14 Historical Shots Of Mobster Life In The 1920s


Organized crime has a long history in the major cities of the United States. Over the last century, mafia and mob bosses have maintained their power through violence, extortion, and access to corrupt public officials.

The roots of organized crime date back to the Prohibition era of the United States from 1920 to 1933. Bootleggers operated distilleries and distributed their products while evading law enforcement. After the repeal of Prohibition with the 18th Amendment, organized crime activity focused on bank robberies and theft.

Take a look at these photos that profile infamous mobsters, historical moments, and more. Organized crime isn’t a thing of the past, either; read through to learn more about what the FBI does to combat today’s broad, complex groups.


14. Putting A Bulletproof Shield To The Test

001-14-putting-a-bulletproof-shield-to-the-t-9d177c38803321dfdfa3663fed0abc2cElliott Wisbrod invented the bulletproof shield pictured here. In this photograph, Wisbrod holds up the metal shield as Lieutenants Frank Ballou and Samuel Peterson fire shots.

Wisbrod lived under multiple aliases throughout his lifetime. He conducted business in Chicago as Louis Wisbrod, selling firearms and equipment to both police officers and criminals.

13. The Aftermath Of A Massive Prison Riot

002-13-the-aftermath-of-a-massive-prison-rio-40c85987ce18b13b44eb8add51b1399cIn this photo, state highway policemen stand after a riot at Stateville Prison in Illinois in March 1931. Over 1,500 convicts were part of the uproar, destroying prison property and setting several buildings on fire. The New York Times estimated damages of up to $500,000.

Three inmates were shot and one was killed with a bullet to the abdomen.

12. Bodies Exhumed As Evidence For Murder Trial

003-12-bodies-exhumed-as-evidence-for-murder-dfe5bd53af88cc861a2915b934437404Ottilie “Tillie” Klimek, a Polish American serial killer in Chicago, is thought to have killed up to 20 victims.


Husbands, neighbors, and even animals around Klimek were found to have died by arsenic poisoning. In her 1923 trial, the bodies of her husbands and friends were exhumed and tested positive for lethal doses of arsenic.

Klimek had taken out life insurance policies on her husbands and profited greatly after their deaths.

11. Law Enforcement Officials Look Over Confiscated Booze

004-11-law-enforcement-officials-look-over-c-d3d92c8b4d47aba748b2c94ab0079f75This photo, taken around April 1925, shows Captain A.C. Townsend, U.S. Marshal Palmer Anderson, Deputy U.S. Marshal A.J. Jostock, and a laborer. The men are reviewing seized liquor at a federal warehouse.


Over the years of Prohibition, corrupt officials were known to accept bribes, escort liquor deliveries, and protect smugglers.

10. “Scarface” Al Capone Relaxing On His Yacht

005-10-scarface-al-capone-relaxing-on-his-ya-61a0626cd75340f7c25e50ec6b575ad8Pictured is one of the most famous mobsters in history, Al Capone. He spent seven years operating the Chicago Outfit and was eventually dubbed “Public Enemy No. 1.”

Here, Capone is fishing onboard his yacht in Florida. This photo was taken shortly after he was released from prison, where he served a one-year sentence for carrying a concealed weapon.

9. Investigators Gather Evidence At Crime Scene

006-9-investigators-gather-evidence-at-crime-c513e69870254b35208fff2183b91807In this undated photo, police officers examine a crime scene.

Forensic capabilities at the time allowed for gunpowder and ballistics testing, but not much in the way of toxicology. The four basic blood types were discovered in 1901 by scientist Karl Landsteiner. It wasn’t until 1923 that blood typing was used as a law enforcement tool.

8. Gambler George McManus Acquitted On Murder Charges

007-8-gambler-george-mcmanus-acquitted-on-mu-99e616dee937bb9242ff8124e1e295cfPictured here is a gambler named George McManus, who was charged with the November 1928 murder of another gambler named Arnold Rothstein. McManus served as the “house man,” responsible for running the game and collecting all debts, and Rothstein owed over $475,000.

In the end, the witnesses gave very unreliable testimonies. McManus was acquitted for lack of evidence.

