Wednesday, April 22, 2015

HEAD OF THE VICE TRUST IN CHICAGO - Michael Heitler

It is almost a cliché to talk about mobsters who were Italian Catholics, especially in Chicago, but the truth is that mobsters came from all ethnicities and faiths - even Judaism.  If you Google "Jewish Mobsters" you will get a list of 103 men of Jewish descent.  But even that list does not include a Jewish man who lived in Chicago and was known as "a Prohibition gangster involved in prostitution for the Chicago Outfit," by the name of Michael Heitler.  If you look a the simple tombstone at Gate 115 - Satinover, of Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, you would never guess that lying under it was a man called the "head of the vice trust in Chicago" and "the grand old man of flesh peddling" until his mysterious death in 1931.



Like most notorious mobsters, he even had a nickname: "De Pike."  So let's see what we can "dig up" about Mike "De Pike" Heitler.

Mobsters are not known as the best record keepers and they usually put out a lot of mis-information to confuse the authorities.  The information I report here is, to the best of my knowledge, correct, but I welcome any corrections or additions my readers can provide.

Michael Heitler was born May 9, 1876 in Jablonow, Austria, to George Heitler and Molly, nee Reischer.  George and Molly Heitler had four children:  Coleman "Dutch" Heitler (1873-1946), Michael (1876-1931), Rose (1879-1946), and one more sister known only as Mrs. Fischel Blecher (1882-????).

When Michael Heitler applied for US citizenship, he said that he had come to the US in December of 1889, through the Port of New York. He listed his occupation as "cigar maker."  I was unable to find him in the 1900 US Census, but his petition for citizenship was approved on March 22, 1905.  

Michael Heitler's marital status remains a bit of a mystery.  There is a record showing that Michael Heitler married Rose Yonovitz in Pierce, Washington on April 14, 1906.  There is also a record from Philadelphia showing that a "Mike Hetler" married "Rosie Janowitz" in 1903.  I think this is more likely the correct record for "our" Michael and Rose because their son Charles (1904-1984) was born in Pennsylvania on July 30, 1904.


Rose Yonovitz Heitler

Just to confuse the issue even more, there is a marriage record from Cook County, Illinois from May 11, 1911 for a Michael Heitler and a "Dina Ianowitz," and some sources say that Michael Heitler married a Julie E. Siebel prior to 1930 but both Michael Heitler's death certificate and obituary say that his wife is "Rose."  If he meant to confuse us, he succeeded.  Michael and Rose also had a daughter, Mollie H. Heitler (1908-1984).

Michael Heitler never revealed the date that he started running "houses of ill repute."  Some sources say that he began during the early 1900s based out of West Madison Street.  The first mention of Heitler in the Chicago Tribune is on July 25, 1909 when his name came up as part of an investigation of mobsters who paid bribes to Chicago police officers to "look the other way."   Even at this early date, he had already earned his nickname of "De Pike".


An early photo of Michael Heitler

Heitler's nickname of "De Pike" came from his operation of the cheapest fancy houses in Illinois (he was a piker).  The price for some time with one of De Pike's girls was 50 cents and in his joint at Peoria and West Madison, (Ed: 108 Peoria Street; now 113 S. Peoria Street) he was believed to have been the first to offer sex on an assembly-line system.  De Pike sat by a cash register and had the customers lined up waiting their turn.  As a girl came downstairs with a satisfied customer, the next man in line handed De Pike 50 cents.  He gave the girl a brass check that she could later redeem for 25 cents.  The idea was to keep the traffic moving at high speed.

Here's a photo of Heitler's "Resort" on Peoria Street:



A parking lot occupies that infamous space today.

The 1910 US Census has the Heitler family living at 9146 S. Erie (now S. Baltimore) Avenue in Chicago:


9146 S. Baltimore Avenue, Chicago

Mike was 34, Rose was 27.  Here is another interesting situation:  neither of their children was listed on the census, even though both had been born by 1910.  In fact, their children were living in a boarding house at 2620 Homer Street with Grace Roche.  Perhaps Mike and Rose wanted to hide their children from the authorities, (or from their enemies) because the census reports that as of 1910 Rose had given birth to "0" children, and that "0" of them were still alive.  Mike listed his occupation as "Saloon Keeper," Rose's occupation was "Keeper of a Rooming House."  Mike's native language was German, Rose's was Yiddish.

