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Records and Archives

"Gone But Not Forgotten" – Gangster Florist "Dion" O'Banion

Estate of  Dean C. O'Banion
 Probate Court #101951 (1924)

Dion O'Banion's family moved from Aurora, Illinois to Chicago when he was a little child, settling in the  near north side neighborhood of Holy Name Cathedral.  The fervent youth sang in the choir and served at the altar, but this positive influence did not offset the lure of pocket picking, jackrolling, and newspaper slugging in the surrounding slums which were accurately known as "Little Hell."  So successful was O'Banion as a juvenile delinquent that he started his own gang and graduated to lucrative burglaries, highway robbery, and safecracking.  When Prohibition arrived in 1920, O'Banion had added ward heeling to his repertoire.  His political clout, rooted in the Irish vote of the old 42nd and 43rd Wards, shielded him from prison for the rest of his life.

O'Banion was also co-owner of Schofield's Flower Shop at 738 N. State, across from Holy Name Cathedral, and derived much enjoyment from furnishing floral arrangements to those whose deceased relatives had departed from the world of organized crime.  Schofield's was the florist of choice for Chicagoland's gangsters, and O'Banion added his profits to his underworld earnings.   He was very generous with his wealth, taking food and other necessities to slum neighbors, and helping those who needed help.  He cared for his aged father, raised a fine monument on his mother's grave, and sent money to his married sister in Kansas.

The Irish, Italian, and other ethnic gangs struggled for control of Chicago's bootleg market.  In May 1924 O'Banion  doublecrossed an Italian-American gang in the "Sieben Brewery" incident.  On November 10 he received three visitors to his flower shop and prepared to handle their order. Suddenly six gunshots blasted, and O'Banion lay dead among his blooms as the perpetrators escaped.  The funeral attracted thousands of mourners, including elected officials, and the mile-long procession received a police escort.  O'Banion was buried in unconsecrated ground at Mt. Carmel Cemetery as his widow Viola and 15,000 mourners watched (the grave was later moved to its present spot).

The Archives has the probate case of O'Banion's estate, as well as those of some other gangsters, but not Al Capone's.  The O'Banion file includes the petition for letters of administration [Page
1, 2], listing the known heirs.  The file also contains proof of heirship and table of heirship.  There is a appraisement of the assets  [Page 1, 2, 3], an inventory  [Page 1, 2] the final account, and the final report.  A stack of vouchers for payment of claims includes the Sbarbaro Funeral Home bill [Page 1, 2] for the casket and arrangements.  O'Banion died intestate, leaving no will.  However, his probate file contains the documents typical of most probate cases.  To view this file, contact the Archives at 312-603-6601.

For a lively and detailed account of O'Banion and his fellow gangsters, read Capone:  The Life and World of Al Capone by John Kobler  (New York:  Da Capo Press, 1971, 1992).  A more scholarly overview of organized crime is John Landesco's Organized Crime in Chicago, Part III, Illinois Crime Survey:  1929   (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1929).

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