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Mike Merlo

Mike Merlo in a 1921 passport application
Born January 4, 1880
Sambuca Zabut, Italy
Died November 8, 1924 (age 44)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Other names Mickele Merlo
Known for labor leader whose death precipitated Chicago's infamous gang wars

Mike Merlo (January 4, 1880 - November 8, 1924) was a Chicago political figure associated with the Johnny Torrio-Al Capone organization. As head of the Unione Siciliana fraternal group, Merlo wielded considerable influence both in local Democratic politics and within Chicago's underworld during the early years of Prohibition. Although Merlo was able to maintain peace among the city's numerous bootlegging gangs, his death marked the beginning of the bootleg wars that would plague Chicago for nearly a decade.

Born Michele Merlo to Calogero and Maria Merlo in Sambuca Zabut, Sicily, at the age of 9 he immigrated with his family from Palermo to New Orleans and then in 1900 to Chicago.[1] In 1902, Merlo's father died of a stroke at age 52, leaving the 22 year old Merlo and his sick mother [2]. Merlo later became involved in the Chicago chapter of Unione Siciliana, a national organization dedicated to assisting Sicilian immigrants. Although Merlo later transformed the Unione into a front for organized crime, he reportedly did have a genuine concern for the welfare of the Sicilian residents of Chicago's Little Italy.

With the passage of Prohibition and the rise of bootlegging in Chicago, Merlo used his position to mediate the frequent territorial disputes between the Chicago bootlegging gangs. These gangs included the predominantly Irish North Side Gang under boss Dion O'Banion, the Sicilian Genna Brothers gang, and the South Side gang, then run by Torrio and Capone.[3] During the early years of Prohibition, Merlo was able to maintain an uneasy peace between these three gangs and the other criminal organizations.

Merlo died of cancer on November 8, 1924. He received one of the most spectacular funerals in Chicago mob history, with $10,000 in floral arrangements and a $5,000 life size wax statue. Merlo's burial was attended by an estimated 10,000 (including Mayor William E. Dever, State Attorney Robert E. Crowe, Chicago police chief Morgan A. Collins, and the Cook County board president and future mayor, Anton J. Cermak, who served as pallbearers) as he was buried at St Clement's Church five days later. Merlo's body was later reinterred at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, in a mausoleum bearing the name 'Michele Merlo'.

Two days after Merlo's death, the Chicago gangs broke into open warfare. Torrio men John Scalise and Albert Anselmi arrived at O'Banion's Chicago flower shop on the pretense of picking up flowers for Merlo's funeral and murdered O'Banion.[4]. The North Side gang then launched a series of bloody counterstrikes against the Gennas and the South Side gang. This gang war would continue until the victory of the South Side Gang (now the Chicago Outfit) at the St Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929.

Merlo's son, John Merlo (1921-1992), became an alderman of Chicago's 44th Ward, and served eight terms in both the House and Senate. A Lakeview branch of the Chicago Public Library was renamed in John Merlo's honor.

In popular culture

In 1987 film The Untouchables, Mike Merlo was portrayed by actor Vince Viverito.


  1. ^ Death Certificate for Michele Merlo, Cook County, State of Illinois, No. 27805
  2. ^ Illinois Statewide Death Index, accessed 23 Sep 2008.
  3. ^ "Part II: Chicago's Unione Siciliana, 1920 - A Decade of Slaughter". Allan May. Retrieved November 26, 2006.  
  4. ^ Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Facts on File, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3

External links

Preceded by
Anthony D'Andrea (c1914-1921)
Chicago Mafia Boss
Succeeded by
Angelo Genna (1924-1925)

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