By 1911, Mike "De Pike" Heitler had become a leading crime figure and a top lieutenant to Chicago racketeer Jacob "Mont" Tennes (subject of a future article in this blog), later driving rival Jack Zuta out of business, with then ally Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik (How come Jack Zuta didn't have a nickname???).


Michael Heitler

Michael Heitler operated with relative freedom from the law through the teens, and, for the most part, his bribes were generally limited to no more than passing out some brass checks for "freebies" to the police. He did have to take a few busts and convictions for white slavery now and then, but the punishments were of little consequence.

One of Heitler's mugshots:


A mugshot of Michael Heitler

However, when Johnny Torrio and then Al Capone took over control of the entire prostitution racket in Chicagoland, Heitler lost his influence with the police.

Here's a photo of Heitler on January 22, 1917 during one of his many trips to Court:



His choice was either to become an employee on Al Capone's payroll, or simply be declared "out." Heitler decided to stay in, but his situation continued to deteriorate through the 1920s.  Capone relied more and more on Harry Guzik to look after his prostitution affairs, and Heitler felt slighted over  the lack of respect for a man of his years in the field.

Itching for revenge, Heitler began "ratting" on the mob and many of Capone's affairs. He informed Judge John H. Lyle about the doings in a Capone resort called the Four Deuces.  Judge Lyle said that Heitler had told him: "They snatch guys they want information from and taken them to the cellar. They're tortured until they talk.  Then they're rubbed out. The bodies are hauled through a tunnel into a trap door opening in the back of the building.  Capone and his boys put the bodies in cars and then they're dumped out on a country road, or maybe in a clay hole or rock quarry."

Heitler was not being imprudent informing Judge Lyle at other times. He wrote an anonymous letter to the state attorney's office, outlining many facets of the Capone brothel operations.  Heitler's anger had clearly got the best of him if he believed that affairs in the state attorney's office were not already known by Capone.  Within a short time, Capone ordered Heitler to appear before him at his office in the Lexington Hotel. When he entered Capone's room, Heitler saw the letter he had sent the state's attorney on Capone's desk.  Capone correctly deduced that the information in it could only have come from Heitler.  Capone told him, "You're through."

Undoubtedly Heitler was marked right then for execution, but a certain etiquette was followed by the mob when they received information from their own informers inside official agencies. These sources generally emphasized they would not be a party to homicide, and thus it was not done — at least not for a while.

Heitler might even have lasted longer than he did had he not continued his troublesome letter writing. In one, he named eight Capone figures as having been involved in the plot to murder Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle.  Heitler gave a copy of that letter to his daughter for safe keeping. Unfortunately, he passed another copy to the wrong parties. At the end of April, 1931 Michael Heitler disappeared.  On April 30, 1931, two boys found a charred torso in the smoldering wreckage of a house in a Chicago suburb.  Was it Heitler?

It turns out that the circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Heitler were as strange and unusual as the rest of his life.  Here's the way the Chicago Daily Tribune told the story on May 2, 1931:


RAID GANGDOM FOR 'SLAYERS' OF MIKE HEITLER

With Al Capone, gangland chief, as the object of their search, armed detectives from the state's attorney's office investigating the supposed murder of Mike (De Pike) Heitler, brothel keeper, early this morning raided the Lexington Hotel at Michigan avenue and 22nd street, used frequently as Capone headquarters.

Capone was not present when the raid was made, but four of his followers were seized and taken to the state's attorney's office for questioning by Pat Roche, chief investigator.  The sensational raid, in which at least one door was smashed in by the police, was one of a series ordered by Roche.  Other raids were made on the Western hotel, Capone's Cicero headquarters, and on several cabarets in an effort to find known hoodlums and gangsters.  No gangsters were found in the Western.

"We will raid everywhere until we drive out every hoodlum from Chicago," said Investigator Roche this morning.  "This is just part of our campaign to clean up the city.  The hoodlum is getting out.  That means Capone, too, and we are now looking for him."


Find Guns in Room.

Those seized in the Lexington hotel raid are Louis Russo, brother of "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn; Phil Andrea, Fred Rossi, and Tony Capezio.  They were found in room 430.  When they failed to respond to the raps of the officers, two of the policemen smashed in the door with axes.  Search of the room revealed two new automatic pistols.

The prisoners were taken to the state's attorney's office and locked in separate rooms.  In another room officers were questioning "Dago Lawrence" Mangano, owner of a gambling house in South Halsted street.  He was seized in his home at 5529 Flournoy street.

