one single indictment.

It’s shocking in hindsight how quickly and efficiently gangs could outrun the Chicago PD, but to understand it, you have to strip away everything you know about law enforcement.  There are no security cameras on city street corners. No online databases, no forensics, no cell phone records to subpoena and no witness is anywhere near as afraid of you as they are of the bad guys.  Meanwhile, the bad guys have cash—so much cash.  They have the saloons, the gambling houses, and control every vice the government has prohibited.

But, in 2019, we don’t have to decide.  We can have a drink in those notorious speakeasies in the comfort of this tour without risking a run in with either the federal Prohibition agents or Capone.  Cheers to not having to make that impossible 1920-something decision!

Enjoy this article written by The Flight Network

Written by Amy Williams

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