7. Girl Bandits Caught After Looting Homes

008-7-girl-bandits-caught-after-looting-home-1d7dca1eeb1cdbca8ea998a77ccd112ePictured here are “girl bandits” Jean Buttick, 15, and Anna Varich, 16. They were arrested while looting a house in March 1927.


Buttick and Varich were caught with a pistol and nearly $2,000 worth of stolen goods in one home alone. Police believed that nearly a dozen local burglaries could be traced back to the girls.

The law enforcement officials pictured are Charles Goss, Bert Harlem, and Sgt. William H. Doyle.

6. Al Capone On Trial

009-6-al-capone-on-trial-b1704a0eb24b6069d918a8b199fa8257Pictured is “Scarface” Al Capone on trial.


Capone was convicted of tax evasion in November 1931. He was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison and served time at Alcatraz. He spent the last year of his sentence in the prison hospital, suffering from complications due to syphilis and gonorrhea.

He died in January 1947 and is buried at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

5. Sister Identifies Brother’s Body In Murder Case

010-5-sister-identifies-brother-s-body-in-mu-7cf93414c3c68cc4073d4d744ad617aePictured in this December 1947 photo is Estelle Cantoumanos identifying the body of her brother, John Kuesis, 33.

Kuesis was killed by Thomas Daley, 42, James Morelli, 20, and Lowell Fentress, 19.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Kuesis’ death was allegedly connected to his informing the police of details involving a robbery.

4. Infamous Gangster “Diamond Joe” Esposito Greets Child

011-4-infamous-gangster-diamond-joe-esposito-a99c49ad2dcd88a21a5340f9a6d52a0eIn this 1925 photo, Joe Esposito shakes hands with a child in Chicago.

Joe Esposito was a Chicago politician involved in bootlegging, extortion, and prostitution, among other criminal activities. He provided bootlegging gangs in Little Italy with political protection.

Esposito later became a rival of Al Capone. In March 1928, Esposito was killed on his front steps in a drive-by shooting.

3. Tommy Guns Used In The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

012-3-tommy-guns-used-in-the-st-valentine-s-52e4ef26dd061f38f48f11138a981227The infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre took place on February 14, 1929. It’s when seven members of the North Side Irish gang were murdered as the result of a struggle with the South Side Italian gang, led by Al Capone.

Both groups wanted to take hold of organized crime in Chicago, and the shootout was a result of territory disputes and business interference.

The Valentine’s Massacre set off a public outcry, and this created problems for all of the city’s mob bosses.

2. John Dillinger, Notorious Depression-era Outlaw

013-2-john-dillinger-notorious-depression-er-26e54d8daa7ddfc3bd22b12e42e48680John Dillinger operated with a group called the Terror Gang and was accused of robbing 24 banks and four police stations, among other activities. He escaped from jail twice and lived as the most notorious of 1930s gangsters.

He was shot and killed by special agents in July 1934 after evading police across four states for nearly a year. Dillinger’s body was available for public display at the Cook County morgue. Nearly 15,000 people viewed his corpse.

1. Bookie Found Shot To Death In Car

014-1-bookie-found-shot-to-death-in-car-ce200a45b9049d6fab12221b458a2972In this August 1940 photo, Carroll Corcoran, 35, is seen shot and killed in his car. He was involved in the gambling scene in Chicago’s south side. Corcoran lived with his wife and two daughters. He had worked as a brick mason until just three years before his death. That’s when he took over his late brother-in-law’s affiliations with the gambling world, which ultimately led to his slaying.

The FBI states that organized crime is still a major threat to American society today. Various groups are identified on FBI.gov, and these threats “have a presence in the U.S. or are targeting our citizens from afar—using the Internet and other technologies of our global age.”

In 2015, the FBI noted a 3.9 percent increase in the estimated number of violent crimes and a 2.6 percent decrease in the estimated number of property crimes when compared to 2014 data.

This may seem alarming, but not when looking back further—the 2015 violent crime total was 0.7 percent lower than the 2011 level and 16.5 percent below the 2006 level.