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Old 28 January 2014, 06:35 PM
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Fight Was Eliot Ness a Hero or Hollywood-Inspired Myth?

In the pantheon of Chicago crime fighters, nobody has the worldwide reputation of Eliot Ness.

He's the prohibition agent who brought down Al Capone, the principled lawman in a city awash in corruption, the relentless investigator portrayed by actors Robert Stack and Kevin Costner and the legend who is said to have inspired comic-strip detective Dick Tracy.

Nearly six decades after his death, Ness is still so admired that Illinois' two U.S. senators want to name a federal building after him in Washington, D.C.

But a Chicago alderman, citing a recent Capone biography, concludes that Ness had about as much to do with putting the gangster behind bars as Mrs. O'Leary's cow had to do with starting the Great Chicago Fire. And he's trying to convince the senators to drop the whole idea.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/e...-myth-22266421
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Old 28 January 2014, 06:41 PM
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Ed Burke is a major buzz-kill. I suppose his next project is to make them dump the "windy city" nickname because many cities, including New York and Boston are windier?
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Old 29 January 2014, 11:48 PM
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But historically, he's right. Ness did less than nothing to capture Capone -- he was not involved in the prosecution at all and did not gather evidence against him (which was done by bookkeepers, not prohibition agents). Ness got some attention as the head of the Prohibition agents in Chicago (something that probably did not endear him with the general public of the time), but was never credited with taking down Capone. The true hero of that was Frank J. Wilson, who gathered all the evidence.

He was good with PR, and when he turned down a bribe by Capone he announced it to the press and his unit was given the name "The Untouchables." That became the basis for a book published in 1957, which was turned into a TV series. The book was cowritten with Oscar Fraley, who exaggerated things; Hollywood exaggerated further.
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Old 30 January 2014, 12:15 AM
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Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
But historically, he's right. Ness did less than nothing to capture Capone
But the issue wasn't really "capturing" Capone. The police or the feds could have picked up Capone anytime they wanted; the issue was being able to make a case against him that would stick so he could be sent to prison.

Granted, Ness didn't have anything to do with the tax evasion case that eventually put Capone behind bars, but until that case could be made somebody had to try to blunt Capone's illegal operations, which is what Ness did (albeit probably far less successfully than legend would have it).

Saying that Ness had nothing to do with Capone's downfall because he wasn't part of the legal case against Capone is, to me, like saying that Dwight Eisenhower or George Marshall wasn't a war hero because neither of them ever led any troops in battle.
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Old 31 January 2014, 04:43 AM
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But the issue wasn't really "capturing" Capone. The police or the feds could have picked up Capone anytime they wanted; the issue was being able to make a case against him that would stick so he could be sent to prison.
Al Capone, the original Teflon Don.

Okay, I am pretty sure that Capone wasn't a Don, but like a lot of other bad guys, he made being bad seem glamorous. It's not unique to the USA, either; England had the Kray Twins.
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Old 01 February 2014, 03:12 AM
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BGranted, Ness didn't have anything to do with the tax evasion case that eventually put Capone behind bars, but until that case could be made somebody had to try to blunt Capone's illegal operations, which is what Ness did (albeit probably far less successfully than legend would have it).
But Ness's work was barely an annoyance to Capone. He wasn't even the lead agent in the side attempt to cut off Capone's money (something that George Johnson* thought was only a sideline). Johnson assigned Capone to assist the revenue agents who were already going after Capone's beer income.

Ness was a publicity hog, and worked hard to get his name in the papers. He'd call in the press on every raid -- even if they were no more than a mosquito bite to Capone's empire.

And while Ness was getting headlines, other agents were forging connections with the very same reporters, who often had contacts in the mob that proved useful to the investigation.

While Ness did run a bunch of raids, they didn't not seriously cut into Capone's revenue (mobsters were used to suppliers being suddenly forced out of business, if not by Treasury agents, then by other mobsters). He got a lot of publicity out of it in his time.

Ness's own autobiography ran only 21 typewritten pages; it was expanded -- with plenty of pure fiction -- by his collaborator, Oscar Fraley to make him seem singlehandedly responsible for cleaning up Capone and Chicago. Nearly all the events and derring-do attributed to Ness were made up by Fraley.

Ness was no more important to bringing down Capone than a dozen other Federal agents who no one's ever heard of. He just got the PR, while other people -- especially George Johnson -- were doing all the hard work.

*The person truly responsible for convicting Capone; I used the wrong name in my earlier post, since I didn't have access to my sources.
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