Prohibition and the Untouchables (Part 3)
Updated: Jan 11
This will conclude the three-part blog that began with Prohibition and continued with Capone and the mobs. This last part will cover Elliot Ness and the Untouchables.
When Herbert Hoover took office in 1929, becoming our 31st President, he charged Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, with taking down Alphonse Capone. The attack was mounted on two fronts. While the Treasury's Bureau of Internal Revenue examined Capone's financial records for ways to prosecute him on tax evasion, a second special unit of the Bureau of Prohibition, a branch of the Department of the Treasury (later Department of Justice), was formed under Eliot Ness to show law enforcement was still active against Capone, and to disrupt his sources of income.
Ness' group of nine U.S. federal law-enforcement agents immediately set out raiding stills and breweries. By the end of six months, Ness claimed to have siezed over one million dollars worth of breweries (today, the equivalent would be 13,600,000). Their success was said to be due to mainly by an extensive wire-tapping operation. They were a mix of cultures and skills: Irish, Italian, Native American, former athletes, former soldiers, lawyers, expert drivers, wire-tapping experts, analysts, boxers, etc. all made up the team. Eventually, the team would add an additional two to the team.
The name "Untouchables" came about, not because Ness and his men couldn't be attacked, but due to an attempt by Capone to bribe Ness's agents. Ness leaked these attempts to the media and soon after a Chicago newspaper ran the name in 1931. The only member to have been killed in action was Frank Basile. A former convict, Basile had been reformed and befriended by Ness. He was present for many of the brewery raids, was a driver for the group, and a sometime assistant. though technically was not an agent. Frank Basile's body was discovered in a ditch in Chicago Heights on December 11, 1928. Examination proved he had been beaten and shot.
After Capone was taken down, The Untouchables were disbanded. Eliot Ness was promoted to Chief Investigator of the Prohibition Bureau for Chicago. His life after Capone was not a fairytale ending though. He transferred to Cleveland, got divorced and any headway he had made in his position there withered away. He would run for Mayor of Cleveland in 1947 unsuccessfully, get married two more times, openly spent time at bars, telling of past exploits while heavily drinking, eventually collapsing of a major heart attack in his home in Pennsylvania May 16, 1957. he was 54 at the time of his death.