The police also raided resorts in the area in which Heitler operated.  Four men - Tony Accardo, Lawrence Mangano, cousin of "Dago Lawrence" Mangano; Benjamin Grivane, and Don Grossman, all hoodlums - were seized in the Club Floridian,  674 West Madison street, of which West Side Frankie Pope is said to be a part owner.

Roche and the other officers declined to disclose what they learned, but it was indicated that "some one had talked," and that the raids and the effort to apprehend Capone were the result of the "talking."  Roche said it was known that there had been trouble between Mangano and Heitler.


Satisfied Heitler Was Slain.

The supposed murder of Heitler which is prompting the new war of gangsters and hoodlums, lies in the finding of a charred body in the smoldering ruins of an ice house on the estate of Spencer Otis, near Barrington.  The body was found Thursday.  Roche and the others are satisfied the victim was Heitler.  He seized documents in the Heitler home which were believed to contain evidence of politico criminal alliances.

The papers, it is believed, may disclose a murder motive.  Heitler was believed in the underworld to have been acting as a "stool pigeon" for various persons and to have been shaking down west side resorts by virtue of this.  Another theory presented to the police is that Heitler aroused the wrath of James Balcastro called by police the head of the bombers, and Mangano, in attempting to set himself up as a gang leader.

The torso was found early Thursday after the ice house had been seen in flames by Mrs. Hattie Gannusch, 60 years old, who lives in the neighborhood.  She called the police and reported having seen three men, whom she believed to be gangsters, in the vicinity the afternoon before the fire. Police found a bridge of teeth with two crowns and a false tooth near the body, which was charred so as to preclude positive identification.

Yesterday morning Attorney Ben Cohen appeared before Judge John Prystalski in the Criminal court to ask a continuance of a perjury charge against Heitler.  He said his client had been missing since Wednesday.  A vagrancy charge was continued of Wednesday in the Municipal court on the same grounds.

Find Car Used by Heitler.

At the same time Chief of Police Willias Mac Clay of Itasca, 15 miles from Barrington, reported the finding of a partly burned car, which Heitler had borrowed from Miss Emily Mulcher, for whom he was reported to have maintained a home in Berwyn for 23 years.  A gun with six discharged cartridges was found in the rear seat of the car.  The cartridges are believed to have been exploded by the heat of flames.

Roche, Cohen, and Coleman (Dutch) Heitler, brother of "Mike De Pike," viewed the torso as Coroner Bundesen began a search for Heitler's dentist in an effort to identify his teeth.  Coleman Heitler said he was convinced that the body was that of his brother.  The weight of the body was estimated at 200 pounds and the height at 5 feet 8 inches - approximately the build of Heitler.


Brother is Questioned.

Roche returned to his office, where he questioned the brother, who declared Heitler had been threatened recently.  Coleman Heitler's wife was also questioned, but she denied that she knew "Mike De Pike."

Miss Mulcher put Roche on the track of the records, which were seized in the Heitler home at 2020 Humboldt boulevard.  She also assisted in the efforts at identification by explaining that Heitler had two plates of false teeth, which he obtained 18 years ago.  Roche believed he might also have had a bridge.


Wife's Story Puzzling.

A puzzling circumstance in the investigation was the declaration of Heitler's wife that she had seen him yesterday morning.  Mrs. Heitler was traced by Roche from the Humboldt boulevard home to an apartment at 1901 Kimball avenue.  She said Heitler had driven away from home at 9 o' clock in the morning but had not told her where he was going.

The body was buried yesterday afternoon in the Evergreen Cemetery by Ray Willmering, a mortician of Barrington.  There was no ritual, and no mourners were present to watch the $15 coffin lowered into a grave.  Late last night Coleman Heitler asked that it be exhumed so that it might be given a better burial.   




As it mentions in the article above, Michael Heitler was originally buried in a simple grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park, Illinois.   On June 7, 1931, Michael Heitler's family had his body disinterred from its grave in Evergreen Cemetery and had it re-interred at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois at Gate #115 - Satinover:



Here's his death notice from the Tribune:



So now you know at least part of the story of Mike "De Pike" Heitler.  It is probably safe to say that no one knows the whole story.


Michael Heitler

May he rest in peace.

Note:  All of the vintage photos were provided by Heitler relative Sharon Johnson who said of her infamous cousin, "(the family) rarely spoke of him because of his taboo lifestyle, even though it was told that he was the one who paid for most of his relatives to come to the United States." Thanks to Sharon for the photos and the information.

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