Location: James Street
Before the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Prohibition put him on the map, Al Capone received his bachelor’s degree in gangsternomics courtesy of Johnny “The Fox” Torrio, a future mafia chieftan who got his start as the leader of the James Street Gang.
A dormouse of a man with button eyes and a nose like a thimble, Torrio could only be described as one of the finest criminal mastermind’s of the 20th century, and it all started on James Street, a tiny sliver of a street that is one of the last remaining vestiges of the old Corlear’s Hook neighborhood.
Life in crime came early for Torrio. As a boy he worked in his stepfather’s illegal moonshine den at 86 James Street. In 1904, the urchin started promoting boxing matches, where he met the bantamweight fighter and gangland kingpin, Paul Kelly. Kelly, a suave racketeer whose real name was Paolo Antonini Vacarelli, captained the Five Points Gang, a mob that ran Little Italy and fixed elections for Tammany Hall.
Kelly took an immediate liking to Torrio, teaching the young gangster how to dress, speak, and steal. In return for his mentorship, Torrio founded a Five Points auxiliary called the James Street Boys to aid Kelly and the Yakey Yakes during the Eastman Wars.
From there “The Fox,” moved on the Irish controlled Brooklyn Navy Yard with the help Frankie Yale and a teenaged enforcer named Al Capone, whom Torrio introduced to the Manhattan underworld through his James Street connections. Torrio gave up his mini- New York empire when Chicago’s prostitution overlord, Big Jim Colosimo, requested Torrio’s aid to protect his Windy City whorehouses. “The Fox” left New York but always remembered his roots by importing James Streeter gunmen like Roxie Vanella (https://infamousnewyork.com/2013/09/27/the-mayor-of-james-street-robert-roxie-vanella/ ) and Frankie Yale to do his dirty work. Torrio called for Capone in 1921, and the pair went on to make gangland history.