08 Jan The College Kidnapers that Took on Capone
The ingenuity of college students should never be underestimated. Especially college students desperate for booze, attention, and cash. It’s doubtful that the Chicago PD was overly enthusiastic about searching for the College Kidnapers in the early 1930’s, but by 1934, they would be some of the most wanted men in an already crime-riddled city.
Theodore “Handsome Jack” Klutas was the purported leader of a mob that gave up on bootlegging to pursue higher end crimes with bigger payouts. Klutas formed a small group of fellow college students or former college students and created the “College Kidnapers,” perhaps the worst named gang in Chicago. Hopefully Klutas wasn’t majoring in advertising. Klutas’s idea was simple. To make a buck in a bootlegging world, the College Kidnapers would kidnap mobsters, mostly those associated with Capone’s gang, and worth more in ransom. The mobsters were then ransomed back to their families, largely unscathed but probably pretty fucking embarrassed. These were the elite of the elite in Chicago’s mobster hey-day and they were being tricked by a bunch of preppy, and handsome, twenty-something’s that should have been studying for final exams and eating shitty dorm food.
The group was suspected to be closely connected to John Dillinger and it was Dillinger that helped to break Klutas and a few associates out of an Indiana prison.
Like all college kids, though, Klutas thought he was smarter than he actually was and played a little fast and loose with reality. First, he kidnapped the same mobster twice. In 1931, the wife of James Hackett paid the $75,000 ransom for his return. When he was kidnapped again in 1933 by the same crew, though, he had already declared bankruptcy and had to be returned without a ransom. Turns out no one wanted the broke mobster.
The second mistake was that the group too often picked on Capone’s guys. That they weren’t just murdered in broad daylight on the streets was a bizarre sort of gift from Capone. Instead, maybe impressed by the young guys’ ingenuity, Capone delivered a warning to one of Klutas’s guys, Babe Jones. Capone warned Jones to keep the College Kidnapers away from his guys. In response, Klutas thought it would make more sense to assassinate Jones for being too weak to stand up to Capone. Seriously? Does that make you weak or the smartest guy in Cook County? Turns out, though, it’s hard to assassinate your closest guy because he knows when he sees two men walking towards him that he needs to make a break for it.
So when Jones takes off running through the streets of Chicago, where could he go? He’s afraid of Capone and he’s afraid of his own gang so he heads to the safest place in the City—the Chicago Police Department. In an attempt to save himself, Jones gives up the hideouts often used by the Kidnapers. When the police raided the hangouts, presumably immediately, most members surrendered. Klutas, though, still convinced he’s the smartest, meanest, baddest man in all of Chicago goes down in a hail of police gunfire.
Despite the way it ends, you have to kind of respect the Robinhood mentality of the College Kidnapers. If you’re only kidnapping notorious gangsters that are going to pay ransom with dirty money, how bad is your crime?
Written by Amy Williams